Category Archives: Football

One Team in Tallinn

This blog was first written for Live Forever Football, a website dedicated to 90s football.

The summer of 1998 was a glorious one in my life. Celtic had stopped ten in a row in the May of that year, winning the league for the first time that I could remember – I couldn’t remember the centenary year – and in doing so they had saved the precious nine-in-a-row record set by Jock Stein. On top of that, I had just finished school. Forever. So when June 10th came around, I was free to spend the morning running around shops trying to buy the new Scotland top in time for our kick off that evening.

And I got it. I’ll never forget the odd button with a loop for a collar, a design never seen before or since.

But let’s go back to the start. The World Cup qualifying draw two and a half years earlier.

Thanks to the successful Euro 96 qualifying campaign, Scotland were in pot two. That mattered because with Yugoslavia now no longer an utter mess as far as the footballing world was concerned, UEFA was up to a full 50 member states. With France qualifying automatically as hosts, and FIFA deciding that UEFA would get 15 of the now expanded to 32 teams in the finals, that meant 49 teams playing for the other 14 spots.

Now, if you’re a sensible governing body, that should be really easy to plan. 49 teams, 14 places, that’s seven groups of seven teams with the top two qualifying from each, right?


Instead of something nice and simple, they had to over-complicate it like they always do. So rather than having seven groups, they opted for nine. But of course, nine doesn’t divide into 49 properly, so that meant there would be four groups of six teams and five groups of five teams. Having gone with nine groups, they now had to decide how to get 14 teams from that. How do you do that? Well, each group winner qualified automatically, leaving five places for nine runners-up. That doesn’t divide properly either of course, so they decided that the best runner-up would join the group winners in qualifying automatically with the other eight playing off in two-legged ties to decide the other four.

Hang on though, how do you decide who the best runner-up is if the groups are uneven? Well, you discount any results against the bottom team if you’re in a group of six, right? Well… yes, but UEFA also decided the team in fifth place didn’t matter either. Only the results against the teams in 1st, 3rd and 4th places would count for deciding best runner up.

Confused yet? I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

The draw was reasonably kind to Scotland. Of the nine possible seeds, we were paired with the eighth – Sweden – our old foes from Italia 90. The remainder of the draw threw up Austria from pot three, Latvia from pot four, Belarus from pot five and Estonia from pot six. Ten years previous, that would have been the USSR times three, but that just goes to show how much things changed in the 90s.

As we looked forward to Euro 96, Sweden had no such concerns and got their qualification campaign under way with a 5-1 thumping of Belarus in Stockholm in June 1996. Our opening match was a tricky affair, with a trip to Austria at the end of August. A goalless draw ensued, which wasn’t bad on paper when you consider that they would likely be our rivals for the top two spots. Sweden then beat Latvia 2-1 away from home the following day to give themselves full points from their opening two games.

October saw Scotland follow Sweden’s example with a 2-0 win in Latvia courtesy of goals from John Collins and Darren Jackson, but it was the unexpected win for Austria in Sweden a few days later that really put the cat among the pigeons.

Not that we noticed at the time, we were too busy taking part in an utter farce.

Scotland were due to play Estonia in Tallinn that same night, but when training in the stadium the night before it had become evident that the temporary floodlights that had been installed were insufficient. A protest was lodged with FIFA and the following morning, the day of the game, FIFA upheld the protest and decided to bring the kick off forward to the early afternoon. Estonia objected, claiming that they would lose out on television revenue, and decided they would continue to prepare as originally planned.

Which meant that when referee Miroslav Radoman set out to start the game at 1pm local time, only Scotland were out on the park. The entire match consisted of Radoman blowing his whistle, Billy Dodds kicking off to John Collins, and the Scotland captain for the day taking one touch before the referee blew to abandon the game. All the while, the Tartan Army in the stand had found good humour in the situation, chanting the now infamous “one team in Tallinn” song.

By the time the Estonians finally arrived at the stadium for the original kick off time, the Scotland team had packed up and left and even the Tartan Army had finished their own impromptu game on the pitch.

In the aftermath, FIFA’s match delegate confirmed that Scotland would be awarded a 3-0 win for Estonia’s refusal to show up at the allocated time. Indeed, when the Soviet Union had failed to turn up for a 1974 world cup qualifying playoff against Chile, the Chileans were given this very thing and qualified for that world cup.

What actually happened was UEFA’s president, Sweden’s Lennart Johansson, chaired a meeting in which FIFA ordered the match to be played at the neutral venue of the Stade Louis II stadium in Monaco instead. This was scheduled for February, having the knock on effect that Gary McAllister – who should have been suspended for the Estonia game – was now suspended for Scotland’s home game against… Sweden. Convenient!

Scotland’s first home game of the campaign found us on the road again. Hampden was undergoing another round of renovations, and so the game against Sweden took place at Ibrox, a day after Austria had beaten Latvia at home to go top of the group. But unlike the campaign four years earlier, Scotland actually managed to score at Ibrox against one of our rivals, and indeed John McGinlay’s early goal would turn out to be the only goal of the game. We didn’t need Gary McAllister after all. Nae luck Lennart.

That win put Scotland joint with Austria on seven points from three games, with the Swedes now languishing on six points from four games. Things were looking good….

Until that trip to Monaco.

Having originally thought that our game with Estonia would be a 3-0 walkover, the game itself finished goalless. Some would suggest it was Scotland who failed to turn up this time.

The end of March 1997 saw Scotland play a crucial double header. The first game took place at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock, and saw Scotland finally beat Estonia on the park. Tom Boyd with a goal midway through the first half, and a Janek Meet own goal just after the break. But it was the game at Celtic Park against Austria that would really see if Scotland had what it took to qualify.

And show it we did, with a goal in each half from Kevin Gallacher. Though we had played two more games than either Austria or Sweden by this point, we also had a seven and eight point lead over them respectively. It was a lead we’d need going into our trip to Sweden at the end of April.

With Austria winning 2-0 at home to Estonia, Scotland really could have done with getting something in Gothenburg that night. But just before half time, Kennet Andersson opened the scoring for the hosts, before adding a second just after the hour mark. Though Kevin Gallacher was able to pull a goal back with less than ten minutes remaining, Scotland slipped to a defeat which tightened up the group once more.

At the end of the 1996/97 season, Austria kept up their pace with a 3-1 win in Latvia, while Sweden almost let a 3-0 lead slip in Estonia but held on to win 3-2. Meanwhile, a solitary Gary McAllister penalty in Belarus just after half time ensured that despite only having two games remaining it was Scotland who were still in the driving seat.

August 1997 saw the group tighten up even further thanks to a 3-0 win for Austria in Estonia, while Sweden came from behind to beat Belarus 2-1 in Minsk. There was now only two points separating the three teams, and both Austria and Sweden still had a game in hand over Scotland.

But it would be against each other.

Just as they had in Stockholm, Austria beat Sweden 1-0 to leap frog Scotland at the top but also crucially leave Sweden stranded two points behind us with just two games remaining. The following day, Scotland went back top of the group with a 4-1 win over Belarus at Pittodrie, Aberdeen thanks to two goals each from Kevin Gallacher and David Hopkin. A few days later, Austria again went top with a 1-0 win in Belarus, while Sweden kept their hopes alive with a 1-0 win at home to Latvia.

Scotland’s qualification now came down to how we could do in our final game against Latvia at Celtic Park. Win in, and no matter what Sweden did at home to Estonia they couldn’t catch us. They already couldn’t catch Austria, so we were now their only hope. There was still a chance of finishing top if Austria lost at home to Belarus, but that looked unlikely.

But the runner up factor would also come into play. Latvia had already secured fourth spot in the group, so a win over them would not only secure at least second spot but also count towards deciding the best runner up.

Going into that final night of qualifying, Italy were in line for the best runner-up spot, although the likes of Croatia and Yugoslavia were actually also in the running but playing teams bottom of their group and therefore not counting towards the calculations. It was Scotland and Belgium who were really looking at this best runner up spot, with the Belgians hoping for us to slip up as well and let them in. But in the case of the Italians, they would either slip up or beat the team top of their group and send them tumbling into the runner up spot instead.

Their opponents in Rome that night? England, who only needed a draw to top the group and qualify themselves.

Back at Celtic Park, a goal from Kevin Gallacher just before half time put Scotland in the driving seat. But it was a nervy second half until Gordon Durie made the three points secure ten minutes from the end. With the win secured, Scotland could check the other results.

Austria topped the group thanks to a 4-0 win over Belarus. Sweden did indeed beat Estonia 1-0, but they were out due to our result. And as for Italy? England got the 0-0 draw they needed, consigning Italy to the place second best runner up of the nine. Who was best?

Scotland. We were going to France.

Italy and Belgium did indeed make it through the playoffs, with Croatia and Yugoslavia joining them too, and we could all look forward to seeing what the draw for the finals would throw up.

There is an odd pattern in Scotland’s world cup campaigns in that every other one seems to pair Scotland with Brazil. We drew with them in Germany in 1974, avoided them in Argentina in 1978, got hammered by them in 1982, avoided them again in Mexico 1986, and narrowly lost to them in Italy in 1990. Having not qualified for 1994, it was again time to face this in France. Sure enough, Scotland were drawn in group A along side the reigning champions.

But this time would be different. Scotland were allocated second spot in the group, which meant we would need to play Brazil in their opening match.

Before FIFA changed the rules and forced the champions to have to qualify along with everyone else, the traditional opening game of the world cup would see the reigning champions start their campaign to retain the title. France 98 would be no different, and so Scotland had just been put centre stage of one of the biggest shows on the planet.

Joining us in group A were fellow Europeans Norway who had topped their group ahead of Hungary – thumped 12-1 on aggregate by Yugoslavia in the playoffs – and Morocco who had easily topped their African qualifying group.

Which brings us back to June 10th.

Sitting there in my parents’ living room and wearing my brand new Scotland top, I was absolutely buzzing for things to get started and never prouder to be Scottish. The world’s eyes were on us, and this was going to be absolutely brilliant.

Of course, then reality hits.

For one thing, the opening ceremony dragged on as they always do. But when it was finally all over the two teams emerged. Brazil and Scotland. One of the most famous footballing nations in the world… and the reigning champions Brazil. As far as I was concerned, all tournaments should start like this.

Sadly, by the time I’d thought that, Scotland were already a goal down.

Cesar Sampaio had scored from a header and we were treated to music for a goal celebration for the first time. But as the game went on, things calmed down to the point that Scotland even put together a move that lead to Kevin Gallacher being dragged to the ground in the area by Sampaio. After the longest wait I could remember for any penalty, John Collins stepped up and levelled the game with confidence.

Half time in the opening game, Scotland were now holding their own. And as the game wore on we started to believe that maybe Scotland could do what so many others had done in the past and shock the holders. Remember Cameroon at Italia 90 winning 1-0 against Argentina? Or Bulgaria holding Italy in Mexico 86? Or Belgium winning 1-0 against Argentina in Spain 82?

