The Day We Stopped the Ten
I could see it coming, Celtic were clearly second best in a raucous match at Ibrox in November 1997 and a goal seemed inevitable. When it did come insult was added to injury when Gough celebrated in front of the Celtic support packed into the Broomloan Road stand by holding 10 fingers aloft. The 7000 Celtic fans in the packed Celtic end knew the symbolism of his gesture. Their decade of agony was continuing and Gough’s Rangers were out to make it complete by smashing Jock Stein’s record of 9 in a row. As the home fans celebrated in their unique way by singing songs about paedophilia and cursing the Pope it seemed only a fool would bet on Celtic stopping ‘The Ten.’
That season had started in uncertain fashion. The previous season had seen the end of Tommy Burns’ tenure as manager and we watched the ‘three Amigos’ Cadette, Van Hoojidonk and Di Canio use us as a bridge into the riches of English football. We had seen the arrival of players such as Blinker, Mahe, Burley and Jackson and although they were all experienced professionals, we were not filled with confidence that they would enable us to take on a resilient Rangers team with Laudrup, Goram, Ferguson and Gough all leading them with a confidence born of a decade of domination. We were more encouraged by Marc Rieper’s arrival and the thinking was that if Celtic could sort out their sieve like defence they might run Rangers close as Larsson, Donnelly and Jackson would find the net at the other end. Paul Lambert’s arrival from Dortmund was also a vital part of the jigsaw as he added a calmness and shape to the team and performed his holding role in midfield with assurance. The squad was full of potential but could Jansen and Murdo McLeod mould them into a team to stop the ten?
Every season has key games and moments which fill you with hope. For me one of them came on a dark autumn night at Celtic Park when Rangers arrived replete with their new Italian goal machine Marco Negri. In a bruising game, Celtic were edging it on chances and driving Rangers back but time and time again Goram saved them as he had done on so many occasions at Parkhead. Then, as so often happened in those years, Rangers scored in a rare counter attack and it was that man Negri who slotted home. His muted and unsmiling celebration suggested to many that his club’s rumoured instructions that he stop blessing himself on the field did not sit well with this Italian Catholic boy. Gascoigne had rashly elbowed Wieghorst in the face and was red carded in that game but despite this it seemed the old story of Celtic domination but Rangers winning would continue. As injury time ticked by Alan Stubbs trotted up to join the attack for one last throw of the dice. From my seat in the North Stand I watched the ball flighted into the box knowing it was now or never. The Celtic support stood as a man to watch the last act of the drama more in hope than expectation. Stubbs, for once, lost his marker and met the ball with his head. It looped towards the goal and to my astonishment nestled in the back of the net. Celtic Park exploded and the roar which greeted that late goal split the dark, brooding Glasgow sky. I fell over the seat in front on me during that mad celebration and ended up two rows down among a throng of hugging, dancing Tims who knew how vital that goal was.
Celtic seemed to take confidence from that late goal. Perhaps they weren’t fated to be gallant losers? They could make their own fate now and belief spread throughout the team. The victories were strung together as they surged ahead in the league. The league cup was won at Ibrox against Dundee United in some style and from my seat in the Copeland Road Stand I drank in the magnificent sight of the Ibrox main stand covered in tricolours and other Celtic banners. We roared out that Oasis classic ‘Roll with it’ as the Bhoys paraded the Cup. It was one of those beautiful Celtic moments which make you glad you followed the Hoops. As the year turned and the New year game with Rangers arrived we all knew we had reached a crossroads. The team who won this match usually won the league. Would Celtic rise to the challenge or crumble as they had so often in the painful 1990s?
There are iconic moments in Celtic history which are etched on the mind forever. Gemmell’s thunderbolt in Lisbon, Larsson’s chip over Kloss or Watt’s winner against Barcelona among them. That cold and wet January day in 1998 provided another. Celtic had fought with a courage born of desperation that day knowing the importance of the game. They had driven Rangers back but again Goran defied them. Brattbakk could have had a hat trick that day but the Rangers keeper pulled off a string of fine saves. Finally Burley gave Celtic a deserved lead as the old stadium rocked and seethed but could they hold out? The answer came in the form of the skilful Paul Lambert who supported an attack in front of the noisy temporary stand. As a defensive header fell to him outside the box the Bhoy from Linwood smashed a swerving drive towards the goal. Goram threw himself to his left in an acrobatic attempt to reach the ball. In my mind I can still see that moment as if in slow motion as the ball curved and twisted in the air beyond the despairing hands of the keeper and slammed into the top corner of the net. Celtic Park erupted, a volcano of anguish and disappointment, born of the hungry years of defeat, blew its top as we roared ourselves hoarse. Nothing was going to stop us now! We were going to stop the ten!
And so on a bright May day we packed the old stadium as St Johnstone came calling for the final game of the season. We had chewed our nails the previous week at Dunfermline when a late equaliser made us wait till the last day and another nail biting finale! It was our date with destiny. We wanted so badly to preserve Jock Stein’s legacy of 9 in a row and our task was clear, win the game and we would be Champions for the first time in a decade. It wouldn’t be Celtic without us being put through the emotional wringer so Larsson’s magnificent opening goal in just 2 minutes was followed by another 75 minutes of stress as we fretted about St Johnstone equalizing and spoiling the party. Surely we wouldn’t blow it now? We were so close, it would be perverse and cruel to lose the title when it was within touching distance. The answer came late in the second half when Celtic swept up the right hand side and an excellent low cross into the box was smashed home by Brattbakk. The release of tension was palpable as the songs echoed around Celtic Park. Then the final whistle came… we had done it, we had stopped the ten and grown men cried tears of Celtic joy. My brother hugged me, his eyes moist, ‘God bless you Celtic, God bless big Jock! We’ve done it, we’ve fuckin done it’
After the trophy was presented the players departed with our cheers and our songs of hope and joy ringing in their ears. It was then that we poured onto our field of dreams in a spontaneous and huge green wave, a tsunami of joy! Tens of thousands of Celtic fans celebrated on the field that sunny May day in 1998. We sang and danced and did the huddle like our heroes on that hallowed turf. It was another of those unforgettable Celtic days which make you glad you follow this incredible team. Every single Celtic fan who was there that magical afternoon will never forget the day we stopped the Ten.
God Bless you Celtic, God bless big Jock!