TROUNCED by a four-goal margin by a rampant London side at Parkhead in a pre-season game.
Even worse, a former Celtic player getting on the scoresheet for the visitors in an embarrassing one-sided encounter.
The new Hoops manager, who had just taken over the club weeks beforehand, lamented: “There is no doubt that we need an experienced and dominant centre-half. The soft centre must be dealt with.”
It could have been a week ago when West Ham enjoyed a 6-2 romp in the east end of Glasgow, Armstrong Oko-Flex, allowed to leave in the summer, rolled the final goal beyond Scott Bain and Ange Postecoglou was forced to field the rookie double-act of Stephen Welsh, 21, and 18-year-old Dane Murray in the middle of his rearguard.
This, though, was August 1 1987 when Billy McNeill witnessed his side being decimated 5-1 by Arsenal, old favourite Charlie Nicholas getting on the scoresheet and the central defensive partnership of Roy Aitken and Derek Whyte failing to repel the raids of the visitors.
The legendary Celt had been brought back to Parkhead to replace his good friend Davie Hay and take charge as the side moved into its centenary year.
A week later, the Hoops kicked off their league campaign with an an away game against Morton at Cappielow and emerged with a 4-0 victory. Two of McNeill’s summer purchases were on target with Andy Walker claiming a double and Billy Stark notching one. Mark McGhee hit the other.
It had been a feverish summer of transfer activity for McNeill as he saw Mo Johnston move to Nantes, Murdo MacLeod to Borussia Dortmund, Brian McClair to Manchester United and Alan McInally to Aston Villa. Evergreen Danny McGrain had been allowed to switch to Hamilton Accies, dependable keeper Peter Latchford agreed a deal with Clyde and star winger Davie Provan was forced to retire.
It all added to the feeling of the end of an era for Celtic.
McNeill was tasked with the challenge of leading the club into a bright, new future and the manager delivered big-style with a league and Cup double.
If Postecoglou requires inspiration he only needs to turn the clock back 34 years and look at how Billy McNeill responded following a humiliating pre-season hammering.
JOY BHOYS…Paul McStay and Frank McAvennie on their way to centenary glory.
Astute buys in the shape of Frank McAvennie, from West Ham, and Joe Miller, from Aberdeen, blended with other acquisitions such as right-back Chris Morris, frontman Walker and veteran midfielder Stark.
Mick McCarthy, Hay’s last buy for the club at £500,000 from Manchester City, came into the team after overcoming injury and was the man to seal the hole in the central defence.
The dramatic tale is told by author Alex Gordon in his latest Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’, the tribute publication to the club’s glorious 51 untainted titles.
With insider knowledge, Alex, a former sports editor at the best-selling Sunday Mail, charts the remarkable about-turn in Celtic’s fortunes in one of the most memorable seasons in the club’s history.
* ‘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’.