Celtic have won some fantastic league campaigns. An entire season undefeated could be argued the pinnacle, but last-gasp wins in the latest stages of the competition, like 1985/86 at Love Street, could feel just that bit more emphatic. Every season is a story, and this article will reminisce the best plots that Celtic have ever seen. I’m Stephen Russell (@SJRussell23) and joining me to debate their Top 5 League Defining moments are Eoin Coyne (@toomanybigwords) and Ronan Kearney (@Kearney1085).
COYNE: Celtic 1 – 1 Rangers (1997/98).
On the face of it a scrambled 1-1 against a side that had been playimg with 10 men since the first half might not seem all that impressive, in the context of this particular season though this was, in my opinion, by far our most important result. On November 8th we had gone to Ibrox, opened really brightly then lost 1-0, on November 15th we lost 2-0 at home to Motherwell which was league defeat number 4 already. In the season where winning and stopping the 10 were all that mattered. And so roll on November 19th and the visit of Walter Smith’s all conquering all-star team. They had spent a small fortune again that summer and by this early stage Marco Negri had already bagged 27 goals. Rangers early season form was quite terrifying, moreso when you contrasted that with the stuttering start Celtic had made.
A loss here would have been three on the bounce and to lose at home to a 10-man rangers would have surely signalled the end for our title hopes and given them a massive leg-up in the race. All seemed to be following the plan when Negri squeezed a shot past Gould at his near post. I listened to this game on the radio back home in Dublin and the feed was terrible, so much so that Alan Stubb’s last second equaliser almost did not register, the noise was undeniable though, Celtic HAD equalised. The team that always seemed to fall to the late goal, to get done by rangers in all sorts of ways had, the team that beat itself half the time had finally, beared its teeth and showed some steel. The message was sent – not this year, not this time Billy. It was a season where we drew far too many games but of all those draws this one held so much value. This draw set us up to beat them in January, the rangers mental block was gone after this. We knew we could match them, catch them and then fucking beat them. Arguably the most important Celtic goal in the last 20-odd years.
KEARNEY: Celtic 3 – 2 Rangers (2017/18).
“And all of a sudden, Celtic are advancing…Edouaaaaaaard! Celtic are ahead for the first time and with ten men.”
Under The Rat, Celtic were unmatched domestically but just prior to this game, there was a feeling that we had allowed Rangers a chance to get back into the title race. Six points clear and away at Ibrox, Celtic answered every question thrown at them in style. Despite going a goal down to a Josh Windass strike, the Wizard of Oz scored a belter with the most beautiful swing of his lovely left leg – not the last time we will mention that in this piece. Rangers went in front again but Moussa was on hand to get his customary goal against them – “Whit’s the goalie daaain Tom – WHIT’S THE GOALIE DAAAIN?” and we went in level at the break. Jozo’s elbow tried to rearrange Morelos’ face and he saw a red card (shock) and with the game in the balance… well, you know the rest. Dembele to Eddy who cut inside and curled the most sumptuous of shots past the keeper. He wheeled away in delight, opening up this big, sexy Eddy arms for us to all jump into. What a man. What a day.
COYNE: Rangers 1 – 5 Celtic (2016/17).
This wasn’t a result that won or even cemented a league win. This was far more about confirming a sea-change in football hierarchy. For a lot of us, Ibrox still carried a certain fear factor. We’d won there plenty of times but never in such a comprehensive manner. I never thought I’d see a Celtic team score 5 at Ibrox, it just didnt seem plausible, even though we knew we were THAT much better. There was no bulldog spirit of defiance on show here – just football reality biting down hard and putting glasgow’s second club firmly in their place. Lustig’s goal and celebration, THAT tackle from Jozo, Griffiths taking the piss at the corner flag. A great day to be a Celtic fan and a measure of just how much things had changed. Celtic were an all-conquering machine, rolling over an utter irrelevance of a rangers team. You loved to see it.
KEARNEY: Celtic 6 – 2 Rangers (2000/01).