Yeah, shame Germany had beaten Bolivia at USA 94 and screwed that pattern up.

With just quarter of an hour remaining, calamity struck and resulted in Jim Leighton’s save being pushed into the body of Tom Boyd and rebounding back into our own net. I’m not sure Boyd could get out of the way, and I’m not sure it would have made any difference anyway with a Brazilian lurking behind him to tap in the rebound, but forever more Boyd is remembered by many for that winner for Brazil.

That was a real kick in the chops for a guy who just a month earlier had lifted the Scottish Premier League trophy for Celtic for the first time in a decade. It’s okay though Tam, I forgive you.

Later that night, Morocco and Norway played out a memorable 2-2 draw. Memorable for its entertainment, but also memorable for the Norwegian goalscorers sounding like a cafe meal – Eggen, Chippo.

You can thanks Baddiel and Skinner for that one, their fantasy football show that was on throughout the tournament created a game out of joining names together. Cocu Kohler was a favourite of mine, while Rekdal Sellami would give you nightmares. Nothing ever quite matched Eggen Chippo though.

For our second group game, Scotland moved on to Bordeaux to face Norway. We needed not to lose, but ideally we needed a win if we wanted to progress from this group. There was no qualification from third place this time after all, so you had to finish top two or you were going home.

At half time in Bordeaux the game was goalless, but when the second half started with Norway almost immediately taking the lead through Havard Flo, we were heading out of the tournament with a game to spare. Fortunately, twenty minutes later, Craig Burley was able to awkwardly get on the end of a ball and chip it over the Norwegian goalkeeper and into the net.

The draw in that game wasn’t great, but at least we were still mathematically in with a chance of second place. Brazil had beaten Morocco 3-0 and ensured they had topped the group with a game to spare, so all we needed now was for Brazil to beat Norway as we beat Morocco and we would join them in the last sixteen.

Simple, right?

Bordeaux, June 23rd, 1998. Scotland’s final group game in the World Cup. Having watched the first two games in my own house, I went round to a friend’s house to watch the final game unfold. A few of us were there, all fresh out of school and not yet ready for the big bad world to suck us in. Ahh, to be that young and free again.

Even before kick off the game was looking rather ridiculous with Craig Burley dying his hair blonde in some weird celebration of his goal in the previous game. This would become a thing at this world cup with the entire Romanian team doing likewise when they qualified top of Group G ahead of England.

But if the hair was bad, then the game itself kicked off and things got worse. Scotland were rotten, from start to finish. Salaheddine Bassir opened the scoring with a terrific half volley from an angle midway through the first half and it was well deserved. At half time we needed the team talk to end all team talks. But, just like the Norway game, what we actually got was Morocco scoring almost immediately after the break through Abdeljalil Hadda.

With Jim Leighton caught somewhere between coming off his line to narrow the angle and staying where he was, Hadda chipped the ball over him. Leighton actually got his hand to it, but all that caused was the ball to loop up and into the net as Leighton scrambled back in vain.

Any hope Scotland might have had of a miraculous turnaround then evaporated as Burley put in a stupid tackle from behind which had no chance of getting the ball and got himself sent off. No case of mistaken identity when your head looks like a lightbulb.

With five minutes remaining, Bassir scored again with the aid of a slight deflection off Colin Hendry and Scotland were left deservedly hammered and out of the World Cup.

It was a devastating performance. My friend who had hosted us was inconsolable. The rest of us just sat there in shock. Somewhere along the way it filtered through that Norway had actually come from behind to beat Brazil 2-1. The fact that it wouldn’t have mattered what we did against Morocco didn’t really matter, although I remember thinking that I actually felt sorry for the Moroccans. That surprise win for Norway meant they were going home too.

Scotland’s song for the World Cup that year had been entitled “Don’t Come Home Too Soon”, Del Amitri’s imaginative dig at how we always went out of the group stages. Yet here we were, once again, “on that stupid plane”.

Sadly, now Scotland can’t even get on the plane to go there in the first place. Eighteen years after this tourmanent, Craig Burley is still the last Scot to score at a major tournament. At the time of writing, Four World Cups and four European Championships have come and gone with Scotland failing to get to any of them. A generation of Scots haven’t even come close to feeling the pride of seeing Scotland on the big stage, before somehow contriving to make a mess of it when there.

But perhaps that’s the biggest cringe-worthy aspect of all. For all France 98 was somewhere between disappointing and humiliating, most of us would bite your arm off just to see Scotland do it all again now.


My Summer With Des

This blog was first written for Live Forever Football, a website dedicated to 90s football.

“It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming, football’s coming home…”

A song so inspirational that it makes everyone forget that the first official international actually took place at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground, Hamilton Crescent in Glasgow in 1872.

Yes, I know what it really means, but we’ll come back to that later.

Has there ever been a more catchy football song than Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds offering from Euro 96? I’m not sure there has, and certainly I can’t remember any football song before or since that’s been done for a tournament and has made it onto the stands and terraces. For all World in Motion was a terrific song, you don’t hear the crowds doing the John Barnes rap!

For Scotland though, Rod Stewart’s version of Wild Mountain Thyme, which he released under the title Purple Heather, was hardly inspiring and I’m sure many people have forgotten that’s what our official song was for the tournament until I mentioned it there.

But at least we had a song again.

After the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup in the USA, there was renewed hope that Scotland would build from that and take their place among the sixteen teams that would be playing in England in the summer of 1996.

While qualification for Euro 92 had been nothing short of remarkable given there were only eight teams in the final stages, doubling the number of places didn’t necessarily mean that qualification would be any easier.

For the World Cup qualifying campaign, only Russia and the Baltic states had been able to compete after the break-up of the Soviet Union. This time round there were a further six former Soviet states, as well as a newly split Czech Republic and Slovakia, and the former Yugoslav states of Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia. What remained of Yugoslavia was still at war with itself and so missed out, but that still meant 47 teams playing for just 15 places. To put that in perspective, four years earlier there had been just 34 playing for 8.

But still, the odds were better, and with a new manager in Craig Brown and the added incentive of wanting to play in a tournament just down the road in the land of our oldest rivals, all we needed was the draw to be kind to us.

And kind it was.

As third seeds, Scotland would have to hope that the top two seeds were relatively easy by comparison. Only the top two in each of the eight groups had any chance of progressing, with the worst two runners-up playing off while the others qualified automatically.

With the draw in January of 1994, by the time the World Cup had come and gone that summer we had already seen our two in action. Top seeds Russia had hammered Cameroon 6-1 with five of the goals coming from Oleg Salenko who would go on to sign for Rangers, but defeats to Brazil and Sweden had knocked them out of the tournament. Our second seeds, Greece, had fared even worse losing all three games without even scoring.

The rest of Scotland’s group comprised of Jari Litmanen’s Finland, the Faroe Islands and San Marino.

Another thing in Scotland’s favour was that, following two years on the road in the previous campaign, the national team were back at the national stadium. Hampden may not have been complete, but it was now usable for qualification again and that was good enough for us for the time being.

The campaign kicked off with a 2-0 win in Finland followed by a 5-1 win at home to the Faroes. With three points now in place for a win we had a maximum of six ahead of our first real test at home to Russia. Although Scotland took the lead through Scott Booth, Russia levelled through Dmitri Radchenko but a 1-1 draw still meant seven points from a possible nine to begin.

The major slip up though, came in December 1994, when a 1-0 defeat to Greece saw Craig Brown’s post-match analysis suggest it wasn’t all that bad because Scotland had more corners in the game. Most other people were far more concerned by the fact that Greece now had maximum points from their first four matches. With Russia having only played twice, the task of qualifying was now looking a lot more difficult.

The turn of the year saw fortunes pick up again. A goalless draw in Russia ensured they were kept at arm’s length, which became all the more important when they beat Greece away from home as Scotland won in San Marino. As the Russians played catch up on the number of games played against the other teams in the group, it was starting to look like a battle for second place was on the cards.

By the end of the 1994/95 season, Scotland were looking a lot better as a 2-0 win in the Faroe Islands was coupled by a surprise defeat for Greece in Finland. When the new season started, the big game at Hampden saw Scotland beat Greece 1-0. With just two matches left, Scotland were on the verge of qualifying.

Following a narrow home win over Finland in September 1995, Scotland’s second place in the group was confirmed the following month when Russia once again beat Greece, this time in Russia. That result ensured the Greeks could not catch Scotland and also that Scotland probably wouldn’t catch Russia at the top of the group given the gulf in goal difference.

There wasn’t even a question of Scotland avoiding the playoffs, it was a done deal. Scotland had amassed enough points already to qualify automatically for the finals. The final match at Hampden saw San Marino as the visitors, but since the results against the bottom team in the group didn’t count towards decided who the worst two runners up were, the game was meaningless.

Nevertheless, I distinctly remember standing at one end of Hampden watching Scotland record a 5-0 victory over San Marino. It was the only game of the campaign I managed to attend, but it was something of a celebration.

We were going to invade England. The only question now, was who would we be paired with?

Six and a half years earlier, the longest running annual fixture had come to an end. Since the aforementioned first international football match back in 1872, other than during the two world wars, Scotland and England had played each other every year. But in 1989 that run came to an end after England’s 2-0 win over Scotland at Hampden Park. Sadly, whilst still popular with the fans, the fixture was proving more and more difficult to fit into schedules and to make it meaningful for the players. So when the summer of 1990 rolled around with both teams heading to the World Cup in Italy, there was no scheduled match between them.

But that all changed after the Euro 96 draw in December 1995. Scotland were drawn in group A. Once again that meant facing the Netherlands at the Euros, although this was now a team that had only come through the qualifying playoff by beating the Republic of Ireland. It also meant facing our rivals from the previous qualifying campaign, Switzerland. Although Roy Hodgson had successfully coached them to qualification, he had left to take charge at Inter Milan, leaving Portugal’s Artur Jorge to take charge for the tournament itself.

Oh yes, and of course Scotland were also paired with the hosts, England. Cue seven months of excited build up.

The tournament kicked off on June 8th. Just like the World Cup in 1966, the hosts had somehow managed to ensure that all of their games would be played at Wembley as long as they won the group, so the pressure was on from the start. With memories of defeat to the Dutch still fresh in the memory from the previous World Cup qualifying campaign, Terry Venables men needed to get off to a good start ahead of that potential group decided in the final game.

And for a while they did. England took the lead against Switzerland through Alan Shearer midway through the first half, and appeared to be securing three points right up until Stuart Pearce handled in the penalty area in the closing minutes of the game and Kubilay Turkyilmaz slotted away the resultant penalty.

It would be another two days before Scotland would start their campaign at Villa Park, and just like in Sweden four years earlier, that start came against the Dutch.

But this Dutch side were a shadow of the one Scotland had faced previously. The likes of Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard had all moved on, leaving Dennis Bergkamp to lead the line.

No, really, that was a step down!

