Smell the Glove! Fighting for my life then joy and delight as Celtic stop the Ten

There were 365 days between the 9 May 1997 and the 9 May 1998, but the contrasting feelings and emotions in my family, friends and I couldn’t have been more different. To give this story the proper context I will need to go a wee bit further back in time to explain.

I grew up in the 1980s getting to some Celtic games, but mainly listening to commentary on the radio and watching highlights from the matches on the TV.

I was born in 1978 with a serious heart condition and had gone through 4 major heart operations before I was 10 years old. My family would feed me with tales of the 9 in-a-row champions of Scotland and our famous Lisbon Lions team of 1967.

I celebrated the Celtic team of 1988 securing the league and cup double in the centenary year, but from 1990 through to 1997 Celtic had gone through a very difficult period and had only won one trophy in 1995 during this spell.

Our biggest rivals on the other hand were winning most domestic competitions in front of them, winning 8 championships in a row and were on course to equal the record set by Celtic between 1966 and 1974.

As the 1996-1997 Scottish Football season progressed, it became clear that Celtic would struggle to remove our rivals from the top slot. I had been to countless matches during the season, balancing life as a student, part time worker and Celtic fan as best as I could. As the season drew to a close, we began to fall out the race for the Scottish title, but we still had the chance to win the Scottish Cup. A semi-final replay against Falkirk at Ibrox stadium on Wednesday 23 April 1997 would be our last chance to try to secure a token of success for the season.

On a night when the weather conditions were awful Celtic lost 1-0 to Falkirk and pretty much ended our season. I sat near the front of the Govan Road stand at Ibrox with my future wife and we were both soaked through in the incessant rain. When I got home I went to sleep and hoped to waken up thinking the disappointment was a bad dream. However, this would be the start of a 6-week period that would change my life.

I became unwell overnight with flu like symptoms and I deteriorated over the next few days. I was admitted to Glasgow Royal infirmary on Saturday 26 April with a suspected stroke, but after multiple tests, scans and examinations the doctors discovered that I had contracted Bacterial Endocarditis and this was stopping my heart from functioning properly.

For the next 2 weeks, I would drift in and out of consciousness and was given intravenous antibiotics to fight the infection but it was clear that the drugs were not going to be enough to help me fight the infection. During this period I received a visit from 2 Celtic players when Malky McKay and Tommy Johnson came to the hospital to see me, but I was so unwell the visit very much passed me by.

My consultants visited me around 6 May to confirm that I would need emergency life saving surgery. On 9 May I made my way to theatre for open-heart surgery, a pulmonary valve replacement procedure. I spent the vast majority of the day in surgery as the surgeons tried to repair the damage done to my heart.

The following day my condition worsened and I went into cardiac arrest, I would need to go through further emergency surgery that day to save my life. My family and girlfriend were given the news that the next few hours would be crucial.

I would spend another 10 days in intensive care as my condition slowly improved. I was moved back to a ward in the hospital 2 weeks after surgery and began my post operation rehab, it was then that I found out Rangers had equalled our 9-in-a-row record and that our coach Tommy Burns had been sacked from his job at Celtic Park.

My mum would later joke I was suffering from a broken heart after we lost to Falkirk.

I was discharged from hospital in early June to continue with my recovery; thankfully I had a big family and supportive girlfriend to see me through those early months.

On 3 July the sports writers started to make some noise on the radio suggesting a new manager was on his way to Celtic Park, I took a trip to the stadium with my brother Benny to see what was going on. Plenty of players came and went over the course of the next few months, Paolo Di Canio left for Sheffield Wednesday, and we made some new signings like Craig Burley and Darren Jackson. However, it was the arrival of a forward from Feyenoord that would get some people talking – Henrik Larsson joined Celtic that summer and after a slow start he certainly cemented his place in the club’s history!

Celtic started the league badly, losing the first two games. If we were going to make in impact this season we’d need to make a move soon. A battle of Britain UEFA cup-tie against Liverpool seemed to lift the players and the club but it wasn’t enough as we lost the tie on away goals.

