Recent Celtic games have heard the fans singing loudly – ‘Here we go 10 in a row!’ – after Celtic sealed their second consecutive SPL title under Neil Lennon. And the opportunity is certainly there to make a piece of history. It’s likely to be another two years before Newco Rangers emerge into the SPL and even then it may be some time before they are in a position to actually challenge for the title. When all things are considered then it does have to be said that a Celtic 10 in a row is a distinct possibility.
9 in a row is something that has been achieved twice in this country already although in vastly contrasting circumstances. During Jock Stein’s legendary reign at Parkhead between 1965 and 1974 Celtic not only won 9 in a row but won the European Cup, reached another European Cup final, lost out narrowly in two European Cup semi finals and also in a further two European Cup quarter finals. That Celtic team played a brand of scintillating attacking football that had never been seen in Scotland before and has not been seen since.
They also packed the fans into stadiums all over the country. A record European attendance of 136,000 crammed into Hampden for the European Cup semi final against Leeds and this was an era when Celtic attracted fans in huge numbers and drew 94,000 to Ibrox, 48,000 to Easter Road, 46,000 to Tynecastle, 36,000 to Pittodrie and 28,000 into Dens Park. Crowds of the likes those stadiums will never see again.
Rangers 9 in a row between 1988 and 1997 was fundamentally different. It was created on the back of a cheque book mentality as David Murray embarked on a spectacular, expensive signing spree each season. In the early days they took advantage of the fact that English clubs were banned from European football which allowed them to sign players of the calibre of Butcher, Woods, Hateley and Steven. After that came a more cosmopolitan style of signing policy as big names such as Laudrup, Gascgoine, Boli, Kuznetsov and Mikhailichenko all came through the door at Ibrox at enormous expense.
However their real objective eluded them. The prize they coveted most of all was the European Cup that Stein had won previously and with one notable exception their performances each season in the European Cup/Champions League were a huge disappointment. Europe became an obsession with Murray and his reckless policy of spending and pushing up the debt ultimately forced him to sell Rangers to Craig Whyte for one pound. This was an action which, indirectly, killed the Rangers club after it was liquidated.
Rangers’ one notable season of decent European results came in 1992/93. At that time Celtic were in the depths of despair and it was to be some time before we would be de profundis. I can recall in November 1992 when a Rangers supporters’ spokesman on television stated that: ‘Old Firm games are no longer of importance to us. Europe is the stage where we want to be, playing against teams of the highest level.’
That comment annoyed me at the time but the guy was absolutely right. The great clubs in the game are distinguished by their performances in European arena and success in the domestic game, although important, is not the priority for the continent’s great clubs.
In March 1975 I can remember going to the Lyceum cinema hall in Govan to watch a John Wayne film, which from recollection may have been ‘The Cowboys’. All through the film all I could think of was that was the day that Rangers had won the league title at Easter Road and stopped Celtic getting 10 in a row. Watching the highlights on TV after the movie it was a surreal experience as for the first 10 years of my life I had grown up in the certain knowledge that Celtic would win the league each season. That they didn’t was a great shock to my young Celtic supporting system.
Fast forward to May 1998 and Celtic faced St Johnstone on the last day of the season to stop Rangers completing their 10 in a row. In all my years of supporting Celtic I have never witnessed such enormous tension on and off the park than on that particular day. Celtic thankfully prevailed and grew stronger from then onwards although the thought of losing that day fills every Celtic fan with dread. It was a case of cheerio 10 in a row.
At the height of that 10 in a row euphoria in 1998 between Celtic and Rangers, Gerry McNee remarked that it was comparable to ‘two bald men fighting for a comb’. What he meant by this was that outside of Scotland consecutive league records proved for nothing and that Scotland’s big two clubs should have been focusing on getting the reputation and standing that they once had in Europe back again.
Celtic’s performances in Europe this season have given me much joy. The results against Helsinki and Helsingborgs should not be under estimated and the results in the group stages surpassed my wildest expectations. I will never forget my 9 year old son’s reactions that night when we beat Barcelona in November and that memory will stay with him forever.
In view of all this you can count me out of chanting about 10 in a row or even having any great desire to achieve 10 in a row. I would gladly swap the chance of 10 in a row for five seasons of Champions League group stage games and the tremendous excitement that goes with it. The only attraction for me in winning ten leagues is that it gives us ten opportunities to qualify for the Champions League.
Celtic’s sights should now be set further afield than the restricted confines of the SPL.
Bring on the Spaniards…by the score!