This was still a Dutch side to be reckoned with, even if they didn’t have their former winners of the tournament. Ajax, who had lost the final of the Champions League to Juventus the previous month having been the reigning European Champions, supplied a lot of the team. Edwin van der Sar in goal, Michael Reiziger and Winston Bogarde in defence, captain Ronald de Boer and Edgar Davids in midfield. Indeed, throw in Clarence Seedorf who had moved from Ajax to Sampdoria the previous summer and substitute Patrick Kluivert also of Ajax, and you can see just how difficult the task for Scotland would be.

But then again, the Champions League top goal scorer, Ajax’s Jari Litmanen, hadn’t done much against Scotland in qualifying.

Scotland needed a helping hand. So when John Collins got away with handling on the line during one of the many Netherlands attacks, that’s exactly what happened. In a backs-to-the-wall kind of a match, Scotland managed to achieve a goalless draw in the opening match and set the whole group up nicely for round two, and the trip to Wembley to face the hosts.

By the time the two oldest rivals in football faced off, the Netherlands had already beaten Switzerland 2-0 to go top of the table. Nothing less than a win at Wembley would now do for England, while for Scotland a draw would be an acceptable result… as long as you forget about the rivalry!

After a surprisingly quiet first half, Scotland were holding their own again. At 0-0, neither goalkeeper had really been tested all that much and with all the pressure on them the hosts were starting to get a bit edgy. But eight minutes after the break, Gary Neville sent an excellent cross into the Scotland penalty area and Alan Shearer was there to meet it and head past Andy Goram.

Despite that lift, England didn’t kick on. Indeed, it was Scotland who seemed to come to life and after having seen David Seaman save a header from him, Gordon Durie was then brought down in the area by Tony Adams to give Scotland a precious lifeline. All Gary McAllister had to do was slot it home for 1-1.

This wasn’t entirely unknown territory for McAllister. He’d scored a penalty against the CIS at Euro 92 after all. But at Wembley, against the hosts, your biggest rivals… that’s a different prospect entirely. A nation held its breath.

Another nation apparently did the opposite though and blew the ball off the spot just as McAllister finished his run up. Whether that slight movement on the ball actually affected McAllister’s finish is something we’ll never know for sure, but what is certain is that Seaman’s elbow kept the ball out of the net and kept England’s lead intact.

It was a bitter blow to Scotland’s hopes, but what followed very shortly thereafter was a severe kick where it really hurts.

Paul Gascoigne had been something of a controversial figure. At this point in his career, Gazza was actually playing his football in Scotland for Rangers, and had hardly been a quiet figure in another fierce rivalry in Glasgow. But it was a pre-tournament friendly for England where Gazza had got the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Several English players, but most notably Gascoigne, had been pictured on a heavy drinking session in Hong Kong doing ridiculous things like “the dentist chair” where the incumbent has alcohol poured directly into their mouth by friends. Hardly becoming of a top professional footballer.

Questions had been raised about whether Gascoigne should be in the England squad at all, and having been substituted off during the Switzerland game those fears were not dispersing. But Gazza would silence those critics by scoring arguably the second best goal in European Championship history.

Yes, second. Marco Van Basten, you know it is, don’t even ask.

Just moments after the penalty miss, Gazza receiving a ball from Darren Anderton and with his first touch with his left foot he chipped the ball over the onrushing Colin Hendry to take him completely out of the game. Not content with that, Gazza then volleyed the ball with his right foot past club teammate Andy Goram and into the net for 2-0.

As a Scotsman, and doubly as a Celtic fan, watching that kind of thing happen sends a lot of feelings through you all at the same time. There’s bitter disappointment as you know that’s game over now. There’s rage that it’s happened against you by your rivals. There’s more rage because you’re still feeling like you just blew the chance to equalise and now they’ve doubled their lead. There’s even more rage because it’s a guy who plays for your club rivals too.

Then there’s a wry smile because our goalkeeper plays for them too. Never mind the defender though, he hasn’t signed for them at this point, that comes later.

But above all of that, there’s sheer admiration for the ability to score such a technically brilliant goal. And then there’s more rage that you don’t actually feel as angry about the goal as you think you should purely because it’s just so good.

While all that’s running through my head, Gazza is off celebrating with his teammates in a mock dentist chair. Take that doubters, take that questioning media.

England’s 2-0 win over Scotland sent them top of the group and consigned Scotland to the bottom of it. We were now in “mathematically possible” territory again. With both England and the Netherlands winning by two goals, and us losing by that same margin, we now needed a five goal swing in our favour. So either we would need to hammer Switzerland by four goals at Villa Park and hope there was a winner at Wembley, or we would need to just beat Switzerland and hope for a hammering at Wembley.

Clearly then, you try to do as much as possible yourself, right?

If there was one baffling aspect of Scotland at Euro 96, it was Craig Brown’s use of Ally McCoist. The Rangers striker had reached legendary status by this point in his career, and was top scorer in Scotland for the reigning eight-in-a-row champions. So you would think that would be enough to see him starting every game for Scotland. But by the time the Swiss game came around, McCoist hadn’t played against the Netherlands and had only played the last quarter of the game against England.

Fortunately though, McCoist would start against Switzerland. With ten minutes left of the first half, he fired in a long range shot to put Scotland in front. Unfortunately for Scotland, that was possibly McCoist’s most difficult chance to score, having already missed two earlier in the match. Who knows, maybe he was just rusty from all that time on the bench.

Remarkably though, things were a lot better at Wembley. By the time McCoist had given Scotland the lead, England were 1-0 up thanks to an Alan Shearer penalty. Still three goals short of anything important at that point but by the hour mark, things were getting crazy. In just a five minute spell, Teddy Sheringham had scored twice either side of Alan Shearer’s second. One goal for Scotland, four for England, there’s your five goal swing!

As this new filtered through to Villa Park, Scotland tried their best to ensure they got the three points. Rather than pushing to get a second and with it a cushion that would see us mitigate anything going wrong at Wembley, Craig Brown’s men shut up shop and ensured the Swiss didn’t get themselves into the same position. After all, a win for them would see them through just as much as a win for Scotland would see us through.

Of course, this is Scotland and if there’s one thing we’re good at it’s finding new and creative ways to break the hearts of the nation. Although Scotland did indeed see out the 1-0 win to get the points on the board, the goal difference slipped away from us in the cruelest way possible.

Substitute Patrick Kluivert, only on the park five minutes earlier, slotted the ball through Seaman’s legs and got the Netherlands on the scoresheet. The 4-1 defeat may have looked bad on paper, but it was still just enough for the Dutch to join England in the last eight of the tournament and send Scotland up the road.

If only Seaman had shut his legs? Perhaps. If only Scotland had scored a second? Definitely.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, two years later the BBC managed to make it worse. Just prior to the World Cup kicking off in France, they aired a very strange drama called “My Summer With Des”. In that drama, Neil Morrissey’s character is down on his luck having just split up with his girlfriend. But at least he has football to distract him since Euro 96 is on and he can focus on that.

Except, bizarrely and inexplicably, Rachel Weisz’s character then turns up as some kind of lucky charm for both Morrissey’s character and for England. So much so that there seems to be some correlation as to how much Morrissey’s character is getting on with her at the time. They’ve just met when they play Switzerland, and things seem to be going well by the time they play Scotland.

So you can imagine that when England are beating Holland that relationship is about as good as it can get. Let’s put it this way, for one of the England goals there’s a timely climax.

But then we get the Seaman nutmeg as a post-coital scene. At this point, Morrissey almost literally looks at the camera and shrugs, only caring enough to say “oh well, that’s Cameron’s team out” where Cameron happens to be his Scottish friend played by John Gordon Sinclair. Cut to Sinclair looking despondent.

So now all the disappointment associated with narrowly missing out has some added jealousy to go with it because, let’s face it, Rachel Weisz is stunning. But I digress.

As per usual, Scotland had to look on and watch as the rest of the tournament went on without them. But this time seemed harder than usual, because we’d lost to England and the commentators seemed convinced they were going to go on and win the tournament.

They always get to that point somewhere along the line, don’t they?

To be fair, England in Euro 96 were actually exciting to watch, but I’m not sure I see that the same way anyone who was supporting England might see it. They’d blown away the Netherlands, but they hadn’t been too great against Scotland and the Swiss had proven difficult to unpick. What would happen when they met the other good teams?

Euro 96 was the first tournament to feature the Golden Goal in extra time, with the idea being to introduce a playground classic of “next goal’s the winner” to try and stop teams playing out time for penalties. Though it was later doomed to failure as teams became too scared to concede, in this tournament it actually worked.

England’s last eight game against Spain didn’t produce one. Instead we were treated to another penalty shootout where England memorably prevailed, with Stuart Pearce screaming after scoring his penalty six years after missing in another shootout. But as with the group matches, the 120 minutes before the shootout hadn’t been all that impressive by the hosts.

And next up was Germany.

England took the lead after just three minutes, yet again through Alan Shearer, but were pegged back thanks to Stephan Kuntz after just quarter of an hour. The remainder of the 90 may have been entertaining, but it was nothing when compared with the drama of extra time.

Firstly, Kuntz had the ball in the net but it was disallowed for a slight push. That must have been heart stopping for anyone supporting England, but there was an even more dramatic point in extra time that even had me at the edge of my seat.

One teasing ball from Shearer across the face of goal that was agonisingly close to the sliding Paul Gascoigne is an image I’ll never forget. Even in replays of that goal you think maybe he’ll get it this time. Sadly for England, he never does though. Just like the previous round, the game goes to penalties and consigns Gareth Southgate to pizza adverts.

As for the golden goal? It would eventually decide the next two finals, with Germany’s Oliver Bierhoff getting one against the Czech Republic, and four years later David Trezeguet would give France a World Cup and European Championship double with his. Sadly it would be gone soon thereafter, somehow construed as a failed experiment due to the fact we never really got anything as exciting as Kuntz’s ruled out goal and Gazza’s slide that never connects.

And what of Morrissey and Weisz? Well she disappears into thin air and he actually gets his life onto a course of happiness. Sounds a bit like Scotland at major tournaments and me leaving school, but that’s for the final chapter.

Maybe Next Time

This blog was first written for Live Forever Football, a website dedicated to 90s football.

As difficult as it may be for younger readers to believe, there was once a time when it was just accepted that Scotland qualified for the World Cup. Germany in 1974, Argentina in 1978, Spain in 1982, Mexico in 1986 and Italy in 1990 had seen Scotland reach the finals before crashing out of the group stages for one reason or another.

We didn’t beat Zaire by enough. We underestimated Peru and Iran. David Narey annoyed Brazil. We couldn’t beat Uruguay despite a man advantage for almost the whole game. We underestimated Costa Rica.

“Maybe next time” was a phrase that referred to us getting through the group stages, not reaching the finals themselves. But by the mid-1990s, the Winds of Change were sweeping across the continent of Europe and would come to sting us like Scorpions at time progressed.

