30 Day Challenges… Day 8
“A Player Who Scored Your Favouite Ever Goal”. How on earth do you pick that one?! There are many goals that I love. Goals that have clinched league titles, goals that have clinched late winners, spectacular efforts that you just have to applaud… ach sod it, it’s Henrik Larsson.
I’ve mentioned him a few times already, but he really is my all time favourite Celtic player. He’s probably my all time favourite player actually. He’s scored so many goals I love. The first goal in Seville is the best header I’ve ever seen, he scored the goals that got us to Seville and so many others on that same run. 242 goals was his tally at Celtic and I swear I can remember most of them just by closing my eyes. But, like most Celtic fans, it’s one goal against Rangers that sticks out more than any other. That goal was his first in a game we won 6-2.
August 2000. Half time and Celtic are 3-1 up. The three goals came in the first quarter of an hour of the game and it was like nothing any of us had expected. Despite the roaring start, Rangers had pulled a goal back. I don’t think they did as there was some doubt as to whether it crossed the line or not. No replay showed it, the post obscured the view of the linesman who gave it… but since they’d had what I thought was a perfectly good goal chopped off for offside a few minutes earlier maybe it was justice. Anyway, half time and I’m still a little nervous that they’ll come back. After all, we were still rebuilding the team after the disaster that was the John Barnes era. So nerves were shot to pieces by that. We need not have worried.
Five minutes into the second half, there’s a long ball up the park. Chris Sutton holds off Lorenzo Amoruso not far inside the Rangers half and knocks the ball down to Henrik Larsson. He manages to evade the Rangers player that’s behind him as he controls the ball. Meanwhile, Chris Sutton holds off Amoruso so he can’t get near Henrik. That just leaves Bert Konterman as the Rangers defence to stop Larsson. What does Henrik do? Nutmegs him. Straight through his legs. That puts him in on Stefan Klos in the Rangers goal. So, just the goalkeeper to beat. Before Klos can even think about rushing out and closing the angle, Henrik chips the ball over his head. Klos is no more than eight yards from goal and Henrik’s at the 18 yard line, but somehow Henrik gets the ball up and over Klos and back down to hit the back of the net.
The commentary from Sky is stuck in my head. All the stuff I learned at school, all those passages I had to learn in English class, that’s all gone. No, I remember what commentators say at brilliant goals.
“And Sutton… sets up Larsson here. Larsson… oh he’s in! HENRIK LARSSON… THAT! IS! SENSATIONAL!”
The goal made it 4-1. Any thought of a Rangers comeback was quickly banished. Rangers did score next – from a penalty – but Henrik scored again to make it 5-2. Sutton finished the rout in the final minute of the game. I wasn’t at the game but I was watching on TV. This was Martin O’Neill’s first game against Rangers and he’d blown them away. It’s 11 years later and I still don’t think Rangers have recovered from that day. Celtic have taken steps backwards since and let Rangers back into the challenge once more, but they’ve never been the same. This was the height of Rangers silly spending. After we gubbed them 6-2 they panicked and spent £12 million on Tore Andre Flo. That was their last. After that they reigned in the spending and they’ve been doing that ever since. They’re still skint now.
I also love the fact that this goal helped bookmark one of the best striking partnerships in Celtic history. Larsson and Sutton had played their part in setting up this goal in their first game together against Rangers, and when the time came in 2004 for their last game together against Rangers the roles were reversed. This time Henrik held off a defender while Sutton beat a defender with some strength rather than skill before chipping the ball over Klos and into the net. That’s another goal I love, but it’s just not quite the same as this one. I like nutmegs.
This was the day I finally believed Celtic were better than Rangers. I’d grown up through their nine in a row so I was used to us losing. No longer. Henrik’s goal was the highlight of a game that was a highlight itself. I don’t think I’ve looked back since. We’ve been down, but we’ve always believed we’d bounce back.