A Game to Remember – Part Two

In the build up to the Glasgow derby, we released a podcast series on our Patreon service centring around memories of the fixture – things that made it special to each fan. Following that, this double feature explores special memories of a day out watching sport. It’s easy to get caught up in the occasion when you’re pumping Rangers or battling European heavyweights so we’ve asked our panel to choose and talk about a game that meant something specifically to them. I’m Stephen Russell (@SJRussell23) and next up to talk about a game important to them are Eoin Coyne (@toomanybigwords) and Andy Gorman (@andygorman94).

Eoin Coyne – Ireland v Yugoslavia

For me it’s got to be what must now be a relatively forgotten European Championship qualifier in 1999 featuring a host of nostalgia names, Pierluigi Collina reffing, a country that no longer exists and a goal of such exquisite violence it still baffles me as to how it didn’t break the crossbar on its way in.

Now, though this wasn’t quite the Yugoslavia of old (it was essentially Serbia but they played as FR Yugoslavia for 11 years), they were still not short of a player or two. Jumping straight out of their starting XI that night are Predrag Mijatovic (Real Madrid hotshot) and Dejan Savicevic (Milan legend) whilst Savo Milosevic (Aston Villa, Real Sociedad top scorer) and Sinisa Mihajlovic (Serie A stalwart and Free Kick Master) were also pretty handy. The Ireland team that faced them up also featured a much higher calibre of player than we have become accustomed to in the last 10 years in particular. Both Roy and Robbie Keane played, one at his snarling, dominant best and the other a brash young talent who was taking to International football with an admirable, almost unquantifiable fearlessness. In Irwin and Staunton, Ireland had experienced winners at the back and Niall Quinn was enjoying his Indian Summer at Sunderland and still a handful for any defence. In terms of importance, it was a huge game for both countries qualification hopes in an incredibly tight group that also featured a strong Croatia side and with FR Yugoslavia having won the previous meeting the pressure was on the home side to match their unexpected home victory over Croatia.

What is funny about this game is how little I remember of the first half, the second half is burned into my mind though, even 20 years later. Robbie Keane opened the scoring early on belying his 19 years, finishing confidently after ghosting in at the far post from a deft Quinn flick on. The game hadn’t really settled back down into any sort of rhythm and FR Yugoslavia were level, Stankovic arrowing an admittedly brilliant header across Kelly and into the far corner from a delicious, deep delivery from Mijatovic. After that, all semblance of structure to the game was gone, both teams took turns to attack and with the tension building all around the old Lansdowne Road, Mark Kennedy picked up the ball on the right and cut inside, almost aimlessly, looking to get onto his stronger left foot and when he did he lashed an unstoppable drive past  the flailing Kocic, off the underside of the bar in that oh-so-satisfying way and into the back of the net. We were sat almost directly behind the goal and the old bucket-stand seats (very similar to Celtic Park’s old temporary stand) bore witness to scenes of celebrations so wild that it was audibly creaking. Ireland play in a much nicer Lansdowne Road these days but it has yet to serve up a game that matches this for raw emotion.

Andy Gorman – Celtic v Hapoel Be’er Sheva

GORMAN: Celtic’s Champions League play-off against Hapoel Be’er Sheva has always been a stand out game for me. I used to work for Ladbrokes within Parkhead stadium, so if I had the chance, I would slip past the steward and have a sly look for a spare seat. I had managed this in the previous game against Motherwell, a 5-0 demolition in the League Cup and I was obviously very encouraged by the performance. However, I had been worried about this game all week, as we all know how much of a banana skin these qualifiers can be. I managed to find a seat, perfectly situated at the halfway line in the North stand lower. I looked across to the Green Brigade to see an ocean of Palestinian flags. I knew instantly that we were all in for some night.

Celtic opened the scoring with a tidy finish from Tom Rogic, lifting the roof off Celtic Park. I was especially delighted as I had a fiver on him to score first! Griffiths nodded home a terrific cross from James Forrest sending the atmosphere to fever pitch. I hadn’t seen Celtic perform like this for years. We went into halftime with score line at 3-0, courtesy of an absolute beauty of a freekick from Leigh Griffiths. I just remember being absolutely buzzing with the performance, rabbling onto my mate from work who was equally ecstatic. It was the first time I think the players truly understood Rodgers philosophy and it was absolutely beautiful to watch.

The start of the second half unfortunately, was all to familiar. Hapoel scored two goal within two minutes of each other, completely sucking the life out of the atmosphere within the stadium. I thought it was going to be Malmo all over again. This was until I seen Moussa Dembele receiving instructions on the touchline, I knew Rodgers was taking a gamble but was excited to see we were going for it. Rodgers’ gamble paid off after Dembele sent a bullet header into the net after a beautiful corner kick from Griffiths. The atmosphere was electric once again, with the crowd in full voice. The pick of the bunch was Brown’s glorious strike, after fluking a shot with his left foot, then lashing home the rebound with his right, sending Parkhead into ecstasy.

I remember it being absolute bedlam in the stands and ending up miles from where I was sitting, probably hugging many strangers in the process. This goal turned out to be crucial in the second leg of this game in which we lost 2-0, the most terrifying game I’ve witnessed in my Celtic supporting life. 

The resilience and mentality displayed that night to restore a three goal lead, demonstrated that Rodgers had instilled a completely different mindset in a team that would have crumbled in a situation like this in previous years. This game really sticks out as one of my favourites, as it really was the best I’d seen Celtic play for years. The drama of the whole game had me experiencing heart palpitations and that is exactly what I want from a football match. In my opinion is the best I have ever seen Brown play and I was so happy for him as he’d been completely written off the season before. He was categorically outstanding. Won every single 50/50, was the influencer in nearly every attack and totally dominated the midfield. A totally unforgettable performance.

I honestly believe that this game was the catalyst for the invincible season, and I will remember it as long as I live. Especially because I met Paul the Tim.

Want to share your sports memories with us? Get in touch in the comments below or on Twitter @90MinuteCynic. Missing Celtic and bored of the international break? Subscribe to us at www.patreon.com/90MinuteCynic for non-stop unparalleled Celtic coverage and discussion.

Despite growing up, and now studying, in England, Celtic have always been a huge part of my life. I first watched the team with my dad; I fell in love and then there was no turning back. Torn between a statistically enhanced footballing style and a good, old-fashioned get-it-in-the-mixer-and-score style.

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