April 1980 Celtic 1-0 Rangers
These are strange times we are living in at the moment. Many of us are self-isolating at home including my good self. With so much spare time I thought I would jot down a few memories from Celtic games I have attended through the years. It’ll give me something to do and hopefully some of you out there will enjoy reading it.
Setting the scene
Celtic went into this game as strong favourites. They were enjoying a fine season and were top of the league table and were clear favourites to the title at the beginning of May. The only down side had been that a fortnight earlier Celtic had narrowly lost 3-2 on aggregate to Real Madrid in the European Cup quarter finals. In contrast Rangers were enduring a poor season by their standards. They were well out of the title race after a poor run of results with John Greig under great pressure after losing the title to Celtic’s 10 men the previous May.
In late February 1980 Rangers smashed the Scottish transfer record when they signed Ian Redford from Dundee for £210,000, a huge amount of money at that time. Greig’s side were in a downward spiral and were sitting in 5th place in the Scottish Premier Division, behind leaders Celtic, Aberdeen, Morton and St Mirren. Drastic action was required and the Rangers board backed their manager by paying that huge fee.
A matter of weeks later, Celtic responded by exceeding Rangers’ Redford transfer by paying Liverpool a cool £250,000 for the signature of Frank McGarvey from Liverpool. McGarvey, a boyhood Celtic fan, had been Scotland’s hottest property before moving to Anfield from St Mirren in May 1979. Frank, tired of 10 months of reserve football down south, jumped at the chance of a move to Parkhead. The media reported that Celtic could afford McGarvey after the finance they made from the Real Madrid European encounter at Celtic Park where 67,000 fans had paid a small fortune to watch that tie.
So in many ways this game was built up as a personal contest between Redford and McGarvey to see who was rated as being the best of the expensive purchases.
The match was played on a Wednesday evening as the original fixture had been postponed due to being scheduled for Scottish Cup quarter final day when Celtic had beaten Morton and Rangers had defeated Hearts. There were shocks on both team selections beforehand. Celtic had left their play maker Tommy Burns on the bench with Rangers doing likewise with their inspirational midfielder, Bobby Russell. This led to accusations afterwards that the teams had forsaken style and flair for athleticism and muscle in the middle of the park and it was hard to argue against this as both Burns and Russell were class acts.
52,000 fans turned out on a cold, raw, early spring evening. Celtic started well and took the game to Rangers with their wingers, Provan and Doyle, being influential. Peter McCloy was having an especially good night in the Rangers goal and he denied Celtic on a number of occasions. Despite a few close shaves there were no real chances and the teams went in 0-0 at half time.
In 50 minutes Rangers Ian Redford must have thought this was his night when he glanced home a header from a Cooper cross but he was judged to have been offside by the stand side linesman. 20,000 Rangers fans had exploded with delight until they had noticed the linesman’s flag. This was an escape for Celtic but despite their best efforts they could not get the ball past the inspired McCloy. Time was running out and it looked as if the game would fizzle out as a 0-0 draw. With just 4 minutes left Roy Aitken chased an over hit pass to the bye line and showed great determination to keep the ball in play. He swivelled and swung over a cross which allowed Frank McGarvey to rise to send a textbook downward header past the frustrated McCloy. McGarvey then raced to the Jungle with delight as the Celtic areas of the ground were a heaving mass of bodies in celebration. This was to be the only goal of the game.
After the dust had settled the general consensus was that Celtic had done enough to win. In a physical encounter, McGrain and Aitken had excelled with Murdo MacLeod absolutely in his element in such a bruising encounter. These players had given Celtic the edge.
However, the hero of the occasion was undoubtedly Frank McGarvey who had come up trumps on the night and had already now paid back a sizeable chunk of his fee with one header.
This win put Celtic 7 points ahead of second placed Aberdeen, who had one game him hand. It seemed a formality that they would go on and lift the title but they capitulated in the next month. They inconceivably lost 4 of their next 5 games, 2 of which were to Aberdeen, their closest rivals. The Dons went on a fine unbeaten run and won the title on the last day of the season by beating Hibs 5-0 on the same day that Celtic lost further ground by drawing 0-0 in Paisley against St Mirren.
40 years have passed and this season still leaves a noticeable scar on the psyche of Celtic fans who remember it. However, they will always recall the night of Frank McGarvey’s winning goal against Rangers with great affection.