GORDON STRACHAN had to make a swift decision shortly after his first two competitive games as Celtic manager after succeeding Martin O’Neill in season 2005/06.
The new man had witnessed the Parkhead side ship NINE goals in two awful defensive performances in the 5-0 Champions League qualifying disaster against Artmedia Bratislava and then the league opener against Motherwell that ended in a 4-4 deadlock at Fir Park.
After the colossale flop in the Slovakian capital, Strachan, struggling to keep his emotions in check, gasped: gasped: “This is the worst night of my footballing life. I’m still in shock.”
Later on, he added: “When I die, I reckon the inscription on my headstone should read: ‘This is much better than Bratislava’.”
READ ALL ABOUT IT…Alex Gordon’s latest Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’.
Goalkeeper David Marshall, of course, could not be solely blamed for the awful back-to-back results, but it did open the way for a relatively-unknown shotstopper from Legia Warsaw to get his opportunity to show what he could do – an unassuming chap by the name of Artur Boruc.
The eccentric Polish netminder celebrates his 41st birthday today and will always be hailed by the Hoops fans as ‘The Holy Goalie’ during his six years at the club before his switch to Fiorentina. He was the man in charge when Strachan celebrated the first of his three successive championships at the club.
Author Alex Gordon tells the story in his latest Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’ – his fifteenth tribute tome to the Parkhead team – of a traumatic start to Strachan’s managerial career at the club.
TOUCHLINE TENSION…images of Gordon Strachan from new Celtic book ’50 Flags Plus One’.
Fortunes changed dramatically for Strachan, Boruc and Celtic after the initial hiccup and on the evening of April 5 2006, in front of an audience of 59,699, the club won their fourth title in six seasons and their fortieth in history.
Hearts were the visitors on a cool, still night in the east end of Glasgow and, with six games still to play, Strachan realised his team were a mere ninety minutes away from championship success.
The sparky, quirky character admitted with typical candour: “We want it badly – and we want it tonight. This has been our priority for so long. Now the players can get a reward for all their efforts.”
S-T-R-E-T-C-H…Artur Boruc in action.
Only three minutes had gone when John Hartson scored what turned out to be the winner who thundered a 30-yard first-timer beyond Craig Gordon, the Hearts keeper, who, of course, had such a glorious career at Parkhead later in his career.
Boruc, as you would expect, played a massive role in the flag clincher when he launched a clearance straight down the field into the stride of the Welsh international frontman. It was the pass of the evening and he wasn’t let dfown by his team-mate who let fly from distance.
Afterwards, Strachan said: “To have won the trophy and be twenty points clear is scary.”
The full story of a truly remarkable debut campaign for Strachan is told with insight and inside knowledge by author Alex Gordon, a former Sports Editor of the Sunday Mail, whose other Celtic books include the autobiographies of club greats Bertie Auld, Tommy Gemmell, Davie Hay and John Hughes as well as the acclaimed tribute to Billy McNeill, ‘In Praise of Caesar’.
* ‘CELTIC: 50 Flags Plus One’ celebrates the club’s remarkable fifty-one league championships in their glorious history. To order a copy – and get a FREE book, ‘Seville: The Celtic Movement’ – please go to: ‘CELTIC: 50 Flags Plus One’.