Off the back of another 3 points gained away to St. Mirren, we’d like to take a look back at some of the best goals Celtic have scored in their Boxing Day fixture. Spoiler: there are some belters. I’m Stephen Russell (@SJRussell23) and we have Eoin Coyne (@toomanybigwords) and Matt Evans (@SkylandsCSC) to talk us through their top 5.
A note from Matt:
Since the 1997/98 season when Celtic stopped the ten, the annual Boxing Day (or Boxing Day-adjacent) fixture has been very good to the Hoops. The record is 17 wins against only one loss (away to St. Johnstone in, ironically, the 97/98 season) and four draws. Here are my top five goals from those 22 matches, and although this year’s festive fixture perhaps didn’t provide goals that will appear on the 2040 version of this list, at that time we might struggle to be able to read it on our telescreens through the thick, toxic smog anyway. Without further ado:
Cha Du Ri v St. Johnstone, 2010
Dontcha’ wish your full back was Cha-Du-Ri? Ooooh Aaaaah up the Cha? No takers? Philistines! Though much maligned during his brief spell in the Hoops Cha left us with more to remember than that mad OG v Rennes and subsequent stupefied grin. First and foremost, this was a truly awful, awful game during a time in Neil Lennon’s first stint in charge where results had dipped a little and some uncomfortable questions were being asked of the rookie manager. We had suffered three draws against Dundee Utd, Inverness and Killie and were playing with a notable lack of confidence. The game against the Saints was headed that exact same way. It was freezing, there were about 30k in the ground at most and it looked like our title challenge was going to end in a blaze of drawn home games. We needed a goal, no, more than that, we needed a hero. Step forward Cha, this is your moment and I will NOT let them forget you. As the game ticked on towards the 91st minute and yet another draw looked inevitable a right-back never known for his orthodoxy tried something wild. Tearing up from his defensive position he receives the ball and immediately cuts inside on to his, err, trusty left foot. At this point something mental happens – he ever so casually curls the ball into the far top corner of the net from just inside the box. NOBODY expected it to happen and the explosion of relief, joy and sheer what the fuckery was a joy to behold. We had been so turgid and it seemed like we just couldn’t win a game of football at home. Ki slammed home a second a couple of minutes later but make no mistake, it was the Cha goal that saved the day and he topped it off with a very respectable knee-slide and shirt-removal.
Odsonne Edouard v Aberdeen, 2018
In a 4-3 thriller at Pittodrie, Scott Sinclair’s hat trick was of course the most massive contribution to a vital three points, but Celtic’s third goal was a true thing of beauty. On 86 minutes, Celtic were counterattacking to try and break a 2-2 deadlock. James Forrest placed an inch-perfect pass into substitute Edouard, who split Aberdeen’s centre backs. The ball was touched off his foot by a defender, but his eyes tracked the ball as it trickled behind him. Barely breaking stride, Eddy turned a full 360 degrees to take the ball onto his left foot and deliver the sweetest of chips over the onrushing goalkeeper. The fact that his momentum was taking him away from goal enhances this effort even more. A minute later, Edouard set up Sinclair’s third with a cutback pass after a powerful, skillful run to the byline to make it 4-2.
Virgil Van Dijk v St. Johnstone, 2013
We knew he was good from his first appearance in the Hoops, the guy oozed class and composure allayed with real physical strength and a great turn of pace. I remember thinking the 3-4 million we paid for him was daylight robbery. Was everyone at Groningen on drugs? The Dutch? Surely not. He managed 9 goals in total in his 2 years at Celtic but one stands out above the others as a marker for just how good a footballer Virgil Van Dijk was.
This was probably the moment we all realised big Virgil wouldn’t be adorning the Hoops for a McGrain-esque dynastic period. It was a bit of a nothing game but a goal worthy of any occasion. That it came in the rather humble setting of McDiarmaid Park just adds to its charm. He picks the ball up after a bit of classic Celtic side-to-side and a trademark Joe Ledley safe pass back to the centre-half. With nothing obviously on he strides forward, the first part is power – brushing off the first Saints defender in the manner a giant might brush away a gnat. The second part takes out two more opponents and is a wonderful, deft little turn of balance inside combined with a level of acceleration that you don’t typically see from an SPFL centre-half to burn away from the by now very worried home defence and into the big gap they’ve left behind. There’s a desperate scramble to get across and get some sort of block but by then Virgil has already prodded the ball beyond the keeper and into the bottom corner. He might not have been here long but my God, he was a Rolls Royce of a defender and his current status backs that up. Probably the best defender in the world right now but this was very much a goal scored the Glasgow Celtic Way.
Scott MacDonald v Rangers, 2008
Celtic played an Old Firm derby on Boxing Day for the first time since 1999, and it was a tight, tense affair. Winter weather made the Ibrox pitch more suited to hockey than football as both teams turned to get it up the park, hit-and-hope tactics. The Celtic attack was especially nonexistent in the first half, but Artur Boruc, putting in a typically spirited performance at Ibrox, kept Celtic in it, on the road to going seven points clear in the league.
