Goodbye Europe and hello Champagne Charlie

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It’s goodbye to Europe and hello to Champagne Charlie – Celtic’s season 1982/83 (Part 5) by Matt Corr, the links to the first four parts in this series can be found below this feature…

The midweek following the dramatic late win over Rangers saw another huge crowd roll up to Celtic Park. This time there were 55,000 screaming souls crammed in to watch Celtic attempt to claw back a two-goal deficit against Spanish Champions, Real Sociedad, in the Second Round of the European Cup.

The difficult task soon became a forlorn hope, as the wonderfully-named Lopez Ufarte arrowed a cross to the far post, where Uralde darted in to head home and put a third Basque score on the board, a treble from which Celtic would not recover.

Murdo MacLeod restored some hope and pride with a tremendous shot past the legendary goalkeeper Luis Arconada just on half-time, repeating the feat late on with a low drive. However, the home victory felt little more than scant consolation on the night. Long before the end we all knew that the European dream was over for another year.

The Basques were a decent side, eliminating Sporting Lisbon before a late goal in Hamburg saw them lose narrowly to the eventual winners in the Semi-final. Nevertheless, it was difficult to escape the feeling that we had beaten a better team in Ajax in the previous round.

If Celts were feeling sorry for themselves on the Saturday at Dens Park, then they masked it well, a masterclass from Davie Provan setting up goals for Nicholas, Burns and McGarvey as the contest was ended before the interval. Former Hoops winger Peter Mackie tried his best to rescue a point for the home side in the second half, setting up a double for Cammy Fraser, however the game finished 3-2.

And the damage was done early again the following Saturday, at home to St Mirren. This time, four goals in a devastating six-minute spell, including a brilliant hat-trick from the young prince Nicholas, finished off the Buddies. Roy Aitken put the icing on the cake in the final minute, with yet another lung-bursting run and finish, this quickly becoming a trademark for the Bear in his new midfield role.

Motherwell were the next visitors to Celtic Park, this time the goals all coming in the last half-hour, following the introduction of George McCluskey from the bench. He quickly set up the teenage McStay for Celtic’s first, another glorious strike from outside the box. Nicholas then had a bizarre minute, missing the chance to score his eighth penalty of the season before immediately redeeming himself with a low shot past Sproat. Burns cheekily chipped the keeper for 3-0 with five minutes remaining, before Flavell nipped in for a late consolation goal for the Steelmen.

The 100% league record in November was completed at Easter Rd, the 3-2 victory being much more comfortable than the scoreline suggests. In a peculiar feature of those times, the 17,000 attendance in Leith was higher than the previous two crowds at Celtic Park. In a day of firsts, Alan Rough made his Hibernian debut, Celtic’s white pin-stripe kit made a maiden appearance and Charlie didn’t score! Strike partner McGarvey stepped up to the plate with a double, either side of another great effort from McStay. Murray replied twice for Hibs, who trailed for most of the match but never gave up.

The feel good factor continued into December, the League Cup Final triumph serving as an appetiser for the clash of Scotland’s giants at Pittodrie. At a venue where I’ve witnessed many a hard-luck story, this day would be different, as two wicked deflections settled the issue in Celtic’s favour.

The Dons announced their intentions from the outset, as Nicholas was clattered by the late Neale Cooper (no disrespect intended) straight from kick-off, in what must be Scotland’s fastest-ever booking. Fifteen minutes later, Celtic took the lead, McGarvey’s clever dummy allowing MacLeod to hit a trademark piledriver from outside the box, the ball hitting Miller to wrong foot Leighton in the home goal.

Within five minutes, Aberdeen were level, when McGhee was quickest to react in the box to fire past Bonner. The winning goal came on the hour, Provan beating Rougvie for the umpteenth time before shooting for goal. This time, current Scotland manager McLeish was the unfortunate defender, the ball striking him before changing direction and again Leighton could only look on helplessly as it rolled into his net.

Provan was again on the mark the following Saturday at an icy Rugby Park, his first-minute free-kick providing the perfect start for McNeill’s in-form Celtic side. The conditions made life difficult for the players, with fresh-air swipes the order of the day. However, McAdam’s header just shy of the hour settled Hoops nerves and later strikes from McGarvey and Burns rounded off a satisfying 4-0 victory.

The final match of the calendar year took place at Parkhead on the Monday after Christmas, Murdo MacLeod entering into the festive spirit by gifting visitors Morton an own goal after half an hour.

Just before half-time, the moment the 20,000 fans had been waiting for finally arrived, as Charlie Nicholas struck home another penalty, for his 30th goal of the season. A national newspaper had been running a competition for the first player to achieve this feat in Scotland, a case of champagne being the reward. Thus a nickname, which you still hear referred to occasionally some 36 years later, was born, as Nicholas became Champagne Charlie.

Celts took care of business in the second half, an early Macleod strike, another McGarvey brace and a rare non-penalty goal from substitute Mark Reid enabling them to declare at 5-1. By any standards, it had been a tremendous first half to the season for Billy’s exciting young team, the first domestic trophy in the bag, a commanding lead at the top of the table and the first major European scalp taken in many years.

Experienced players such as McGrain, Aitken, MacLeod, Provan, McGarvey and Burns were at the top of their game and the Fresh Young Princes of Parkhead, McStay and Nicholas, were maturing with every game into top-class talents.

Only the earlier-than-hoped European Cup exit at the hands of the Spanish champions had been negative.

There was surely much to look forward to and better to come in 1983.

Hail Hail!

Matt Corr

Follow Matt on Twitter @Boola_vogue

As promised here are the earlier parts in Matt’s season review from 1982-83.

Part 1…This could be Rotterdam or anywhere…Celtic’s 1982/83 season (Part 1)…see HERE.

Part 2…Oh Hampden in the rain…the end of an eight-year hoodoo – Celtic’s season 1982/83 (Part 2)…see HERE.

Part 3…A night of glory in Amsterdam – Celtic’s season 1982/83 (Part 3)…see HERE.

Part 4…The young Princes of Parkhead and a Celtic legend bows out…see HERE.

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