Ending our Euro 92 campaign on the high of hammering what was left of the Soviet Union was just the beginning for Scotland. The USSR had already been breaking up when the qualifying draw for World Cup 1994 had been made in December 1991, with the Baltic states appearing for the first time.

Indeed, over the two years between the draw being made and the qualification campaign being completed, several other changes would occur. Russia took the Soviet Union’s place in Group 5 following Euro 92, while Czechoslovakia’s break up at the start of 1993 resulted in Group 4 being completed with a team of representatives from both countries playing together in one team.

But Group 1, the group that Scotland were drawn into, was far simpler.

The draw had been reasonably kind. As second seeds, Scotland were always going to be paired with a difficult opponent, and this time around it was the previous World Cup hosts Italy. The third pot threw up Portugal, who had failed to qualify for Italia 90, while pot four saw a Swiss side that hadn’t qualified for anything in nearly three decades.

The other two spots in the group were made up of relative minnows Malta, and the newcomers of Estonia. With the top two teams from each group qualifying, finishing second behind Italy and joining them in the US in the summer of 1994 was the expectation. On paper, it seemed a realistic expectation.

Of course, football isn’t played on paper. And in Scotland’s case, it wasn’t even played on our regular grass.

A combination of the Taylor Report following the Hillsborough disaster and FIFA’s updated regulations meant that Hampden’s sloping terraces required upgrading to continue to host international qualifiers. The seats bolted into the west stand in 1991 weren’t enough to satisfy the various governing bodies, and so with Celtic Park suffering similar problems Scotland’s qualifiers were split between Ibrox in Glasgow and Pittodrie in Aberdeen.

The signs that this campaign weren’t going to go as planned were there even before day one.

September 1992 saw Scotland travel to Switzerland and fall behind after just two minutes to an Adrian Knup goal. Although Ally McCoist levelled things ten minutes later, the Swiss went on to score two more in the second half. But undoubtedly the most memorable aspect of this game was captain Richard Gough literally jumping up and catching the ball to prevent the Swiss running through on goal to score a fourth.

You’ll never see a more blatant red card than that, even if Gough did claim he did it because a water sprinkler had gone off. No you didn’t Richard, you were so out of the running you were paying to get back into the Wankdorf Stadium and you know it.

Not that it mattered. The game was done already and Gough was back in the Scotland line up for the first Ibrox match against Portugal the following month. At least this time Scotland were able to keep a clean sheet, although failing to get anything at the other end didn’t help the campaign and after two matches against our two main rivals for second spot we only had a single point to show for it.

Sadly, with the Swiss already having hammered Estonia and of course ourselves, they then went on to earn a 2-2 draw with Italy and had an impressive five points from a possible six. We were already up against it.

Before the end of 1992, Scotland would pick up a second point with a second consecutive 0-0 draw at Ibrox. At least this time it was to Italy, which at least meant we had as many points as the Italians did. Sadly that didn’t last long though with Italy winning away to Malta.

By the time the first game of 1993 had been played, with Portugal also winning away to Malta, Scotland were already looking like they were in trouble. Switzerland were top on 7 points, with Italy next on 4 points and Portugal on 3 points. Scotland’s 2 points didn’t seem too far adrift, but when you consider Portugal had played a game less and it was only two points for a win, suddenly we were needing a good run and a few favours.

A 3-0 win at home to Malta was a welcome if expected start to the year, and with Portugal losing at home to Italy a week later things were starting to look just a little better. With Italy then thumping Malta 6-1 at home in March they were clear at the top of the table on 8 points, but Switzerland still sat immediately behind them on seven points compared to Scotland on four.

At least until they drew 1-1 with Portugal at the end of March 1993. Our rivals for second spot taking a point off each other was probably as good as we could expect ahead of our next game against one of them. But by the time Scotland headed to Portugal, Switzerland were back on track and sitting on ten points after a 2-0 win over Malta. With Italy also on ten after a win over Estonia, it was already seeming clear than anything less than a win in Lisbon and Scotland could all but forget crossing the Atlantic.

What we got instead was absolutely hammered.

Rui Barros opened the scoring after just five minutes, and before we could get to half time just a goal down Jorge Cadete popped up to double the lead. Things only went from bad to worse as Paulo Futre, Barros and Cadete all scored in a five minute spell midway through the second half. The 5-0 scoreline was humiliating, and yet it still managed to flatter a Scotland team who were second best from start to finish.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Ally McCoist was stretchered off with a leg as broken as our dreams of a sixth consecutive World Cup finals.

This was the day we all knew Scotland weren’t going to the World Cup for the first time in over 20 years. But as if it wasn’t blatantly obvious already, the Swiss went and beat Italy just days later. With them on twelve, the Italians on ten, Portugal on six and Scotland on just four we’d be lucky to even come third.

And so it proved. A 3-0 win away to Estonia at least pulled us level with Portugal on six points again. Another 3-1 win at home to Estonia just a couple of weeks later put Scotland on eight points, but still two behind the Italians and four behind the Swiss. Portugal then joined us on eight points before the summer break after a 4-0 win at home to Malta.

Yes, Malta actually did better in Portugal than Scotland.

Of Scotland’s three remaining games, two were at home to Switzerland and away to Italy. Just the two teams we really needed to take points off to have any chance whatsoever. The Italians still had to host both us and Portugal, while Portugal actually had a game in hand but two of their four games were against Estonia. They couldn’t all drop points, could they?

“It’s still mathematically possible” is one of those phrases that always seems to be associated with the Scottish national team. From consulting the wallchart in Italia 90 to this point and beyond, it just seems to come up a lot as we cling to hope while our heads try to rationalise what our hearts are telling us.

It wasn’t solely reserved for Scots in 1993, but don’t worry we’ll come to that.

The final stages of qualifying began in September 1993 with Portugal winning away to Estonia to keep them in the hunt for a qualifying spot. Meanwhile, Scotland were preparing for the showdown at Pittodrie with Switzerland.

When John Collins opened the scoring by nutmegging goalkeeper Marco Pascolo, at the start of the second half, suddenly we looked like we might have half a chance of clawing our way back into the mix. But when Switzerland equalised from the penalty spot twenty minutes later after Bryan Gunn has wiped out Ciriaco Sforza, any lingering hope of qualifying pretty much disappeared.

Our disappointment was all but confirmed later that month when Italy beat Estonia and left us knowing that a win in both our remaining games was required with the addition and hope the other three could all somehow take the right points off each other to let us sneak in.

Portugal beating Switzerland 1-0 would have given us a small chance had it not been for the fact that on that same night we were facing Italy in Rome. We needed to win, we lost 3-1 and even our goal only pulled it back to 2-1 at that point in time.

There was no doubt now. Scotland were staying at home. The final group match against Malta in November 1993 was confirmed as a dead rubber and attention drifted elsewhere.

On the very same night that Scotland lost to Italy, England lost 2-0 to the Netherlands and Graham Taylor’s men were left hoping they could thump San Marino while also hoping that Poland did them a favour at home to the Netherlands.

It’s become somewhat commonplace for us Scots to see how the neighbours are getting on since we’re not going anywhere. While the drama of the semi final shootout in Italia 90 definitely had our interest, it’s only when San Marino scored the fastest ever goal many of us have seen before or since, almost ruining England’s goal chase in the process, that we truly seemed to embrace schadenfreude.

I say almost ruined England’s goal chase. Poland losing to the Netherlands meant it didn’t matter how many goals England scored they were staying at home with the rest of us. But had Poland won 1-0 that night, that quickfire San Marino goal really could have cost England.

Meanwhile, back in Group 1, with Portugal beating Estonia in November it meant there was still three teams in the hunt on that final night. Switzerland looked all but assured of their qualification as they faced Estonia, so it was all down to Portugal’s visit to Milan to face Italy to decide the final places. Portugal had to win, while Italy knew a draw would be enough to take them through. In the end, Dino Baggio’s goal was enough to give the Italians a 1-0 win over Portugal that ultimately meant they topped the group ahead of Switzerland who did indeed beat Estonia.

So how did the Swiss manage to overcome the odds? Well they had some real quality on the field in Stephane Chapuisat, but much of the praise was reserved for their English coach – a certain Mr Roy Hodgson. Whatever happened to him?

The Swiss would ultimately bow out in the second round, losing to Spain who themselves would lose to Italy in the quarter finals. Italy would go all the way to the final, becoming the first team to lose that final in a penalty shoot out.

That 0-0 draw against Brazil seemed a long, long way from another 0-0 draw that same Italian side had played out at Ibrox a little under two years earlier. For many, the final summed up USA 94 as a disappointing tournament. With no “home nation” representative there for the first time since they decided to join in after the second world war, it almost seemed distant to us.

Sure, there was some backing for the Republic of Ireland who did manage to qualify. Indeed, there was some jealousy when in their opening game they were able to beat the Italians 1-0 thanks to a goal from Glasgow-born Ray Houghton. In a unique quirk, all four teams in Ireland’s group finished on four points with the unlucky Norway missing out by virtue of a lack of goals scored.

Ireland’s second round game saw them take on the Netherlands, a game I actually watched in the Netherlands while on a school trip. Although I was backing the Irish that day, I was made to feel more than welcome. Partly due to the fact the Netherlands won 2-0 and partly due to the fact I wasn’t quite 13 years old by then.

Frustratingly and somewhat ironically, in an otherwise disappointing World Cup, I managed to miss the best game of the tournament coming back from the Netherlands as eventual winners Brazil saw off the Netherlands challenge by the odd goal in five. Indeed, Brazil had been pegged back from 2-0 to 2-2 and only got the winner ten minutes from full time.

Back in Scotland, those Winds of Change were being felt in the corridors of Hampden. Andy Roxburgh had stepped down on confirmation of Scotland’s non-qualification after the draw against Switzerland. His assistant, Craig Brown, took change for the end of the campaign and was confirmed as remaining in place for the campaign that would follow.

“Maybe next time” was now down to a new man. Although it would soon become a common mantra, for now it was still a realistic belief.

A Scottish Kiss From Lady Luck

This blog was first written for Live Forever Football, a website dedicated to 90s football.

1967. Undoubtedly the high point for Scottish Football. Celtic were European Champions, Rangers were runners-up to Bayern Munich in the Cup Winners Cup, Kilmarnock were semi-finalists in the Fair Cities Cup where they lost out to runners-up Leeds United, and while Dundee United lost out to Juventus in that same tournament they had beaten Barcelona home and away to set up that tie against the Old Lady of Italian Football.

Then, of course, there was the small matter of Scotland beating the reigning World Champions England 3-2 at Wembley. But was that the greatest moment for the national team?

Scotland didn’t qualify for the World Cup in the England in 1966 as we lost out to Italy, and wouldn’t qualify for Mexico in 1970 either as we lost out to West Germany. It would be 1974, a full seven years after becoming unofficial World Champions, that we would finally be off to the official finals for the first time since 1958.

To further put the 3-2 win in context, the home nations were actually competing against each other in a group of four as part of the qualifying stage for the European Championship in 1968. The Euros, as they would come to be known, had only started in 1960 but Scotland hadn’t taken any part in the first two tournaments.

