December 4th marks 40 years since Celtic beat Rangers 2-1 to win the League Cup final. Tickets for that game were at a premium due to the reconstruction of Hampden which basically amounted to the demolition of the old rickety North Stand and concreting the wooden and ash terracing steps. A capacity crowd of 56,000 attended but a year earlier and the national stadium would have held up to 85,000, thus making tickets harder to obtain.

It was my habit most Saturday mornings to go into Glasgow (up the Toon as we referred to it) to pay my Dad’s Celtic Pools in the Celtic shop in West Nile Street, then look at records in HMV in Union Street, then pop into the old Glasgow Programme shop on Paisley Road West, me being an avid programme collector back then. As I was leaving the house my Dad asked me to collect ‘a message’ in the Pools office. When I got there the woman behind the counter gave me an envelope containing two tickets for that day’s final. The sly old boy had won 2 tickets in a ballot and hadn’t let on. The 16 year old me was overjoyed.

Celtic were strong favourites to win the trophy. They were top of the league, having already beaten Rangers 3-2 at Parkhead, and were on a magnificent run of form, the only blot being the narrow elimination in the European Cup by the Spanish champions, Real Sociedad. Charlie Nicholas was very much to the fore, having fully recovered from a leg break the previous season. Nicholas was attracting envious glances from English sides down south and the BBC’s Football Focus programme that lunch time had a long profile on him where he was pictured posing around Glasgow, getting his hair cut and dressed in leather trousers. Nicholas had the glamourous image off the park but the main attraction was his performances on the field of play, and he was on fire.

Rangers pulled a stroke in the days before the game when they brought Gordon Smith back from Brighton on a month’s loan. Loan deals were very much a rarity back then and Rangers took advantage of a loophole in the rules basically to give them a lift for the final. Their recent form had been very poor. They were sitting fourth in the league, 10 points behind Celtic, in the days when it was still 2 points for a win. So Smith’s arrival was a big boost for them as it was widely acknowledged that he was a class player. Rangers’ displays had been so bad it prompted, Andy Cameron, to comment – ‘Old Firm? It’s more like the infirm the way we’ve been playing recently.’ Rangers manager, John Greig, was under enormous pressure, and Celtic fans had taken to chanting ‘Greig must stay’ in an alternate version of their popular chant for their talented young midfielder, Paul McStay. However, Rangers had talented players in Jim Bett, Robert Prytz and Davie Cooper, and they were capable of winning a one off game.

This was the first ever Scottish final to be sponsored and the company was called Telejector UK, a business who fitted large modern screens in pubs and clubs across the country. Telejector offered £20,000 for a hat trick and £10,000 for a four goal win, a very generous financial offer back in 1982.

As luck would have it, the weather was vile for the final. Celtic fans in their traditional Kings Park end of Hampden, were left totally exposed to the elements with no cover, in the heavy rain and strong wind. There was concern amongst Celtic fans that the conditions may have been a leveller but these proved to be unfounded. The first half totally belonged to Celtic. They mastered the wet surface and judged their passing tremendously well, playing to feet and moving impressively off the ball. Davie Provan was Celtic’s main creative threat at this time and he had given Rangers huge problems in the past with his wing play and crossing ability. Greig sought to counteract this threat by playing Ian Redford in the unusual position of left back, in direct opposition to Provan.

It was Provan who created Celtic’s two goals. The first came when his direct run at the Rangers defence allowed Nicholas to strike a glorious low shot, skidding along the wet surface past Rangers’ keeper Jim Stewart. The second goal was even more impressive. Provan’s deep corner was headed down by Tom McAdam for Murdo MacLeod to hammer home a tremendous shot high into the net, from just inside the area. Celtic were totally dominant and it was 44 minutes before Rangers got a shot at goal when Pat Bonner swooped easily on a Derek Johnstone shot, resulting in a sarcastic roar from the Celtic end in response to Johnstone’s effort.

The Celtic end was a picture of jubilation at half time, the supporters in full voice, partly due to the fine form of their team and also through the need to keep warm in such awful conditions, as the rain was unrelenting. I recall an older man in conversation with us, mentioning that the 1957 7-1 League Cup final had also been 2-0 at half time and, given Celtic’s domination, there was every reason to expect that result could be repeated on the day.

That over confidence was to cost Celtic at the beginning of the second half when a defensive mistake gave Rangers a free kick on the edge of the area, which allowed Jim Bett to score with a delicate chip which Celtic fans at the game thought Pat Bonner could have done better with. However, Celtic were soon back on track and they proceeded to miss a number of good chances. A Danny McGrain through ball sent Frank McGarvey clear, only for the Celtic man to blaze over the bar. Nicholas had an incredible miss from 8 yards after a brilliant darting run from Provan, and another fine Provan run almost ended in an own goal but for a spectacular overhead clearance from Dave McKinnon.

As the game approached its end, Rangers had a final assault on the Celtic goal in an attempt to secure an equaliser. Cooper’s cross was bound for an unmarked John MacDonald at the back post only for Roy Aitken to clear. And with that, the game was over. Danny McGrain lifted the trophy, Celtic’s first League Cup success for 8 years and it’s astonishing to think that it was to be 25 years before Celtic would lift that trophy again. The celebrations were long and loud as the players cavorted in the rain with trophy, with Tommy Burns sporting a huge Sombrero hat, which no one seems to recall who he got it from. As it turned out, Gordon Smith’s return was a damp squib on a very wet day, and he was unable to inspire Rangers in any way.

Upon returning home my Dad and I sought the warmth of the living room fire (no radiators in those far off days) as we happily discarded our wet clothing, much to my Mother’s disgust as she commented on the fact that we were lucky not to catch pleurisy.

Telejector didn’t need to pay the huge sums of money in the end, but they did donate a man of the match award which was deservedly won by Davie Provan, Celtic’s best player on the day. Davie was awarded am all expensed paid holiday for two in Florida and that was to have a bitter sweet effect on him. As he arrived at his hotel in June 1983 he was told to phone home immediately and discovered that Billy McNeill had left Celtic for Manchester City in rather acrimonious fashion. Davie was devastated at hearing this as Billy had been his mentor for 5 very successful years at Celtic.

The Celtic team of 1982 had huge potential but with McNeill’s departure, added to Nicholas and McCluskey also leaving for England that summer, they were never to reach the levels they should have. Which even after 40 years, remains a disappointment to those of us who had the pleasure of watching that fine group of Celtic players.