We had welcomed January 1992 with a 3-1 first-foot scudding by Rangers on New Year’s Day and 3 days later we managed a further defecation of the nest, this time losing 2-1 at home to Hearts. The only positive from this most unfestive of holiday periods was that these two significant home reverses did not dent our championship ambitions. No, sadly these ambitions had been dead and buried since around the middle of October.
The Celtic team who went to Fife on that cold January day 20 years ago could not have been exactly buoyant. (Actually, given the attire they were forced to wear, they must have positively embarrassed). However, courtesy of a Tommy Coyne shot, we managed to skedaddle it back to Glasgow with a 1-0 victory tucked safely in the hipper, and the players could go for counselling after being out in public in THAT ‘peoples’ strip.
So a 1-0 hammering of the mighty pars aside, this can be classed as one shitey January. Or it would do if it were not for the shining light that arrived 2 days after the Dunfermline game.
We won the Tennents Sixes. Yes we did! That made us the best indoor football team in Scotland and boy was it great! Forget the fact Rangers and the Aberdeen boycotted it (so did Partick Thistle, due – bizarrely – to John F**king Lambie’s objection to playing f**king fitba on the f**king Sabbath. Presumably he was offended?) We were the Kings of the Carpet, and the good times could roll again.
Or not, as it turned out. Although we went on something of a run in the early part of the year – up to and including a brilliant 2-0 win at Ibrox – it was too little too late. In line with this, the Celtic support we were doomed to resume our familiar pattern that would see us through the bulk of the 90’s.
We wallowed, wailed, gnashed and generally bleated our way through this very time 20 years ago while across the city, our southside neighbours were truly enjoying salad days. During this season, (and for the next few years), a corpulent Rangers machine would hoover up all opposition on their way to a league and cup double. This was Walter Smith’s first full season in charge and he was bankrolled to the very neck of his cardigan by Ranger maverick owner David Murray (Any of that sound vaguely familiar? Can’t see how it could possibly go wrong though….)
As we scrimped and gambled our resources on players who we hoped could lead us to glory, Rangers were able to comfortably move away from us at any given point. Smith added some marquee signings to an already bulging squad. So in that season 4 big names – Goram, Mikhailichenko, McCall and David Robertson – signed up for Rangers next iteration of Blitzkrieg football.
This was bad enough, but there was a further irritating trend of the 90’s Gers. They would, and could casually spend £1m, or more, on a player they didn’t really need, but who might see them through a wee injury crisis. Like Dale Gordon. Or Paul Rideout (admittedly ‘only’ £500k, but you get the point); Smith signed both of these players in his first season, adding to a squad already big enough to populate a small town. Early signs of a chairman gone cuckoo?
When they rolled up to play us on Jan 1st, Rangers had 7 players who cost over £1m. Ultimately, it really could only end one way.
Now at that time we tried to compete – we broke our own transfer record three years on the trot from 1990 – 1992, signing Collins, Cascarino and Slater for £1m, £1.1m and £1.5m respectively, but we were never likely to get close.
We were the poor relation. The club was being run into the ground by a visionless and directionless board of directors and were blown out of the water at every turn. Our stadium was falling apart and off the park we lurched from one comedy disaster to another (Terry Cassidy anyone?) By 1994, we were the football equivalent of church mice and when the bank threatened to deliver the coup-de-grace, it was actually a welcome development.
The point of the meander down a not particularly nice memory lane is that 20 years on, we may have the absolute mirror image of the 1992 scenario about to play out
Should all things come to pass with the Tax Case, if things that seem to have been in the post for years begin to happen, then Rangers will assume the mantle of Church Mice (lets hope for their sake they inhabit a ‘church’ they find palatable) . We will be the financial juggernaut. We could and should hold the power to push ahead and emphasise our superiority with a Dale Gordon or two of our own. Whether we do or not remains to be seen
What is about to unfold will be fascinating on many levels. How will Rangers fans (who, after all, truly believe they are the ‘people’ (whatever that means) react to life in their own particular slow lane. Will they stop turning up (as they did in early 80’s)? They could turn up and hurl abuse at their manager and players (as they did in the 90’s, when they were successful)? They could riot, as they have done on and off for decades?
The thing is, mentally, it will take them a few years to adjust to this and there will be huge denial. They are not used to being on the receiving end and make no mistake, it will be impossible for some of these people to reconcile their new place in the world with their perception of where they belong. If at this point you feel an overwhelming sense of schadenfreude when reading the above, there is no need to feel ashamed. It is not only natural, it is healthy!
The fans are not the only group that will be feeling discomfort. Across various media outlets we are already witnessing the start of the campaign to mitigate whatever punishment Rangers are due. The trick they will play is to get what they believe to be an acceptable punishment played into mainstream parlance so it will be accepted when delivered.
Expect to hear a lot more about 10 points, a handy consensus position to rally behind – this is an acceptable price to pay for 10 years and £48 (forty eight) million of financial benefit. £4.8 million per point? I would take that now if offered, would you? This would allow Rangers to recover relatively quickly, and time the punishment to minimise the damage.
Is this an acceptable outcome from a generation of cheating? I think not, and we as Celtic fans have a part to play in challenging this consensus at every turn, on every phone in, in every pub. Rangers have cheated for a generation, there should be a reckoning.
If you had told me 20 years ago this would come to pass I would have laughed. The future is a blank canvass though, and literally anything can happen. Celtic are a well run club and we should be able to deal with whatever slings and arrows come our way, the polar opposite of the situation described at the start of this ramble. During the 90’s I never thought this was possible. There is a lesson in there -if you don’t keep progressing, or if you cheat and cut corners then there will be a price to pay.
As time has passed and we have aged, the world of Scottish football has turned on its head. Getting older has some benefits after all.
I am looking forward to the next few months, both on and off the park.
P.S. The Sgt Pepper album was released on June 1st 1967, which probably coincided with the first day of sobriety for tens of thousands of celebrating Hoops, still revelling in the Lisbon miracle. Some week!