Memorable Matches-Part 9
Today’s offering is from THEGOMBEENMAN and once again,he stirs some memories with the telling.
Celtic 1 Newcastle United 1
Celtic Park, August 5th 1995
‘A few players that have no played here. A Manager that’s no managed here. All very excited, a fantastic time for the Club to come back to the new stadium. The way the supporters rallied to the club, perhaps at the time when it needed them most. It’s quite remarkable and fantastic for the people that support Celtic Football Club. The one thing we wanted more than anything last year was to come back here with something tangible to build on. The fact that we won the Scottish Cup is a big big bonus to us and something that we’ll no rest on because we know that Celtic supporters are looking for a lot more trophies and that’s what we are going to supply for them.’
The great late Tommy Burns made the above quote in the Dressing Room at Celtic Park before a friendly match against Newcastle United on Saturday, August 5th 1995. That day was memorable for me in so many ways. It was our return to Paradise after the enforced exile at Hampden. When I watched the footage of Tommy’s interview before the game I noticed two things. The first was the pride in his eyes and the emotion in his voice when he talked about how the Celtic supporters had rallied to the Club. Later, I sensed an anxiety in him when he considered the prospect of winning more trophies. I wonder if Tommy knew the enormity of the task that faced him?
Hampden the previous season had been awful. Doug Baillie described it in The Sunday Post as a ‘Season in the Wilderness.’ There had been years of financial and Board Room controversy. The hostile media. Remember the famous one about Celtic having to buy space over the cemetery? I remember trying to wrestle with the prospect of a move to a site in Cambuslang. Rangers had won 6 in a Row. There had been the Mo Johnson affair.
Souness, Smith and David Murray seemed to be able to attract the best players, Paul Gascoigne had joined Rangers from Lazio for £4.3 million during the Summer.
In an open letter to the Glasgow Herald last year Fergus McCann described the hostility that Celtic met from the SFA and Queens Park during that period. I’m not going to debate McCann’s tenure here. Love him or loathe him he provides a clear insight into the attitude of the football authorities in Scotland.
Mc Cann told the Glasgow Herald on 12th December 2017,
‘But the financing of its rebuilding was affected by the efforts of Queens Park and its SFA cousins. Celtic’s application for a £5m Football Trust grant was turned down, while the Hampden renovation project received a total of £10m. Sunderland FC received £5m for their stadium – a project 30% smaller than that at Celtic Park.
“Queens Park FC’s balance sheet shows the stadium as an asset costing circa £73m – mainly the new south stand and roof erected in the 90s. None of this was paid for by its owner. But about £64m of taxpayers’ money went into the project.
“The future should belong to the supporters who buy the tickets, and the clubs they own and support.”
McCann also revealed in his letter the fact that it was a term in the Lease Agreement between Celtic and the Hampden authorities that there was to be no flying of a foreign flag.
“In charge of Celtic, and having to rent the stadium for the 94/95 season, I had to tolerate the mean-spirited behaviour of Queen’s Park officials throughout that period.”
“This began with a clause in the lease – a ‘deal breaker’ as their attorney made clear – that forbade ‘the display of any foreign flag.’”
It was against this sinister backdrop that I travelled to the game from England. I remember all sorts of last-minute concerns whether the vigilant Health and Safety Inspectors from the local authority would allow the game to go ahead. I’d been kept up to date with the progress of the development of Celtic Park by photographs sent from home. I remember other ‘mishaps’ too like the Royal Mail employees inexplicably losing large quantities of documents relating to the Share Issue and mail being ‘found’ in obscure places. Despite the best efforts of many the infrastructure of the new North Stand was slowly put in place. On trips home, I’d drive to the ground to marvel at the structure rising from the ashes.
