EXCLUSIVE: BOX-OFFICE ATTRACTION: THE TOMMY BURNS STORY (Part Twenty)

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WITH commendable gritty determination, Tommy Burns soldiered on as the obstacles piled up during his third year as Celtic manager during the intriguing 1996/97 crusade.

The fans’ favourite had returned to the club on July 12 1994 and had won the Scottish Cup in his debut campaign. That was followed by a barren term and all eyes were on the boss during another challenging season.

In another CQN EXCLUSIVE series, we chart Tommy Burns’ career as the team’s gaffer during turbulent times on and off the field. Here is the twentieth instalment from Alex Gordon’s tribute book, The Winds of Change, which was published by CQN in 2015.

Please enjoy.

IT was becoming increasingly obvious a solitary dark cloud would always find Tommy Burns on a sunny day.

The 1996/97 Scottish Cup expedition brought with it a coruscating high to be followed by an agonising, steep descent, a disturbing plummet from grace that ultimately cost Burns his job as Celtic manager.

The first step on the quest for triumph in the national competition was watched by 16,102 fans against Clydebank on January 26 1979. The Third Round tie had been switched to Firhill, home of Partick Thistle, for crowd safety reasons.

The Scottish League’s mid-season breakdown confirmed Celtic’s status as the major box-office attraction in the country, emphasising the fact they were attracting, on average, over 1,000 more followers than Rangers, a team aiming for its ninth title in succession.

UP FOR THE CUP…Jorge Cadete celebrates the opening goal against Clydebank.

Burns’ side displayed the flamboyance the thrill-seekers craved as they hammered their opponents 5-0 with Jorge Cadete scoring the opener in only 65 seconds. He added a second in the tenth minute and Malky Mackay fizzed in a header from a Paolo di Canio free-kick for the third just before the half-hour mark.

Pierre van Hooijdonk added a fourth after the interval and there was a comical interlude nine minutes from time when Celtic were awarded a penalty-kick. Cadete would have been in the position of claiming a hat-trick and a £500 bonus from the tournament sponsors, Tennent’s. It would also have afforded him the opportunity of scoring his 31st goal in his thirty-first game for the club.

Paolo, proving he was far removed from a sentimental Italian, took the kick and scored.

The Cup bandwagon rolled onto Easter Road on February 17 for a confrontation with a Hibs side that had already been vanquished three times in the league, with Celtic claiming 13 goals and conceding one. It appeared the Edinburgh outfit were continuing to read from a well-worn script when Van Hooijdonk set up Phil O’Donnell for the first goal in 16 minutes.

BY THE LEFT…Phil O’Donnell nets the opening goal against Hibs in the Scottish Cup replay.

However, Hibs clawed their way back into the contest, showing a zest for the Cup tournament so puzzlingly absent from their league intentions. The troublesome wind played its part in their deserved equaliser, though. Keeper Stewart Kerr left his line in an attempt to secure a high ball when he would have been better advised to stay put.

With the ball seemingly caught in mid-air, Kerr was out of position as it dropped to Darren Jackson. Alan Stubbs compounded the error by whipping the feet from his future team-mate and Jackson accepted the responsibility for taking the penalty-kick and sent it whistling past Kerr with seven minutes to play.

Sportingly, Burns said: “We had a lucky escape, so all credit to Hibs. They could have won it in the second-half. Now we just have to put things right in the replay.”

Nine days later, with 46,424 fans in attendance at Parkhead, Celtic followed their manager’s orders and won 2-0 in a largely one-sided affair. The draw had been made for the quarter-final prior to this game and the winners knew that a prize would be a home tie against Rangers. After almost three seasons of missed opportunities, Celtic couldn’t let this one get away.

BY THE RIGHT…Paolo di Canio fires in the second and decisive goal against Hibs with Jorge Cadete getting a close-up view.

They dominated straight from the kick off and Peter Grant sliced open the Hibs rearguard with a measured pass to O’Donnell who slashed a drive wide of the diving Jim Leighton and in off the left-hand upright for the opener in the 35th minute. Di Canio sealed Hibs’ fate nine minutes after the break when he hit an exquisite drive from the edge of the box that soared beyond the struggling keeper.

As soon as the ball smashed against the rigging, the Celtic fans knew they would be back on March 6 for another Old Firm battle.

“I am very happy with our commitment to the game and the way we played,” said Burns. “We should have scored more, but I was pleased with the quality of the goals. Phil’s was fabulous and Paolo’s was sublime.”

Sandwiched in between the Cup-ties was a league meeting against Hearts in Glasgow on March 1. It was a breeze for the Hoops, winning 2-0 with a goal in each half. Cadete registered the first in the 28th minute and Di Canio cemented the points with the second just after the hour mark. Thankfully, the Italian restricted himself to kissing the club crest on this occasion and remained on the field until he was replaced by Van Hooijdonk with three minutes to go.

THREE AMIGOS…Jorge Cadete cleberates another goal with a little help from Paolo di Canio and Pierre van Hooijdonk.

The 49,729 spectators didn’t realise it, but they were witnessing the Dutchman’s last appearance for the club. The player who had heralded his somewhat truncated, but always interesting, career at Celtic with a sensational goal against Hearts, didn’t quite manage such a rousing send-off against the same opponents.

Enrico Annoni made his debut and marked it with a solid and dependable 90 minutes while picking up his first booking in Scottish football courtesy of referee Willie Young.

Burns, after hearing Rangers had drawn 2-2 with Aberdeen at Pittodrie, was all smiles afterwards. He said: “That’s as well as we have played in recent months. The most pleasing thing was we looked a tasty side. There is no doubt that the influence of the foreigners makes us a more special team.

“Back in January, we were basically beating sides because of our superior fitness, but over the past few weeks we have shown greater patience and that has paid off.”

He had time, too, for a word about his latest Italian import. “Enrico looked every inch the complete defender. There is nothing flash about him. He is strong, experienced and knows the job inside out.”

* TOMORROW: Don’t miss the EXCLUSIVE twentieth-first dramatic instalment in The Tommy Burns Story – only in your champion CQN.

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