The month of November saw two matches against Rangers in just over 10 days. Celtic lost the first match at Ibrox and drew the second at Celtic Park thanks to a last minute header from Alan Stubbs. How valuable would that result be at the end of season?

The month ended with a League Cup Final visit to Ibrox, the scene of our defeat to Falkirk earlier in the year and where my serious illness seamed to start.

My brother George managed to secure me a ticket for the match and I watched on as Celtic beat Dundee United 3-0 to win the League Cup for the first time in 15 years. It was great to see a trophy coming back to Celtic Park, but our main aim must be to stop Rangers reaching 10-in-a-row.

The big matches kept coming as we moved towards the traditional New Years Day derby with Rangers at Celtic Park. We had signed Harald Brattbakk in December to help us score more goals.

My brother-in-law gave me his ticket for the match that day. We won 2-0, the first coming from Burley and the second was a wonder strike from the right boot of Paul Lambert in the closing minutes of the match. Celtic had won their first New-Years Day derby since 1988 and were back in the race for the title.

Both teams stuttered through the remainder of the season as the pressure of winning and stopping 10-in-a row seemed to make the players freeze. In April Celtic lost to Rangers twice in a week, first the Scottish Cup Semi Final at Celtic Park and then at Ibrox.

As the league season came to an end, the pressure on both teams was beginning to tell. On the second last weekend of the season Rangers lost to Kilmarnock at Ibrox, a result that gave Celtic the chance to win the title with a win the following day against Dunfermline. The tension got to the players and we could only earn a draw losing a goal in the last few minutes to finish the match 1-1. The League title would be decided one week later on Saturday 9 May.

I didn’t have a ticket for the match against St Johnstone and in the age before wall-to-wall TV coverage, my dad and I were left listening to the radio for updates on how the match was progressing. All Celtic had to do was to win the match at home and we would be Scottish Champions for the first time in 10 years.

Within 3 minutes of the match starting my dad and I were jumping around the kitchen celebrating the news of a goal for Celtic through Henrik Larsson. However nerves on the pitch meant that we struggled to add a second goal that would give us some breathing space.

News came through from Tannadice that Rangers were winning against Dundee United. If Celtic slipped up the league would be lost to our biggest rivals.

I couldn’t listen anymore and went to my room and hoped for the best, I was switching the radio on and off checking for the score and I turned on the radio in time to hear the commentator describe Harald Brattbakk scoring the second goal for Celtic and secure our first championship in a decade.

I went downstairs to see my dad crying with delight and we cheered and sang our way through the final 20 minutes of the match. When the final whistle blew a huge cheer was heard across the east end of Glasgow as Celtic fans celebrated winning the Scottish title.

9 May 1998 will be etched in my memory forever. In the space of 365 days the tears of anguish and fear were replaced with tears of joy and relief.

Martin Donaldson

Yesterday Tom Boyd was speaking as the launch of Smell the Glove, an events tour to commemorate the 20th anniversary of a remarkable season in Celtic’s recent history when Wim Jansen’s double winners of 1997-98 stopped Rangers’ 10 in a row.

Boyd and then Hoops team-mate Simon Donnelly will be taking to the stage in conversation with The Celtic Star’s very own Paul John Dykes and holding a Q&A in a series of dates this summer.

Tickets are available now from – with the duo appearing at the Alhambra Theatre in Dunfermline on Saturday, 19 May and at Greenock Town Hall on Saturday, 2 June.

If you would like to stage a Smell The Glove event please email and we’ll put you in touch. We’ll get some great material for The Celtic Star Podcast at these events, so something to look forward to if you can’t make it along. Read what Tom Boyd had to say by clicking on the image below.

Smell the Glove! Former Celtic captain on the Rangers cockiness before Beautiful Sunday

Fond memories of Celtic staying at the Seamill Hydro

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor David Faulds has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email

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