AUGUST 3RD 1997 HIBS 2-1 CELTIC
In the summer of 1997 Celtic were in the business of searching for a new manager (although head coach was to be the official title) and it’s believed that both Bobby Robson and Artur Jorge were both in discussion with the Celtic board before they appointed Wim Jansen.
Jansen was well known to older Celtic fans who recalled him as a vital part of the Feyenoord side which had defeated Celtic in the 1970 European Cup final in the San Siro stadium in Milan. He had previously enjoyed some success with Feyenoord as manager, although the Scottish press chose to concentrate more on the mediocre spell he had recently had in Japan with Hiroshima.
Celtic’s new Dutch manager had inherited a squad who had a lot of issues and as the team travelled to Easter Road for their first league game, they did so without their two biggest assets, Jorge Cadete and Paolo Di Canio, who were both in dispute with the club and would ultimately move to pastures new in the weeks to come.
Jansen had moved quickly to secure the new signings of Craig Burley, Darren Jackson and Henrik Larsson who were all listed to play, with Larsson on the bench as he was deemed not to be fully match fit. The pressure on Celtic was now huge as Rangers had just emulated Celtic’s nine in a row league titles record and were now spending massively in their quest for ten in a row.
Hibs opened well and took the lead in 23 minutes when Lee Power scored from close range. Celtic could not get going and the mercurial Chic Charnley was enjoying the occasion. He was clearly the best player on view, cracking a 35 yard shot off the Celtic crossbar in the process.
Celtic rallied slightly and equalised before half time when Malky Mackay scored, heading in a corner from Simon Donnelly. Despite equalising, Jansen’s new Celts never looked convincing and it was clear that this side was going to take some time to settle in.
In the second half Jansen brought on Henrik Larsson for the ineffectual Andreas Thom in an attempt to spruce up his attack. The Celtic fans had their first sight of their new Swedish import and they gave Larsson a loud welcome as the new Celt cut a unique figure on the field of play, with his long, dreadlocked hair.
Larsson’s only contribution on the day was to be a memorable one but not for the best of reasons. In 75 minutes he misplaced a pass at the edge of his own area and presented Chic Charnley with an ideal opportunity to score with a terrific shot from 20 yards.
Charnley was entitled to celebrate his goal, especially as Celtic had declined to sign him on more than one occasion in the recent past and he became Scottish football’s biggest talking point for several weeks afterwards with this goal which was the winner on the day.
This was a humbling experience for Henrik Larsson, on a day that he would have been desperate to impress the Celtic supporters. History tells us that he then went on to become the greatest Celt of modern times but no one could have foresaw what was ahead of Larsson and Celtic on this dull, miserable day in Edinburgh.
Like that other great Celtic number 7, Jimmy Johnstone, Henrik was to endure a miserable debut but would then go on to enjoy massive individual and collective success during his duration at Celtic Park.
No one was to appreciate it at the time but Celtic fans were to discover in the weeks and months ahead, that they were truly in the presence of greatness.