Today is November 2nd, which marks the 36th anniversary of one of the most remarkable European games ever witnessed at Celtic Park.
In mid-October 1983, Celtic had lost 2-0 to Sporting Lisbon in a first leg UEFA cup tie in Portugal. By all accounts Celtic had gone down tamely and were regarded as lucky to get away with a two goal defeat. The renowned Portuguese international striker, Jordao, scored twice that night and his all round game had terrorised the Celtic defence.
Not many observers gave Celtic much chance in the second leg. The media made a lot of the fact that only once previously in their European history had Celtic recovered from a two goal first leg deficit and that was against Saint Etienne in 1968. One thing, however, was to work in Celtic’s favour. The weather on All Souls day 1983 was ‘dreich and damp’, a typical Glasgow November night, a far cry from the 70 degree heat the teams had endured in the first leg in Lisbon.
As Sporting also play in the renowned green and white hoops, Celtic reverted to their popular new change strip of lime green shirts and dark green shorts, a colour combination in which they were to enjoy good fortune in the next few seasons.
Celtic opened the game well with some promising attacks and the all important first goal came in 19 minutes. Davie Provan sent Frank McGarvey to the by line and he turned his opponent superbly before swinging over a perfect cross for Tommy Burns to score with a text book downward header. The fans roared their approval and although Sporting looked rattled they responded with Pat Bonner having to save low down from the dangerous Jordao.
As half time approached Celtic turned the screw. From a Provan corner. Tom McAdam showed great technique to chest the ball down and volley in the second goal on the night which brought the Celts level on aggregate. McAdam, an ex-centre forward, had showed all his old strikers instinct in doing so. Incredibly within seconds, Burns sent McClair clear through the centre for the Celtic striker to show great perseverance by sliding the ball over Sporting’s Hungarian goalkeeper, Katzirz.
As the half time whistle blew, Parkhead erupted with a wall of noise. Seldom had a Celtic side played such controlled, effective football in a European tie against quality opposition. As the second half started the atmosphere was somewhat strange. Despite the fans singing with giddy with excitement, the sobering thought was that just one goal conceded could mean elimination on the away goals rule. Things were still desperately close.
Within the hour the tie was finished. In 58 minutes Murdo MacLeod scored with a low shot after good work by McGarvey and just a few minutes later Celtic’s night was rounded off when Tommy Burns sent Frank McGarvey racing clear to tuck the ball past the hapless Katzirz. 39,000 fans had been thrilled by this performance and McClair was unlucky to have a 6th goal disallowed for offside.
The game finished 5-0 and the team were cheered to the rafters at the final whistle. There had been so much to admire in this Celtic side. There was McGrain’s distribution from defence and keenness to break into attack; there was the poise and elegance of young Paul McStay, still only 19 years old; you had the industry and unselfish running of the redoubtable McGarvey; there was Davie Provan, socks at the ankles, dancing on the wing and swinging in quality crosses; and there was the stylish Burns, providing an endless supply of passes to his strikers.
This was a considerably good night for Scottish football. In the European Cup Dundee United eliminated Standard Liege and in the European Cup Winners Cup, Aberdeen had defeated SK Beveren. In another Portugal v Scotland UEFA cup contest Porto beat Rangers, which in truth, only added to the Celtic glee on that fine evening. It’s worth noting that the Sporting manager was a certain Josef Venglos, who would become Celtic manager fifteen years later, in 1998.
This game is fondly remembered by Celtic fans of a certain vintage. This is because, during the 1980’s, this result was an oasis in a very barren desert. A night when Celtic revived and emulated the fantastic performances of the Jock Stein era of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
If you were there on that memorable, wet night then you are not likely to forget the experience.