The Season Book Years – 2007/08
Continuing the season book years series, remember that the one rule I set myself here was that I could only pick a game that was on the season book that I actually went to. As such, they’re all home league games. I might mention other games from that season to put it into the context of the season, but the main focus will be on that one home league game. So, with that in mind…
Celtic 2-1 Rangers, 16th April 2008.
Nakamura 20, Vennegoor of Hesselink 90+3. Novo 55.
The quest for three league titles in a row for the first time since the Stein era was not going well. Rangers had won both games at Ibrox, and a defeat at home to Motherwell at the start of April had seen Celtic booed off the park and chants of “Strachan get tae fuck”. But there were still two home games against Rangers to come, and their fixture list was tightening up to breaking point.
There were a number of reasons for this. For one, both the Scottish national team and Rangers had ensured league fixtures were postponed in an effort to try and get a nice break before playing crucial European matches. Both Scotland and Rangers had lost those games anyway. Clearly they hadn’t remembered Dundee doing the same for Celtic in 2003 before we lost in the UEFA Cup final. Rangers defeat in particular sent them into the UEFA Cup, and they were to go on and reach the final in Manchester that year. Unfortunately for them, cup replays and waterlogged pitches would also play a part in their fixture congestion.
But one other fixture postponement was the reason for the two Ibrox games being played before the Celtic Park games. The New Year derby at Celtic Park had been scrubbed following the sudden passing of Phil O’Donnell. One of the men who stopped ten in a row in 1998 had died out on the pitch while playing for Motherwell less than a decade later, and many friends and former teammates of his were still involved at Celtic. No one at the club was ready to play football, and so the derby game – among others in Scotland that week – was eventually put back. This midweek fixture was that game’s rescheduled date.
Celtic took the lead through an absolutely stunning strike from Shunsuke Nakamura. It was the only goal he ever scored against Rangers*, but what a goal. From well outside the box he struck it so sweetly that it swerved one way and then the other to bamboozle Allan McGregor and send Celtic Park crazy. But that was nothing compared with what was to come.
Nacho Novo levelled the game ten minutes into the second half, and Rangers were content to try and get the draw that would keep them in pole position for the title. So much so that when Nakamura tried to curl a ball into the top corner, Carlos Cuellar punched the ball clear off the line. One penalty and red card later and Celtic were back in front, right?
Wrong. McGregor, despite injuring his ankle, saved the penalty from Scott McDonald and suddenly Cuellar was set to be a hero. His sacrifice would not go unrecognised if this finished a draw.
Or at least it wouldn’t if not for the late drama. With injury time into the third minute and Neil Alexander finally having replaced the injured McGregor in goal, Gary Caldwell launched a ball forward into the box. Scott McDonald knocked it back across goal and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink was there to nod the ball into the Rangers net. 2-1, and Celtic’s slim title chances were still alive. The bedlam in Celtic Park told you what that goal had meant.
Bouncing out of the stadium that night was just the beginning. Over the next few games we beat Rangers at home again in another tight game, before carrying on a winning run that took us all the way to that third title.
While we went on that winning run, Rangers fixtures had piled up so much that they couldn’t fit them all in. Despite this, and their earlier failure in the Champions League, Rangers still moaned that no one was helping them as they weren’t allowed to postpone their League match immediately before going to Manchester “like Celtic had in 2003”.
Except as I’ve already said earlier in this series, our game was actually brought forward, and was generously offered by Dundee not the league.
Rangers also moaned that they had to play all their games in quick succession, with 48 hours between some of them at times. Which again was rich considering Celtic once played and won two games in one day. Or, more recently, had beaten Rangers at Ibrox a little over 48 hours after beating Boavista in Portugal to reach Seville.
Indeed, the complaints became so laughable that as they complained that the season should be extended to help them fit all their fixtures in properly, it actually was! Yet they still moaned that it wasn’t! Indeed to this day you’ll find people who claim the season wasn’t extended at all.
Because obviously every season finishes on a Thursday night.
So as Rangers dropped enough points for us to overtake them at the top of the league, we travelled to Tannadice eleven days after our penultimate league match for the season finale knowing that a win would do.
But we went there knowing we had to do it for our lost son.
In a season where we had already lost Phil O’Donnell, Tommy Burns lost his battle with skin cancer. The 1-0 win at Tannadice that clinched three in a row, just days after Tommy’s funeral, was dedicated to the man himself.
But none of it would have been possible without that season changing midweek last gasp winner against Rangers. Despite the best efforts of Carlos “player of the year, now he’s a dick” Cuellar.
* I’ve since been reminded that Nakamura actually scored a second goal against Rangers, but since it was a late, late free kick in a 4-2 defeat at Celtic Park I’m sure you can understand why I may have tried to block it from my memory! As it happens I do remember that goal for making it worthwhile staying until the full time whistle. It felt like I’d been rewarded for my suffering.