With Celtic travelling to Fir Park this weekend, St Anthony takes a look back to a classic game between Motherwell and Celtic from September 1982.
18 September 1982 Motherwell 0-7 Celtic
In the summer of 1982 Motherwell brought Jock Wallace back to Scottish football in an enormous fanfare of publicity. The ex-Rangers manager had surprised the football world by leaving Leicester City where he had done a fine job and had reached the FA Cup semi-finals in April 1982. Motherwell were hoping that Wallace would be the man to lead them to success and it was a huge statement of intent by the Fir Park club who had pushed the boat out financially to tempt Wallace back to Scotland.
Motherwell’s first home league game had saw them achieve a notable 2-2 draw against Rangers and now Celtic came calling to Fir Park in the second home fixture, assuring a bumper crowd in the old terraced ground. Celtic had one major injury problem with Tommy Burns missing. This forced Celtic manager Billy McNeill to bring young Davie Moyes into defence and push the aggressive Roy Aitken into midfield to accommodate Burns’ absence. The Motherwell team sported three former Celtic players, Johannes Edvaldsson, Alfie Conn, and Tommy O’Hara, with another ex-Celt, Brian McLaughlin, on the bench.
Celtic were somewhat bruised after their European Cup encounter against Ajax at Parkhead in midweek where the Dutch champions had been hugely impressive with McNeill’s men rather fortunate to still be in the tie by worthy of a 2-2 draw on the night. The majority of Celtic fans were hugely apprehensive about the second leg to come in Amsterdam, so impressive had Ajax been under the on-field guidance of the legendary, Johan Cruyff.
A crowd in excess of 17,000 crammed into Fir Park and from the start both teams showed their attacking intent. However, after Celtic scored the opener in 27 minutes there was only ever going to be one winner, when Danny McGrain and Frank McGarvey combined well for Charlie Nicholas to score from McGarvey’s cut back. Celtic went 2-0 up when Roy Aitken, clearly enjoying his new free role in midfield, set McGarvey up to bravely score, the Celtic man taking a painful knock in the process. It then became 3-0 just before half time when Murdo MacLeod scored with a typical powerful shot from inside the area after Joe Carson had weakly headed a Danny McGrain free kick into Macleod’s path..
Celtic continued to stamp their authority on proceedings in the second half. In 57 minutes Aitken scored a magnificent goal when he intercepted a Joe Wark pass 30 yards from goal, beat two men in a powerful surge, and coolly beat Motherwell ‘keeper, Hugh Sproat, when clear on goal. Nicholas scored his second in 61 minutes after a MacLeod cross was headed into his path by Davie Moyes. At 5-0 Motherwell now looked a clearly dispirited team.
The best two goals of the game were still to come. In 66 minutes, the marauding Aitken won possession on the half way line and raced forward unchallenged before slipping the ball past Sproat. Then in 70 minutes, Nicholas, a man at the peak of his form, scored a similar goal to Aitken’s. Running clear from half way, he cleverly used McGarvey as a decoy before placing the ball high past the hapless Hugh Sproat.
There were still 20 minutes remaining which must have been a huge concern to Motherwell but Celtic, perhaps understandably, went down the gears and saw the game out for a 7-0 victory. A delirious, huge, Celtic support had taunted Jock Wallace with their ‘Wallace for Rangers’ and ‘we want ten’ chants’ during the second half. They had enjoyed it to the full.
The main talking points afterwards were the performances of Nicholas and Aitken. Nicholas now had 14 goals for the season and we were only in mid-September. He had suffered a serious broken leg in January 1982 and here were fears that the injury could affect him but he had clearly fully recovered and was on top of his game. Aitken, in his attacking midfield role, had been a revelation and there were now debates amongst the Celtic supporters as to what Roy’s best position was; resolute defender or mobile midfielder?
I should end by saying that the Celtic players and fans need not have been so apprehensive about Amsterdam. Ten days later Celtic travelled to Holland and beat Ajax 2-1 on an unforgettable night.