“Larsson… oh he’s in…Henrik Larsson… THAT IS SENSATIONAL”
Let’s be honest, this will never be forgotten. Celtic had gone into the game with a 100% record in the league but this was the first true test. After Wim Jansen had stopped Rangers’ bid for 10 in a row, Celtic had to make do with watching their city rivals add to their collection in 1999 and 2000 before the arrival of the Saviour, the Divine Derryman, St Martin O’Neill. When he stood on this steps on the day of his appointment, you felt that things were going to be all right. How right we were about to be. I remember being in the pub with my brother watching the game – he had to take me because I was 14 at the time and as the game kicked off the nerves that were running through me were…BANG GOAL…ANOTHER GOAL…ANOTHER GOAL… 3 fucking goals in 11 minutes. What is happening? At half time, I tried to make sense of what I had witnessed but the best was still to come. Larsson and the chip. The lay off from Sutton. The nutmeg on Konterman. Klos helpless as the ball floated over him. The wee ball boys celebrating. It was glorious. O’Neill not only won the match but showed that this team were here to take back the league title. A truly momentous day.
COYNE: Celtic 3 – 2 Rangers (2007/08).
Godron Strachan era Celtic were certainly not vintage in terms of how we played but there was an admirable dogedness to that side that was never more evident than in the run in of 2007/08. Rangers had built up a formidable looking lead as we started the season sluggishly including a 4-2 reversal at home to Rangers early on in the season. With the two home fixtures coming so close together Celtic knew they needed to win both. I know a lot of people have a soft spot for the 2-1 win. It’s got THAT Nakamura goal and big Jan’s iconic last-second winner but this was arguably a bigger ask. To go out and beat them again so soon after that thriller was a totally different prospect. Barry Robson set the tone early on with an attempted homicide on Christian Dailly. Scott McDonald was red-hot that season and got us off to an early flier, finishing neatly from a big Jan knock-down. The lead was then surrendered as we went behind after conceding twice from corners. Crucially McDonald bagged a deflected equaliser before half time and when Barry Robson rattled home from the spot after McDonald had won a penalty you knew we would hold on. A massive resut in the league race and one that seemed to finally floor rangers whose season seemed to collapse in around them as Celtic went on to claim the title on an emotional night at Tannadice while they finished with nothing. A crazy, breathless game won as much through heart and endeavour as skill.
KEARNEY: Celtic 1 – 0 Kilmarnock (2015/16).
“It’s Rogic though…what a way to win a game!”
This was the day I stopped streaming football matches. Celtic under Ronny Deila were a curious bunch. We came into this match just the one point ahead of Aberdeen and had been unconvincing to this point to say the least. For my part, I was in Australia visiting my brother and had decided to find a link to watch the game – legally of course. At half time I took my frustrations out on our group chat by saying how bad we had played and some of my mates decided to tune in back home for the second half. They would text things like “so close” or “how has he missed that” that I would catch up on about 90 seconds later – the curse of the streamer. With 89 minutes on the clock and Killie on the ball, my phone lights up. “Fuck me, what a goal. Wow.” I couldn’t believe it. We had lost to them and given Aberdeen the initiative to go top going into the home stretch. But wait….they lose the ball and now we have it. It’s at McGregor’s feet. It’s now with Tom Rogic. Oh my. What a hit. The ball has flown straight into the top corner and the big Aussie sex bomb is taking off celebrating and Ronny Deila is running down the touchline warming up that cannon of an arm to shoot it three times into an adoring Celtic away support. The best of times.
COYNE: Celtic 2 – 0 St. Johnstone (1997/98).
