“LET ‘EM KNOW YOU’RE THERE!”

Many Irish kids will have had some sort of GAA involvement as a part of their upbringing. Growing up in Letterkenny, I was no different.

After all, people around my age would’ve started playing in the early 1990s. Owing to the fact that Donegal had won the 1992 All-Ireland, we had no shortage of heroes to look up to and emulate.

Football has changed a lot since those days. 

This was a time when the jerseys we wore were made out of cotton which, when they got soaked in the rain, became unusually heavy and difficult to run around in.

Collars seemed to protrude up as far as your ears if you happened to go for that Eric Cantona-look while our gloves were itchy yellow-coloured woollen things with sticky black velcro dots.

The Mikasa gloves, as you might recall.

In those days, being a Donegal supporter, my early heroes were the likes of Manus Boyle, Anthony Molloy, Tony Boyle, Charlie Mulgrew and Declan Bonner to name but a few.

Mikasa gloves.

In the back garden of my family home in Gortlee, it wasn’t uncommon for me to pretend I was playing in the forward-line for the county team alongside these guys.

My youthful imagination would transform it into Croke Park on All-Ireland Final day where I’d be providing my services as a commentator too.

Of course, a sprinkling of drama had to be thrown in just to add to the occasion. Usually it was a scenario where my invisible opponents – mainly Dublin – were two points up and within touching distance of a victory going into stoppage time. 

“Foley in possession … plays a one-two with Boyle [in reality, off the oil tank] … and Foley has it back and there’s the shot! There’s the goal!!! (Yaaassss!!) Johnny Foley scores the goal that will surely see the Sam Maguire cup go back to Donegal! What a moment for this young man. Foley is the Hero!!”

Then I’d run around in celebration. Taking in the raucous applause from the adoring fans all waving their green and gold flags [in reality, the garage] before raising the decorated trophy aloft [some random generic sports day trophy that had been left lying about the house].

The players we looked up to in those days often seemed to be of a stockier build and frame than today’s more athletic-looking lads.

The sort of people you’d imagine when you’d hear the phrase: “Back when men were men … and sheep were nervous!”

Anthony Molloy, 1992.

At underage level, I remember some of the coaches even then, being somewhat bemused to the idea of players even wearing gloves while anything other than a black pair of boots would run the risk of having you tagged as something of a ‘Fancy Dan.’

The first GAA club I joined as a kid of about eight years of age was St Eunan’s. Nowadays they have a state of the art facility at their O’Donnell Park grounds on the outskirts of the town.

It looks fantastic and very fitting with the modern day. Hundreds of kids take part in the Sunday Morning Academy where all coaches are properly trained and experienced.

That wasn’t always the case back in my day. 

The training area was often knee-deep with rushes which had sprouted up out of the ground. Behind the goalposts, there was a splattering of stingy nettles.

This meant that retrieving a ball (as per the rules of ‘hits it, gets it!’) entailed rolling up your socks to your knees and maybe having a docking leaf to hand just in case the worst happened. Ouch!

Owing to the fact that my dad took on a voluntary coaching role with the Letterkenny Gaels, when they were founded as a club in 1996, I found myself playing there for a season-and-a-bit at under-12s.

“Sure there’s not much point in me driving you to Eunan’s and then me heading across town to the Gaels, now is there?” was his philosophy on the matter. 

I didn’t really mind what club I was playing for, to be honest.

When you’re that age, you’re content enough just to be outside in the fresh air, running around and kicking ball with your friends from school.

One of my earliest recollections from the Gaels was that so many of the grown-ups at the club were ‘blow-ins’, usually from more midwestern and southern parts of Ireland.

Granted, my parents were too, but when compared to St Eunan’s – where everyone spoke more like a true Townie – I quickly had to familiraise myself with more southern-sounding terminology.

“Now, yer sucking diesel,” was one and “schtick de feckin’ ball over de feckin bar!” was a more midwestern / Connaught one.

It goes without saying that when I hear these phrases now, I take no notice, but you have to remember that this was a time when – outside of my parents and relatives – I’d never really heard any accents that came from areas much further past Bundoran.

Team buses weren’t a regular feature on our matchdays either. Generally, it was assumed the parents would all chip in and help out with the driving.

Sometimes it wasn’t uncommon to see about seven or eight youngsters piled into a modestly-sized Ford Mondeo or, for the kid who was running late, to be pulling his socks and boots on while still in the backseat of a moving car.

In my first year, and pretty much only proper full year at the Gaels, we reached a County Final.

We got beat but my abiding memory from that day was looking around after the final whistle and just being in awe of how mesmerising it was to have togged out at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey; even if I was only thrown on to play for the last few minutes.

After all, this was the county team’s ground where my heroes had played. The County ground!

In those days, the main stand was more of a terrace and just one big slab of gray steps and concrete. I very much doubt that floodlights were even a thing at the time.

Nowadays, of course, that stand is much more impressive-looking with its green and gold seating which the lights reflect and bounce off perfectly.

Still though, at the time, it was just wonderful to have played there for the first time. 

In some capacity or another, I’ve been pretty much with St Eunan’s ever since – bar my tenure with the Dunedin Connollys club when I lived in Edinburgh – but no matter what team or club you’re with, there’s so many things that remain common across the board.

Any excuse.

Anyone who’s ever played gaelic games at underage level will likely tell you about the pungent whiff of Deep Heat pain-relief cream when you enter the dressing room.

They might even tell you about the time they mouthed off at the team manager before being quickly reminded that the manager is also their father.

As you get a little bit older and into your teens, there’s a possibility that the innocence of your under-12 days has faded and you developed a bit more of a ‘win at all cost’ mentality.

Like, for example, the lad you’re marking might kindly enquire “so have ye been training long?” and you’d just completely blank the question without uttering a single word back. ‘That sure showed him!’

When you scored a point or a goal as a child, it was hard to contain the excitement of it all. You’d leap about in a circle embracing the hugs and cheers from all your friends and team-mates but now that you’re older, a simple punch-of-the-air and a nonchalant jog back to your position does the job. 

I suppose you have to remember that, at this stage, we were in our teens and sometimes we’d girls to impress on the rare occasion they’d have come along to watch one of our Saturday evening games.

Usually, because they’d taken a shine to the cool dude who scored points for fun, but that didn’t mean that a half-back like me wasn’t looking to get myself known to them.

Gaelic football has changed a lot, even since the days when I was growing up and I’m still only in my thirties.

Aerodynamic-nylon jerseys have replaced the heavy-when-wet cotton ones which, thankfully, means the club badge doesn’t cut into your nipples anymore. Under-Armor fitted gear has taken the place of the old reliable white thermal vest that your mother demanded you wore.

Mouthguards are pretty much mandatory. A huge part of the players’ training incorporates prescribed Strength-and-Conditioning and nutritional advice and fair play to them, but I’m still glad to have gathered the memories that I did from back in the not-too-distant past.

MUSIC SHOP MEMORIES: “WILL WE GO LOOK AT THE POSTERS?”

