CELTIC legend Davie Hay concludes his inside tales during an eventful and ultimately successful 1997/98 season.
The former player and manager had been chief scout for most of Wim Jansen’s solitary campaign as Hoops boss that saw the Parkhead men derail Rangers’ bid for 10 in a row – and go on and lift the 36th championship in the club’s glorious history. However, it was also one of Celtic’s most controversial crusades.
In another CQN EXCLUSIVE, Hay tells all in his best-selling autobiography, ‘The Quiet Assassin‘, which was co-written by long-time friend and Celtic book author Alex Gordon.
Please enjoy the eighth and concluding part of a Celtic legend’s revelations.
THERE was no hiding place in the countdown to Saturday May 9 1998, an afternoon that would define who would get the winners’ medals.
This was it. Celtic had won twenty-one of their previous thirty-five league games, drawn eight and lost six. Rangers, over the same period, had won twenty, drawn nine and lost six. Mathematicians were hard at work with all the permutations. Wim, I knew, was not interested. He demanded a victory.
All the off-the-field difficulties were pushed firmly into the background as Wim refused to be distracted as he prepared his players for that last determined assault on the trophy.
TACTICS TALK…Davie Hay listens as Wim Jansen discusses a routine.
After being sacked following my off-the-field confrontations with General Manager Jock Brown, I was at Livingston on the big day. They were paying my wages as a consultant to the club and that had to be respected. My head was elsewhere, though. And my heart, too.
I saw film of the game later on in the Hay household. I could imagine Wim telling the players, ‘Now is the time for heroes.’
St.Johnstone were in town on judgement day and Wim sent out this team: Jonathan Gould; Tommy Boyd, Marc Rieper, Alan Stubbs and Enrico Annoni; Jackie McNamara, Paul Lambert, Craig Burley and Phil O’Donnell; Simon Donnelly and Henrik Larsson. It was a good-looking line-up with a lot of attacking options.
GLORY GOAL No.1…Henrik Larsson curls in the opener against St Johnstone.
The contest had barely started when Henrik Larsson picked up the ball on the left of midfield about thirty-five yards out. He had one thing on his mind as he sped towards the Saints danger zone. Henrik possessed that wonderful ability to wrap his foot around a ball and belt in one those mindboggling efforts that look as though they are going wide until they start to bend viciously and zero in on target.
That’s exactly what he produced against the Saints and although their keeper, Alan Main, threw himself flat out to his left there was no way he was going to keep the ball out of the net. Another special delivery from Celtic’s very own Special One, long before anyone had ever heard of a certain Jose Mourinho!
READ ALL ABOUT IT…Celtic’s extraordinary 1997/98 campaign is covered extensively in Alex Gordon’s tribute book ’50 Flags Plus One’, dedicated to the first 51 championships in the club’s wonderful history.
It was clear to me, even watching on the small screen and knowing the result, that Celtic needed that second goal to calm themselves down. Jock Stein, all those years before Wim, made the same point over and over to his team if they had a slender half-time lead.
‘Away out and finish the business,’ he would say. ‘Then you can all enjoy yourselves.’
In games against certain opposition, Big Jock would insist, ‘There will be no need for recriminations if you just keep scoring goals. No-one has any answer to the ball being put in their net.’
You would have to accept some dodgy refereeing decisions, of course, and Jock sometimes likened it to a boxer being in the ring against an Italian opponent in Italy. He would joke, ‘You’ve got to knock him out to get a draw!’
GLORY GOAL No.2…Harald Brattabakk srokes in the crucal second strike.
Wim had left out Harald Brattbakk from his starting line-up and I have to confess I wasn’t too surprised. What did intrigue me, though, was his startling lack of consistency in front of goal since his £2million arrival from Rosenborg where he had been a prolific scorer in the Norwegian league.
It had taken him nine league games to get on the scoresheet at Celtic – and on that occasion he scored all four in a 4-0 romp against Kilmarnock at Parkhead on February 21.
Four days later he added another two in a 5-1 victory over Dunfermline. Six goals in two games. That was a bit more like the player I had watched in Norway. Had the floodgates opened? Amazingly, he then went another seven matches without a goal. Harald blew hot and cold, no doubt about it. I must have watched him during his hot streaks.
But Wim still believed in the player and knew he could be a vital substitute to have around against St.Johnstone. Once more my little Dutch friend was proved right. Just as the tension was going into overload, Wim sent on Harald and it’s history now that the Norwegian did deliver that killer goal.
THE KING AND I…Henrik Larsson and Wim Jansen celebrate the title success.
When he knocked that ball over the line from close range there was a collective sigh of relief from the players and the 48,701 fans.
How I wished I had been among them. Rangers beat Dundee United 2-1, but that didn’t matter, though. The title was back where it belonged and 10 years of pain and hurt were wiped away at a stroke. Celtic beat St.Johnstone 2-0 and finished with 74 points while Rangers had 72.
Henrik Larsson, the bargain £650,000 purchase from Feyenoord in the summer, played in 35 of the 36 leagues games throughout the campaign and netted 16 goals. Those were his first steps on his way to becoming a Celtic legend.
The Celtic support, euphoric on the Saturday, were enraged on Monday as Wim’s departure became public. It was all rather bizarre.
CHEERS AND CHEERIO…Wim Jansen poses with the league championship and League Cup before his exit.
Celtic had appointed Wim to come in, buy eight new players while overhauling the personnel, and, hopefully, bringing in a trophy or two. Wim had delivered on all fronts, but he still felt he had to quit the club.
The fans were baffled and no-one could blame them.
After winning the league the previous season, the team manager, his assistant, the General Manager and the Assistant General Manager had all left the club.
As they say in America, go figure!
* DON’T miss some more big-name EXCLUSIVES – only in your champion CQN.