Despite beating them in 1967 at Wembley and drawn with them in 1968 at Hampden, England still managed to top the group as Scotland drew with Wales in 1967 and lost to Northern Ireland in 1968. England didn’t drop anything against them, and so they went on to the quarter finals. Indeed, England qualified for the last four but lost to Yugoslavia in the end.

Scotland’s luck in qualifying for the Euros didn’t get any better even after we started to qualify for every World Cup that was going. 1972 and 1976 may only have had four teams in the finals, but even after the final tournament was expanded from four to eight teams in 1980 Scotland still couldn’t get there.

But in 1990, lady luck finally smiled upon us. When the Euro 92 qualifying draw was made in February, Scotland found themselves in a group along with top seeds Romania and third seeds Bulgaria – both the bottom pick from those pots. Pot four gave us the second team from there of Switzerland, while pot five served up San Marino who until this point had never taken part in qualifying.

I’m sure as Scotland flew back from Italia 90 there were many eyes on the Republic of Ireland’s second round match against Romania. As they played out a 0-0 draw and Packie Bonner and David O’Leary became national heroes in the penalty shootout, in the Scotland camp it would have been the defeated Romanians that were of note. After all, we were due to play them three months later.

Despite going a goal down at Hampden, Scotland fought back and won their first qualifying game 2-1 against the top seeds in the group. When that was followed up a month later with another 2-1 home win, this time over Switzerland, it was clear Scotland had got off to just the start we needed to finally break our duck.

The 1-1 draw in Bulgaria didn’t do too much harm, and although a 2-0 win away to San Marino is hardly the most memorable of results it was enough to keep momentum going into the 1991/92 season. Another draw away from home, this time in Switzerland, was the followed up by a narrow defeat in Romania thanks to a Gheorghe Hagi penalty. Well we weren’t going to keep one of the household names from Italia 90 completely quiet, were we?

The final game was at home to San Marino, and a 4-0 win was recorded in November 1991. But… had Scotland done enough to qualify for the finals in Sweden? We’d have to wait a week to find out.

In the days of two points for a win, Scotland had amassed 11 points from their four wins, three draws a one defeat. The damning statistic though was the +7 goal difference. Romania were on nine points with a goal difference of +12, but they still had a game to play in Bulgaria. Any win at all would see the Romanians top the group and consign Scotland to yet another summer watching on from home.

But there was hope. While Scotland had picked up the maximum four points from their opening fixtures, Romania had picked up none. The defeat to Scotland had been followed up by a defeat at home to Bulgaria. If Romania were to qualify, they’d have to get revenge for that loss.

Popescu did indeed give Romania the lead in Sofia, but an equaliser from Sirakov came later on to deny Romania the win they needed and send Scotland on our way to Sweden the following summer. Finally, Scotland would take its place among Europe’s elite. It was a terrific time for Scotland.

And then they made the draw.

Everyone knows about Marco Van Basten’s outrageous goal in the final of Euro 88. No one even debates the best European Championship goal ever, they just accept it’s Van Basten’s and go on to decide what’s second. That goal helped the Netherlands beat the Soviet Union in the final, and as fate would have it those two were paired to meet again in the group stages at Euro 92.

In Scotland’s group.

Is that enough for you? No? Well, let’s see if we can’t make it worse then. West Germany had won the World Cup at Italia 90, before unifying with the East and then going on to qualify for Euro 92. How about we have them join the party as well then? The World Champions, The European Champions, the European Runners-Up… and Scotland.

I’m guessing lady luck figured we’d had enough of her help in qualifying.

When you consider the other group had the host nation Sweden that we ourselves had beaten at Italia 90, our old rivals England whom we’d hadn’t played since 1989 – the longest we’d ever gone without doing so – France who hadn’t even qualified for Italia 90, and Yugoslavia who had made the quarterfinals in Italy, you would have happily swapped places with any of them.

Which is exactly what Denmark did.

With communism collapsing, Euro 92 was affected on a number of occasions. East Germany had originally been part of the draw, but by the time the tournament kicked off they had dropped out and joined the West in their group instead.

By the time the tournament kicked off in June 1992, the Soviet Union had dissolved and so the team that played in the tournament played under the name of the “Commonwealth of Independent States”. Basically the same thing, but technically didn’t include the three Baltic states or Georgia – except for Kakhaber Tskhadadze who was somehow part of the squad anyway.

They were the lucky ones. The former Soviet states broke up amicably for the most part so they were still allowed to take part in the tournament. Yugoslavia weren’t so lucky. Slovenia were gone by the time the Euro 92 draw was made, but it was the war for Croatian independence that ultimately cost Yugoslavia their place in the championships.

On the 30th of May, United Nations Security Council Resolution 757 placed sanctions on Yugoslavia that had many consequences, but in this context it meant FIFA suspended the Yugoslav national team from competitive football. With England due to face them on the 11th of June in Sweden, a replacement was quickly drafted in.

To put that in the context of time, the Scottish Cup final in 1992 had taken place on the 9th of May. This decision was made three weeks later. Do you know where the Danish players, who rightly thought they had nothing better to do that summer, were at the time?

On the beach.

Denmark literally had to cancel holidays to come and play in Sweden. Or at least most of them did. Some players, most notably Michael Laudrup, opted to stay on holiday thinking it was a waste of time.

I’ll bet his brother Brian, who did join the Danish squad for the tournament, never lets him forget that decision.

So even when it comes to teams falling apart, Scotland had no luck. Not only did we get the newly unified Germans, but the Soviets couldn’t even fall out with each other properly. Meanwhile in the other group the highest rated team was gone and replaced by a team swapping their flip flops and li-los for football boots and treatment tables.

So it’s no surprise that the Tartan Army invaded Sweden with one goal in mind – to enjoy the experience. I don’t think there’s been another tournament before or since where the Scotland fans have accepted from the very beginning that we had absolutely no chance of qualifying from the group stage. It was almost liberating.

Do you know the names David McGow and Marianne Lindkvist? Probably not, but you might know their faces. Marianne was a Swedish police officer on duty at one of the Scotland matches and David was pictured kissing her in one of the most iconic photos in Scottish Football. That photo alone probably won the Tartan Army the Fair Play award we returned home with from Sweden.

But let’s not go home prematurely just yet! On the park, up first in Gothenburg were the reigning champions – the Netherlands.

To be perfectly honest, the game didn’t exactly live up to expectations. You would have expected the Dutch total football philosophy to overwhelm Scotland but while Hans van Breukelen had virtually nothing to do in the Dutch goal, Andy Goram was hardly rushed off his feet at the other end either.

Richard Gough was able to keep Marco Van Basten reasonably quiet, and a Frank Rijkaard effort was kept out by Goram… but that was about it until the final fifteen minutes. A Rijkaard header down into the path of Dennis Bergkamp from a Ruud Gullit cross saw the lesser known of the three names poke the ball home. One decent move made all the difference in the scoreline and gave the holders the winning start they had wanted.

Later that evening, the CIS managed a 1-1 draw with Germany. Scotland were bottom of the group and no one really expected we’d move from that spot with the Germans up next in Norrkoping.

And yet, just like the opening match against the Netherlands, Scotland matched up well against one of the favourites for the tournament. Indeed, Scotland were arguably on top and having the better chances… only for Jurgen Klinsmann to hold off Gough and roll the ball to Karlheinz Riedle who then fired past Goram.

If that seemed unlucky given how well we had been playing, just after half time lady luck was late back from having her half time pie. Or whatever the Swedish equivalent is. In her absence, a Stefan Effenberg Cross deflected off Maurice Malpas and left Goram helpless to prevent the ball dropping into the net and doubling Germany’s lead.

As busy as Bodo Illgner had been, Scotland couldn’t find a way past the Germany goalkeeper and Scotland were out of the competition with a game to spare thanks to another CIS draw in their game against the Netherlands. With world champions Germany and european champions the Netherlands both on three points, the inevitability of the group had come to fruition.

We all knew it would be this way, and yet Scotland had performed so well against arguably the two best teams in the tournament. If anything, we’d already done better than we had ever expected, even though we’d lost twice. And so we’d face the CIS in Norrkoping knowing it was our last game but that they still had a chance of qualifying. They might need to beat Scotland by a couple of goals if the other game finished a draw, but it was in their own hands to progress regardless of what happened in Gothenburg.

But they didn’t count on Scotland finally catching Lady Luck’s eye again.

The opening goal from Paul McStay came in the first ten minutes of the game. Actually, it’s technically an own goal by goalkeeper Dmitri Kharine’s since McStay’s shot hit the post and rebounded off Kharine’s outstretched arm and into the net, but I’m sure Dmitri won’t mind if Paul claims it.

Scotland were 2-0 up within 20 minutes thanks to another deflection, this time coming off the Georgian Tskhadadze as he directed Brian McClair’s effort into the opposite corner and away from Kharine. The former Soviets, shell shocked after the opening spell, missed some terrific chances as the game progressed but it was all over when substitute Pat Nevin was brought down in the area and Gary McAllister sent Kharine the wrong way with the penalty to complete the 3-0 win.

Remember when Rocky Balboa defeated communism? Well Scotland turned up and poked it with a stick to make sure it was dead.

This was the final act for the CIS. After Euro 92, the Baltic states entered qualifying for the World Cup in 1994 on their own merits while Russia went it alone in place of the Soviet Union. The rest of the former Soviet states wouldn’t enter qualification until Euro 96.

But forget the negative, Scotland’s comprehensive win ensured that we finished third in the group ahead of the CIS. When you consider that the other group saw both France and England finish level on two points with a negative goal difference, Scotland’s goal difference of zero technically means we were the best of the rest.

As far as I’m concerned, at Euro 92, Scotland finished fifth.

Of course, Scotland’s “achievement” went largely unnoticed. The fans rightly took the plaudits while the team went home satisfied with two decent but ultimately defeated games and one thumping win against a team that still had something to play for – so that was no dead rubber.

But then the tournament kept going. Remember those Danes who had been on the beach? Well they came second in their group behind the hosts. Sweden would lose out in the semifinals to the Germans, but the Danes went on to shock the holders in a 2-2 draw and a 5-4 win on penalties – Peter Schmeichel crucially saving the second Dutch penalty from, all of all people, Marco Van Basten.

But they weren’t done yet.

If defeating the Dutch was a shock, then what came next rocked the continent. A 2-0 win over Germany in the final is recognised as one of the truly shocking moments in football. For a team that hadn’t even qualified to cut their holidays short and go on to win the tournament outright is precisely why we all love football. It shouldn’t have happened and yet it did, and we all celebrated with the Danes.

And they didn’t even need Lady Luck to help.

Costa Reekin’

This blog was first written for Live Forever Football, a website dedicated to 90s football.

1990 is a landmark year for me and my love of football. I have very few memories prior to that, save for the signing of two Poles at Celtic shortly after a slightly bigger story broke about a certain former Celtic striker being usurped across the city to Rangers.

