EXCLUSIVE: ‘IT DIDN’T LOOK LIKE CHAMPIONSHIP-WINNING FORM,’ DAVIE HAY ADMISSION

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DAVIE HAY had led Celtic to the Scottish Cup in his second season following his appointment as a 35-year-old rookie manager on July 4 1983.

The league championship was his priority target and the Hoops gaffer was involved in one of the most truly extraordinary climaxes in the race for the flag in his third unforgettable year in the Parkhead dug-out.

It’s a tale etched in Celtic folklore and in another CQN EXCLUSIVE, we spotlight the dramatic conclusion to the former player’s quest for the crown with the inside story from his 2009 autobiography, ‘The Quiet Assassin,’ co-authored by his long-time friend and writer Alex Gordon.

Please enjoy Day Three of Davie Hay: The Return.

WE had finished runners-up in the league to Aberdeen again in my second year and I was more than ever determined to bring that title to Celtic Park. That was my main target when season 1985/86 kicked off.

What lay ahead of us was a rollercoaster of emotions that left everyone breathless following a scintilating climax to the programme. We were victorious in the championship chase in the most dramatic of all run-ins.

For months Hearts had remained at the pinnacle and kept racking up wins on a weekly basis. The doubters were expecting them to slip from their perch, but they maintained an astonishing run that had them clear favourites for the title at one stage. They went twenty-seven games without defeat in and I had to admit I thought that was awesome.

Cynics had written us off and that was a huge mistake for anyone to make. To be utterly honest, though, I could see their logic.

GRIM LOOKS…Davie Hay cannot disguise his feelings after another dismal result.

We lost 3-0 at home to Dundee United on October 26 and the x-certificate stuff continued into November where Frank McDougall claimed all four goals as Aberdeen hammered us 4-1 at Pittodrie and that was swiftly followed by a 3-0 loss to Rangers at Ibrox. Three games, three defeats and ten goals conceded.

Two weeks after the Old Firm match we were held 1-1 at home by Hibs. We followed that up with another 1-1 stalemate against Hearts at Tynecastle and then slumped to a 1-0 defeat from Dundee United at Tannadice a couple of days before Christmas. We met them again twelve days later at their place and this time we toppled to a 4-2 defeat.

A week later and we had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Aberdeen at Parkhead and seven days later we had a 2-2 draw with Hibs at Easter Road. We beat Dundee 2-1 at Dens Park and then we had four consecutive draws against St.Mirren (1-1), Hearts (1-1), Dundee United (1-1) and, the most remarkable of the lot, the 4-4 deadlock with Rangers at Ibrox.

I have to admit that it didn’t look like championship-winning form.

Somehow, though, I had a good feeling about my team and my spirits were uplifted by the mood of the players in the dressing room and training. I realised they fancied their chances. I was aware their determination was on a par with my own.

We were zeroing in on the league. We had gone out of the League Cup at the third round stage after drawing 4-4 with Hibs at Easter Road. It went to penalty-kicks after extra-time and, unfortunately, Pierce O’Leary thumped his effort into the crowd and that was that.

ON TARGET…Brian McClair celebrates a goal against Hibs with keeper Alan Rough left grounded.

We went to Edinburgh to again face Hibs in the third round of the Scottish Cup and we scored three through Brian McClair (2) and Mark McGhee. Alas, someone left the backdoor open and Peter Latchford conceded four. Europe didn’t last long, either, as we went out 3-2 on aggregate to Atletico Madrid.

So, it was the league title or nothing. After that memorable eight-goal encounter at Ibrox, we had eight games left to play. I told my players, ‘We can take the championship if we win all these matches.’ I reasoned, ‘Hearts will surely slip up somewhere along the line.’

My prediction turned out to be accurate, but, my goodness, did they leave it late. Brian McClair, with a hat-trick, and others from Tommy Burns and Alan McInally gave us a 5-0 victory over Clydebank at Kilbowie as we embarked on our exciting excursion to the flag.

READ ALL ABOUT IT…Celtic’s championship-winning 1985/86 season is covered extensively in Alex Gordon’s tribute book, ’50 Flags Plus One’, that covers 51 of the club’s untainted titles.

Mo Johnston and Burns were the men who brought in the points in a 2-1 triumph over Dundee and it was tight in the next game, too, as we overturned St.Mirren by the same scoreline, Murdo Macleod and Paul McStay on the mark. Three down and five to go.

Johnston got the winner against reigning champions Aberdeen at Pittodrie on April 12. On the same day, Hearts beat Dundee United 3-0 in convincing fashion. Were they ever going to trip up?

A week later we got our revenge on our double Cup conquerors Hibs by winning 2-0 at Parkhead with goals from McClair and Owen Archdeacon. Then all eyes were on Tynecastle the following day for a live televised game. Aberdeen were Hearts’ visitors that afternoon and I also knew Alex Ferguson, even with his team out of the running for the league, would never allow his players to give anything less than 100 per cent endeavour and effort in any game.

Naturally enough, I was delighted when the Dons drew 1-1 in Edinburgh. That dropped point – you only got two for a win back then – would prove fatal. The strain was beginning  to tell on our rivals. We had three games to play and Hearts, two points ahead, only had two.

GOLDEN SHOT…Murdo MacLeod demonstrates his shooting power with a right-foot blaster. 

They were in the driver’s seat. We beat Dundee 2-0 with goals from McClair and Johnston in Glasgow on April 26 while Alex MacDonald’s outfit came so close to faltering against Clydebank, who finished bottom of the table. It was tied at 0-0 at Tynecastle with only a handful of minutes remaining when Gary Mackay rifled a drive high into the net from the edge of the box.

We had a midweek fixture against Motherwell at Fir Park to look forward to as things got extremely sweaty. McClair, who started his career at Well, flashed in two superb goals in a 2-0 triumph and now it was all down to us and Hearts on the Saturday.

The situation was simple. All they needed to do was avoid defeat against Dundee at Dens Park and the championship was theirs. They were also four goals better off on goal difference.

We had to beat St.Mirren at Love Street by at least three clear goals, taking into the equation that Hearts would have to concede at least one to lose in Dundee. We also had to hope for a miracle.

And, as my mother always insisted, miracles can happen.

*TOMORROW: Don’t miss Part Four of Davie Hay: The Return

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