The Lost Ten-Part Five
Continuing the series of articles about our exploits between 78-88 when we should have won Ten In A Row,this one deals with season 82/83.
Again,having won the league,Celtic declined to build from strength with no new signings. In four years at the club by then,the only major signings Billy McNeill had made were Dom Sullivan,Davie Provan,Murdo McLeod at the start of his reign,followed by Frank McGarvey and,erm,Willie Garner. A total outlay of around £600,000. By this time,we were being outspent as usual by the huns and even Aberdeen who had spent more than half of that on Peter Weir the previous year.
It didn’t seem to faze us though,as we blitzed through our six sectional League Cup games,scoring 29 for the loss of three. We welcomed back Charlie Nicholas,and had high hopes for him after his leg break in January. And basically we just carried on from there,the good form of the first half of the year taking us on a tremendous run right through to the end of the year.
Again,we had no luck in the draw for the European Cup,being paired with firstly Ajax and then Real Sociedad. We may have rode our luck against Ajax in the first leg-a Celtic defence without Roy Aitken was not a pretty thing back then-but it sure ran out against the Spaniards in a game which I thought was there for the taking. Lose a stupid goal at home,lose the tie.
But as the thoughts of the faithful turned towards Spring-a rare mild winter had cut down dramatically on the match cancellations-we were to receive an Arctic blast. We were already holders of The League Cup,having beaten the huns in a tremendous match to win the trophy for only the second time in thirteen years. (We wouldn’t win it again until fifteen years later,which is why I really enjoy winning it. I’ve seen us lose too many finals over the years!) By the end of January,we had played twentytwo league matches,with a record of 18-2-2 and 38 points. And scoring goals for fun,mainly from Charlie Nicholas!
We stood loud and proud at the pinnacle,but there were those amongst the support who remembered three years previously,when we had somehow surrendered our title from a similar vantage point to an Aberdeen side who just wouldn’t go away. But our first match in February was against Dundee United at Tannadice,and they hammered us 1-1. I had thought that holding Ajax to 2-2 earlier in the season was a stroke of fortune,but getting a draw in this match was daylight robbery. Charlie Nick scored his 35th of the season and that was all we could take from this. And with Aberdeen up next too…
No bother,Charlie settled the nerves in the first half and we were playing well. Until a minute before half time,when Eric Black managed to score twice! He completed his hat-trick and all of a sudden we were looking slightly less confident. We had two Scottish Cup ties and two games against the relegation fodder of Kilmarnock and Morton before we faced Dundee at Dens Park. Which we bloody lost,just as we did three years earlier though this time not so heavily. Followed by successive home draws against St Mirren and the huns,we were losing our grip on the title and had seen Aberdeen overtake us to lead by a point.
There were still eight games to play though,so no panic on that front. Not at all,what had us panicking was that we were playing crap! And with such a limited squad,Billy had little room for manoeuvre.
We got the wheels back on the wagon though with three successive victories,including one against Dundee United. That was important,because they had crept up almost unnoticed to lie just a point behind us beforehand. And then the bloody wheels came off again…
Papped oota the cup by Aberdeen-I was really starting to hate playing them,you know!-we had to play Dundee United again on the Wednesday. This really was a game we couldn’t afford to lose,but a draw would do,to be honest. No Danny McGrain so we had to play Willie Garner at right back. Aye,Desmond,ya tight old twat,Willie Garner at right back! And he only lasted about fifteen minutes before being injured,leaving Murdo to do his best there. People who think I’m hard on Peter Lawwell should hear me about White,I can tell you. We went a goal down early on before Charlie scored a penalty just before half time. Presumably the referee was reminded of his obligations at half time and promptly gave one to Dundee United to put them back in front.
To be fair,this was a difficult match for even a good referee to manage,and he sent off Richard Gough shortly afterwards. Celtic capitalised on the advantage with an equaliser from Tommy Burns and went all out for the winner. And it came from the unlikeliest of sources. Ralph sodding Milne.
3-2 to Dundee United. Advantage them. Except that we were still a point to the good. Except that our next game was at Pittodrie…
It was a rubbish match. Murdo hit the bar before Mark McGhee hit the post with a header. It bounced along the line,hit Roy Aitken,game over. As was our season,and we knew it. A point behind,three to play,it’s gone.
Sure,we won our last three games. Sure,we beat the huns at Ibrox after being two down at half time. Sure,Charlie got his fiftieth goal of the season. But for sure,this was a serious boot in the bollocks for us. The team was clearly lacking in the depth required for a rigorous season,and it showed in the later stages. It was being starved of investment just as clearly as the stadium was. This was not a season to remember,yet only three months earlier,it had been all sweetness and light. That was our second title we had thrown away in the last four seasons,and it was time we cut out the crap and got some decent players in.
White reacted by offering Nicholas an inducement to leave-by way of a derisory contract offer-and insulting Billy McNeill so greatly that he chased him out of the door too. I actually felt more down at the season’s end than I had in 1978. Which takes some doing. What next? Well,we would soon find out.
Above article by BMCUWP. Usual rules,submit an article and we will publish it. I’m off to look out the razor blades,because I hated every minute of reliving this particular season. Particularly that Ralph Milne goal-because that was when I knew. Knew we had blown it. Not Aberdeen the following Saturday. THAT goal.
Anyway,cheer me up and submit an article to Mahe