Seeing as the last few nostalgia blogs about growing up in Letterkenny during the 1990s / early 2000s went down so well – one on teenage disco days at the Grill and another on weekend cinema trips – I thought I’d stay local again this week. I won’t lie though, I was struggling for an idea to write about until I recently took an early morning walk past what used to be The Music Centre.

Those of a certain age will recall there used to be two of these shops in town. One on the second floor of the Courtyard and the other on the Main Street, nestled just on the corner of the Market Square. While I do marginally recall the Letterkenny Tapes store down at, what’s still sometimes called the ‘Old Quinnsworth’, it was the old building by the Square that sparked my inspiration. 

One morning last week, just before the mayhem of school-run traffic congestion took over the town, I was dandering down past the redbricks of Mount Southwell Place. I’d gotten a bit tired of the same songs on repeat funneling through my earphones and thought it might be time to hit a random playlist and see what comes up. 

In essence, the song could choose me rather than vice-versa. 

Anything, and I mean anything, could’ve come on but, low and behold, I was more than content with what did. It was an old 1979 rock (and some might say, ‘oddly romantic’) song by Kiss. You might remember them as the old metal guitar band who dressed up in black and white face-paint, with wild untamed jet black hair and often performed with their tongues poking out.  

Main Street, Letterkenny.

While it’s a look that’s more suited to dodgy Halloween attire these days, it doesn’t take away from the great toe-tapping and air-guitar inducing riffs that they played. So there I was, humming along to “I was made for loooving you baaaybay. You were made for loving meee! And I can’t get enough of yooou, baby! Can you get enough of meee?” 

Guilty pleasure, yes, but sure why not!

That’s when I spotted the old sign on the side of the wall where the music shop once stood. The fact that it was an advert letting customers know that they had PlayStation 2 and MP3 players in stock is a time capsule in itself to how quickly technology (and time) has moved on since they ceased trading; presumably well over a decade by now, but open to correction on that one. 

Inevitably, this led to flashbacks of school lunchtimes or Saturday afternoons when we’d occasionally loiter about the steps of the Square on days when the weather was half-decent. And maybe because we’d been told to not hang about the Four Lights or Abrakebra unless all of us were eating. 

Every now and again, the question might occasionally arise: “Will we go to the Music Center and have a look at the posters?”

More often than not, you might take a wander in and flick through the big slider they had of wall posters. Obviously, being a music shop, you’d have bands, singers and pop-groups that catered for all tastes. It could range from one of Kurt Cobain wrecking the stage after a set to one of the Spice Girls posing for ‘Girl Power.’ Popular movies and album covers were also a prime feature.   

On the other hand, you might unearth one of some random male models showing off their six-packs while splashing around in the ocean; pictures that looked like an advert for an after-shave product. Then, maybe, a close-up one of a rather alluring Jennifer Aniston – aka “yer doll Rachel from Friends” – giving you a reassuring, subtle and somewhat flirty hint of a smile. 

“That’d look well on my wall, but sure what would me Aul Pair say, hiy?” That was the dilemma. 

Invariably, the question over equal rights between male and female sometimes cropped up. Usually from the perspective of moany boys, by the way. 

“See my wee sister, hiy? She has loads of pictures up on her wall of boy-bands that she gets from her Smash Hits magazine. My Ma says nothing about it, but then if I stick up one of some foxy looking chick standing underneath a waterfall with her head tilted back and her eyes closed, I have to hear about it! I mean jeeeez, like!” 

The mysteries of life. 

Obviously the shop sold much more enchanting products than just posters. Traditional Irish instruments like bodhráns, tin-whistles and accordions were found up on the higher shelves behind the counter. Us being teenage boys though meant that getting a nosey at Cindy Crawford’s or Pamela Anderson’s legs was just a bit more important at the time. 

Having said that, it wasn’t all poster-gazing and ogling. Occasionally, we did actually buy something. 

This was back in the days when you’d count down the days to when your favourite artists were releasing their latest singles. With no internet access to hand, knowing when a song was going to hit the shelves usually relied on what you heard from the chart shows on the radio or if the Top of the Pops presenter mentioned it in the Thursday evening broadcast. 

Being something of an indie rock fan in those days, I still vividly recall putting a bit of pocket-money aside so that I could get my hands on CDs (remember them?) that the likes of Oasis had released. When I’m asked the question about the first record I ever bought, I’m still pretty sure it was a song called ‘Perseverance’ by an alt-rock group called Terrorvision. Don’t ask why.

Then again, as Den TV was mandatory viewing for all children who were growing up in Ireland, it could just have easily been one of those dodgy tracks that Dustin the Turkey released. 

In research for this article though, friends of mine have since told me that they did the same with their limited funds for groups like Eternal, All Saints, 5ive and Robbie Williams amongst others. Artists that are probably now considered ‘ancient’ by kids today. The cheek! 

As the nineties wore on, and into the new millennium, there was something of a change in trends. Seemingly out of nowhere, purchasing vinyl records – the ones that you used to see under the gramophone at your gran’s house – became all the rage. Dance music was thriving thanks to Fatboy Slim, Binary Finary and Judge Jules etc so a new era was getting underway.

Older students in school, the senior lads who had scruffy facial hair and who always seemed way taller than they actually were, played guitars and drums. The slightly younger generation were investing in decks and the notion of bringing turn-tables to a “free gaf” when someone’s parents were away became the new popular music fashion. 

Mind you, parties like those, probably deserve an article of their own one day. 

View from the Square

Music, as we know, is invested in very differently nowadays. A monthly subscription to Spotify grants you instant access to any song you want any time. There’s nothing wrong with that in my book. The more headphones you see on walkers and joggers means that the popularity of music has grown rather than decreased. 

Still though, one wee final trip to the record store would be nice all the same. 

@johnnyfoley1984

GROWING UP IN DA’ HOOD!

LETTERKENNY MEMORIES: SOME HAVE GONE AND SOME REMAIN.

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in June 2021

Letterkenny is ever-growing with newer faces, more diverse ethnicities and more modern ways of doing things. In a previous article, I wrote about how the best place to see this is by taking a walk through the Town Park. Sometimes though, places in this great town also changed forever but maybe not always for the better.

This town, the place I happily call my home even though I’ve not always lived in it, has produced an abundance of marvelous writers throughout the years. One of those who has stood the test of time is Patrick McArt – a colleague with us here at theLeader and an uncle to a lifelong friend of mine – and his piece in last month’s edition of this paper struck a chord with me. 

Mister McArt penned a brief but nonetheless poignant column about how he can’t quite shake feeling nostalgic about the way Letterkenny used to be. He wrote about a time when certain shops and stores lined the Main Street, cafés where locals sat outside and, generally speaking, a time when everyone seemed to know everyone. In short, he misses that era. Understandably. 

It got me thinking though about how much this town has transitioned since I was born. With that, a Spotify-headphoned walk around the streets and backroads of the town was required. Starting off closer-to-home and for the purpose of this article’s word count limit, I’ll stay focused on my more local surroundings in and around Gortlee and Ballyraine for this one. 

Seeing where myself and the neighbour kids used to play football on the green outside Knocknamona Park was a start. Back in those days, being the youngest, I nearly always landed with the responsibility of being the goalie – whether I wanted to or not was immaterial – and there was no final whistle. The game only ended when the kid who owned the ball was called in by his parents or when the street-lights went on. 

