Memories View – Celtic’s 1980-81 season. We’ve won the league again, fly the flag

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The fallout from the events following Celtic’s Scottish Cup Final victory in May 1980 made for a long, difficult close-season. Everyone who wasn’t anyone had their say on the root cause of the problem and legislation was hurriedly introduced, banning alcohol from the terracings and stands. So it was with some relief that we headed to Parkhead for the first competitive fixture of the new term, a Drybrough Cup Quarter-final tie against second-tier Ayr United.

The pre-season tournament, ironically sponsored by a brewing company, involved the highest-scoring teams from the previous League campaign in the top two divisions and had been resurrected in 1979, following a five-year absence.

In Celtic’s very first Drybrough Cup game, at home to Dumbarton in July 1971, I was privileged to watch the coming-of-age of a certain Kenny Dalglish, who banged in four goals in a 5-2 win, after former-Celt Charlie Gallagher had put the Sons ahead in the opening minutes. In the closing stages of the season just ended, the youngster had scored six at Rugby Park, in Frank Beattie’s benefit match, making it increasingly difficult for Jock to ignore such a precocious talent.

His phenomenal scoring run would continue in midweek at a packed Firhill, in the Semi-final against Willie Ormond’s strong St Johnstone side. Again wearing the iconic number seven shorts, Kenny hit a hat-trick, as Celts came back from a two-goal deficit to win 4-2 and clinch a place in the Pittodrie final.

Strange the things you remember about such games. There was Celtic playing in a home kit but with away socks, green with two white bands at the top. There was a rare appearance for Gordon Marshall senior, father of the 90’s keeper, badly at fault for the first goal and, therefore, becoming even rarer after this match.

We wondered where Jock had been hiding Kenny, who I first saw play at right-half against Raith Rovers in Bobby Murdoch’s slot a couple of years earlier, being memorably described in the sports papers of the day as ‘Dalgleish’.

Nine years on from the initial tournament, the Ayr game was the first real opportunity for another special talent, striker Charlie Nicholas. I had been following Charlie’s goal-laden career since his days with Celtic Boys Club, then more recently in the reserves.

Just as Jock had the dilemma with Kenny, so Billy McNeill now had to find a spot in his team for Nicholas. We in the Cairn CSC had an additional vested interest, I was best pals with his cousin John, so it was genuinely a case of hoping to see one of your own making the grade in ‘our team’. As it turned out, Charlie played well on the day, however, a late goal from Eric Morris proved the decisive moment in the game and Celtic were out. For the only time in the six seasons of the competition, the Bhoys would not take part in the Drybrough Cup Final.

The following week saw one of the great Celtic occasions, as the legend Danny McGrain was honoured for his fabulous service to the club. A testimonial game with Manchester United, in front of 45,000 adoring supporters, was Danny’s reward.

League action got underway with victories over Morton and Kilmarnock, Nicholas making his League debut as a second-half substitute at Rugby Park. He was again on the bench but this time unused for the third and final Premier Division match in August, against Rangers at Celtic Park, as the McAdam brothers squared up for the first time.

Having dominated the first-half, Celts took the lead within two minutes of the restart, Tommy Burns blasting home from close-range after a Jardine error. New signing Bett brought the Ibrox side level before the turning point of the game, as a perfectly-good Murdo MacLeod goal was first given then cancelled after a conversation between referee and linesman.

This was Rangers’ first victory at Parkhead for six years, since my own first experience of the fixture, standing at the back of the old Celtic End with my brother. That day, back in September ’74 in front of 60,000, began well, with a classic Dalglish strike off the underside of the bar, but ended badly, thanks to Jim Brogan’s red card and second-half goals from McDougall and Jackson.

There were further ramifications for Celtic as the week progressed, George Connelly’s curious absence from the team then explained, as he walked away from senior football for the last time, followed by a disappointing midweek home draw against our only previous Greek opponents, Olympiakos Piraeus, in what would be Billy McNeill’s final European tie. Our instincts that the good times under Jock were on the wane proved correct, as for the first time in my Celtic-supporting life, the title was surrendered in the spring.

But in August 1980, there was another title to be regained and we would have taken great comfort had we known then that it would be the best part of a decade before a third home derby defeat would have to be endured. A few days earlier, the latest European campaign had commenced at Celtic Park, a sensational second-half goal blitz destroying the Hungarian Cup winners Diosgyor VTK Miskolc, a McGarvey hat-trick the highlight in a 6-0 win.

DVTK included Besiktas, Rapid Vienna and our own Dundee United within their recent conquests, so the margin of victory was something of a surprise. Two weeks later, 18-year-old Nicholas put Celts seven clear in the tie, with his first European strike. However, despite being outplayed for most of the match, a Gorgei double either side of half-time, his first appearing to go in via the side-netting, gave the Hungarians an unlikely 2-1 victory on the night.

In between those games, there was a League Cup scare from First Division Stirling Albion, managed by a young Alex Smith. Celts lost the first leg at the old Annfield to a solitary Lloyd Irvine goal and twelve minutes into the second-leg, three days later, we all feared the worst as McPhee doubled the lead. Despite a fantastic strike from Dom Sullivan, Celtic were heading out of the Cup as the clock ticked by.

Continued on the next page…

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About Author

Having retired from his day job Matt Corr can usually be found working as a Tour Guide at Celtic Park, or if there is a Marathon on anywhere in the world from as far away as Tokyo or New York, Matt will be running for the Celtic Foundation. On a European away-day, he's there writing his Diary for The Celtic Star and he's currently completing his first Celtic book with another two planned.

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