On 58 minutes, Scott MacDonald scored what would be the only goal of the match. Gary Caldwell picked up the ball just on his side of the halfway line and lofted a long ball to Giorgios Samaras, who was camped about 25 yards from goal. Sammy, towering over his marker, flicked a header on to the awaiting MacDonald, stationed just at the edge of the penalty area. The Australian took the ball into his chest and then off his knee, using his body and the touch of the ball to spin defender Kirk Broadfoot the wrong way. MacDonald pivoted to his right and lashed a shot off the half-volley high into the top corner, sending the Celtic support in the stand behind the goal into ecstacy.
Phil O’Donnell v Dundee, 1998
A forgotten gem from a player and man who will always be missed and never forgotten. Phil O’Donnell joined Celtic in a unique time that saw him become our record signing under the doomed reign of Lou Macari, he would then feature in the resurgent Tommy Burns team, winning the Scottish Cup in ’95 in a game that was absolutely vital in the rehabilitation of the cub. He would go on to claim his permanent place in Celtic folklore for some vital contributions in the year the 10 was stopped. Yes, injuries probably robbed us of the chance to see just how good he could have been but we should not lose sight of just how good he actually was. This is a lovely, satisfying goal to watch with a whole host of names involved that make those of us of a certain vintage go “ahh jaysus remember him!”. You’d say that if you’re from Dublin anyway.
The highlights open with Vidar Riseth rampaging down the right wing before falling over himself after tackling the pitch. Takes me back. I won’t upset Gall too much more as he did also manage to score in this game. With his head, not his mad Norwegian feet that he never seemed to be in full control of. It’s a lovely team goal that starts with a sharp, nifty little back heel from Paul Lambert in the centre. This clever lay off to Lubo the Genius allows him enough time and space to hit a picture perfect pass that both sails over the Dundee defence but also utterly fucking dissects it with scalpel-like precision. From that point it’s all O’Donnell. An immaculate first touch pulls the ball down out of the sky and puts him in behind the last defender. Rab Douglas comes tearing out of his goal but O’Donnell just deftly nudges the ball beyond with with that trusty left foot and the ball just trundles into the goal, not much power but all the precision. A really lovely goal.
Georgios Samaras v Dundee, 2012
The 2-0 win on Boxing Day at Dens Park in 2012 featured two above-average goals, and had this been a top-ten list Gary Hooper’s 71st minute goal might have made this list (he split two defenders and then beat Dundee keeper Rab Douglas with a gorgeous lob). Unfortunately for him, Samaras’ goal for the opener was a thing of real beauty. Celtic had been knocking at the door when they won a corner. Charlie Mulgrew delivered a lovely ball to the far post which was met by Tony Watt (!), whose side-footed volley was well-taken but parried into the air by Douglas.
The ball bounced high in the air, towards the six-yard line. Samaras, looking overhead and taking two steps towards midfield to buy himself some space, launched himself into an overhead kick, met the ball perfectly in midair, and put the ball just under the crossbar for an absolutely brilliant goal. Prone on the Dens turf, he was promptly piled on by his teammates; the eventual victory would see Celtic expand their lead at the top of the Premiership to seven over Motherwell (!!) and Inverness (!!!)
Scott McDonald v Rangers, 2008
It’s weird how you view these things with the fullness of time providing the context we missed at the time. I thought this goal would ensure a 4th league title in a row for Gordon Strachan’s Celtic. Always more workmanlike than artful, this victory seemed massive in that year’s title race at the time. Now, it looks more like the last hurrah of the Strachan era. The signs were there, a 2-4 loss at home to the huns was a stark wake-up call and the team rallied after that, for a while anyway, there was a 12-game winning streak but by the time we rolled up to Ibrox form had started to dip again, with a defeat to hibs, a draw with hearts and a less-than-convincing win at Falkirk leading up to this game. Again, the overall affair was rather forgettable as you might expect from teams managed by Messrs Strachan and Smith. One goal was always likely to be enough to settle the affair but where it would come from was the mystery. Would it be Koki Mizuno? Hell no, I just waned to shoe-horn his name in there to remind you all that he actually started this game. Wild.
Anyway, the goal itself was a fucking beauty and a reminder that Scott McDonald was a pretty lethal finisher, particularly domestically. He does brilliantly here but there is a vital contribution from everyone’s favourite Greek god, Sammy battles really well to flick on a pretty aimless punt upfield, notable though that he actually started the move by dropping back to the centre circle and spraying the ball out wide. In the next shot he’s winning the header to set up McDonald to use his ‘heft’ and low centre of gravity to control the ball, get inside his marker and lash an utterly unstoppable drive beyond McGregor and into the back of the net to send the Broomloan stand wild. Ultimately not the goal that would help us to the title as we badly ran out of steam as the season bore on and Rangers were handed the title because we essentially drew too many games. McDonald himself would be off the following January but he did give us plenty of goals to remember and this was probably the best one. The sheer unadulterated violence of the hit makes it a worthy number 2 on this list.
