I remember singing “It’s going to be 10 in a row”, but back then 10 had no significance. Neither did 9, it was like 8 in a row, another stop along the way. But when Jock Stein’s team finished their spectacular domination of the Scottish game in 1974 with nine successive titles and four European Cup semi-finals, “Nine in a row” became a phrase with extraordinary substance.
Of course, in years to come, for others, nine in a row became a target to surpass. In the late eighties Rangers changed the financial parameters of Scottish football for some time, and set their own course towards liquidation, but on the park, they swept all before them in the domestic game. By summer 1997 they had won their won nine in a row. McEwan’s lager billboard adverts featured the club with the line, “9 out of 10, could do better”. And didn’t we know it.
Celtic were in disarray having sacked Tommy Burns and with our three most cherished players, Di Canio, Cadete and van Hooijdonk on their way out the door. The new managerial appointment “the second worst thing to happen to Hiroshima”, as our mainstream media portrayed him to Celtic fans, arrived only two weeks before the start of the season.
After losing the first league game of the season at Easter Road Celtic lost 1-2 at home to Dunfermline; they were leading at half time. 10 in a row seemed inevitable but this season was the greatest example of why the prevailing currents of football are now always evident on the surface.
Have a read at this from the Independent after that defeat to Dunfermline:
“[The home supporters] cannot be fooled – even as the teams were announced it was clear they are unconvinced by the new signings. The mention of Pierre van Hooijdonk, Paolo Di Canio and Jorge Cadete before a game was enough a year ago to raise the roof in anticipation. On Saturday, Henrik Larsson and Regi Blinker hardly registered in the approval stakes.
“Larsson’s poor touch too often saw him lose possession. The blunt truth is he is not a proven goalscorer and Jock Brown, the general manager, will have to add fire power to the team.”
Don’t be too harsh on the journo who penned this, few dissented, and Jock Brown’s reputation was pretty much set by these incredibly inaccurate reviews. Although, “blunt truth” has never been used with such laxity.
The towns of the west of Scotland can be dangerous places after big football games but not 15 years ago today, when Celtic beat St Johnstone to win the league for the first time in a decade. Celtic fans of all ages poured onto the streets as the spirit of carnival took hold.
I remember hooped fans sitting on top of a set of traffic lights in Lanarkshire; green, amber, red, then rows of green and white. I walked around Hamilton town centre that night. For an evening, every pub was a Celtic pub, with rules about wearing colours suspended, and singing was celebrated.
And sing we did.
At the end of the night I could be found singing “Cheerio to 10 in a row” at a taxi rank outside a nightclub. The ‘brave’ soul standing in front of me waited until his taxi was moving away before mumbling his offenses out of the window.
Last summer I did an interview with Tony Hamilton for Celtic TV . When we drilled into what really made an impact on me as a Celtic fan I had no hesitation on placing that game against St Johnstone above Champions League victories, qualifying for a European final or beating Barcelona. We aspire to move beyond the confines of Scottish football but for 125 years this has been our home. In all that time, in domestic or European football, there have been, at most, only two more important games.
Enjoy the memories, but don’t play that George O’Boyle leap over in your mind; just in case you imagine him a few inches higher.
[calameo code=000390171179f475cf1c0 lang=en page=1 hidelinks=1 width=100% height=500]