ON THIS day on May 14 1988, Celtic claimed a 2-1 triumph over Dundee United at Hampden to seal a memorable Centenary Year league and Cup double.
The curtain came down on a historic campaign on an afternoon where a dramatic late double from Frank McAvennie made certain of the team’s place in folklore.
Author Alex Gordon sets the scene for the big day in his tribute book, ‘Celtic: 50 Flags Plus One‘, an in-depth look at every season of the club’s first 51 untainted titles.
THE Celtic fans were in full throttle when Dundee arrived at Parkhead on Saturday April 23. The record books show an attendance of 60,800, but there are those in the know who say you could add at least another 15,000 to that total.
The Celtic board, for reasons known only to themselves, decided not to make the game all-ticket and fans were queuing up overnight to make sure they got in to join the party. Nothing and no-one was going to spoil this day.
Referee Alister Huett blew to kick off the carnival and three minutes later he was re-centering the ball – Celtic had scored.
Chris Morris and Andy Walker sliced through the Dens Park rearguard and the adventurous right-back, a worthy successor to Danny McGrain, slammed the ball past the helpless Tom Carson. it remained that way until Walker hit two in a scintillating sixty-second spell.
Frank McAvennie set up the first with a neat through ball in the 75th minute and the lithe attacker rounded the keeper before slamming into the unprotected net. And, within a minute, Walker, thoroughly enjoying his first season in the green and white hoops, squeezed one between Carson and his near post. Job done. Break out the champagne.
CELEBRATIONS – AT THE DOUBLE…Frank McAvennie is congratulated by Paul McStay after hitting the second goal in the unforgettable Scottish Cup Final victory over Dundee United at Hampden on May 14 1988.
“The game every Celtic fan in the world wanted to see was that meeting with Dundee,” reflected Billy McNeill. “The victory gave our supporters something to remember for a long, long time. There seemed to be fans everywhere and it was a smashing birthday party afternoon.
“The crowd chanted ‘Happy Birthday’ throughout and refused to leave until I came out with the players 15 minutes after the game had ended. I was still wearing a tracksuit and hadn’t been in the bath, but nobody cared about such details.
“This was the first time the fans were seeing the team on home territory as the 1988 champions.”
A couple of weeks later, as the sun shone radiantly in the pale blue sky, the flags and scarves rippled in a vivid sea of green and white and the 44,482 fans sang heartily and lustily. The noise was deafening as gallant Dunfermline, relegated after a gruelling campaign, lined up alongside manager Jim Leishman to applaud the champions onto the field on Saturday May 7.
THE BEGINNING…Billy McNeill lines up with skipper Roy Aitken before the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden as the curtain prepares to come down on the centenary season of 1987/88.
THE CONCLUSION…Billy McNeill and assistant Tommy Craig celebrate another famous victory at the national stadium.
It was a fine gesture by the Fifers. Chris Morris claimed the game’s solitary strike in the 11th minute and the championship had been won with 10 points to spare.
Billy McNeill smiled: “We won the championship by a record amount of 72 points. It was a 35th championship for Celtic and my fourth as a manager plus nine previously while playing. A proud moment, indeed.”
A week later, Celtic sealed their centenary year with a 2-1 Scottish Cup Final triumph over Dundee United in front of 74,000 fans on another gloriously sunlit afternoon at Hampden.
After a goalless first-half, Kevin Gallacher, grandson of Celtic legend Patsy Gallacher, sped through the backtracking rearguard to fire an unstoppable drive past Allen McKnight.
With 15 minutes to go, Anton Rogan, bought by Davie Hay for a bargain £20,000 from Irish club Distillery, lofted over a cross from the left and Frank McAvennie, as courageous as ever, threw himself at the ball and diverted it beyond Billy Thomson.
With 89 minutes on the clock, McAvennie struck again after Billy Stark had swept a right-wing corner-kick from Joe Miller into the crowded penalty area. The stars had been aligned.
HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY, CELTIC…Billy McNeill and joyous Scottish Cup winners Billy Stark, Mark McGhee, Frank McAvennie and Roy Aitken celebrate the historic win over Dundee United to seal the league and Cup double.
Billy McNeill recalled the joyous scenes at the climax of an incredible season.
“I went to the dressing room. I was alone there with my thoughts. The players deserved their moment of triumph because they had won the Cup, not me. It is unlike me to want to be by myself, but for once I did.
“Eventually, Jack McGinn came in and said: ‘I think they want you out there, Billy’.”
The handsome features of the Celtic manager creased and he added: “I reflected on the past 12 months. I had gone from one extreme to another as a manager – booted by Aston Villa and lauded by Celtic.
“That Centenary Double will go down in the rolls of Celtic history.”