James McIvor, Director of Scooped! Spoof Newspapers and Benchmark Books
IT WAS just a few days short of my 15th birthday and I had been looking forward to this for weeks. Radio One’s Top 100 albums of all time. The show had run over three days and now that we were getting to the business end my C90 tape was ready to rock.
U2 Joshua Tree. Tick. Pink Floyd Dark Side Of The Moon. Tick. The Beatles Sgt Pepper’s. Tick. They were all Top 10 but for the life of me I couldn’t think what No1 could be.
Unbelievably, Radio 1 listeners voted Simply Red’s Stars the greatest album of all time. Simply. The best? My arse.
Had it not been for John Peel and, later, Mark and Lard I would never have listened to the station ever again.
The reason I am sharing this story with you is that when it came to picking my favourite football memory I wanted to avoid falling into that trap of picking a recent game and (hail) hailing it as the greatest ever when history will show it was no such thing.
You know like when they have those debates about this or that modern-day player being the greatest ever? Is Darren Fletcher better than Cruyff? Is Barry Bannan better than Jimmy Johnstone? Would the Rangers Nine-A-Row team beat Celtic’s Lisbon Lions (probably but, as the old joke goes, the Lions were all well into their 50s by the mid-90s).
I remember fans picking the Greatest Celtic Team Ever around the time Rangers were going for the nine and John Collins somehow managed to find a place in midfield.
Now, Collins was a cracking player in an average Celtic team (his hat-trick against Hearts was second only to Craig Bellamy’s at Tannadice as the best I’ve ever seen) but the decision to rank him alongside Jinky and Kenny Dalglish does not stand the test of time.
So, with all of this in mind I started working through my favourite Celtic games in a chronological order … and picked a game from 2011 as my favourite. Worse, I picked a league game in a season when we didn’t even win the league.
I had considered the 5-0 annihilation of Sporting Lisbon in 1983 and the cheating by Rapid Vienna a year later (obviousy not a favourite memory, but memorable nonetheless).
I had considered my dad taking me to my first Glasgow derby at Celtic Park in 1986 and seeing him and other grown men completely lose the plot when Brian McClair put us one up.
I had considered winning the league against Dundee in the Centenary Season, the Scottish Cup final a couple of weeks later, the Hillsborough Tribute match in 1989 when the cheers turned to tears, the St Paddy’s Day Massacre in 1991, beating Airdrie in the ‘95 Cup Final to end a six-year trophy drought and stopping 10-in-a-row in 1998.
There was plenty to consider from St Martin’s reign too. The 6-2 game – horrific hangover aside – will live long in the memory; Lubo’s double in the 3-0 win at Ibrox later that season; trips to Blackburn, Stuttgart, Liverpool, Manchester, Barcelona, Lyon and, of course, Seville.
But pop pickers, my No1 of all time is Celtic 3 Rangers 0. 20 February 2011.The reason is simple. I had been telling my 13-year-old stepson Adam for years that there are few things better in life than the feeling you get when you beat Rangers – and on this special day he got to sample it for himself.
I was getting to do what my dad did for me 25 years earlier. And what a day to do it.It was the day that Just Can’t Get Enough and the fans’ mass huddle became mainstream. It was a day that Neil Lennon declared that the thunder had returned to Celtic Park.
The Bhoy quickly found out that there is no atmosphere quite like Celtic v Rangers. The singing goes up 10 decibels, the aggression goes through the roof and every time Rangers get over the halfway line you’re gripped with such fear that it feels like you might have a heart attack.
Going into the game, Celtic were five points clear in the race for the title. The excitement had built from 9am – in our house at least – and went up a notch as we made our way to the ground.
The Glasgow derby does not properly start until you’re inside the ground and you see all the ‘bad guys’ at the other end waving their flags and singing their songs.
By the time you have cheered the huddle you’re already virtually hoarse. Adam seemed a little subdued at first, not quite sure how to take it all in.
A quarter of an hour had gone and there had been little to report. He was probably wondering what all the fuss was about.
The, lift off.
Kris Commons found Gary Hooper who made David Weir look every one of his 40 years by turning majestically in the box. All of a sudden, he was one-on-one with Allan McGregor. As 50,000 Hoops fans rose to their feet, Hooperman kept his cool and slotted the ball home.
There is no terracing like there was in 1986 but – like me back then – Adam found himself sandwiched between grown men who had lost all their senses as they hugged, kissed and screamed. To be fair, my pal Murph is a good hugger.
My celebrations on these occasions are always momentarily interrupted as I look to make sure the referee has actually allowed the goal to stand – I hope for Adam’s sake this suspicion of officials in these games is not hereditary but, just in case, he is not allowed to go to one if Willie Collum is ref. Fortunately, Ian Brines could find no reason to chalk it off so we were one up.
Ten minutes later it was two. Georgios Samaras opted against going on one of his pointless cul-de-sac runs and instead found Emilio Izaguirre bursting down the left wing. The little Honduran didn’t even need to take a touch as he expertly squared it for Hooper to lunge in at the back post. It was a thing of beauty.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Celtic team control Rangers as much as we did that day but by the time Krissy Commons had made it three it was party time in Paradise. The site of 50,000 fans jumping about to Depeche Mode was brilliant.
Moments later, the stadium united (well, most of it) again to do a mass huddle – not even bothering to turn round as Jelavic blew one of the few chances his side had created.
I had to keep telling Adam to savour every single second because this game truly was special. That not all derby games were like this. That losing to your bitter rivals is every bit as bad as winning is good. But why spoil a great day with negative thoughts.
I was so high after the game I didn’t even go to the pub. It was straight up the road to watch the game on a loop and tell my daughters all about our day in Paradise. They just couldn’t get enough.
I still can’t stand Simply Red. But on February 20, 2011 I was seeing Stars. All of them in green-and-white hoops.