With Celtic due to take on St Mirren at Parkhead on Saturday, St Anthony reflects on another memorable Celts v Saints encounter from 1981.
14 March 1981 Celtic 7-0 St Mirren Attendance: 18,100
When Celtic faced St Mirren on this day in March 1981, the Celts were enduring a mixed season. Some indifferent form up until New Year had saw Celtic drop to third in the Premier League table with Aberdeen and Rangers placed above them. To the joy of their fans Celtic had turned a corner from January onwards and went into this game in superb form having won their previous 8 games in succession with an aggregate goal tally of 21-3 which included excellent victories over Dundee United, Hearts and Rangers.
One man who may not have been looking forward to this game was Celtic striker, Frank McGarvey. He had joined Celtic in March 1980 and had not yet displayed the form which made Celtic splash out £250,000 on his transfer from Liverpool. Frank had initially made his name at St Mirren and in his three Celtic appearances against the Saints he had suffered badly. On his Celtic debut in March 1980 he was taken off as Celtic blew a two goal lead and drew 2-2. In October he was sent off at Love Street and in November Saints had plundered the points courtesy of a spectacular late winner from their experienced full back, Alex Beckett. McGarvey had suffered some rough treatment at the hands of his old St Mirren team mates and it was clear he would be in the wars again on a damp spring day when Celtic decided to play in their smart change strip of green jerseys, white shorts, and green socks.
Celtic kicked off on the front foot and forced a series of corners. In the 12th minute they took the lead from yet another corner when Davie Provan lifted a ball to the front post for Roy Aitken to glance the ball home. St Mirren keeper, Billy Thomson, had kept his side in the game with a number of fine saves before Saints shot themselves in the foot. Beckett was short with a pass back which allowed McGarvey to nick in, steady himself, and drive the ball past Thomson to make it 2-0.
Celtic were in control but one event which was to occur on the stroke of half time would be remembered for many years to come. McGarvey took a pass from Mark Reid 30 yards from goal and turning, he almost fell, but eluded two defenders in his own distinctive style and as he straightened up he caught the ball beautifully to send a powerful shot whizzing past Thomson into the top corner of the net.
Parkhead exploded and it’s very seldom the old ground had witnessed such a superb individual effort. When St Mirren took centre the referee blew for half time and the fans were still roaring their approval of McGarvey’s goal. The cheers got louder as the players ran up the tunnel with the patrons in the stand giving McGarvey his own special standing ovation. Legend has it that Frank was sick in the dressing room at half time such was his excitement and emotion following that goal.
The one way traffic continued after the break and McGarvey was now in his element and torturing his ex-team mates. Charlie Nicholas made it 4-0 and was carried off injured in the process of scoring. St Mirren defenders constantly looked nervous in McGarvey’s presence and he took advantage of John Young’s hesitation to round Billy Thomson and walk the ball into the net for his hat trick.
The heavens now opened and the leaden rain made the pitch a mud bath. This did not stop Celtic from turning on the style and George McCluskey, the replacement for Nicholas, got in on the act with two late goals as the Celtic fans on the partly open terrace behind the goal ran for cover from the deluge above them. When the final whistle blew it finished 7-0 and Frank McGarvey was clearly the man of the hour with that tremendous hat trick. The performance was all the more remarkable given that Saints had an outstanding team at time with notable players such as Thomson, Jackie Copland, Billy Stark, Peter Weir and Frank McDougall.
As the Celtic fans slowly moved to the exits there were huge cheers when the PA announcer confirmed that Hearts had beaten Rangers 2-1 at Tynecastle and Aberdeen had lost 1-0 to lowly Kilmarnock. The tide had already changed in Celtic’s favour previously but the results that day had only served to emphasise that the SPL trophy would definitely have green and white ribbons at the end of the season.