We used to have this big wooded-tree area along the roadside that we called ‘the Territory.’ During our games of ‘Block’, it was an ideal hiding place before attempting a dash across the road to free all the prisoners. 

Neighborhood kids

It was also once home to a treehouse and an underground den. It was where we gathered tires for the Halloween bonfires every year and it was also where we had a genuine beast of a rope-swing. A couple of the older lads used to bring along a battery-operated cassette player and rock out songs by the likes of Nirvana, Guns and Roses and a bunch of other angry-but-cool-sounding vocalists.  

Nowadays though, you would never know any of it was ever there. Some time back, the green where we played three-and-in until all hours was cut down in size to make way for a bigger pavement. As for the Territory, that land was bought up and it’s now the site of a huge house with a long, stretching garden while other places we used now belong to the Beinn Aoibhinn or Whitethorn Park estates.

It’s not that we really minded when this Gortlee facelift took place. After all, we were getting older and were starting to find new ways to keep ourselves entertained. The new houses that came along meant that new neighbours, with kids of their own, had a place to settle, to play and make memories of their own. 

So, in that case, Letterkenny moved on for the better but it doesn’t mean you can’t reminisce about the way it was. The places where you scored that wonder volley to win the match just before the call from mum on the back porch signaled the end of the game. When you knew where all the other kids were as soon as you saw all the bicycles were lying down and as I ventured into my adolescence, it was also the place I got my first ‘shift’ with a girl who lived in the back-row of houses. 

Sure didn’t I just tell you we were getting older, didn’t I? 

Sadly though, some places in the town didn’t age as well. Growing up in the 1990s, visits to the PinTavern down by Ballyraine was just a mecca of fun. The synthetic noises and flashing lights of the arcade games, clinks from the air-hockey table and of the rolling sounds of bowling balls crashing into pins. It’s no wonder every kid wanted to have their birthday party there. 

As I moved forward into my teens, ‘The Pin’ was still there. Only this time, myself and a group of secondary school friends would use the outside facilities where you could play 5-a-side football on the astroturf pitches. Games were always good fun, but they were quite competitive and on some occasions, a flare-up over a bad tackle would arise. Handbag arguments that quickly blew over, but maybe it was a sign we were just getting a bit more serious with age. 

Caged off

Last week, after a period of about twenty years had passed, I snuck around the back of the Pin’s building and it was genuinely sad to see how so much of the place had become dilapidated, crumbled and overgrown. Rusted barriers caged up the playing fields and the building where we used to play bowling and spend all our pocket money on the arcades resemembled a bomb site. 

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with business owners packing up and moving on; it’s part and parcel of life. I suppose there is solace to be taken that maybe this mantle was just taken up for younger kids to make their memories just over the road at Arena 7 or maybe at the newly-developed, state-of-the-art football pitch, just along Orchard Grove at Ballyraine FC. 

Discarded goalposts

I get it when people say they miss things about the way things used to be in this town. Heck, I feel that way about places in my own neighbourhood! On the other hand, nostalgia can only get us so far and things just change naturally, sometimes for good and sometimes not. After all, if you ever listen closely to the words of ‘In My Life’ by The Beatles, that’s exactly what they did. 

This article got me thinking though … Maybe next time, I’ll have to explore my memories of The Grill! Now there’s a venue of Letterkenny history that makes you think about times when things went good and sometimes not so good!

CELTIC FC’s FOUNDATION: IMMIGRATION and CHARITY.

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in November 2021.

Over the last few weeks, Celtic have some reason to feel a bit more upbeat. Ange Postecogulu was awarded Manager of the Month after a series of impressive displays. Celtic enjoyed back to back wins over Ferencvaros in the Europa League and, not forgetting, they got to celebrate their 134th birthday as a club.

St Mary's Calton | Website of St Mary's Abercrombie Street

One credit that you always have to give Celtic fans is that they are very knowledgeable about the founding of their football club. Not many supporters of other clubs can tell the exact date in which their side was formed, or who was at the meeting, or what was the social backdrop or reasoning behind the club’s foundation. Most Celtic supporters certainly can though. 

The man hailed as the ‘founding father’ of, what was then, the Celtic Football and Athletic Club, is Andrew Cairns, who is better known by his Marist title of Brother Walfrid. Born in Ballymote, County Sligo, he had migrated to Scotland to carry out his work as a clergyman in the East End of Glasgow. 

In the aftermath of the Great Famine, thousands upon thousands of poorly-nourished and destitute Irish persons had flocked towards the west of Scotland in the hope of securing a better life; or at the very least, survival. 

In his writings, Professor Tom Devine noted that while Irish migration went everywhere in the world in those years, it generally tended to be the poorer Irish who came to the west of Scotland. Upon arrival in their new city, the diaspora discovered that they were not always going to be welcomed by their host community. 

Throughout the second-half of the nineteenth century, Glasgow had risen up to become a vital city of importance in the British Empire. The Industrial Revolution was in full-swing and the construction of roadways, railways, factory buildings and shipbuilding all became hugely profitable businesses and there was plenty of work to be had. And yet, all was still not well. 

Celtic Team Line-Up 1888-89 – The Celtic Wiki

Many business owners and people who held sway in political power often tended to have a distrust towards Irish immigrants. Their gaelic language and belief in Roman Catholicism was alien to a much more Saxon and Prebyterian society. Even in those days, they had a reputation of rebelliousness, alcoholism and for possibly carrying diseases from their homeland. 

With regard to housing, the city officials crammed them into overcrowded tenement blocks which rapidly developed into slums. Most of these were based towards the eastern side of the city, and with skilled-labour job opportunities being so scarce, many of the immigrants opted for the dangerous and gruelling task of tunnel digging and back-breaking roadwork construction. 

Celtic 1888 Retro Football Shirt [TOFFS2009] - Uksoccershop

A knock-off effect from the Industrial Revolution was the rise in popular sport. Teams were often assembled in factories and other such workplaces. Famous examples include Manchester United forming from the staff of the Newton Heath Railway Company while West Ham United evolved from the workers of an East–London irons factory. 

With new legislation allowing days off, Saturday quickly became a day for sport and leisure. With the new transport links being created, supporters could now travel to go and follow their team wherever in the country they were playing. Most of all, the novelty of how financially profitable the game could be, Brother Walfrid sensed an opportunity. 

Along with some other religious crusaders and a handful of successful businessmen, a meeting was chaired on November 7th, 1887, at the St Mary’s Parish Hall in Calton – just a few minutes down the road from where the current stadium is located – and it was here the famous club was born. 

File:Brother Walfrid Statue, Celtic Park - geograph.org.uk - 740464.jpg -  Wikimedia Commons

The principles of the foundation could not be more basic. The club was created to raise funds to feed and clothe the poor of the East End parishes where there had been a heavy concentration of Irish immigrants. The club’s name derived from the word that best suited the culture that united the traditions of Ireland and Scotland. 

