His greatest game – Graeme Sinclair – 1982 Ajax 1-2 Celtic

In the summer of 1982 Celtic made a surprise move in the transfer market to sign Dumbarton defender, Graeme Sinclair. Graeme had been at Dumbarton for a number of years and a move to a big club was thought to have passed him by until Celtic came calling.

Sinclair was essentially a full back but he was capable of playing effectively in both central defence and midfield, which made him the vital ‘utility man’ that every club desires, and he was to display that versatility during his short Celtic career.

In September of 1982, Celtic and Ajax had fought out a 2-2 draw at Parkhead in the European Cup. This game was reckoned to be the finest European display seen at Celtic Park for many a year, with both teams entertaining the large crowd on the night. Ajax were very impressive and were strong favourites to win the second leg with Celtic being said to be up against it.

In Amsterdam, Celtic played in their smart new change strip of green shirts with white pin stripes, white shorts and green socks. Billy McNeill made an astute tactical move before the game by deploying Graeme Sinclair in a specific midfield role. In the first leg, the great Johan Cruyff had dictated the play and Sinclair’s job on the night was to block Cruyff’s influence, a job he was to carry out to great effect.

So impressive was Sinclair that he helped create the opening goal. A quick break from defence led to fine run from Graeme down the Celtic left side. When the ball broke to Charlie Nicholas, he scored a wonderful goal by turning a defender and chipping the goalkeeper from the edge of the area.

Celtic had tightened up defensively from the first leg with Danny McGrain keeping the dangerous Jesper Olsen in check and Graeme Sinclair marshalling the great Cruyff. Some wag commented afterwards that Olsen only got one kick all night and that was Danny’s boot right up his a*** ! In the second half Celtic defended deeply and held out until Gerald Vanenberg’s fortunate equaliser for the Dutchmen.

Celtic now went for broke whilst Ajax withdrew Cruyff, who looked tired after Sinclair’s close attention during the match. With only minutes remaining, Danny McGrain ventured into attack, and when his effort at goal broke to George McCluskey, the Celtic substitute made no mistake with a fine low shot.

Celtic held out until full time and there was much rejoicing on and off the pitch at the final whistle. Nicholas and McCluskey grabbed the headlines with their goals but a lot of observers pointed out that Graeme Sinclair’s marking job on Cruyff on the night had helped his team tremendously.

In the weeks that followed, Celtic fans paid their own noisy tribute to Max Bygraves in grounds across Scotland by borrowing one of his most famous songs. ‘When it’s spring again, we’ll sing again, 2-1 in Amsterdam !’

 

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