On the day of the opening, the feeling of excitement and anticipation approaching Celtic Park was palpable. Our seats were in the upper reaches of the new North Stand. It cost 17m to build and seated 27,000 supporters. It was huge. It was a warm sunny afternoon and there was an unfinished feeling to the place. The flights of stairs to our seats seemed endless and I can still recall the banter among supporters almost like kids on their first day at a new school. When I took my seat I marvelled at the views over the Cathkin Braes. The Main Stand was dwarfed by this vast new modern ‘Jungle’. We’d got there early and my dad was in his usual seat in the lower tier of the Main Stand. I still have a vivid memory of seeing him waving over from his seat.
I remember asking myself ‘What’s this place going to be like when it’s finished?’I was in awe. Both ends behind the goals were missing and in some ways that reflected the ongoing rebuilding work of the club. Sitting there I reflected on my early days at the ground. I could almost see the diminutive Jimmy Johnstone fearlessly attacking defences on the pitch. Billy McNeill leading the side. Paul Wilson, Harry Hood, Kenny Dalglish. Big Jock in the dugout. I remembered the pals that I used to go the games with. The old souvenir shop where we used to hang out before heading to the Parent and Child Gate looking for a ‘lift.’
Both my Grandad’s both spent their Saturday afternoons at Paradise. One of them told me that he’d often still have coal dust on his face and be wearing pit boots. My dad had carried on the family tradition and this new stadium was part of my inheritance. They were all there that day.
We were home.
My son and two of his pals travelled over from Ireland last week for the Leipzig game. Watching that game I realised that my son’s generation is free of much of the sense of inferiority and exclusion that many of us suffered. They are often better educated, more confident and thanks to the commitment of previous generations, don’t carry the same baggage. When my son recently said ‘Rangers are a joke.’ I couldn’t help recalling how someone once poetically prophesied about ‘…the laughter of our children.’
The game wasn’t too bad at all. Celtic played with the swashbuckling style that was Tommy’s trademark. Tommy made a speech from the pitch dressed in a green blazer. Both teams formed a guard of honour for Rod Stewart who cut the ribbon on the new stand releasing hundreds of green and white balloons. Newcastle fans shouted ‘Gazza’s a Geordie.’ Phil O’Donnell played. John Collins scored the first goal at the new partially completed stadium from the penalty spot. Hugh Dallas refereed the game. (Whatever happened to him?) Andreas Thom made his debut.
Les Ferdinand equalised. He’d been signed for the record sum of 6.5m from QPR. David Ginola was heckled for choosing Newcastle ahead of Celtic. Peter Beardsley was roundly applauded and walked off the park wearing a Celtic scarf.
31,000 attended the game. Upon the completion of the stadium, Celtic Park would hold almost 61,000 people and provide a platform for revenue generation that would enhance our position in Scotland and prove to be the envy of clubs around Europe.
Tommy Burns, for reasons that I won’t discuss here, was never able to bring the league trophy to Celtic Park. The reality is that Tommy didn’t have a chance. He gave everything to win the league and was denied by institutional cheating. David Murray’s Rangers ‘won’ the League that season by 4 points, despite losing 2 games more than Celtic. It’s fitting though, that Tommy was the first Celtic Manager at the new stadium and for his selfless efforts he will always be remembered as one of the greatest Celts.
My Dad too never got to see Celtic win the League Title again. He passed away on the October 27th 1997. By that time Tommy had left and Wim Jansen was in charge. August 5th 1995 was a turning point. It was to prove pivotal in the twenty years that followed.
Those years would see the demise of Rangers and frantic attempts to convince the public that new Sevco is the same club. Some of us oldtimers fight on to have the records changed. The youngsters with their new found confidence tell me ‘their deid Da.’ Maybe they are just free of the wounds of the cheating years? Tommy Burns led Celtic bravely through a dark period. The support of today are reaping the benefits of the dedication of men like Tommy.
My overall feeling looking back on that day is a sense of gratitude. A gratitude for those that lived in single ends and stood on freezing terraces. The supporters that dug deep to make it happen and for the men and women and of vision who made it happen. Let’s hope that our current custodians protect and guide our club in a manner that preserves our greatest asset.