Sunday, 20 March 2016

Better than sex

Better than sex

Yesterday’s last minute heroics by Tom Rogic at Rugby Park provided one of those rare moments of genuine joy which following Celtic brings. As I stood in the packed Chadwick Stand willing Celtic to make one last effort at securing the points, I saw Rogic collect the ball around 30 yards from goal before turning and striding forward. Given the team’s rather lacklustre performance few expected the big Aussie to curl a sublime and unstoppable shot into the top right hand corner of the net. The pent up frustration of the previous 89 minutes gave way to an explosion of euphoria as the Celtic supporters went crazy. Some spilled onto the track to celebrate with the players some hugged the supporters next to them. It was, amid the rough theatre of Scottish football, a genuinely beautiful moment.  

Rogic’s goal got me thinking about other occasions when Celtic scored in the dying embers of games to seal dramatic victories. Fighting right to the last has been a traditional facet of Celtic teams and the centenary season exemplified this with a good few late goals securing victory. Every fan will have their own memory of a dramatic last gasp win which will of course be linked to their age. For older supporters, Billy McNeil’s last minute header against Vojvodina on the road to Lisbon was one they’ll never forget. Make no mistake about it: the Yugoslavs were a powerful team with good technique, speed and physicality. Celtic had lost 1-0 away and besieged Vojvodina’s goal at Celtic Park. Celtic led 1-0 in the last seconds of the game when Stein said to Sean Fallon, ‘It looks like bloody Rotterdam.’ His reference to the Dutch city alluded to the fact that a third match was required to separate teams tied on aggregate in those days. No sooner had Stein said those words when a cross into the box was met by McNeil in imperious style and he crashed a header into the net. The 75,000 at Celtic Park went wild. The stunned Slavs kicked off and the whistle blew. It was over and Celtic progressed towards their date with destiny beneath the Lisbon sun.

In more modern times, Jan Venegoor of Hesselink provided one of those fantastic Celtic moments as Celtic fought to claw back a big points deficit in the 2007-08 championship race. With the 3 minutes of stoppage time almost over and Celtic tied at 1-1 with their former rivals Rangers, Caldwell clipped what our American cousins call a ‘Hail Mary’ cross into the box. From the North stand I watched as Scott McDonald reached it first and head it back across goal where Hesselink threw himself at the ball and headed a wonderful and deserved last gasp winner. The sheer joy of that moment was simply indescribable. 53,000 Celtic fans screamed and roared in ecstasy as 7000 away fans looked on in stunned silence. A friend, who shall remain nameless, hugged me for all he was worth and screamed into my face, ‘Yaassss! That’s f*ckin amazing! It’s better than sex!’  I sometimes remind him of that remark and he laughs and replies, ‘Well, on that occasion it was.’ Big Jan’s goal of course set Celtic on the way to a memorable title triumph in 2008 and most fans point to that moment as the time they started to believe they could become champions.

Other moments in Celtic history demonstrate that the will to win combined with 90 minutes of effort can produce some amazing finishes. Murdo McLeod’s screamer in the last seconds of the 4-2 game against Rangers in 1979 set of huge celebrations as the league was won in that last minute of the last game of the season. One press report stated that ‘Three quarters of Celtic Park resembled a giant disco party and the other quarter a wake.’ McLeod’s goal wasn’t the winner as Celtic led 3-2 at the time but it was the clincher, the moment we knew we’d won the title.

In 1995-96 season Celtic trailed Dundee United 0-1 in a Scottish Cup tie at Celtic Park. The game was almost over and the Dundee United fans were singing their victory songs as McNamara swung a free kick into the box. The clock showed just 90 seconds remaining as Van Hoojdonk leapt to meet the cross and power the ball into the net. As a stunned United kicked off and Celtic Park echoed to deafening roars, Celtic seized possession and a through ball found Andy Thom racing in on goal. The speedy German kept his nerve and smashed a low shot into the net. Astonishingly Celtic had turned the cup tie around in one glorious minute. There where what our younger fans call ‘scenes’ as Celtic Park went absolutely crazy. It was incredible stuff.

Other games come to mind when one thinks of dramatic late winners. Hearts in the Semi Final of the Cup at Hampden in 1988 were leading 1-0 with 2 minutes left and Celtic turned it around. Dundee United led the final that year until late dramatics saw the Hoops clinch a Centenary Double. For every fan  there will be personal memories of late wins. Perhaps linked to sharing the moment with friends or relatives no longer around; perhaps linked to more mundane things like bashing the Bookies. For what it’s worth here are a few of my favourite late Celtic winners. I’m sure you’ll disagree on the order or notice omissions but you will agree that there are some great Celtic moments in there.

Steven McManus v Hearts  2006; a 2 goal deficit is turned around in the final seconds.

 Andy Walker v Hearts 1988 Cup Semi Final; a late double secures a place in the cup final

 Andy Thom Dundee United 1996; dramatic ending to a great cup tie.

 Scott McDonald v AC Milan 2006, the European Champions are defeated at Celtic Park.

 Murdo McLeod v Rangers 1979; in a game that had everything, this was the icing on the cake

 Jan Venegoor of  Hesselink v Rangers 2008; stunning drama in the heat of a vital match.

Of course you may well feel that there were other Celtic moments which should join the list. It’s a very subjective choice and linked to context, timing and the sheer drama of the moment. Tom Rogic’s strike yesterday was certainly one of the more dramatic we’ve seen in recent years. Whether such moments are ‘better than sex’ is really up to you to decide too.

Sometimes the old game can indeed be beautiful.




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