It was decided that although the club would maintain and promote a Catholic ethos, it would still remain open to persons of all denominations, creeds, colours and ability. Within a year, going into 1888, they assembled a team of players, adapted a kit and built their own ground thanks to the voluntary labour of the people who would become their first and most faithful followers. 

But that’s a story for another day. 

AN ODE TO WIM JANSEN.

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in January 2022

In the build-up to Celtic’s final match of the Scottish Premier Division against European hopefuls St Johnstone – Saturday 9th May, 1998 – there was a duality within the emotions to the usual roars of the Celtic Park crowd as the two teams took to the field.

On the surface, the stadium looked more spectacular than usual that afternoon. As glorious sunshine bathed the playing surface, it seemed as though every single man, woman and child, lucky enough to get a ticket that day, was wearing more green and white than usual. 

Caught up in a gentle breeze, a scattering of party balloons floated around the stands. Some had trickled on to the pitch while the ritual pre-kick off ritual rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ echoed with more haunting purpose than it ever had done before. It was essentially a prayer in all but name.

Underneath the fanfare and wash of club-coloured pariphanilia and decoration lay a deep sense of nervous tension however. Celtic’s players and fans were unison in the knowledge that a win in this fixture would see them officially crowned champions of Scotland for the first time in a decade; a proverbial eternity for a club such as Celtic. 

Anything other than a win would mean that crosstown-rivals Rangers would likely snatch the title for themselves was worrying enough. 

Moreover, a Celtic failure – of which there had been plenty in the preceding ten years – would not only mean the loss of a league title. It would also see Rangers win the elusive ‘10-a-Row’ and ultimately banish Celtic’s cherished accolade of nine successive titles (1966-74) from the history books altogether.   

Having the record equalled at the end of the previous campaign was tough enough to take for the Celtic faithful. Such is the intensity of the rivalry between these two Clydeside clubs, it’s not as though Rangers were going to be content with drawing level with the record. They were out to overtake Celtic and put themselves in the historical reckoning. 

In the final weeks of the season, it appeared to be Celtic who were taking the initiative in the title race. A splattering of nervous-by-the-occasion draws however kept Rangers in the hunt and on the final day of a most important season, it would all come down to this.

In Walter Smith’s sixth season as Rangers’ manager, he had never not won a league championship. With an expensive array of talent that he’d signed in earlier in the season from Serie A , he had his sights on another. On the other hand, after much boardroom and financial trouble in the not too distant past before this, Celtic had put their latest trust in Wim Jansen. 

ONE YEAR EARLIER

Merely twelve months earlier, Celtic had the look and feel of a scourged harvest. 

Battling performances against Rangers in the 1996-97 campaign were to be marginally admired, but ultimately, all four of the league meetings had ended in victories for the city’s blue half. Even Celtic’s hopes of a consolation Scottish Cup success ended with an embarrassing loss to lower-division Falkirk in the semi-final. 

This unfortunately spelled the end of long term club servant, Tommy Burns, who was relieved from his position as manager. Spoiler alert, but the silver cloud of Burns’s tenure was that would not only be invited back as a coach years later, but that his name remains ever fondly remembered. 

Back in the summer of 1997 though, things didn’t get much better after his departure when the attacking trio of Jorge Cadete, Paolo DiCanio and Pierre vanHooijdonk all packed their bags and abandoned the club. A soap opera of walkouts at the same time as when Rangers fans were dancing in the streets chanting ‘9-in-a-Row.’ while quickly escalating those into calls for Ten! 

There was a sense of ‘Wim who?’ when the board of directors, under the chairmanship of Fergus McCann, unveiled him as the new Head Coach. As Rob MacLean reported for BBC Scotland, “the Dutchman has previously coached in the J-League with Hiroshima where one reporter there unflatteringly claimed ‘Jansen was the second worst disaster to ever hit this city.’”

The overall setup was rather curious too. Officially, Jock Brown – a football commentator with BBC and Sky Sports just a few months earlier – was to be the General Manager with Jansen as Head Coach. 

Wim Jansen: Key moments during Dutchman's 12-month spell as Celtic manager  remembered | GlasgowWorld

While it became fairly self-evident early on that Brown and Jansen were far from bosom buddies, things would need to be shaken up on the playing field as quickly as possible. It might be hard to fathom for some nowadays, but Celtic were hugely active during the summer transfer market and by the time the season opener came around, seven new players had signed. 

Arguably the most notable signings were those of Marc Reiper (West Ham, £1.8m), Craig Burley (Chelsea, £2.5m) and a certain Swede who Jansen knew well from his time in the Netherlands, Henrik Larsson (Feyenoord, £650,000). 

The quality of players would take a bit of time to settle and gel together, but it was clear that Jansen was adapting a new approach for Celtic as a whole.

A SOLID UNIT 

Traditionally, Celtic had often received praise for their cavalier and alamoesque methods that they had incorporated into their attacking game. As entertaining as that often was to watch, it was so often their undoing at that back where defenders and goalkeepers were essentially left helplessly abandoned.

Jansen was adamant that the new testament of contemporary football should be played with a strong defensive unit, the utilization of wingers, a compact midfield – later added to by the signing of Paul Lambert in November (Borussia Dortmund, £2m) – and a forward line where one played behind the other. 

Physical strength was going to be key as well as pace down the flanks. ‘Total Football!” Not just attacking alone!

Despite a horrendous start to the league campaign where they lost their opening two games to Hibernian and Dunfermline, the team did, slowly but surely, begin to mold into Jansen’s image.

A great run of wins followed from late August into November and during that run, they graciously bowed out of the UEFA Cup only on away goals to Liverpool – after an immensely spirited performance at Anfield – while also booking their place in the final of the Coca-Cola Cup.

In an age of Britpop music and Girl Power, Celtic fans started to steadily add to their knowledge as to just who their new gaffer really was.

The fact that search engines hadn’t become a thing yet didn’t stop fans from learning that Jansen had actually played against Celtic before; that game being the 1970 European Cup Final no less! Not only that, but he’d also played in the 1974 World Cup Final for Holland against West Germany. A former teammate of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskins to boot! 

Celtic did hit something of a rocky patch in early November. Losing the first Old Firm meeting of the season at Ibrox as a painful, but albeit important lesson to learn. They also lost at home to Motherwell a week later, but there was a point salvaged in the rearranged home game with Rangers when a stoppage time header by Alan Stubbs made it 1-1 and hope was restored. 

As much as the League Cup is looked down upon, Celtic realized that if they could win that trophy by overcoming Dundee United in the final, it would likely whet their appetite for more silverware come the rest of the season. And rest assured, the Celts stormed to a comfortable 3-0 win in that final and, with that, the Dutchman had his hands on his first trophy as Celtic boss.

Rumblings off the park couldnt be ignored though. The disunity between Jansen and Brown’s working relationship was showing cracks and their dislike of one another became worthy of media attention. It seemed as though Jansen had a maverick tendency to go against club policy at times which angered those on the board. Talk of a break clause in his contract also got headlines.

TITLE RUN-IN

The priority focus hadn’t shifted far from anyone’s thoughts that the league title must take precedence. Going into December, Jansen further added to the squad by bringing in Harald Brattbakk from FC Rosenborg. A late Burley goal against Hearts proved crucial in keeping Celtic in the title race, but 1997 would end in a frustrating loss away to St Johnstone. 