Ľubomír Moravčík v Livingston, 2001
The 2001 Boxing Day fixture came off a dispiriting loss to Aberdeen the previous weekend. Although Celtic would take all three points from Livingston at home, it was not at all smooth sailing as the visitors battled hard, scoring two goals, taking Celtic down to ten men after Joos Valgaeren was sent off late on, and only being beaten by a Henrik Larsson extra-time goal. It was Larsson’s second of the match, but it was Celtic’s first, off a Moravčík free kick, that goes into the Boxing Day goals hall of fame.
In the twelfth minute, Celtic won a free kick about 30 yards from goal; it was a long way from goal. Moravčík and Larsson both stood over the ball as the rest of the players jockeyed for position inside the box. Not one of them would be needed. Larsson took a runup and then continued on; it was up to the talented right foot of the Slovakian forward and he came through in spades. His free kick rocketed into the top left corner, giving the keeper no chance whatsoever.
Shunsuke Nakamura v Dundee Utd, 2006
He’s so good he could knock a cake-topper off a wedding cake and leave the cake intact, so good he could hit the ball through the window of a moving bus. It sounds like the boasts of a hyperbolic madman, except Shunsuke Nakamura has literally done both of those things – and a hell of a lot more. Like Lubo, this wasn’t really football, this was more like fine artistry. A player with a wand of a left foot who could make the ball do pretty much whatever he wanted it to. If Strachan-era Celtic were mostly huff and puff then Nakamura provided the guile, inventiveness and intangible creativity that teams like Celtic will always need. This goal, perhaps more than any of his others (and he had some crackers) illustrates just how special a talent he was – still is, he’s still playing! Again, the game wasn’t the prettiest and Celtic’s performance was pretty rotten. 2 down at the hour mark and playing like we didn’t know each other a defeat seemed destined.
Enter Naka. Firstly, he swung over the free kick that allowed Darren O’Dea power home a header to put us back in the game. Two minutes later he produced a goal of jaw-dropping beauty to level the game. I’m not even exaggerating a little, this is a sumptuous, delightful goal to watch. God bless Derek Stillie in the Arabs goal as he really made it look better with his desperate, flailing dive. Two Derek Stillies and a fucking step ladder wouldn’t have gotten to this, it was inch-perfect. The ‘move’ involved Evander Sno meandering around the middle before launching a ball in the general direction of Derek Riordan, he nods the ball inside to Nakamura who takes a touch with the right to set himself and then chip-drinks the ball from the edge of the box over the stranded Stillie and into the back of the net. A piece of absolute genius. Close enough to Stillie so he can wave at it as it sails over him and nestles sweetly in the back of the net. That was what he was all about, creating magic moments out of nothing and turning the turgid to the sublime within minutes. A great, great player and the man who score my favourite Celtic boxing day goal, number 1 with a bullet.
Virgil van Dijk v St Johnstone, 2013
My number-one Boxing Day goal of all time goes to Virgil van Dijk, a man who only played two seasons at Celtic, but that was plenty of time to see flashes of the brilliance he would eventually display at Liverpool on the way to becoming a legitimate Ballon d’Or candidate. Big Virgil was always defensively solid, especially against clearly inferior Scottish opposition, but it was his offensive capability that really got fans out of their seats during his time in Glasgow.
You knew Virgil had a lot in his locker but there was always a bit of mystery about exactly what he was capable of in the attacking end beyond headers. Later in the 2013/14 season he would score a belter of a free kick at Easter Road, and would eventually leave Celtic having scored 9 in 76, a decent enough return for a centre-half. But none of his headers or free kicks was better than his goal at McDiarmid Park on Boxing Day 2013. It would be the only goal of a tedious 1-0 win, but to those in attendance it was worth the price of admission.
Celtic were dicking around with the ball in midfield, with both Emilio Izaguirre and Joe Ledley finding no route forward, Ledley played the ball back to defence. I imagine Virgil’s thought process went something like “Fuck this, everycunt out the road” as he gathered the pass near the centre circle. Taking a touch over the halfway line, he glided past Samaras and Ledley, vacating the space, as well as their defenders, who both went for the ball and were left for dead by the long strides of the Dutchman.
At this point, Virgil is about 35-40 yards from goal, with three additional Saints right in front of him, and then acres of space beyond in the penalty area. How does he get past these men? He shapes to shoot – it would have been a ridiculous dig from distance – committing the defenders to their positioning. Instead of taking the shot on, however, Virgil takes a ridiculously long touch, the ball going about 15 yards off his foot. Remember, though, the box was vacant. Virgil used his stride and pace to beat the St. Johnstone right back to the ball, and, meeting the ball just past the 18-yard line, flicked a one-timer with the outside of his right foot inside the left-hand post.
It was a splendid individual effort for the goal, one borne of Virgil’s supreme confidence in his game and his ability to beat the defense in front of him. Long after he completes a very successful footballing career, he may just well remember, among the trophies, that goal he scored in Perthshire on the 26th December 2013.
MATT’S HONORABLE MENTIONS: Stuart Armstrong v Hamilton (2016), Shunsuke Nakamura v Livingston (2005), Mark Viduka v Rangers (1999).