My defining Celtic moment – “The Celtic supporters go absolutely mental with joy”

Celtic Tour Guide Robert Galbraith on his debut as a Celtic Star writer, talked us through the build-up his own defining moment as a Celtic supporter, the centenary Scottish Cup Final win over Dundee United on 14 May 1988…

Last night’s article can be read via the link below, and what follows is Robert’s viivd recollections of such a memorable day for the Celtic supporters at Hampden and watching on television. You’ll love this…

A Celtic rite of passage – Galbraith family style

READ THIS…My defining Celtic moment – the Scottish Cup final of 1988, Part One Celtic on the road to Hampden

Our 1988 Scottish Cup final opponents were Dundee United, who had beaten Aberdeen 1-0 after a second replay (Replays! Remember them?!). United were a terrific team at the time. The year before, they had made it all the way to the UEFA Cup final, narrowly losing out to Gothenburg in a two-legged final.

In 1984, they had reached the European Cup semi-final and in my opinion were robbed by Roma (perhaps no coincidence that Rome’s Stadio Olimpico was to host the final that year). I really admired the Tayside outfit, a really experienced team full of quality and with some exciting young talent like Billy McKinlay and Kevin Gallacher.

The demand for tickets was huge but I wasn’t concerned. I was usually ok for tickets thanks mainly to my Dad (with the exception of Firhill in the quarter-final). However, as the day of the final drew closer, my anxiety increased as I was still ticketless with no sign of anything happening on that front.

There were a few public sales, and my dad and I joined a couple of long queues at Celtic Park but unfortunately the supply of tickets had run out before we reached the front. He even got me out of school one day (don’t tell the Headie!) as we joined another queue at SFA’s Park Garden Headquarters in Glasgow and once again we left empty-handed. There were no tickets to be had and it seemed like everyone was looking for one.

It was Saturday, 14 May 1988, cup final day. The weather was stunning, with clear blue skies and bright sunshine but despite this I was feeling rather low. I didn’t have a cup final ticket and I wouldn’t be at Hampden. Sure, I would watch it on the television with my dad and we’d cheer on the team and hope for a great result but it’s just not the same. There’s nothing like being there, being with the Celtic support, singing the songs, feeling the tension and sharing the highs and lows. There’s absolutely nothing like it. I can’t imagine being an armchair fan. It’s just not for me.

Remember that wee bit of Celtic magic I mentioned earlier? Well, it happened to me that day

I had already been up to the local shop on my racer bike, buying all sorts of crisps, chocolate and coca cola, ready to settle down and watch the match on TV and despite the disappointment, I was starting to come around and look forward to the match. I was getting excited and the butterflies were starting.

It was just before 1.00pm and I was wondering what to do with myself before kick-off. In those days, the pre-match build-up seemed to start in the morning and last all day. I’d watched some updates from Wembley, where Wimbledon were up against the mighty Liverpool, “the crazy gang against the culture club” as John Motson would famously say that day. I’d had a kickabout in the front garden, practising some “keepy-uppies” but I was getting impatient and just wanted the match to start.

And then the phone rang.

Cup final ticket heroine Auntie Betty, with Robert’s dad and his sister in the background

I answered. It was my Auntie Betty, she sounded excited and then she blurted out those magical words “We’ve got you a ticket, son! You can go on the Kirkintilloch bus with your Uncle Alex!” I don’t think I even said “thanks” as I put the phone down, shouted “DAD!!!!” and he got me over to Kirkintilloch from Cumbernauld, just before the bus was about to leave for Hampden.

What a ‘wummin’ my wee Auntie Betty was, an absolute gem, a real character. I loved being in her company and spending time with her, my Uncle Gerry and my cousins Gerald, Catherine and Kevin. Even to this day, I still see my Uncle Gerry and my cousins on a match day. A real Celtic family. Just like everyone else!

Robert and cousin Gerry at Celtic Park

God bless you Auntie Betty. I’ll never forget you (or that phone call) as long as I live.

Of course, it could all have been worthless. We could’ve been beaten by United and then it would all have meant nothing. But then I wouldn’t be sitting here with tears in my eyes writing these words for publication on The Celtic Star. It wasn’t worthless, it was absolutely magical.

The bus ride over to Hampden was full of excitement. The colours were on show, the bus in full voice with the Celtic song. One of the daft things I remember is a guy getting thrown off the bus for peeing in a beer can! Once the can was full, the contents overflowed and were running up and down the aisle. Needless to say, the bus convener was not too pleased. I wonder if the guy made it to Hampden and if not, what happened to his ticket!

As the bus parked up and I’m walking down Aikenhead Road with my Uncle Alex, I felt that he was treating me as his equal, not as a kid. Alex, you see, isn’t actually that much older than me so I was doing his head in every time I called him “Uncle Alex” until he finally snapped and said “For heaven’s sake, Robert. Stop calling me Uncle Alex, you’re making me feel auld!” I’ve never called him “Uncle Alex” since. Well, only when I’m winding him up!