To be honest, it was the Poles who really caught my attention given my own family background connection with the country. When you’re the kid with the funny name, being able to properly pronounce Dariusz Dziekanowski and Dariusz Wdowczyk is almost expected. As it was, they were Jackie and Shuggie to many others in Scotland.

Both of Celtic’s Polish contingent played at Hampden in the Scottish Cup final in 1990, and indeed Wdowczyk is the lesser known penalty misser in the 9-8 shootout victory for Aberdeen. Poor Anton Rogan has the unfortunate honour of being the man who missed the most crucial penalty, and so Shuggie is rarely mentioned.

As I watched on at home that day, little did I know that just a week later I’d be watching both of those Poles play at Hampden in the flesh.

The first football match I was ever taken to was a Scotland v Poland friendly match at Hampden Park on May 19th, 1990. To this day, I can close my eyes and picture Hampden Park as it was back then from the terracing at the traditional Celtic end of the stadium. The sheer vastness of this footballing arena was truly breathtaking to a child who wasn’t quite nine years old yet.

The Celtic end of the stadium was open to the elements, but thankfully there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Even back then I noticed that the terracing opposite me was covered, but it never struck me as odd as I had nothing to compare that with. The thing that really struck me at the time was that the main stand to the left had a press box that looked like it could slide off the roof and onto the pitch at any moment.

The game itself is something I can only remember in patches. Scotland took the lead through Mo Johnston, but it was the equaliser that will live with me forever. With Andy Goram rushing off his line, Gary Gillespie didn’t notice this and when he attempted to head the ball back to him he instead looped the ball over him and into the empty net.

I never liked Gary Gillespie for that very reason.

But there was a bigger picture here. This match was one of Scotland’s warm up games ahead of Italia 90. For the fifth consecutive World Cup, Scotland had qualified for the finals once again. As I’ve hinted already, I’ve absolutely no recollection of the qualifying campaign, but for the record Scotland finished second in Group 5. Four points behind Yugoslavia, in the days of two points for a win, and just one ahead of France.

Norway and Cyprus completed the group, and it was arguably Cyprus getting a draw at home to France that made the difference. When you consider that Scotland only beat Cyprus away thanks to a 90th minute Richard Gough winner, you can see how close things were between the two.

Yugoslavia only dropped two points the entire campaign, a draw each against Scotland and France. With both teams drawing against Norway, admittedly Scotland doing so at home in the final game when a draw was all that was needed, the two winning their respective home games against each other cancelled themselves out too.

When the draw for the finals was made in December 1989, Scotland found themselves paired with Brazil for a third time in five World Cups. The other two teams in Group C were fellow Europeans Sweden who had topped England’s group and in doing so had seen off Poland, and the little known Costa Rica who had qualified for the finals for the very first time. Literally everyone in Scotland had failed to notice that they had actually topped the final CONCACAF qualification group, perhaps because CONCACAF was not a well respected confederation at the time.

In the build up to the finals, Scotland played a number of friendlies. Perhaps most noteworthy was Scotland’s 1-0 win over the then reigning World Champions Argentina thanks to a goal from Aberdeen’s Stewart McKimmie. Sure, there was no Diego Maradona in the team, and only three of the players who played against Scotland went on to start the World Cup final against West Germany that summer, but when you’re Scottish you take any small win you can get. Besides, beating reigning World Champions is a Scottish tradition dating back to 1967!

The other friendlies weren’t quite as impressive. A 1-0 defeat to East Germany and a 3-1 defeat to Egypt had come before the draw with Poland, while the final warm up match took place in Malta and saw Scotland narrowly beat their hosts 2-1.

By the time Scotland took to the field in Genoa for their opening group match against Costa Rica, Brazil had already beaten Sweden 2-1 the previous day. With Sweden seen as the main threat to Scotland finishing second behind Brazil, things were looking good.

Well, not everything. Scotland had turned up to play Costa Rica in what can be politely described as a white with thin yellow hoops jersey. How the traditional kit could possibly clash with the all red jersey of Costa Rica I’ll never know, but I distinctly remember thinking it didn’t look right to see Scotland not playing in the dark blue.

The choice of strip was the least of our worries though.

The first half didn’t seem to go too badly. Sure, the service to Mo Johnston could have been better, and sure it was still 0-0 at the break, but we’d get the breakthrough eventually. Wouldn’t we?

Four minutes into the second half, Geovanny Jara played a cheeky backheel that gave Arnaldo Cayasso a clear sight of goal. With only Jim Leighton in the Scotland goal to beat he fired the ball into the net to give Costa Rica a shock lead.

The expected Scotland comeback never materialised. In truth, it never looked like it would. A few good saves from goalkeeper Luis Gabelo Conejo aside, Costa Rica just weren’t put under the cosh as would have been expected. It turned out that Costa Rica were “nae mugs” after all, and went on to narrowly lose 1-0 to Brazil in the next match, a few hours before Scotland faced Sweden.

With both teams having lost their opening group match, this game was already looking like a “win or bust” for both sides. More so for Scotland though, given we still had Brazil to face in the final game.

With both teams now in their traditional kits, things were already looking a lot better. The fact it was a later kick off in Genoa and therefore not as hot and humid as the first match also seemed to help matters. Ten minutes into the game, Murdo MacLeod sent a corner into the box and Dave MacPherson flicked it on to Stuart McCall who was waiting at the edge of the six yard box. McCall slid in and fired Scotland in front. We were off the mark.

The game will never go down as a classic, and despite the good early start it took until just ten minutes to go for us to breathe a little easier when Mo Johnston tucked away the penalty given after Roy Aitken went down somewhat easily in the box, and Scotland had a 2-0 lead. A late consolation from Glenn Stromness latching onto a ridiculously long through ball didn’t stop Scotland picking up only our fourth win at the World Cup finals – the other three coming against Zaire in 1974, Holland in 1978, and New Zealand in 1982. Sadly, to this day it is also Scotland’s last win at the World Cup finals.

That win against Sweden gave Scotland a reasonable chance of progressing to the knockout stages for the first time. With 24 teams in the tournament, the top two from each group would both progress as would four of the six third placed teams. With Brazil top on four points, and Scotland level with Costa Rica on two, we were still in with a chance of being one of the four third placed teams if not one of the top two in our group.

Costa Rica’s game against Sweden would take place at the same time, and so what kind of result we needed was still to be determined. If Sweden could win, a draw would be enough to finish second. Even if Costa Rica won, a draw might still be enough to finish in one of the plum third place positions.

But then again, the final match was against Brazil.

In our two previous meetings with Brazil, we had done fantastically well to draw with the reigning champions in 1974, but the 4-1 hammering in 1982 after David Narey had given us the lead was of more immediate concern. The 1990 Scotland were nowhere near the class of the 1974 Scotland, but neither were the 1990 Brazil team anything like the quality they had in 1974 or 1982. They had only succeeded in beating Sweden by the same scoreline that we ourselves had managed, and even they had struggled to a narrow win over Costa Rica – a team we still felt like we should have done better against.

And so, with our usual bizarre optimism that could see us think getting a result against Brazil was possible having already lost to Costa Rica – and to be fair you only have to look at the 1978 World Cup results to see why we might think like that – it was off to Turin.

Scotland set out with the draw in mind, with Roy Aitken dropping back to play as a sweeper in a back five. The game itself played out exactly as you would expect of a backs-to-the-wall game. Everyone played their part to stop Brazil, most famously Murdo MacLeod who was completed sparked out after taking a free kick full on in the face not long before half time. It was no surprise when he couldn’t continue.

Gary Gillespie came on for him. I should have known then we were doomed.

With just eight minutes left on the clock, Alemao fired in a low shot from distance. Leighton probably should have held it, but instead he spilled it out to Careca. The striker managed to knock the ball towards the goal line under pressure from Gillespie but it was going wide. With the whole of Scotland willing the ball to run out of play substitute Muller, who had come on less than twenty minutes earlier for a youngster named Romario who would become a household name four years later, broke all our hearts by appearing on screen to tap the ball into an empty net.

Im guessing for those in the stadium it was more obvious he was going to score, but for those of watching on at home it was substantially more of a tease.

There was still time for Scotland to give us hope, but a late Mo Johnston chance was somehow tipped over the bar by Brazilian goalkeeper Taffarel and Scotland were stranded on two points. With Costa Rica beating Sweden, they progressed along with Brazil to the knockout stages while across Scotland we consulted our wall charts to see what we needed to happen to be one of the four best third placed teams.

To be honest, we already looked doomed. Both Argentina in Group B and Columbia in Group D had finished third on three points, and with Austria in group A also on two points with two goals for and three against like ourselves, it was pretty clear what the teams in Group E and Group F had to beat. Should it come to it and only one of Scotland or Austria could qualify, then lots would have been drawn to decide which it would be. To this day I have no idea what that means! What’s wrong with tossing a coin?!

But we still had to get to that point first. With both groups E and F finishing the day after ours, we were left in the bizarre scenario where for a full 24 hours Scotland didn’t know whether to go home or not.

In Group E, Uruguay already had a point while South Korea had none. Spain also had two points, but they were playing Belgium who had four so unless they lost they were going to be of no help. The best case scenario from this group was a comprehensive Belgium win over Spain to wipe out their goal difference, or a small South Korea win over Uruguay to ensure they’re worse goal difference didn’t surpass ours.

Both Spain and Uruguay won, ensuring the latter became another third place team on three points.

Group F was too tight to call. With England on three points, Ireland and the Netherlands both on two points, and Egypt on one point, the only thing that would help Scotland here was for an England win over Egypt to ensure they didn’t come into the equation, and a win for either Ireland or the Netherlands – ideally by more than a goal but a 1-0 win would have been enough given the goals scored column would be in our favour.

England did indeed beat Egypt to top the group, but Ireland and the Netherlands drew 1-1, ensuring both of them progressed to the knockout stages and finally Scotland and Austria were sent home.

Interestingly, Ireland and the Netherlands actually did have to be separated by the drawing of lots, which Ireland won to finish second in the group to the Netherlands third place. Given that meant Ireland faced Romania while the Netherlands faced West Germany, it made all the difference.

With the tournament progressing without Scotland, we watched on as neutrals and tried not to get too carried away with just how annoyingly good World in Motion was as a World Cup song. When you consider Scotland’s equivalent of “say it with pride, the lion shall roar in the sun” it’s no wonder more of us could probably do the Barnes rap even today than could even tell you anything about our song back then.

Fish, in case you’re wondering. Ask your parents if you’re still wondering.

Meanwhile, on a patch of grass somewhere in Scotland, I was falling over trying my best to copy David Platt’s last minute winner against Belgium. That’s when I wasn’t wheeling away screaming “Schillaci!!!!!” after scoring a goal of course.

Italia 90 may have been a disappointment for Scotland, one forever tainted by the memory of Costa Rica, but it inspired me as a young football fan in a way I’d never known before.

