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LEARNING FROM LARSSON

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CELTIC are under increasing pressure in their quest for a historic tenth successive title.

Two defeats and five draws have seen the champions shed sixteen points in what promised to be a magical and memorable campaign in the club’s glorious history.

No-one should write off the Hoops as many did back in season 1997/98 when the strain intensified on new manager Wim Jansen – only TWO league games after taking over from club legend and fans’ favourite Tommy Burns in the summer.

The Dutchman saw his team beaten 2-1 by Hibs at Easter Road in his league debut and that was followed by another loss by an identical scoreline from Dunfermline in Glasgow a week later.

Rangers were going for 10 in a row and Jansen was tasked with derailing the Ibrox club. With Henrik Larsson still an unknown quantity following his £650,000 arrival from Feyenoord, no-one was betting on the Hoops achieving what some critics insisted was ‘Mission Impossible’.

READ ALL ABOUT IT…Alex Gordon’s latest Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’.

Author Alex Gordon recalls the momentous 1997/98 season in his latest Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’, and the amazing turnaround in the club’s fortunes as they marched on triumphantly to lift their thirty-sixth crown in Jansen’s one and only year in Glasgow.

In an edited chapter, Alex, who is the veteran of fifteen Celtic books, writes:

JITTERS were in evidence at the season’s kick-off, just as obvious as the jubilation that greeted the conclusion of a momentous season. Ten years of misery, a decade of anguish, an interminable period of suffering in football’s version of Purgatory came to a shuddering halt in the east end of Glasgow on Saturday May 9 1998.

Dutchman Jansen had succeeded where the three previous inhabitants of the Parkhead hot seat – Liam Brady, Lou Macari and Tommy Burns – had proved to be deficient; the Premier league championship would be welcomed back to Paradise for the first time since 1988.

The last day of the programme was heading for a nerve-shredding crescendo and the position was clear: if Celtic, already two points ahead, beat St Johnstone by any margin they would be crowned champions of Scotland. Rangers were due to play Dundee United at Tannadice and the outcome would be rendered irrelevant if Jansen’s team avoided disaster against the visiting Perth outfit.

Even Celtic’s King of Cool Henrik Larsson admitted to being “a little bit nervous” as he waited in the tunnel before racing onto the pitch to a tumultuous welcome.

Inside three minutes, the composed Swede had presented Celtic with the start they could only have dreamed of on this most crucial of afternoons. A misdirected kick-out from Saints keeper Alan Main dropped to Paul Lambert on the halfway line and he wasted no time in switching the ball to the roaming Larsson on the left. Immediately, he got into his easy-going fluid stride as he took the ball towards right-back John McQuillan.

Larsson shaped to go wide and hit the bye-line, but changed direction to glide inside. The defenders backed off and the graceful frontman took a few touches before he was satisfied an opening had been presented. Without pausing, Larsson curled a spectacular effort with immaculate precision from twenty-five yards and the ball arced and plunged past the diving Main as it swept in at the left-hand post.”

It was nervy and tense, but the pressure was lifted the moment substitute Harald Brattbakk rolled in the second in the 72nd minute and it was party time in the east end of Glasgow.

The dramatic and ultimately successful campaign is told with insider knowledge by Alex Gordon, a former sports editor of the best-selling Sunday Mail, and his latest publication is acclaimed by club legend and Lisbon Lion Bertie Auld as “a truly unique tribute to Celtic”.

Hoops great John ‘Yogi’ Hughes, the club’s seventh-highest marksman with 189 goals, acknowledged: “It’s an amazing journey of several lifetime.”

* ‘CELTIC: 50 Flags Plus One’ celebrates the club’s remarkable fifty-one league championships in their glorious history. To order a copy – and get a FREE book, ‘Seville: The Celtic Movement’ – please go to: ‘CELTIC: 50 Flags Plus One’.

 
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