We’re in the midst of the October international fortnight. Yes, a number of Celtic players are featuring for their respective nations. Yes, Scotland follow up their scudding in Russia with a bottom-of-the-table clash against San Marino tomorrow. And yes, there’s a plethora of televised games over the coming days to avoid going completely cold turkey. But, effectively, the real football is on hold for another week.
Celtic entered the international break following consecutive league fixtures without a win for the first time since April (also against Livingston and Hibs), gifting the other side of the city their ‘fifth-of-the-way-through-the-season’ title. Whilst it would be naïve to simply dismiss their upturn in results this season, it is also important – or least enjoyable – to recognise their jubilant celebrations as a symbol of just how drastically times have changed. From wild comparisons between each new signing and a past legend of the game, to a pitch invasion on matchday one, this is a side starved of any meaningful success.
It wasn’t always like this though. There was a time when we were the one’s needing to cling on to such futile victories. A different age, yet not so long ago, when 20p could get you both a chocolate bar and a packet of crisps. When ‘you tube’ was still merely an insult.
A time we call, the 90s. Remember them?
Things could always be worse
In Celtic circles the question has been asked so frequently over recent years it’s been adopted as our own self-parody, “you think losing to Lincoln Red Imps was bad, do you even remember the 90s?”
Satire aside, we all, as supporters, understand the significance of that time. A dark period in our history during which Celtic stood on the brink of oblivion as our rivals enjoyed a decade of domestic dominance – their ongoing financial doping unbeknown at the time.
On and off the park Celtic were competing in a different world to our neighbours. Infamous names like Cascarino, Slater, and Biggins invoke bruising flashbacks for those who were inside Celtic Park throughout the Jungle’s last stand, whilst outside in the carpark, a hearse sent by the Sunday Mail signified not only the desperate state of affairs in the boardroom, but also the widespread glee at our impending demise.
No one was going to save Celtic but themselves.
The man with the bunnet…
On the night of 4thMarch 1994, that is precisely what happened. As Brian Dempsey uttered those iconic words, “the game is over, the rebels have won,” it was announced that Fergus McCann’s takeover was complete, and a new era would begin at Celtic Park.
McCann set about revamping and reinvigorating the club, scrapping the idea of taking Celtic away from their home to Cambuslang, instead entirely renovating the current ground, building the largest club stadium in Britain at the time.
Whilst over time McCann drastically changed the fortunes of Celtic Football Club, he wasn’t reckless in doing so. As a result on-field success was by no means instant and his tenure wasn’t always plain sailing, with the scarring penalty shootout defeat in the 1994-95 League Cup Final to Raith Rovers supplemented by a 4thplace finish in the league. However, a 1-0 victory over Airdrieonians in the 1995 Scottish Cup Final would see Celtic clinch their first major trophy in 6 years to culminate the first full season under McCann’s reign.
It would take a further three years for Celtic to finally break Rangers’ domestic stranglehold. But it would be more than worth the wait. With Rangers equalling the historical 9 league titles won in a row by Jock Stein’s legendary sides of the 60s and 70s, the 1997-98 campaign was, for them, all about creating their own record, and for us, about stopping them at all costs.
Whenever I’m asked, “remember the 90s?”, I find myself caught in two minds, but in truth, a simple answer of “yes” would be as fraudulent as a David Murray side-letter.
As a child of the early 90s the events outlined above are inscribed in my mind because of the tales I’ve been told, the stories I’ve read, and the video’s I’ve watched, as opposed to first-hand experiences.
Whilst my first real Celtic memories are of the side who stopped the 10, it was the following season, and then the John Barnes debacle after that, which leave the clearest, most lasting impressions from a pure footballing perspective – my first ever game a 1-0 defeat at home to Motherwell on a howling Wednesday night in October, a few days after Henrik Larsson’s horrific leg break against Lyon.
Originally, I wasn’t to be taken to my first game until the weekend, but a last-minute change of plan meant off we set on that wet Autumn night, my dreams of seeing my hero already crushed, and the late alteration causing us to miss kick off. It was 1-0 by the time we got inside, and all that was left to witness, on my first visit to Celtic Park, was a Motherwell red card and an abject Celtic struggle to create anything of note against 10-men.
Fortunately, I was still taken back a few days later, but as Kilmarnock headed into the break with a 1-0 lead my dad must’ve been thinking it’d be for the last time. A quickfire Mark Viduka hattrick and an Ian Wright debut goal later and the points were assured though, with Craig Burley rounding off proceedings. At last a welcome to Paradise.
What it meant to me
By the age of 20 I’d endured Rangers winning 13 league titles in my lifetime. Not quite spoiled enough to fall into the “new breed” of Celtic supporter, yet not quite 90s-conscious enough to be considered a Celtic da’.
Whilst I may not remember the entirety of the decade, these were without doubt my transformative football years, the years that caused my obsession with the game, that made me fall in love with Celtic. Above all else, one event stands out from this period as provoking such affinity. As with so much of the 90s and Celtic, it goes back to stopping the 10.
My parents, and much of my extended family, had left Glasgow for the suburbs of London before I was born. Hardly the perfect place to soak up a Celtic title victory, right? But, in the summer of 98, this small town outside the capital of England turned into our very own corner of Glasgow. Plans must have been set in motion inside my auntie and uncle’s house not long after Larsson and Brattbakk wrote their names into our history books. As a child it felt like half the city had made the journey south to join the celebrations. Having been brought up on Hogmanay, rather than New Year, a Glaswegian party was nothing new to me then. But this was different. The day began with a Celtic versus the Rest of the World football match in the local park – fitting for the era – before moving inside to our very own Celtic mecca. It was more than simply celebration. It was elation. A carnival of green and white. And everybody was part of it.
The day previously my dad had printed out the lyrics to Fields of Athenry (though neither of us are quite sure how he managed to do so back then) and had myself and my 9-year-old sister studying each line so not a single word would be forgotten. He had umpteen more copies with him on the day, prepared to support anyone else needing an education (the ROTW squad also welcomed to join the festivities) as we danced on tables and sang long into the night.
It would be years before I truly understood the significance of winning that title, but whilst I didn’t know why it was so important, I knew that it was. How much it meant to so many people. And though I didn’t really understand it at the time, I was part of it, I felt it.
Do I remember the 90s? Not exactly, but I’ll also never forget them.
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