On the morning of the New Year Derby, Celtic trailed Rangers by four points and they knew all too well that a loss in this fixture could be the most telling factor in the title race. 

This was a Hogmanay fixture that Celtic hadn’t won in ten years. Frank McAvennie’s double on a mucky pitch in 1988 seemed a lifetime ago to those who stood in The Jungle that day, but alas the Bhoys rose to the occasion this time and thanks to two wonderful goals, one from Burley and a screamer from Lambert, Celtic were right back in the hunt.

Despite the occasional draw here and there, Celtic went into April unbeaten in 1998 and went into the final Old Firm league meeting of the season holding a three-point lead over their rivals. As expected, Rangers were not going to lay down and, on Easter Sunday, a hailstone shower didn’t drown out the noise of the Rangers support as their side powered to a 2-0 win. 

Four games to go. All square. 

THE FINAL FURLONG

In mid-to-late April, Celtic seized back the initiative with a 4-1 victory over Motherwell and hope sprang eternal when Rangers suffered a shock defeat away at Aberdeen the following day. One Saturday later though, Celtic blew the chance to push ahead after an infuriating 0-0 draw at home to Hibernian while, on the same day, Rangers cut back the gap by thrashing Hearts 3-0. 

As the May Bank Holiday weekend approached, Rangers were up first and after two tough away games, they were expected to breeze past Kilmarnock in a home game. This would also put them ahead of Celtic and no doubt grant them the psychological edge in the race. Low-and-behold though, a last-gasp Ally Mitchell Killie winner kills the Ibrox party atmosphere. 

All Celtic need to do is win away at Dunfermline, which they’d already done twice this season already in both the league and the cup, and the title race would be officially and mathematically over. A first-half Simon Donnelly strike hit the net and the corkscrews were being turned. Typically, it went back on ice when the Pars snatched a draw seven minutes from time. 

Going into that final six days before the league decider must’ve been full of immense pressure for the Celtic players, but although the support continued to go their way, sympathy wasn’t always forthcoming. Club writers like Matt McGlone documented his feelings clearly that the “league should be well and truly in the bag by now” with some fans echoing his sentiment. 

Issues over Jansen’s contract had become an issue for the club when, back in February, he openly admitted to the press that he had a breakout clause in his deal with Celtic. Essentially, this meant that he could leave the club after a year of his initial three-year-agreement and with the Rangers’ charge for number ten still on the go, where a record created by the Lisbon Lions had to be protected, it must’ve felt chaotic in-house, to say the least. 

LAST CHANCE SALOON

All in all, it all came down to a simple plan for Jansen’s men. Beat St Johnstone on Saturday and the league will be won in front of their own fans. Fans who deserve it, more than most, for their loyalty that had never waned nor wilted during the storm of the last decade or so. 

Jansen may have had no love for the likes of Jock Brown, or indeed most of the boardroom it later emerged, but there was no denying his devotion to his players and supporters. 

In the second minute of this very crucial game, Henrik Larsson cut inside and unleashed a fearsome curling effort that bellowed into the net and the cheers that rang out from the stands must’ve echoed throughout all of the East End.

There was still a job to do of course. Celtic couldn’t quite find a second goal for a long time and having been stung late on in the game against Dunfermline only six days earlier, the tension amongst the support was understandably unbearable at times. Radio sets held to the ears giving news that Rangers were two up at Tannadice didn’t do much to help the nerves either. 

Going into the final twenty minutes or so, Harald Brattbakk made his way on as a substitute. He’d become a fairly maligned character after an inconsistent run of performances, but Jansen and the fans stayed loyal to him and, somewhat typically, it was the trainee pilot / accountant who wrote his name in Celtic’s folklore.

Determined not to give up possession of the ball, club captain Tommy Boyd held strong under attention from an opponent to send a long one forward. It found Jackie McNamara whose burst of pace saw him fly down the wing and it was his low cross that found Brattbakk to slot home. 

Bedlam! Absolute bedlam, maybe with a wee touch of emotional tearge, from the crowd. 

Eighteen minutes later, the final whistle finally confirmed Celtic as the champions of Scotland for the first time in far too long. Boyd wept tears of joy before making his way up to kiss and collect the trophy. 

Chants of ‘Championaaays! Championaaays!’ rang loud and proud and iconic image of a bare chested Enrico Annoni hoisting Wim Jansen off his feet to share in a jubilant embrace probably confirms the theory that, despite all the politics that had gone on behind-the scenes, Wim Jansen’s loyalty to his players and the supporters always came first … just like the team did!   

Although when the dust settled and the hangovers subsided, Wim Jansen departed the club just two days later. While it did prompt a response from fans that was targeted at McCann and Brown, their support of the Dutchman showed. 

Nevertheless, Jansen rode off into the sunset leaving Celtic fans safe in the knowledge that they could now add the chant of ‘Cheeriooooo to Ten in a Row!’ to their evergrowing playlist of anthems. 

“Wim who” had become “Wim the Tim!”

On a personal level, just for a sec, I’d like to give thanks in my own way to what Wim Jansen did for Celtic Football Club. He took the reigns on when I was just 12 years old. I was an extremely shy kid at the time. I was finding the transition into secondary school very difficult and my parents – for a time anyway – split up.

As you can imagine, it was a fairly confusing time during my youthful adolescence. Football though, and Celtic in particular, became my health and well-being. They gave me heroes to look up to; not to mention some dreams and songs to sing.

Thank you Wim.

Wim Jansen, Hail Hail. 

(1946-2022)

Follow the @ArmchairFanatic on Twitter for more.

SPORTING-PATRIOTISM

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in January 2022

Scooting over to MacCumhaill Park for Donegal games – be it in the National League or the Ulster Championship – is something I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember.Intercounty games are great for generating a sense of pride in one’s county, but how does it work on a more national, and indeed an international, level?

There’s an old proverb which states that the ‘closer you are to something, the harder it is to see it.’ When it comes to national pride, that may bore some truth when we attend GAA matches. The Irish tricolour gets raised aloft, Amhran na bhFiann gets performed and sprinklings of the gaelige language are to be seen and heard over the tannoy  and in the match programmes. 

And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. The GAA have never been shy in portraying themselves as being anything other than a sporting organisation who openly carry a strong political and cultural undertone. To their immense credit, they are one of the last bastions in Irish society who continue to develop a wide variety of traditional events and spectacles. 

But what about other countries? Are we alone in this quest for patriotism through sport? 

Having spent two summers in the United States in my twenties, I enjoyed conversing with their citizens about why they followed the sports they did and how they felt about certain aspects of political undertones in their games. People tend to brand Americans as brash ignorant, but speak to them about what they know and love, and that stereotype becomes redundant. 

During those summers in the States, I learned that sometimes you don’t need to learn everything from a textbook. As we guzzled cold bottles of Bud amid the wailing sound of traffic and shining neon New York City lights – never forgetting to tip – conversations often cropped with our fellow high-stoolers along the bar about sports. 

