CELTIC 5-1 RANGERS 21 NOVEMBER 1998
In September 1998 Johan Mjallby scored a sensational winning goal for Sweden in a World Cup qualifying game in Stockholm. His goal came when he beat the English goalie, David Seaman, to a 50-50 ball to head home, and afterwards the Swede was most critical of the English ‘keepers’ bravery at challenging him. Following that game Mjallby was said to be highly coveted by several top European clubs.
In November 1998 Celtic fans were happy to hear that Celtic had concluded a deal with AIK Stockholm, to take Mjallby to Glasgow, for a bargain fee of £1.5M. The transfer was late in going through and It was said that Johan was unable to empty his case in his hotel room before making his debut in the big Glasgow derby game against Rangers at Celtic Park.
Rangers were strong favourites to win this game. Under their new manager, Dick Advocaat, they had gone on a huge spending spree on new players, and after 14 league games, they sat on top of the SPL, a massive ten points ahead of Celtic. The Celts also had a new manager in the Slovak, Jo Venglos, who was now under severe pressure after a mediocre start to the season.
Celtic began the game with Mjallby placed alongside Alan Stubbs in central defence and he made an impressive start with his controlled aggression and distribution from defence. In 11 minutes Celtic opened the scoring when Henrik Larsson dummied a Simon Donnelly cross, which allowed Lubo Moravcik time to fire home a fine low shot. This was a tremendous goal and gave both the Celtic fans and players a huge lift.
Moravcik was Celtic’s main creative outlet and in 22 minutes the Rangers defender, Scott Wilson, was deservedly sent off for a shocking lunge at the Celtic man. Rangers’ attacking midfielder, Jorg Albertz, was always a threat in such games and it was a pleasant sight for Celtic supporters to see Mjallby stop a promising ‘Gers attack with a bone crunching tackle on Rangers’ German star.
In the second half Celtic used their one man advantage to the full and in 49 minutes Moravcik scored his second with a glorious header from a Tom Boyd cross. Only two minutes later Celtic went 3-0 up when Larsson outpaced Rangers’ captain, Colin Hendry, to prod the ball home. Shortly after that Rangers rallied for a period when Giovanni Van Bronckhurst scored with a free kick but Celtic went on to show no mercy.
Larsson scored his second with a powerful downward header from Phil O’Donnell’s cross as the Celtic fans went into raptures and by this stage Rangers were desperate to hear the final whistle, only for substitute, Mark Burchill, to put the icing on Celtic’s cake by making it 5-1, after Larsson had set him up in the last minute.
All of this would have been painful viewing for the 30,000 Rangers fans who had crowded into Ibrox in great anticipation for a beam back on a big screen, and it’s an interesting fact that this game was the last time that a Celtic-Rangers clash at Celtic Park kicked off at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. Since then all Celtic-Rangers fixtures have been at the mercy of live television.
The final whistle sounded to loud roars of approval from those in green and white and the Celtic Park loud speakers rang out to the tune of U2’s ‘The Sweetest Thing’, as the fans adapted the lyrics to ‘The Swedish Thing’, in tribute to their new Scandinavian heroes, Larsson and Mjallby.
This remarkable victory, seemingly against the odds, was Celtic’s highest win against Rangers for 32 years and the media compared this result favourably with the last 5-1 victory, in January 1966.
Johan Mjallby had made a tremendous impression on the day, with his performance in Celtic’s defence. In later years he was to recall his debut: ‘For the first 10 minutes, I was really scared. I mean it. I didn’t want the ball anywhere near me and when it did come to me I felt my touch was terrible. The noise around the place was incredible. I’d never experienced anything like it. After that start, though, I really began to enjoy it and, of course, we won 5-1. That game will live with me forever.’
And those of us who witnessed that game are not likely to forget it in a hurry either.