Not a classic by any means but such an important win. On a personal level I found very little to enjoy about this season. So many of our wins seemed fraught and edgy, so many late goals conceded and so, so many draws over the course of the season. Celtic had drawn at Dunfermline the week before, conceding yet another late equaliser only to see Kilmarnock do us a massive favour and win at Ibrox. It was going to the last day and we just needed a win at home to St. Johnstone to stop the 10, to finally win a fucking league in what seemed like forever, the last one was played out to concrete terraces, old Celtic park, old Celtic board. The club had progressed in so many ways but we needed this title to confirm it all. Even after Henrik’s superb opener there was a needling sense of tension and fear around the place – it came through the tv screens and down the radio, it was a tangible thing. I can’t imagine how tense it was for everyone at the ground. George O’Boyle’s miss drew an audible intake from everyone not just in the ground but around the planet who was invested in this game. Again, I have to reiterate I found none of this enjoyable and even when Brattbakk’s goal confirmed we had finally done it, it was more relief than joy. The joy only came later when Tom Boyd raised the trophy and you had that confirmation that it was real, we hadn’t blown it. We weren’t fully back yet, but we were on our way.
KEARNEY: Celtic 2 – 1 Rangers (2007/08).
“Caldwell…McDonald…VENNEGOOR OF HESSELINK!!! They’ve done it. Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink answers the Celtic SOS”
Where do you begin with this? Anyone I ever speak to about this game has a different moment they love in this game. Robson smashing into Dailly seconds after the game begins, Nakamura bewitching Alan McGregor by sending him the wrong way from over 30 yards out and of course the winner. This season, one of the most emotional as a Celtic fan given the death of Tommy Burns just a few weeks after this game, was one also one of the greatest in terms of drama. With no right to win the league, Celtic overturned a huge points deficit in the last round of league fixtures and beat Rangers again at Parkhead before the end of the season before lifting the league at Tannadice. This game was the big one however. Rangers knew that a point would practically settle the title for them and even though Celtic won the game, it still left Rangers a point clear with two games in hand. Celtic were playing with a purpose in the latter half of this season and this came through at Tannadice on the final night of the season. Celtic, champions again.
COYNE: Celtic 6 – 2 Rangers (2000/2001).
In the end, there could only be one game for the top spot. This was a game that changed everything and set us on a new course, away from the turbulence and trauma of the 90s and on towards becoming the dominant force in Scottish football again. It’s fair to say that Celtic never ‘kicked on’ in the immediacy after stopping the 10. In 1999/2000 rangers won the league by TWENTY ONE points, the following season Celtic won it by FIFTEEN points. That is a quite ludicrous points swing and it all started with this thumping win, there is so much greatness on show here. The limbs after Sutton’s early opener, the sweetness of that Paul Lambert hit, Henrik scoring the greatest goal any of us has ever seen and the joy at the final whistle. It was so comprehensive and important a win for us, so crushing a defeat for them. This was a very expensively assembled rangers with a much-respected coach in Dick Advocaat and they were absolutely smashed within 15 blistering minutes at Celtic park. We could make the argument that they still haven’t fully recovered considering how many leagues each side have won since then. The 90s underachieving Celtic-era had ended, Martin O’Neill had arrived and rangers had turned back into a pumpkin.
KEARNEY: Celtic 2 – 0 Rangers (1997/98).
“A second one will surely settle it for Celtic…that’s LAAAAAMBERT…OHHHHHHH…what a way to settle it”
The goal that stopped the ten. Yes, Burley scored the first and yes, Rangers still topped the table after this game but I am convinced that this goal did more than anything else to stop Rangers winning ten consecutive league titles. It showed Jansen and his team that they were a match for Rangers and could topple them on their day. Rangers wilted under severe Celtic pressure in the second half and after Burley’s first goal, Celtic turned up the heat even more. Brattbakk missed a few chances surprisingly but it didn’t matter as Lambert unleashed an unstoppable drive into the top corner leaving Goram no chance. I watched it in the same pub as the 6-2 game above and was with my dad and my brother. The guy who owned the bar had just got his seats cleaned and didn’t take kindly to my wee size 4 feet muddying his upholstery. But I didn’t care. This was the first time I had really seen Celtic dominate Rangers and being old enough to appreciate it. I went home that evening praying that it wouldn’t be a one off and that Jansen could inspire this group to press on and end years of hurt. Wim Jansen. Harald Brattbakk. Enrico Annoni. Paul Lambert. Magical.