DAVIE HAY took over as Celtic manager 37 years ago and kicked-started a rollercoaster four seasons in the Hoops hot-seat.
CQN has been looking back at those eventful campaigns in which the former Scotland international won the most dramatic title race in living memory and added a Scottish Cup for good luck.
Here is the fifth instalment from Davie Hay’s excellent autobiography, ‘The Quiet Assassin’, co-authored by his long-time friend Alex Gordon – in another CQN EXCLUSIVE series.
REACHING the 100th Scottish Cup Final in 1985 had been a bit of a slog for Celtic.
We made heavy weather of dismissing Hamilton in the opening round. We edged through 2-1 with goals from Frank McGarvey. At least he started as he meant to carry on in this competition. We sauntered to a 6-0 win over Inverness Athletic, as they were called back then, with a hat-trick from Paul McStay and singles from Murdo MacLeod, Mo Johnston and, you’ve guessed it, McGarvey.
We were held to a 1-1 draw by Dundee at Dens Park, but we managed to beat them 2-1 at our place with goals from Johnston and, yes, McGarvey. The semi-final was scheduled for 13 April and Motherwell battled out a goalless draw before collapsing 3-0 in the replay a few days later with Johnston (2) and Roy Aitken doing the damage.
Then it was the turn of Dundee United to be added to our hit list with our famous 2-1 victory on a memorable afternoon at Hampden with Davie Provan, hitting a spectacular free-kick, and that man McGarvey claiming the winner.
We had finished second in the league to Aberdeen again 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 scintillating 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 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.
We lost 3-0 at home to Dundee United on 26 October 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. 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. 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.
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, Macleod and McStay on the mark. Three down and five to go.
Johnston got the winner against reigning champions Aberdeen at Pittodrie on 12 April. 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. They were in the driver’s seat.
We beat Dundee 2-0 with goals from McClair and Johnston in Glasgow on 26 April 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: The return of Davie (Part Six)