With Celtic due to play Aberdeen on Sunday, St Anthony looks back on a previous Parkhead encounter between Celts and the Dons.
7 November 1981 Celtic 2-1 Aberdeen
Celtic fans came to Parkhead on this day in 1981 in a state of excitement following the exciting 3-2 win over Ipswich Town at Portman Road just three days earlier in Allan Hunter’s testimonial game. The strength of Celtic’s attacking force was shown that night when all three strikers, Frank McGarvey, George McCluskey, and Charlie Nicholas scored against quality opposition who were the current UEFA cup holders. It was quite a coincidence that Aberdeen had actually been the team who had dramatically dethroned Ipswich when the Dons defeated the Suffolk side 4-2 over two legs when the new Aberdeen winger, Peter Weir, had displayed his skills against such strong English opposition. So, with both teams in good form, a fine match was expected on front of a healthy crowd which looked more than the 29,000 which was stated.
As a club, Celtic were still reeling from John Doyle’s tragic death just two weeks previously and it’s to the credit of the Celtic players that they continued to play so well with this tragedy still hanging over the club. In terms of team selection, young centre half Davie Moyes was in the middle of a run at right back following Danny McGrain being out through injury. McGarvey and McCluskey were the preferred striking choice with Nicholas on the bench.
Aberdeen had won five and drawn one of their last six visits to Celtic Park going back to 1979, so there was a real desire from Celtic to break this fine Aberdeen run. From the start Celtic set about pressing the Dons back and it was clear that there would be a great battle between two of the finest Scottish midfielders ever, Tommy Burns and Gordon Strachan, with both showing fine touches in the opening minutes. Strachan being roundly booed at every opportunity by the Celtic fans in the Jungle who disliked him intensely
Celtic went close through efforts by Davie Provan and Dom Sullivan whilst Aberdeen carried an aerial threat with Alex McLeish and Eric Black always a danger from Weir’s dangerous set pieces. Weir was giving Moyes a hard time on the left wing but the young Celt stuck gamely to his task. In 39 minutes Celtic took the lead with a thing of beauty. Burns and Mark Reid worked the ball up the left side and when George McCluskey laid the ball off to McGarvey at the edge of the area, the bold Frank sent a delightful curling shot high into the top corner past Aberdeen keeper, Jim Leighton.
Aberdeen fought hard in the second half with Strachan leading the charge. Celtic defender Roy Aitken had a particularly good game at a time when Dons were threatening the Celtic goal. In 72 minutes Celtic got the vital second goal. A slack pass by Neale Cooper was pounced upon by George McCluskey, who sent a thunderous low shot into the net from 25 yards. As the Celtic fans celebrated a rare win against Alex Ferguson’s Dons, Celtic manager Billy McNeill brought Mike Conroy on for Tommy Burns as Celtic looked to hold on to their lead.
Wee Strachan, always such a threat, kept going to the end and gave Aberdeen hope in 89 minutes when he scored somewhat fortuitously after his free kick was deflected back into his path and he lashed the rebound past Pat Bonner. Strachan then took time to gesticulate to the Jungle as was his want back then. Despite a late Dons’ flurry, Celtic held out to win 2-1 and there was much celebration on the Parkhead terraces as the fans realised this was a highly important victory.
It was a sign of Celtic’s striking power when the two goals were of the highest quality from McGarvey and McCluskey, two players who were now really on top of their game. Charlie Nicholas had been the sensation of Scottish football the previous season but it was George McCluskey who was now coming to the fore. Always a player of great promise, this was the season that George found consistency in his game and it was his goals which would fire Celtic towards the league title success in May 1982. His old pal, Johnny Doyle, would have looked down approvingly.