With it being ever constant on the big screens, it was hard not to get chatting about it. 

The general consensus that came from the locals was that baseball was the quintessential and truly American game. It was a cornerstone of social activity where kids ‘stickball’ on the corners of neighbourhood streets in the likes of Brooklyn. Some elders recounted the day of deviation when their beloved Dodgers packed up and moved their franchise to Los Angeles in 1957. 

It also led me to research an interesting development in the late 1970s when the Cosmos soccer team signed Pelé for an extortionate amount of money. 

Even though Major League Soccer league wasn’t born for a further twenty years, soccer became big business and Pelé’s move was widely jeered by baseball fans who felt that soccer was an opponent of a true American game. “Nothing but an aul foreign sport,” as you might hear some devout GAA heads utter along the stands of matches here. 

In terms of politics becoming linked to American sports, it’s clear to anyone watching how the powers-that-be promote patriotism in the pre-game build-up. It’s not uncommon to see a military fanfare and marching band take to the field on the day of an American Football match; stars and stripes are unfurled and the Star-Spangled Banner anthem rings out with high decibels. 

Although the US National Anthem didn’t officially become the song of the nation until 1931, it already had a long-presence at sporting venues long beforehand. It had been purposely utilised to keep morale high during the World War years and resurfaced greatly again in the wake of the 9/11 attacks at the beginning of this century. 

While soccer has steadily risen in popularity in America since the country hosted the 1994 World Cup, it’s still not expected to ever surpass the devotion most American citizens have towards the likes of baseball, basketball, football and hockey. One might think that this is because soccer is considered to be too low-scoring and pedestrian for American tastes but there’s more to it. 

The United States of America is built on the foundations of capitalism and free-enterprise. Their games have an unimaginable amount of stoppages and timeouts throughout a given match and this leads to commercial breaks and a chance for those in attendance to divulge their sweet-tooth with hot-dogs and nachos. After all, sports are branded as family events. 

I witnessed this firsthand in 2007. When David Beckham togged out for his first game with LA Galaxy, the TV broadcasters curiously cut to adverts and interviews with spectators  – including Jim Carey – during the game itself. On a visit to Shea Stadium to see the New York Mets, there were players standing around idle for what felt like ages. Why was this? Ad breaks, of course.

There’s no denying that Americans are truly a fanatical sports nation. Even though there’s definitely been a growing interest in the playoff series and showpiece events like the Superbowl on these shores in recent times, if you do see their games as slow and too stop-start, there is an underlying reason for patriotism behind that. 

SUPPORTING LOCAL AT THE HARPS.

Originally penned in December 2021

There’s an old saying that goes ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and with regard to supporting Finn Harps, that was true for me. In the pre-Covid world, I’d only occasionally scoot over to Ballybofey on a Friday night; often finding other ways to pass a Friday night with only sporadic checks on my phone to see how they were getting on. That’s all changed now. 

By Jonathan Foley.

During the days of games being played behind closed doors and having to avail of online subscriptions to watch them, something struck a chord with me with how much I took attending games for granted. When the turnstiles opened up again, I suppose I made a wee promise to myself to make a better effort to go and show my support for them that bit more. 

It’s a decision I’ve not regretted. Sure the evenings on the terraces can be cold and wet but there’s a charm to League of Ireland football that has remained despite all the changes to the modern game. It’s inexpensive, it’s a chance to have a casual chat with friends you may not have seen for a long time and, above all else, there’s a sense of community. 

On the field-of-play, Harps have arguably had one of their best seasons. They played with a sense of confidence and adapted progressive and forward-thinking tactics. They often passed the ball very well and showed that they had players who could find the net on a regular basis; Adam Foley and Tunde Owlabi in particular. 

Even when they go for the long ball approach nowadays, it seems that they are actually trying to pick out a player in an advanced position as opposed to the more traditional plan of hoofing the ball anywhere and everywhere. The players played as a cohesive unit and worked well together and never really left fans leaving the ground bemoaning their lack of effort and commitment.

Whether or not many of those same faces will be at the club next season remains to be seen. Séan Boyd and the aforementioned Foley have already said their farewells for pastures new, but things like that are an annual conversation amongst the Harps fanbase at the end of every season, but one thing that is for sure is that the supporters will remain and possibly even grow.

It’s been great to look around the stands of the ground and notice how many young people are choosing to spend their evenings, boys and girls, at the matches. During the recent clash with Derry City, a friend pointed out to me how an aging, but young at heart, parish priest still comes along to the games to cheer the side on. Never descending to any choice language, of course. 

Parents are bringing their kids along in greater numbers than before and, while that may not look like much, one cannot forget how special any family event really is. It’s an endearing sight to see a parental figure share a greasy bag of chips and a mineral while cheering on the team from the sidelines.

Friday nights are an ideal time for a game too. It gives you something to look forward to during the working week. Monday to Fridays are consumed with early morning rises, trying to eat well during your lunch breaks while still making sure you take time to get some form of exercise during the evenings. 

On a Friday night on Navenny Street though, you can get that reward feeling on the go. 

After you’ve draped the blue and white scarf across your shoulders, there’s a sense of anticipation as you make the drive towards Ballybofey. Usually, the Highland Radio DJ will take a breather from shouting out requests to let us all know that “we’ll be going over for live coverage of the Harps at eight o’clock, so stay tuned for that. Now back to the tunes.”

The next major question is where the best parking spot would be. After much deliberation, I personally want to thank the staff at Scoil Mhuire primary school for not adopting a clamping system even though their sign reads that the car park is for staff and church-goers only. Cheers folks. 

As you see the lights of the ground peering over the rooftops when you ascend the bridge that runs across the River Finn in Stranorlar, the temptation of the chippie draws ever closer. It’s the start of the weekend so all sense of guilt is swiftly eradicated. Owing to the fact that you have the car means that it’s only a fizzy drink or a non-alcoholic beer in ‘Cheers Bar’ on the corner. 

You’d never know who you’d meet here. Last time I was in, the noise that greeted me when I walked in the door was from a pair of Scousers attempting the “we’re really on our way” chant. While their vocal chords were a little raspy and their knowledge of the lyrics wasn’t great, you had to admire their enthusiasm. 

After all, they’d flown over from England to watch their brother play. 

Not long later, it’s time to make the short walk down Navenny Street where the noise of the drum bangs slowly in the distance. “Are ya for the shed side or the Aldi side the’night?” might be a question. You gotta love that there’s still a place in twenty-first century football where you can choose so easily where in the ground you want to watch the match from. 

Not only that, but even at the halftime interval, the fact that you can temporarily vacate the ground to nip for a halftime coffee and bar of chocolate in the Centra shop across the road is just something that you can’t do at matches in most other parts of the world anymore.

As alluded to earlier, it’s all part of the charm of League of Ireland football. And what’s more is that you’re home in no time afterwards.

@johnnyfoley1984 @armchairfanatic

‘The Gorbals Irishman’ – Charlie Gallagher.

Last month, Celtic FC bade farewell to one of their heroes from the past. Charlie Gallagher’s cortège made its way past the front door of Celtic Park itself so that supporters could pay their last respects. But what did we know of the man? 