And as for Costa Rica…

Sixteen years later, I went to the World Cup in Germany. Scotland hadn’t qualified, but fortunately Poland had and I’d been fortunate enough to win tickets in the ballot to go to their final group match against Costa Rica.

So, draped in a saltire, wearing a Celtic jersey with Zurawski printed on the back, I went to Hannover to watch Poland exorcise some of my demons with a 2-1 win courtesy of two goals from Bartosz Bosacki. There was even a point in the game where Costa Rica were winning 1-0. The game might have been a dead rubber by this point in the tournament, but it certainly made a certain Scotsman feel just a little bit better.

If You Know Your History…

The good thing about coming from a multicultural background is that when Scotland don’t qualify for a major tournament, as they haven’t since 1998, I still have a reasonable chance of tying myself to another country that has made it there.

It doesn’t always work of course as some tournaments go by without any of my historical background getting there. Fortunately that wasn’t the case for Euro 2016, nor was it ever likely to be given Scotland’s qualifying group contained another two of my ancestrally linked countries!

The most prominent has always been Poland. When it’s the paternal path that carries that link, it’s hard to avoid when you constantly explain to people about your name. It’s an ever present reminder of my background, one that means “how do you spell that” is as common a question in my life as “where does that come from”.

Kujawa isn’t the most obvious of Polish names to your average onlooker after all. Well, not unless you happen to have a map of the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship in Poland handy. The name comes from the region, or perhaps the region comes from the name. I’m never sure which.

Regardless, I’ve never been to Poland and as far as I know my family actually came from further south. Although given Poland’s border changes in the last 100 years even that is hard to tell.

A quick history lesson, as it is relevant to my family history. For over a century Poland didn’t even exist after it had been partitioned by the Russians, the Germans and the Austro-Hungarians. Those three powers were at war during the First World War, although the Russians eventually got bored with that particular silliness and decided to have a revolution instead when they realised just how stupid it was dying because their establishment had fallen out with other establishment of other countries. Especially when all of them were happily tucked up in their cosy beds well away from the front line.

In the aftermath of the First World War, Poland was re-established. The borders remained fluid for a while thereafter as the breakup of Austria-Hungary coupled with the power struggles in what would eventually become the Soviet Union saw much of Eastern Europe having anything from border skirmishes to all out war.

Now, before I go any further, I should point out that all I know about my own family history has come from my father. I only met my grandfather once, and I don’t think I was even a toddler when I did. I wish I had known him, I’ve written about that previously, but the fact is I didn’t and so my account of this is most definitely second hand at best.

Somewhere in all of the Eastern Europe upheaval, my great-grandfather was part of the Polish army. He fought the Germans, he fought the Bolsheviks, and somewhere along the line he rescued a minor aristocratic Russian woman from no doubt being put up against the wall when the revolution came.

My great-grandmother.

Its something of a fairy tale really. It seems to be very broadly similar to the legend of Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, although my great grandmother was clearly not as important in the grand scheme of things! Nevertheless, my great grandfather basically rescued her, took her home to Poland, had a son and lived happily ever after.

Well… this isn’t a fairy tale of course.

The sad truth of that story is that my great-grandfather died when Poland was invaded by the Germans and the Russians in 1939. My great-grandmother died in a camp, not unlike Auschwitz except not quite as famous. They weren’t just for Jews you know. If you weren’t the master race, you were going there.

Fortunately, my grandfather lied about his age to join the army, and in the six years of the second world war he moved on from Poland to Yugoslavia and eventually to Italy. In that time he learned many things, including that the best way to escape from a German prison camp is to put on one of their uniforms and walk out of the front door like it’s perfectly natural.

I believe the story goes that my grandfather hooked up with the same Polish army that had earlier liberated Monte Cassino, and that’s where he was when the war came to an end. Unfortunately for him, the politics of Europe changed dramatically and the Polish Armed Forces in the West, troops that were under British command, were suddenly considered traitors by the new communist Polish government.

What a horrible situation that must have been. You’ve fought against the very people who invaded your country for six years, and when the war is finally over you can’t go home because you happen to be hanging out with the wrong good guys?

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Britain actually bowed to the Russian influence in Poland – against all the promises that had been made between Britain, Russia and the US prior to the ending of the war – and then tried to placate them further by insisting the Poles should go home anyway!

Fortunately, after a bit of back and forth, the Polish Resettlement Act of 1947 was passed which meant that British Citizenship was offered to over 200,000 displaced Poles. They spread throughout the countries of the British Empire, especially to places like Canada and Australia, while others opted to remain in the UK itself. A lot of them stayed in London, while others chose to go other cities.

My grandfather, who could now effectively go anywhere he wanted to start a new life, had a difficult choice to make. Where do you go when you don’t know anyone there or even anything about the culture? In the end, he chosen to go somewhere he at least knew something about.

And this is perhaps the most astounding aspect of this story.

It turns out that my grandfather had heard of a great goalscorer from Scotland named Jimmy McGrory. Further more, just before the war had broken out he had heard that the team that McGrory had played for had won a prestigious tournament within the British Empire. So when my grandfather had to pick where to settle after the war, he went to the city he knew a little bit about.

Glasgow, where Celtic play.

I’ve often said that a lot of what I have in life I owe to Celtic somewhere along the line. I met my wife on a supporters bus going to a game at Kilmarnock. I was on that bus because I’d met other friends through message boards on the internet talking about Celtic. I barely have any friends from school, but the friends I have now are mainly traced back to my university days, and specifically the day I got talking to someone because I turned up for lectures wearing my new Celtic top. The job I have today came about through playing football with those same friends.

But I had no idea until recently that my very existence is owed to Celtic winning the Empire Exhibition trophy!

Had my grandfather not heard of Celtic, he may very well have gone elsewhere. He may even have stayed in London as many other Poles did, somewhere he actually moved to shortly before I was born. Had he done that, he would never have met my Scottish grandmother, would never have had a son with her and so in turn he would never have had me.

But even from a non-personal perspective, this story astounds me. In 1938, there was no internet to easily access information. Yet somehow my grandfather had heard about the exploits of McGrory and how Celtic had won the Empire Exhibition trophy against Everton. Now, I know from my own knowledge of Celtic history that McGrory was manager of Kilmarnock at the time Celtic won that trophy, but his exploits prior to that clearly made it across Europe in an era when there was no European competition.

I really wish I could find out more about my family history, but sadly my grandfather has been gone 15 years now and records of my great-grandfather and great-grandmother are unlikely to exist given everything that went on back then. I have a single source of information for all of this, which is one of the reasons I’m writing this blog. This is one of the most interesting aspects of my life, and so I want to ensure it doesn’t get lost in a haze of failing memories and the passing of the people involved.

But also, the next time someone tells me “it’s just a game”, you’ll know why my response is just to laugh.

The Season Book Years – 2014/15

Finishing off 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’ve all been home league games. I might have mentioned other games from that season to put it into the context of the season, but the main focus was on that one home league game. So, with that in mind, for the final time…

Celtic 4-0 Motherwell, 21st January 2015.
Van Dijk 26, Griffiths 42, Lustig 76, 81.

This season as a season book holder has been an odd one. From the Commonwealth Games booting us out of our own stadium and sending us to Murrayfield for Champions League qualifiers, to the slow process of our new manager Ronny Deila trying to instill his tactics and methods into a team who were used to Neil Lennon’s way of doing things, it didn’t exactly start great with defeats at the hands of both Legia Warsaw and Maribor sending us tumbling out of the Champions League not once but twice thanks to some dodgy paperwork on the Polish champions part.

For me though, it was one long season of proof that it was time to bring this period of my life to an end. My rant at the end of August after yet another summer of watching Celtic try to rest on their laurels and still make the Champions League is one I stand by, but moves have been made since to make me think that this summer might actually be managed right. Whether that proves to be right or not won’t make any difference to me now, but hopefully it makes a difference for the team.

This season I’ve missed more home games than I have since before I was a season book holder. From flag day itself against Dundee United, to the 1-0 defeat to high flying Hamilton, and both home wins over Aberdeen, I’ve had other commitments now that I have a family. Throw in the fact that I cancelled my home cup debit scheme at the end of August and that means I’ve even missed cup wins over Hearts, Partick Thistle and Dundee United as well as the whole Europa League campaign.

The fact we’ve only had four 3pm Saturday kick offs out of nineteen home league games this season is just more proof of how football is changing away from the traditional, but we brought some of that on ourselves with the Thursday Europa League games and the cancellation of other home games to go and do things like bond in the Canaries!

But as much as I’ve moaned about games being postponed mid-season to make your own winter break, there’s a strong suggestion that the break actually did Celtic the world of good. Where prior to that January break Celtic had still been struggling to find their way under Ronny Deila, by the time they returned it was suddenly all guns blazing and everyone pulling in the right direction.

A 2-0 win at Hamilton was a good start, but it was the first home game after the break that really raised my eyebrows and convinced me that my faith that Deila knew what he was doing had not been misplaced. Now, for the first time, I was able to see that the players were buying into it as well and showing that they could play their part. That had always been the niggling doubt in my head until this game.

The Motherwell game in January was simply terrific. We had all the game, we had all the shots. The game wasn’t so much that Motherwell never intended to attack, but more that we never let them even consider it. It wouldn’t be the last time we’d do that either, and if anything the Dundee game less than 24 hours prior to clinching the fourth title – in a Friday night home game no less – was an even better example of it. But this was the first time we really saw it – if you ignore the curiously out of place drubbing of Dundee United on flag day that is.

The Motherwell game wasn’t perfect by any means. The first goal came from Anthony Stokes’ second attempt at a cross after his corner had failed to beat the first man, but it was accurate enough that Van Dijk headed home at the back post to put Celtic deservedly in front. Stokes was the provider again for the second goal as another accurate cross gave Leigh Griffiths the chance to head past Dan Twardzik in the Motherwell goal.

Motherwell could have, and probably should have, lost by more goals on the night. Emilio Izaguirre, not known for his scoring but still managed to go from one goal for Celtic to three in this one season, hit the crossbar. This was after another move where Izzy had set up Stefan Johansen who had hit the post with a header. Kris Commons was twice denied by Twardzik as well, who despite the scoreline actually had a good game against Celtic – a team where two of his brothers had spent their youth careers.

Mikael Lustig was the man to finally get the third goal after combining well with James Forrest, but it was the fourth goal that really stuck out on the night. A break up the park, initiated by Lustig himself, eventually found Griffiths who sent in a well placed cross for Lustig to fire home thanks to a diving header. For me, it was goal of the season. For others, that accolade apparently went to Commons in the League Cup semi final. Admittedly, we all looked daft after both Brown’s team goal and Bitton’s wonderstrike against Dundee after that award had been given out!

Lustig wasn’t done though. On a hat trick, the Swede became the third Celtic player to hit the woodwork as he fired in the last shot of the game. Another inch and the right back – who had only come on as a second half substitute – would have had a well deserved hat trick. As a fans favourite, that would have brought the house down.

