If football resonates with you in any way, it’s probably because it brought you an intense joy at some point. For me, two such moments happened at Tannadice. We travelled there in 1981 but were still trying to get through the turnstiles when Murdo McLeod put Celtic ahead in 2 minutes. Frank McGarvey and Tommy Burns added two to complete a 2-3 win. I think this was the first title I saw us win in person, it’s certainly the earliest I remember. Danny McGrain was held shoulder-high right in front of me; the memory is indelible.
The outcome of that league was never really in doubt, not so, the 2008 title. Gordon Strachan’s side looked dead and buried six weeks earlier. They needed to beat Rangers twice and hope their title rivals dropped points in another two games to bring the achievable gap down to goal difference.
All that was achieved by the time we travelled to Dundee on the final day of the season. Celtic and Rangers were level on points, with Celtic holding a four-goal advantage.
If the game that won the title in 1981 was a procession, that night in 2008 was anything but. Celtic looked fragile throughout the first half and came perilously close to going behind in the final minute of the first half. Rangers were at Pittodrie and both games were goalless on the hour mark. A goal either way could shift momentum.
Aberdeen made the breakthrough on 63 minutes, we had beathing space. Nine minutes later, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink headed Celtic ahead from a corner kick. Soon thereafter, Aberdeen made sure of the job with a second goal at Pittodrie and a helicopter was despatched towards Dundee.
That season started with the players celebrating on-field with Tommy Burns, their assistant manager, after beating Spartak Moscow on penalty kicks to gain entry into the Champions League group stage. On scoring the winning goal, Jan pointed to the heavens, acknowledging Tommy’s passing a week earlier. The fortitude the team and manager showed that season was remarkable.
As you watch tonight, there will be no tension. Celtic could play you and me in central defence in their final two games, just for the “lols” and would still win the league. But that just makes the achievement all the more remarkable.
In the summer, we went out of the Champions League with a central defensive pairing of Stephen Welsh and Dane Murray playing in front of Scott Bain, who was given the gloves after Vasilis Barkas performance in the first leg. Ismaila Soro played the holding role in both games. In a very literal sense, the Celtic that will take the field tonight would be unrecognisable to us back then.
Enjoy the game and remember – it’s an early kick-off: 7.30.