By Jonathan Foley

Charlie Gallagher enjoyed a 12-year stint at the famous Glasgow club between the years 1958 and 1970; making 171 appearances and scoring 32 goals in the process. 

More than that, he acquired a clean sweep of Scottish domestic honours and, although he wasn’t on the field that day in Lisbon, he was an instrumental figure in Celtic’s 1967 famous European Cup success story. Although to say his successes came overnight couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Born of Donegal parents, Dan and Annie (Gaoth Dobhair), Charlie also became the first Scottish-born player to represent the Republic of Ireland. In a 2017 interview with TheCelticView, Gallagher discussed how he had grown to love west Donegal, having spent many of his summer holidays there when he was a child. 

He was well regarded for his ability to pickout pinpoint crosses from wide areas and set-pieces. One of his most famous assists is probably the delivery he sent in for Billy McNeill to rise up over Alex Ferguson to head in Celtic’s opener in the 1969 Scottish Cup Final rout of Rangers. As we will see, that was just one of many famous set-ups for his captain. 

He was also the cousin of another former Celtic player, Pat Crerand, who was well-known for his precocious talents and aggression on the field for such other teams he played for, including Manchester United and Scotland. And if the local rumblings speak true, some will tell you that Crerand also played in a number of summer cup games for the Gweedore sides under a pseudonym, but hush, no more. 

When Charlie Gallagher joined Celtic, the club was deep in transition. Rangers were utterly dominant and success was proving to be very elusive for the Hoops. Legendary figure and all-time leading club goalscorer, Jimmy McGrory, wasn’t enjoying the same successes as a manager, but such was his reputation, very few fans were calling for his head during this period of drought. 

Frustrations were more so aimed at the board, then chaired by Robert Kelly. 

In 1961, Gallagher made his debut in a League Cup victory over Raith Rovers and come the end of the season, aged just 21, many would’ve been expecting him to collect a Scottish Cup winners medal. Celtic went into this showpiece event as huge favourites against Dunfermline, but the Pars, managed by a certain Jock Stein,  threw the script out and rejoiced in a surprise 2-0 win following a replay.

For success, Charlie Gallagher would have to wait. 

Celtic were trophyless in the early 1960s and Gallagher was regularly rotated in and out of the starting eleven. His finest performances came in 1964 when he put in a dazzling display in a Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final victory over MTK Budapest. 

The Hunagrains would overturn the tie in the second leg, however, and Gallagher openly claimed that this night as the most disappointing of his career. He would put in another stirring performance five months later though when Celtic pulled off an unexpected 3-1 win over Rangers in the league. 

One year later, 1965, Jock Stein returned to Celtic as manager and Gallagher became something of a regular in his early sides. Despite a lowly eighth place finish in the league that year, Celtic did reach the final of the Scottish Cup again where they would meet Dunfermline for the second time in four years. 

Many fans still regard this game as a pivotal turning point in the club’s history. 

Having twice trailed in the match, Celtic levelled each time and eventually won the encounter courtesy of a 3-2 scoreline. Charlie Gallagher’s superb ball in from a corner set up McNeill’s winning goal and, alas, the Hoops ended an eight-year barren run of no trophies. Following that, Celtic FC were about to embark on something truly special in the following years. 

They became the dominant force, not only in Scotland, but across the European continent as well. 

Having played much of his time in the midfield area alongside Bobby Murdoch, Stein’s remoulding of Bertie Auld’s role – often regarded as one of his managerial masterstrokes – meant that again, Gallagher’s appearances became a bit more sporadic. Celtic were roaring, both domestically and in Europe, so getting into that team would’ve been a task for anyone. 

With Auld and Murdoch holding the midfield and Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Lennox taking up the wide areas, this was the most famous midfield which Celtic ever had. When he was called upon though, Gallagher was also more than capable of lending more than just a little help for the cause. 

In the New Year meeting with Rangers in 1966, Gallagher thundered in a wonder-strike as the Bhoys routed their old rivals 5-1. A season later, in the quarter-final of the 1967 European Cup run against Vojvodina Novi Sad, his stoppage time cross found McNeill’s head (again) and his majestic finish sent the famous Parkhead stadium into raptures of delight. 

In a time when only one substitute was named on a team-sheet and where he could only be deployed in the event of an injury, Charlie Gallagher did remarkably well to stay in the plans of Jock Stein as Celtic embarked on, what is still, the most successful and revered period in their entire history. 

He was there that day at the Estádio Nacional when Celtic famously beat Inter Milan 2-1 to become the first team from the northern half of Europe to lift the famous trophy. Although he didn’t get a run out on the field, his role within the camp was regarded as important as anyone else’s. 

He was known to have been very proud of the fact that he got to represent Ireland on the international stage. The country of his ancestry thanks to his Donegal heritage. He may have only got two caps during his career, but it must be remembered that he was competing with none other than the talents John Giles (Leeds United) for that position in the team.

Following his departure from Celtic in 1970, Gallagher finished out his career with Dumbarton before hanging up the boots in 1973. He would return to the East End of Glasgow to work as a scout between 1976 to 1978 and was often spotted still attending games and club functions right up until very recent times. A Celtic man, through and through. 

Charlie Gallagher, ‘the Gorbals Irishman’ 1940-2021. 

Celtic’s ‘Millennium Bug’ Reappears.

Originally penned in May, 2021

In a season that promised so much – hopes of continued domestic domination and with the champagne cooling on ice for the unprecedented ‘10 in a Row’ parties – very little was harvested.

Across the city, Rangers have undoubtedly improved, but there was still a potent feeling that the majority of Celtic’s demise was brought on, not by others, but primarily by themselves.

History, as we all know, often has a bemusing ability to repeat itself. Up until now, many supporters for the green-and-white looked back and shuddered at the ill-fated 1999-2000 campaign. Upon reflection, this past campaign drew some uncanny resemblances to that particular season. 

By Jonathan Foley

In the summer of 1999, the biggest pop acts going were the likes of Travis, Stereophonics and Britney Spears. Robbie Williams had rocked Slane Castle at the tail end of the summer and his lyrical flow about stars directing our fate was a fairly constant feature on the radio airwaves back then. 

Bill Clinton was still, albeit controversially, dwindling to the US Presidency. People in Donegal were still using punts as their currency and, even in a world devoid of social media, the biggest fear was that on New Years’ Eve, global computer systems would all fail and planes would fall from the sky. Honest! 

In Glasgow, Rangers were fresh off the back of a domestic treble from the season before and Celtic pinned their hopes on a (‘Return of the King’) Kenny Dalglish who was coming back as General Manager. Alongside him, his mentee and fellow-Liverpool legend John Barnes, taking on the reins as Head Coach.

It was a bold move, given Barnes’s inexperience as a coach, to say the least. 

From the off, it seemed as though Celtic meant business. Splashing out big money on drafting in Olivier Tebily, Eyal Berkovic, Stephane Bonnes, Rafael Thied Scheidt, Bobby Petta, Dmitri Kharine and – the one saving grace he brought in – Stilyan Petrov.

On the field, at least at first, things looked promising. 

