17 AUGUST 1996 CELTIC 4-1 FALKIRK
Gary Gillespie signed for Celtic in a fanfare of publicity for £925,000 in the summer of 1991. He came north from Liverpool after an outstanding career in which he had won four League titles, two FA cups and a European Cup, and the Celtic supporters were keenly anticipating his debut, on a warm summer’s day at Celtic Park.
Liam Brady had been appointed as Celtic manager only a few weeks previously and Gillespie was a landmark signing for the Irishman. Brady wanted Celtic to play football from the back in their traditional fashion and the tall, elegant Gillespie was seen as a vital ingredient in this new Celtic side. Brady was required to pay Liverpool £925,000 for the privilege of Gary’s signature, which was a huge sum at that time, and it was felt that Celtic and Gillespie would be a perfect match.
Gillespie was to make an immediate impression. In only nine minutes he started an attack and decided to stay up front to support the Celtic forwards . When Tommy Coyne slipped a diagonal through ball behind the Falkirk defence, Gillespie read it beautifully, and he calmly dribbled around the Falkirk ‘keeper, Ian Westwater, before slotting the ball into the net.
This goal was a thing of beauty and the 32,000 Celtic fans in the ground roared with great approval. It is difficult to recall many defenders who could have showed the technique and poise that Gillespie had shown in scoring, and he was entitled to celebrate enthusiastically with the fans in the Jungle enclosure.
Tommy Coyne added two more goals before half time which all but ended the game as a contest, but the elegant Gillespie found time and space in the second half to send Coyne clear for the striker to tee up John Collins to score Celtic’s fourth goal.
Gillespie had looked majestic on the day, using all his experience to read the game and start a succession of Celtic attacks from defence. He had made it all look effortless and the Sunday Post stated that, ‘The ambling Gillespie had oozed class from every pore’ and that ‘This Celtic side will be there or thereabouts come May’ which, unfortunately, was an overly optimistic forecast for what was to come.
This was Celtic’s third successive win in only their third league game and there was a huge amount of optimism around that Brady’s new side where more than ready to take on Rangers’ powerful and expensive line up, which had, by now, won three successive titles.
Sadly, this period proved to be a false dawn. For the next two years Brady’s teams mainly struggled, with Gary Gillespie suffering a frustrating number of injuries which greatly curtailed his appearances in the hoops and he was never able to show his best form on a regular basis.
This was a great pity for everyone concerned, as Gary Gillespie on this form, was a wonderful sight to behold.