In all sports there are moments of brilliance which raise them from the mundane and every day to an elevated plane. We saw this brilliance when African American athlete Jesse Owens won 4 Olympic gold medals in front of Hitler in 1936 and blew a hole in any idea of black inferiority to the ‘Master Race.’ We saw it again when an ageing boxer Muhammad Ali astonished the critics by defeating the awesome power of George Foreman in the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle.’ It was there too when Olga Korbut scored a perfect 6 from every judge for her gymnastic display at the 1972 Olympics. All sports fans who know their preferred sport well will point to moments which made them gasp in astonishment.
Football has had its share of such moments too and they are often linked to context. The last minute winner, the audacious piece of skill, the underdog triumphing. Those of you of a certain vintage will recall when diminutive Scot Archie Gemmill scored a goal of sublime beauty at the world cup in Argentina in 1978. The sheer beauty of Archie Gemmill’s goal for Scotland against the brilliant Dutch team in 1978 encapsulated the skill and defiance that marks so much of Scottish football’s history. Similarly the goal scored by Marco Van Basten for Holland in the European Championship Final against the USSR in 1988 was not something you can coach or teach. It is a piece of instinctive brilliance from a player born with the natural gifts to enable him to envisage such a goal and then to score it. For the younger fan, Zinedine Zidane’s perfectly executed volley in the European Cup final at Hampden for Real Madrid will live long in the memory. The poetic beauty of Messi when he is on song is also a joy to behold as is the more mercurial talents of Christiano Ronaldo or Ronaldinho.
Following Celtic has provided me with moments that I’ll never forget till my dying day. The sheer beauty and precision of Henrik Larsson’s chip over Stefan Kloss in the 6-2 game was just incredible to watch. Larsson seemed to drift past defender Konterman as if he wasn’t there before deftly lifting the ball over the onrushing keeper. The ball looped over the stranded German keeper, as we held our breath, astonished at the Swede’s audacity, and watched as the ball arced perfectly into the net. It was a moment of brilliance that no coach could have taught Henrik on the training field.
In 2008 as Celtic chased down Rangers for the title, they were tied 1-1 in the 93rd minute of a must win Old Firm game at Celtic Park. It was then that a Caldwell cross was headed back across goal by Scott McDonald to be met by the diving Venegoor of Hesselink who scored a dramatic last gasp winner. We wanted the title so badly in 2008, it was to be our tribute to the great Tommy Burns. The explosion of joy which greeted that goal roared out to the world, ‘It’s on, we can do this!’ It was indeed on and we did do it!
We also saw a moment of technical brilliance when Celtic squared up to Manchester United in the 2006 Champions League at Celtic Park. I was in the packed North stand in line with Nakamura as he placed the ball carefully on the grass about 30 yards from goal. The crowd were willing him to score and a chant of ‘Celtic, Celtic, Celtic,’ built from a low growl to a deafening roar. It was as if those who followed Celtic were willing the ball into the net. As Nakamura began his run we held our breaths and a second of silence reigned as he struck the ball with his wonderful left foot. It flew high over the Manchester United wall before dipping perfectly and crashing into the top corner of the net. If a goal can be beautiful, that one was.
Such moments of high drama may be more frequent in vital games but can equally occur during the bread and butter of domestic football. We all hold memories of our greatest moment following our team. My Grandfather spoke of Patsy Gallagher somersaulting into the net with the ball between his feet in the cup final. My father swore Gemmel blasting the equalizing goal against Inter in Lisbon was the best moment he had enjoyed watching the Hoops because he knew then we would win and become European Champions. My son told me that the astonishing victory against Barcelona in November was the greatest football match he had ever attended. Celtic, the green thread which runs through the fabric of our lives has provided us with so many wonderful moments to savour. Above are just a few of mine.
What were your magic moments following the famous Glasgow Celtic?