Celtic’s dynamic duo up front in Henrik Larsson and Mark Viduka were firing on all cylinders. Going into the autumn, they won 11 of their opening 12 games, had made early headway in the League Cup and disposed of Hapoel Tel-Aviv in the Uefa Cup’s opening round. 

Saturday 16 October, 1999, was a day where the fans were treated to a masterclass performance. 

A 7-0 showpiece victory over Aberdeen at home – with both strikers netting a hat-trick apiece – provided genuine optimism for the season ahead.

The fact that Barnes was something of a novice at this level seemed immaterial. For the time being at least. 

The fans who left Celtic Park on that mild and somewhat sunny afternoon were not to know that it was all about to emphatically unravel.

A few days later, Celtic would lose their talismanic dreadlocked striker for the rest of the season following Larsson’s catastrophic leg break away to Lyon.

In his absence, Barnes resorted to his contacts book and rushed in and an aging Ian Wright on a loan spell from West Ham. Initially, he seemed a fairly suitable stop-gap but that too would prove to be a false dawn.

Into November and Lyon compounded Celtic’s misery with a comfortable victory in Glasgow. The absence of Larsson was starting to show and one team were never likely to show them any mercy for their predicament lay in waiting. 

On a gray and overcast Sunday afternoon at Ibrox where they briefly snuck into a 2-1 lead, Celtic capitulated in first-half stoppage time. Rangers winning a dubious penalty was bad enough, but when captain Paul Lambert didn’t get up after his tackle on Jorg Albertz, it soon emerged that he’d been severely concussed, lost some teeth and was in need of urgent medical attention.

Albertz knee had collided with Lambert’s mouth as he went to ground. While the German was able to dust himself from the challenge and score the equalising penalty on the brink of the interval, his opponent was still being ushered away by a team of paramedics. Rangers went on to acquire a comfortable and fairly telling 2-4 victory. 

With the new millennium having passed without a hitch and no planes falling from the sky, Celtic’s season, in its own way, nose-dived and crash-landed in early February. A 2-0 lead at home to Hearts looked like plain-sailing until a monumental cave-in ensued and the Jambos silenced Parkhead by turning the game on its head and running out 2-3 winners. 

Worse was to follow. 

The following Tuesday night was the final straw. The Scottish Cup had offered a lifeline for Celtic to salvage something from this fire-wreck of a season, but when lower-division Inverness Caledonian-Thistle dumped them out of the cup in a humiliating 1-3 defeat in front of a sparsely-attended crowd, enough was enough. 

Circulating rumours rang out that Mark Viduka had refused to go out for the second-half amid a tumultuous and angry dressing room proved to be true. Mass protests gathered outside the ground and chants of ‘Barnes Must Go!’ rang out long into the night. The Board responded with a prompt termination of his contract but it didn’t end there. 

Kenny Dalglish, perhaps feeling responsible for all that had gone on, took over as interim manager. 

A March Old Firm clash, under the lights, with Rangers was the last chance to restore some pride at least.

In a typically frantic and bad-tempered game, Rangers won it with an 89th minute bundled but effective effort by Rod Wallace. A goal iconically remembered for the ball boy, behind the goal, kicking out at the ball in frustration. He was allegedly reprimanded, but who could blame the fella?

A League Cup final win at Hampden provided mere consolation but, from a PR perspective, Dalglish’s renowned distrust of the press took a new road. He, rather oddly, ordered that a press conference be held at Bairds Bar – a regular Gallowgate watering-hole for Hoops’ fans – and while all this circus was all going on, there was hope that Larsson (and Lambert) would soon return to the fray and settle things.

Mark Viduka would officially pack his bags and depart, under a bit of a cloud, and joining Leeds United for £7 million. Quipping to the media that he only had to play to 70% of his ability to get into the Celtic starting team to the media as a nasty parting shot. Ian Wright would later remark that he detested living in Glasgow, although that was not intended as direct jibe at the club.

In comparison with this past season, one can perhaps notice the similarities that rose up. False promises, fallouts between players and management, injuries in key positions, fan protests, embarrassing cup defeats to lower-league opposition at home, a mid-season sacking leading to an interim role and a disastrous relationship with the media. It all seems oddly familiar, doesn’t it? 

The one guiding light that stayed flickering for Celtic in May 2000 was that Larsson did reappear as a late substitute on the final day of the season. He even made it to the Sweden squad for the Euros that summer. 

Back at base, Celtic looked to make amends by announcing Martin O’Neill as manager. 

And we all know how that turned out. So maybe, just maybe, hope does spring eternal.

@JohnnyFoley1984

@ArmchairFanatic

Another Day in Paradise.

🔙OTD, 7/4/2001. The St Mirren Adventure!! 🍀

A Celtic win and they become league champions. Rare in those day and myself and Ultan are told we have a golden ticket each but …

A 4am ticket mixup at the bus. A huge row with the organizer. Told “a mistake was made. I’ve no ticket for you. Go on home.” Heartbroken and, yes, tears got shed as the bus heads off.

4:30am, crying a little on the porch and Ultan certainly not slagging, a taxi flies up the driveway. Orders the two of us to get in as “another bus” will take us but we have to catch up with it!!

Whizzing out the dual carriage way, get on the bus but told “I’ll help yous but keep this quiet now, d’ya hear me?” 🤫 Get to the ferry port, hiding under the seats during security inspection.

Bus breaks down. Typical. Sneak on another and hide again. 😩 Get to Glasgow, but still no ticket. Ultan says “we’ve done well to get this far. Anything else now is a bonus.”

Ten minutes to kickoff. Stadium in sight. Given two unused ticket stubs found in the glove compartment from a game played three months earlier and told “try your luck with them. I can do no more for yous now!”

Noise of the stadium gets louder. Race through the wasteland, puddles and rubble as a shortcut. Nowadays it’s where the Emirates Arena stands but it looked a lot different 20 years ago.

Getting a footie over the high, gang graffitied wall from a group of fairly rowdy – but sound – local lads. Buckfast and all. 😜 🍷

“Y’iv nae ticket, man? Dinny worry. Stick wi us and we’ll git yiz in, Ken?”

Get to the turnstile. Distract the collector as much as possible and hand in the fake ticket stub upside down. Ultan does the same and … we’re in Paradise!! Quick high fives of thanks to the gang lads who helped us at the wall. 😂

Tommy Johnson’s bundled effort goes in and, despite a scrappy game, Celtic do win the title at the final whistle. A real rarity back then and the celebrations got underway and, by hook or by crook, we got there. Even if we’d to stand at the back as we’d no seats. 😀

After all the excitement was done, I did meet the ticket organizer in a Glasgow hotel later that day. Yes, we did exchange a few words, he was livid that I’d snuck on the boat but, I must say, we did bury the hatchet a few weeks later, to be fair. 👍🏻

I’ve been to much better games at Celtic Park since that one but St Mirren, 2001, will always be the one with most (fairly avoidable) drama 😂 Ultan moved away and I’ve not seen him in years but I think we’ll always have that day to give us something to chat about. 🍀👍🏻

Getting back home on the ferry that night didn’t have a quarter of the drama. Thank God! 😂👍🏻