It Was 30 Years Ago Today...
By The Way - Weekly Columns
For the last eight months, I have been diligently following and enjoying the output of @_Tweet_Celtic_, the Twitter account that is reliving Celtic’s centenary season game by game. [As an aside, the only surprise to me is that there isn’t a Twitter account reliving the anniversaries of equally epic and historic seasons of 1997-98 and 2007-08. Stopping 10IAR was an emotional roller-coaster from day 1 while winning the league at Tannadice on a Thursday night has to be one of the most unexpected and remarkable titles Celtic have ever won.] However, there’s no doubt the centenary season has assumed almost mythical status in the memories of those of us lucky (and old) enough to have lived through it. That we would have to wait an almost tortuous decade before tasting league-winning joy again is not a thought that crossed the minds of anyone belting out Happy Birthday Dear Celtic at every match from January 2, 1988 to December 31, 1998. The tweets about those 1987-88 goals and results are cracking and bring back lots of fantastic memories, as the replies often demonstrate. But one date and one game has been on my mind as the centenary season has been replayed in tweet form – the Scottish Cup semi-final against Hearts on April 9, 1988. It has gone down in folklore as the game that perhaps epitomised like no other the Celtic centenary season. One nil down going into the last two minutes, Celtic somehow scored an equaliser through Mark McGhee and then an even more remarkable winner from Andy Walker in the most dramatic fashion. And it’s here I begin my mea culpa. A confession 30 years in the making. An abject apology 30 years in the brewing. April 9 is my birthday. On that fateful day, I had driven to Hampden with my sister Louise and my cousin AnneMarie. We had tickets for the Celtic end and, as usual, got ourselves tucked by a barrier as a way of buffering ourselves against the crowd. With the 20:20 vision of hindsight, leaning against a barrier at a football match is the surest way to get crushed in any swell. However, on that day, we were safe. It was a pretty cloudy day, not particularly warm, with none of the blazing sunshine that gave me serious sunburn the following month. Hampden, for younger readers, back then was an absolute toilet. Plus ça change, as they say. The steep terraces were as crumbling and dangerous as everyone recalls, dust and muck at your feet. Don’t even talk to me about the toilet facilities – suffice to say, we women always made like a camel and held on until the safety of the pub or home. As we avoided the lavvies, the biggest risk around peeing for women was some bloke pissing down the back of your leg. As a lifelong short arse, seeing any action from terracing was tough because EVERYONE is taller than me. On that day I did my usual, juking and ducking from side to side, up on my tippies at times, to see what was unfolding. I ended up spraining my ankle so badly it’s still as weak as a newborn kitten 30 years on. NB: this is not an excuse for what was to happen later. Anyway, to the game, which was a huff-and-puff affair from Celtic. Hearts took the lead halfway through the second half when Packie Bonner failed to collect a high, spinning cross and that big lumbering eejit Dave McPherson claimed the goal. And as the minutes ticked away, despite relentless Celtic pressure on the Hearts goal, their soon-to-be calamitous goalie Henry Smith dealt comfortably with everything we could throw at them. As we approached the 85th minute, I made the fateful decision. With one eye on my birthday drinks later that night, I said to the girls: “We’re never going to score. We’ll just have to be happy with the league this year. Let’s go and beat the crowds.” Their protests were long and loud, but I held the trump card – I was driving. So, we began to make our way up the terraces, glancing behind all the way to watch wave after wave of what seemed ineffectual Celtic attacks. At the top of the terraces, we looked back once more, Louise and AnneMarie in some despair and fury. We had reached the top of the steps to exit the ground when an almighty roar enveloped us. Celtic had equalised! Oh shit. We ran back but couldn’t see a damn thing over the bouncing, exuberant, celebrating fans. Trying to force our way back into that maelstrom of humanity was impossible. It was then I made another fateful decision. “Right, we’ll come back for the replay. Come on!” We were halfway down the exit stairs when a second cacophonous wave of sound hit us. Celtic had scored! And we hadn’t seen that one, either. The journey home was a silent one. My feeble sorry was treated with the contempt it deserved. While I did set the video to record Sportscene that night to make sure we’d finally “see” the goals, even the dulcet tones of Archie Macpherson have never made up for me making them leave the match early. They haven’t forgiven me. I haven’t forgiven myself. So, today, as @_Tweet_Celtic_ begins the build-up to an unforgettable game for everyone who saw its extraordinary finale live, I can only apologise once again for making it an equally unforgettable one for the three of us who didn’t. PS We didn’t leave before the final whistle at the cup final…
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