He even offered me a can of beer adding, “Don’t worry, I won’t tell your Da!” Needless to say, I refused his offer as I was a bit straightlaced in those days and anyway, I wanted to play for Celtic in a few years’ time and you don’t drink beer if you want to play for Celtic!

We walked through the winding road where the old prefab houses used to be and made our way through the turnstile and into the North Terrace of Hampden Park. We were in the family section and I’m pretty sure the price of my child ticket was £1.00. Yes, £1.00 for a cup final ticket. Mental! The family section was a mixed area with fans of both teams, but it was mostly Celtic supporters that day.

The stadium filled up and the place looked incredible in the sunshine. The pipers were in full flow on the pitch which looked fantastic with the stripes cropped into the surface. A full house of over 74,000 spectators with the colours, the flags and the fans in full voice. Perfect.

The teams came out and, as usual, lined up in front of the Main Stand. There was a surprise in the Celtic goals that day as Pat Bonner – who had been struggling with an injury all week, that news kept quiet by Celtic – was replaced by Allen McKnIght. Out came the red cards for Maggie Thatcher and then we were off!

1988: Dennis Thatcher and Margaret Thatcher during the Scottish Cup Final match between Celtic and Dundee United at Hampden. Celtic won the match 2-1. Photo Allsport UK/Allsport

Celtic kicked off and we were up and running, the Celtic fans chanting “Championees, championees, ole, ole, ole!” in celebration of our League title victory only a few weeks earlier.

I remember watching the highlights later that night. I must have watched them a hundred times and could just about repeat the entire commentary, from Archie MacPherson’s opening lines of “Celtic, in their Centenary year. Dundee United, 21 years younger, almost an infant by comparison.”

We’re underway, with deep breaths, fingers crossed, and prayers silently offered for a successful outcome for the Hoops. Celtic survived an early scare with Paul McStay clearing a header off the goal line. Joe Miller was looking lively but failed to connect with a back post cross and his weak header was easily cleared despite a wee bit of a scramble and you could hear, and feel, the tension in the air as the fans hoped for the opening goal. The first half ended with very few clear chances but despite the 0-0 score line it was a keenly contested match.

May 1988: Scottish Cup Final played between Celtic and Dundee United held at Hampden Photo David Cannon /Allsport

The highlight of the first half was my Uncle Alex’s regular requirement to ask for forgiveness from the fans in front of us. As usual, Alex was shouting and encouraging the team and occasionally the odd swear word would slip in here and there and he felt the need to apologise to the three nuns in front of us on the terrace with each and every blasphemy. “I’m really sorry, God forgive me.” I don’t think the nuns were too bothered. They were giving out plenty “encouragement” themselves to their green and white favourites!

1988: Billy Thomson saves a shot for Dundee United during the Scottish Cup Final match against Celtic at Hampden. Celtic won the match 2-1. Photo Allsport UK /Allsport

The second half started with the Celts shooting towards the East Terrace, a sea of green and white (as most of Hampden was that day) with around 60,000 Celtic supporters in the 74,000 crowd. The fans also gave British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a wee shout out as the second half got underway. Both sets of supporters joined in unison to tell Maggie, how should I say this, where to go!

Early in the second half, Roy Aitken fouled United’s speed demon, Kevin Gallacher, on the edge of the box with the referee dishing out a yellow card. This was to prove costly later in the game for Aitken and Celtic. Incidentally, the United striker himself has a direct connection with Celtic Football Club through his famous grandfather, Patsy Gallacher, a club legend and scorer of an incredible cup final goal in 1925, somersaulting with the ball trapped between his feet and over the line and into the net. I’m sure VAR these days would find a way of ruling that out for some misdemeanour or other.

1988: Tosh McKinlay of Dundee United with Paul McStay and Tommy Burns of Celtic during the Scottish Cup Final match at Hampden Celtic won the match 2-1 Photo Allsport UK /Allsport

United’s free kick from Eamonn Bannon found a way through the wall but McKnight managed to cover the post and dive to his left to make the save. Shortly after that, Celtic were in trouble. A through ball played towards the Celtic backline and Gallacher raced on to it. Aitken can’t keep up with him and he can’t touch him, having already received a yellow card. I’m sure the memory of his red card in the 1984 cup final must have been on his mind as Gallacher streaked away and struck a beauty into the top corner. United were ahead.

At this point, you wonder if it’s going to be our day but then you remember the semi-final and think that anything is possible. That seemed to be the feeling as the huge Celtic crowd roared on the Bhoys before the match restarted. It felt as if the place was shaking. It felt as if Celts had scored the opening goal and not Dundee United. With this backing anything is possible. We couldn’t do it again. Could we?

