Two weeks later, I joined the early morning posse in Tollcross, for my first European away game. If my memory serves me correctly, £29 bought an overnight trip with Cross Travel, so together with some of the Cairn Bishopbriggs Division, we headed south for the Irish ferry. In the height of the troubles, the requests to be quiet as we drove through Belfast met with a predictable response, pure bedlam as the full Wolfe Tones repertoire got its scariest-ever rendition. We did eventually make it to Dundalk for the game, my new-found taste for Guinness then discovering a very different version of God’s Drink from that served in Glasgow.
The match itself was a bit surreal, the cement at the front of our Oriel Park terracing was still being dried off as we arrived at the ground. A packed house of 18,000 saw a real, old-fashioned cup-tie, with Celtic dominating but time-after-time being frustrated by an offside trap or the wonderfully-named Dundalk goalkeeper, Ritchie Blackmore. A Roddie MacDonald ‘goal’ was ruled out before the Irish missed one final, glorious chance in the dying minutes, the ball flying across Latchford’s goal but mercifully with no takers. We dragged our cement-stained feet back to the hotel for the inquest and more Guinness, thankfully still in January’s quarter-final draw after a long, tense night.
On the last Saturday of October, we had witnessed more change, this time with the Hoops themselves, Celtic wearing a new V-neck shirt for the first time, and in midfield, as new signing Dom Sullivan made his debut for the home clash with Rangers.
From the Celtic stronghold of the Garngad, I remember as a young boy watching the teenage Sullivan play in the famous ‘Candy Roch’ green at Petershill Park against Larkhall Thistle, perhaps a decade earlier. Now, signed the previous day from Aberdeen, having played under Billy both there and with Clyde, he had the start of Celtic fan dreams, nut-megging Alex MacDonald in the opening seconds. Roddie MacDonald’s late header did count this time, the only goal of the game in front of 56,000, enabling Celts to maintain a slender lead at the top.
Sullivan was cup-tied for the next match, the midweek League Cup Quarter-Final first leg at Pittodrie, however it was another of Cesar’s old Shawfield boys, Steve Archibald, who did the damage, with the classic hat-trick of right foot, left foot and header. Edvaldsson had opened the scoring in the opening seconds before Archibald struck, with another sensational Provan free-kick then making it 3-2 and keeping the tie alive.
The return leg was weather-delayed and finally played on a Saturday in late November, taking precedence over the scheduled League meeting between the clubs. It was a dark day all round for most of the 40,000 crowd, Celtic’s all-out attacks coming to nothing, then being hit by the classic sucker-punch early in the second half. There was a real ‘future-Celt’ theme about the only goal, as Gordon Strachan’s corner was headed on by Willie Garner, for substitute Mark McGhee to knock home.
There would be no League Cup glory for the champions again this season, as for the second time in just eight months, Ferguson’s Dons came to Celtic Park to end our interest in a major domestic cup competition. Having beaten Rangers 5-1 in the previous round, the team built by Cesar to challenge at the summit of Scottish football was now developing the steel and belief under his old adversary to make the next step, winning regularly in Glasgow.
However, there was now a different threat to be addressed by those with sights on a trophy haul in Scotland. Jim McLean’s Dundee United, having gone so close to the title that spring, finally won their first top-flight honour by beating Aberdeen 3-0 in the League Cup Final replay at Dens Park, following a goalless draw at Hampden.
In the meantime, there was work to be done to stay in the race for the title.
Kilmarnock had burst the Celtic bubble from the October derby victory, by winning 2-0 at Rugby Park the following week. Then, despite a single-goal victory at Tannadice on our return from Dundalk, thanks to a late header from ‘Big Shuggy’ Edvaldsson, there was a third defeat in four away games, 2-1 at Love Street, in early December.
By contrast, home league form was excellent, comfortable victories over bottom-dogs Hibernian, Bertie Auld’s Partick Thistle then closest challengers Morton, making it seventeen points from a possible eighteen since August.
The weekend after the sub-zero clash with Morton would see the final game of the Seventies, a second visit to an under-construction Ibrox. Only 34,000 were present, yours truly in the Centenary Stand for the one and only time, to watch evergreen-skelper Lennox equalise a Johnstone header within a minute, late in the match.
It was a vital point, ending a miserable run of away defeats and ensuring the hard-fought advantage over Morton was stretched to three points, following their surprise home loss to Thistle. Despite being in third place, it was now looking unlikely that the title challenge would come from Rangers, six points behind having played two games more. Aberdeen and Dundee United hovered just below, the Dons in particular looking menacing, carrying three critical games-in-hand into the new decade.
Hail Hail, to be continued tomorrow evening…