Sadly, Lustig didn’t feature much this season due to injury. But if you were going to feature heavily in any game for Celtic this season, then this was one to do it in.

This game also said it all for Celtic’s season. Dominant, playing attractive and attacking football, but not quite hitting the back of the net as often as they probably should have done. Despite the refereeing in the Scottish Cup semi final, I can’t help but feel that last part had just as much of a part to play in why Celtic didn’t finish the season with the treble we probably should have had. Indeed, if I have on regret over these thirteen seasons is that we’ve never managed the domestic clean sweep.

Maybe next season. I may not be there as I have been these last thirteen seasons, but I’ll still be watching on and supporting from afar.

But first, there’s one final trophy to get.

The Season Book Years – 2013/14

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 1-0 Partick Thistle, 1st January 2014.
Ledley 39.

Of the thirteen blogs I’m doing here, this one is probably the worst game of the lot. Which is saying something when you consider we haven’t won all of the previous games!

The Champions League campaign was over and it had been a disaster. A solitary three points thanks to a win at home against Ajax set a new low for us in the group stages – beating the previous low of five points but not quite touching the Scottish record low of just two points. The final game in the group, a 6-1 drubbing by arguably the poorest Barcelona team we had faced in the last ten years – which isn’t really an insult given how good those other teams had been – was probably the most depressing point though. It was so bad that I was in the Admiral drinking my body weight in Vodka and it was having no effect whatsoever!

I did cheer the “one” in “six-one” in ridiculous over-the-top fashion though. And the company was good. If you’re going to lose badly, do it with friends. It still sucks, but it helps.

Domestically, though, Celtic couldn’t be touched. Unlike the previous season, none of the teams in the newly christened SPFL Premiership had been able to keep up with us despite those Champions League nights. Lack of consistency once again punished the teams behind Celtic, and coupled with us being undefeated in the league it was already looking all over by the festive period. Add to that the fact Celtic were also in the League Cup semi final and the Scottish Cup fifth round and things were as good as they could get on paper.

But it wasn’t exactly the most exciting football.

After a year out, the Glasgow derby had returned as a New Year fixture as newly promoted Partick Thistle visited Celtic Park. But it was hardly a classic New Year derby. Freezing cold as it invariably is in January, I was practically bored in the stands. Joe Ledley’s solitary goal in the first half was about the only thing worth getting out of your seat to cheer. Even reading the match reports of that day you’d be hard pressed to find any more interesting details to picture, other than a late clearance off the line by Adam Matthews.

The fact this was our third 1-0 win in a row said it all for the excitement being served up at the time. This game actually went on to become part of a new league record for time without conceding a goal, which Fraser Forster proudly holds to this day. That run eventually came to an end in the only defeat Celtic suffered in the league all season: a 2-1, down to ten men, loss at Pittodrie.

Little did I know what was happening back home.

My heavily pregnant wife had decided not to go to the game that day. She was already on maternity leave by this point, and with our baby due just a few days later she was quite happy to stay in the warm house and put her feet up. It was all quiet, and as this was our first child there were no issues with me going to the game myself and leaving her to chill out. Besides, I was making New Year dinner when I got home!

What she hadn’t told me was that, not long before I’d left, she’d started to feel contractions in the shower… but had written them off as Braxton-Hicks. Of course, they were still going by the time I got home from the game!

That still wasn’t enough for her to think much of it though! She was managing them fine, they weren’t that regular, and so they were still being written off as nothing to worry about. No one gives birth early when it’s their first, do they? So, as such, I went and made dinner and we enjoyed that in front of the television because we’re sad that way.

And by sad I mean comfy. I’d claim this was because she was pregnant, but to be honest we sit in front of the television eating our dinner a lot!

Those contractions started to get more regular and intense though, until it became clear this was no practice session. By the time midnight had come we were timing them to the tipping point of heading to the hospital. Just to wind us up, those contractions all but stopped in the car and there was some question as to whether or not we were just going to have to turn around and go home again. But fortunately as we sat in the hospital’s TV room – amusingly (to me at least) Alien was on Channel 4 that night – they revved up again and we were admitted.

By the following morning my son had arrived and life was never the same again. Not really what I had envisaged for the rest of the day when I’d been bored and freezing while watching us narrowly beat Partick Thistle in the Glasgow derby!

The Season Book Years – 2012/13

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 4-3 Aberdeen, 16th March 2013.
Commons 1, Mulgrew 68, Hooper 87, Samaras 90+4. Vernon 45, Magennis 53, 60.

With Rangers gone, the top flight of Scottish Football was supposed to be a simple task for Celtic now. But we didn’t have it all our own way. With a very welcome distraction of a successful Champions League group campaign, Kilmarnock won their first game at Celtic Park for 57 years, Inverness picked up a win at Celtic Park a few weeks after that too, and even an annoying 1-0 defeat away to Hibernian at the end of the calendar year kept things tight at the top. Indeed, a lack of consistency from the other teams in the league made sure that not only was there no gap for us to make up in the second half of the season, but we were still top… just.

A string of wins through the new year though catapulted Celtic clear of the rest and there was a healthy gap at the top of the league by the end of February. Which was good, because Celtic then lost away to Motherwell and Ross County either side of a narrow Scottish Cup win against St Mirren – the same team who had knocked us out of the League Cup at the end of January. Next up in the league was Aberdeen.

It had started so promisingly for Celtic. A goal in just 12.2 seconds from Kris Commons set a new SPL record for the fastest goal since its inception in 1998. Amusingly, Anthony Stokes had previously held that record with a goal for Hibernian against Rangers in 12.4 seconds, and it was he who teed up the goal for Commons to score. But Aberdeen fought their way back into the game and fully deserved their equaliser just before the break.

But then Celtic simply didn’t start the second half.

Josh Magennis scored two goals in the first fifteen minutes of the second half to put Aberdeen within touching distance of their first win at Celtic Park in nine years. With two league defeats now looking like becoming three in a row, Celtic Park was not a happy place.

But then Celtic got a bit of luck. A Charlie Mulgrew effort deflected past Jamie Langfield and reduced Aberdeen’s lead to just a single goal with quarter of the match still to play. The Celtic fans responded to this with increased volume and suddenly the onslaught towards the Aberdeen goal was unrelenting. But it would take almost another 20 minutes before Celtic levelled the game as Gary Hooper reacted quickest to a blocked Efe Ambrose header.

3-3, and still a few minutes of regular time to go. Aberdeen looked to be holding out and with the game entering the fourth minute of injury time, Celtic were awarded a free kick within distance of the penalty area. Commons crossed the ball deep, Lassad Nouioui nodded the ball back across goal and then Georgios Samaras went for the acrobatic overhead kick.

And found the bottom corner of the net.

4-3 Celtic, and the stadium was going wild. In a game which saw Celtic maintain a fifteen point lead at the top of the table, against a team destined for the bottom six, the atmosphere was like nothing else produce domestically that season. Only the goals against Barcelona and the late penalty against Spartak Moscow a few months earlier had been celebrated more than this one. Samaras himself had whipped his jersey off and was now swinging it about in celebration at the winner.

He was, of course, booked for that celebration. Our referees really do have no common sense whatsoever.

It was a remarkable ending to the game. Celtic would go on to clinch the title three games later, and added the Scottish Cup in May. If any season came close to 2003/04 for excitement, then this was it. Champions League last sixteen, beating Barcelona, winning the double… it didn’t quite reach the same heights as there was no 25 game winning streak and no local rivals to whitewash – and of course the pesky League Cup still managed to elude us as it had back then – but it’s still up there with one of the finest in my time as a season book holder.

The Season Book Years – 2011/12

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 1-0 Heart of Midlothian, 10th December 2011.
Wanyama 74.

Neil Lennon’s words at the end of the previous season in May had seemed a long way off by the time we reached October. 3-0 down to Kilmarnock at half time at Rugby Park, it looked like he was going to be heading out the door in a way similar to that of his predecessor Tony Mowbray after a miserable defeat at St Mirren Park. But Lennon’s team wasn’t Mowbray’s team, and that 3-0 deficit became a remarkable 3-3 draw. But it was still a small comfort in a season where we were already badly trailing behind Rangers in the league.

Fast forward to December and suddenly Celtic were closing the gap. November had been good for us, and a gap which had been as high as 15 points – albeit with two games in hand – at the start of the month was now coming down rapidly as we went on a winning run and Rangers started dropping points. But one game probably showed Celtic’s determination more than any.

Hearts were once again the visitors on this memorable game – although the game itself wasn’t really all that memorable! Indeed, for three quarters of the game it was Celtic failing to break down a stuffy Hearts. But with a little over quarter of an hour remaining, Victor Wanyama turned at the edge of the box and fired his first goal for Celtic into the top corner of the net.

It was a remarkable goal from a player who was only just beginning to fit into the Celtic team. Originally starting as a centre back, Wanyama was now in the midfield in a position he would make his own until he eventually moved on to Southampton in a £12 million transfer. Before then he’d add to this goal against Hearts with some more terrific strikes – probably most memorably with a header against Barcelona in the 2-1 win in the Champions League less than twelve months after this game. There’s no doubt such performances at the highest level are why he was sold for such a high price tag.

But Wanyama’s goal wasn’t the last eventful moment of the Hearts game. With just a few minutes left, Hearts were awarded a penalty for what appeared to be a nothing challenge by Wanyama himself. Eggert Jonsson stepped up to take the penalty, but found Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster in terrific form to keep the ball out of the net and ensure the three points stayed at Celtic Park and our winning run remained unbroken.

If this game marked the coming of Victor Wanyama in midfield, then it also marked the day Fraser Forster truly became Celtic’s number one goalkeeper. There had been plenty of doubts about the Englishman up to this point, but following this penalty save the Celtic fans warmed more and more to him. Within a year, he’d earn the title “La Gran Muralla” – The Great Wall – after his heroics in the two Champions League matches against Barcelona. Eventually he’d join Wanyama at Southampton for £10 million, another big money sale for Celtic to England. £22 million for two players, both of which can arguably trace their successful Celtic careers back to this one pivotal game.

The 1-0 win over Hearts kept the pressure on Rangers, and by the end of the month Celtic had not only caught them but had actually overtaken them after a 1-0 win at Celtic Park courtesy of a Joe Ledley header in the final game of the calendar year. Rangers would never again top the SPL as Celtic not only kept the gap but stretched it to four points before Rangers lost ten points by going into administration. Celtic would go on to win the league by far more than those ten points – double that in fact – although not officially clinching the title at Ibrox was definitely a massive missed opportunity given the SPL’s ridiculous habit of trying to schedule fixtures to avoid just such a scenario.

But Celtic would have the last and final laugh as a 3-0 thumping at Celtic Park, complete with Green Brigade four horsemen banners, foreshadowed the end of Rangers.

With a failed CVA in June, thanks to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs who effectively had the final say as they were the biggest single creditor with or without the inclusion of tax cases, Rangers were doomed to liquidation.