Celtic switched into attacking mode straight away with Joe Miller probing and drawing a corner, much to the approval of the fans behind the goal. Mick McCarthy’s header soars over the bar but the Celtic fans were encouraged. Gallacher darted through on goal from another long ball, it looked like he might get there but McKnight raced out of goal to clear the danger. And breathe!

Celtic charged forward. A Tommy Burns free-kick into the box was met by centre half McCarthy whose looping header rebounded off the crossbar. This Celtic team was not giving in but United were still a threat and Bannon headed down into the ground with the ball bouncing safely over the bar.

Despite United’s threat on the break, Celtic were in control. The ball found its way to Hoops left-back Anton Rogan, in an attacking position on the left side. His cross flies over the head of United keeper Billy Thomson and defender David Narey, and Frank McAvennie is at the back post to head into the net for the equaliser. Cue chaos and madness inside Hampden, as the Celtic supporters go absolutely mental with joy. It was handshakes and cuddles all round in the North Terracing and everywhere else where green and white was worn. Even the nuns gave us a wee smile and if God’s on your side then you know what’s coming next!

The winning goal was thoroughly deserved. There wasn’t long left, maybe 15 minutes or so, but the Celtic team this season seemed to be last-gasp goal specialists, scoring late in games to rescue a point or to turn one point into two with a late winner. So now, after this equaliser and sheer outpouring of joy, it was almost expected, and Celtic, as they did so many times in the Centenary season of 87/88, were going for the win.

Celtic continued to attack with Joe Miller having a chance but United, always dangerous on the break, squandered a great chance when Bannon’s curved shot passed wide of the post. Thomson saved a shot from McAvennie, who was practically seated in the six-yard box such was his desperation to score. With the clock ticking down it was looking like we might need to go to extra-time. But then Celtic won a corner.

I can see this quite clearly in my mind’s eye. I don’t need to watch any video clips for this moment. Joe Miller’s low corner-kick, a diagonal ball on the ground, found Billy Stark who tried to divert it towards goal. The ball took a deflection and fell to the feet of McAvennie who slammed it home. It was surely the winner. Surely there was no time left. Surely, we had won the cup, and the Double, in our Centenary year. Surely this would be a day to remember for the rest of my life. Surely this was history. Oh. My. God.

United had a late chance. Another through ball and Kevin Gallacher is on to it again. He falls to the ground and the ball goes out of play. Penalty? I’m holding my breath and looking through my fingers but the referee points to the corner-flag. Ooft! This is getting too much now. I’m stressed out of my mind!

As the corner-kick comes into the Celtic penalty area, the referee blows the final whistle. It’s all over and we’ve done it. We’ve won the Double in our Centenary year!

It’s a sea of green and white. I’m hugging my Uncle Alex and we’re jumping up and down with sheer delight. He gives me a big slabbery kiss on the cheek and we look back towards the pitch to see the players celebrating. I draw breath for a second or two and puff out before smiling and laughing. I don’t know why I’m laughing, pure relief and release maybe, but I’m looking up and around the stadium and soaking it all in. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like this again, it feels amazing.

1988: Mark McGhee (left) Frank McAvennie (second left) McNeil (seond right) and Roy Aitken (right) all of Celtic celebrate with the trophy after winning the Scottish Cup Final against Dundee United at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland. Celtic won the match 2-1. Photo Allsport UK /Allsport

We watched the team collect the famous old trophy and cheered in turn for each of the players. Alex turns to head towards the exits, but I stay still. I don’t move. I’m taking in each and every last second of this. I want to remember this for ever. I’m brought back into reality when I’m told, quite sharply (just as well the nuns had already left), that if we don’t get a move on, we’ll miss the supporters’ bus but I’m pretty sure Alex was looking to get a quick beer before we headed home.

I can’t remember the supporters’ bus journey home, or being picked up by my dad later that evening from Kirkintilloch. I only remember making sure the video recorder was set to capture the highlights when I got home. I was in my own wee Celtic world for hours on end. A day which had started on a downer, without a cup final ticket, had ended in a dramatic finale and memories that will last a lifetime.

On Monday, 14 May 2018 I took the day off work. It was the 30th anniversary of our Centenary year cup final triumph. I headed over to Hampden and inside to complete the museum and stadium tour before heading home. At 3.00pm, exactly 30 years to the minute, I pressed play on YouTube and watched the entire match all over again, as if it was live, and I was back at Hampden as a 15-year-old watching my heroes all over again.

And it was magic, again!

Robert Galbraith

Robert and family at Celtic Park
Robert looking the part ahead of his Celtic Way appearance in August
Robert looking the part ahead of his Celtic Way appearance in August
Matt Corr, Matthew Campbell and Robert living the dream on The Celtic Way
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1 Comment

  1. Some great memories there, Robert. I too, was at all those games you mention. The Hearts semi-final was my favourite game from that brilliant season.

    Hail Hail.