It’s 17 years now, on the 9th of May, since Celtic faced Saint Johnstone in the last game of season 1997/98. The maths was easy. A victory for Celtic would land them their first league title in 10 years and any other result, added to a Rangers victory at Tannadice, would give Rangers the title and give them their much coveted 10 in a row, thus beating Celtic’s 9 in a row record from the Jock Stein era.
I have supported Celtic for over 40 years and I have seen the good, the bad and the indifferent. However, never in my life have I been more nervous and felt more pressure than at that game at Parkhead against the Perth Saints. A last game of the season title decider is exciting enough but with 10 in a row hanging over us it was vital that Celtic win that day. It should be remembered that Fergus McCann was in the process of not only rebuilding the stadium but rebuilding the entire club. Defeat against Saint Johnstone would have set Fergus and Celtic back years.
The game was a mediocre affair apart from the goals. We were grateful for Henrik’s brilliant early goal which settled the nerves and set us on the road. However the longer the game went on the nerves kicked in again as the realisation came that one Saints goal could destroy all our hopes, especially when news came that Rangers were leading 2-0 at Tannadice. At that stage only one goal was helping Celtic keep 10 in a row at bay.
Then in the 72nd minute it happened. Tom Boyd won possession on the Celtic right and surged forward. He played a ball down the wing to Jackie McNamara who found himself sprinting clear down the right side. He then looked up and placed a perfect ball square across the area to the onrushing Harald Brattbaak who struck the ball first time firmly past the Saints keeper to become a most unlikely hero. Brattbakk had cost £2 million pounds and that one swing of his right foot had repaid his transfer fee in full – and more.
Ecstasy broke out amongst the huge Celtic support. From my own experience I was amongst a mass of heaving bodies shouting: ‘That’s it! That’s it!! That’s it!!!’ The game was played out and the score finished 2-0. At the final whistle Tom Boyd dropped to his knees in a mix of emotion and exhaustion and the fans started celebrations which would continue for weeks to come. For myself I felt that relief was the over riding emotion and a resolve that we should never again find ourselves in such a predicament.
Happy supporters invaded the park and under normal circumstances a pitch invasion would be frowned upon. But this one was understandable after 10 years of absolute misery. Amongst the glee there were some memorable sights. There was Tom Boyd in a mad looking jester’s hat leading the singing on microphone after being presented with the trophy. The curly haired Wim Jansen and his assistant Murdo MacLeod hugged every player for their efforts. There were the players in their controversial t-shirts with a cryptic message on them. And there was the sight of TV anchor man and renowned blue nose, Jim White, standing pitch side with his face appropriately tripping him.
On the Govan Emerald bus the journey home was happy and noisy. The bus driver mischievously drove past Ibrox and the bus went round the Broomloan Road roundabout three times as we threatened to break the sound barrier inside. A group of straggling Rangers fans stood watching in disbelief. We then embarked on a tour of Govan with the driver happily driving aimlessly along the Govan streets until heading back to base. We stopped alongside the Elder Park and an elderly ‘wee wummin’ waited to cross the road with a bag full of messages. She stopped to look up at the bus and saw the mass of green and white and put her bags down and waved happily at us. It was that kind of day.
It may be 15 years since that joyous afternoon but if you ever watch footage of the much maligned Harald’s goal again then listen carefully as the ball hits the net. For if you do you can hear the sound of the captive fetters that had bound Celtic for ten long years being smashed into pieces.