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9th of May 1998 was the day that Celtic took the pain away…..

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9 May 2020

When two second half Andy Walker goals in a minute helped Celtic defeat Dundee in April 1988 to secure the title in front of an estimated 80,000 fans, few would have thought it would be another 10 years before a Celtic captain would lay his hands on the SPL trophy.  But so it proved. The season before Souness had arrived in Glasgow and he won the league at his first attempt as bit by bit he tried to bring the entire English national team to Govan.

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Celtic had to react and brought big Caesar back to the club and we clinched the double in our centenary season. We have had many great years supporting this club but we’ve had few or even any better that surpassed the romance we experienced that season. It was my first season as a match going Celtic fan and I loved every minute of it. Things were looking up. Or so we thought.

Not for the first, or indeed the last, time the club failed to capitalise from a position of strength. We would finish the following season in third place behind Rangers and Aberdeen although there was some consolation as we beat the oldco in the Scottish Cup Final. Then things went from bad to worse.

Over the next few seasons, instead of challenging for the title, Celtic found themselves competing with the likes of Motherwell for a European place. Unbelievably the club finished 5th at the end of the 1990/91 season which meant no European football the year after. Disaster. As we found ourselves falling further and further behind the club that played out of Ibrox at that time, the fans decided that enough was enough and supporters groups like Celts for Change, ably aided by the fanzines on the go at the time, began to mobilise.

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Fergus McCann came to the helm of the club in 1994. Firstly he set the club on sound financial footing and then after he rebuilt the stadium there was only one thing on all Celtic fans minds. We just had to stop Rangers doing ten in a row. There had been a few heart-breaking years but the one that really sticks in my mind is the one under Tommy Burns where we lost only one league game all season but still couldn’t prevent Rangers from winning the league.

They eventually matched Jock Stein’s great achievement in the 60’s and 70’s and then the season of truth was upon us. Dutchman Wim Jansen was given the task of stopping that lot from doing the unthinkable. Not too many people batted an eyelid when Wim went back to his old club Feyenoord to sign a Swedish striker for  £650,000. It turned out to be the bargain of a century that would elapse three years later. In fact Henke was the bargain of that century, this century or any other bloody century you want to talk about.

After an inauspicious start we landed some silverware by beating Dundee United 3 – 0 in the league cup final at Ibrox at the end of November. It helped erase the memory of a league cup final defeat to Raith Rovers at the same venue three years earlier. That penalty shoot out defeat probably sums up the ignominy of that period.

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The team were in full flow when we faced Rangers in the New Year game at Celtic Park. The last time we had won the league we beat them in this fixture with two goals from McAvennie and two screamers from Burley and Lambert meant Celtic were victorious by the same score line ten years later. We were starting to believe.

In an era where the majority of games were still played at 3 pm on a Saturday there were some nervous and exciting moments as we waited patiently for the result to come in from whatever stadium they were playing in. As it came to the last two games of the season Celtic held a slender lead at the top of the table. On the first Saturday in May 1998 we were sitting in The Harp Bar on O ‘Connell Bridge which was the then home of Naomh Padraig CSC. As we waited for the final results to come in it suddenly flashed across the tv screen that Ally Mitchell had scored a late winner for Kilmarnock at Ibrox.

There were wild celebrations as it meant that we could win the league the following day if we won away to Dunfermline. The game was to be shown live on STV and as you couldn’t access that channel in Dublin a bus was hastily arranged to bring us to Belfast the next day to watch the game on tv there.

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The 50 seater bus was overpopulated the next morning. We arrived in McLaughlin’s Bar in New Lodge and the late Celtic supporting legend Roger McKiernan was holding court at his usual place at the bar. Celtic took the lead through Simon Donnelly but a late Craig Faulconbridge equaliser thwarted our celebrations for a bit longer.

A week later and Naomh Padraig had two buses organised for the decisive match against St Johnstone. I have probably spent too long on the intro to this article but I think it’s important to establish the context of winning the league that season. We had suffered years of heartache. Honest mistakes, unlucky defeats to Rangers and the one night that always haunts me. We lost a cup semi final to a ten man Rangers team at Hampden Park in the 1992 Scottish Cup semi final.

We had stood in the the then open end in the lashings of rain and were soaked to the skin. The bus and boat journey back to Dublin that night was horrible and one of the worse football experiences of my life. It’s nights like those that make the good times sweeter. Think about what the Sevco are going through now but at least for us there would eventually be light at the end of the tunnel. Last season jubilant Celtic fans in Brussels sang ” This is the day when we won away.” But the 9th of May 1998 was the day that took the pain away.

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On the morning of the game we went to our usual haunt of The Welcome Inn just behind the Gallowgate. The place was of course mobbed and there was nervous expectancy in the air. I’ll never forget get when ” You’ll Never Walk Alone ” came on the jukebox. It was sang at the top of our voices proudly and defiantly as we knew we were on the brink of something special. Across town The Louden Tavern had planned a 10 in a row party.

And so to the game. We knew we just had to better Ranger’s result to claim the title. Henrik gave us an early lead to calm the nerves and we survived a bit of a scare when George O’Boyle went close for them. When Harald Brattbak made it two nil the relief was palpable. We could relax at last. At the final whistle there were joyous, tearful scenes. We watched the game from what’s now The Lisbon Lions stand and as the final whistle went I remember Naomh Padraig legend Big John O’Shea beginning to head off as he was on a day trip.

I had to tell that we’d waited ten years to see this moment and that the driver would wait ten minutes to see Tom Boyd lift the trophy.

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It was a beautiful, sunny day and I remember the celebratory walk back up the Gallowgate. Flags flying, horns beeping and happy acknowledgements everywhere. And of course, being Glasgow, Buckfast rather than champagne was being passed around. We celebrated long into the night and had a great sing song on the ferry the following day.

I’ve had many glorious days and nights supporting this great club but the day we stopped the 10 in a row will always be up there.

Jason Maloney is a Shamrock Rovers and Celtic fan. His first game was in August 1987. Celtic won one nil and Souness was sent off. Celtic have been his long time mistress ever since. His first Celtic hero is  now his most hated tv pundit who should have the letter N in the middle of his surname. He comes from Dublin but can be often seen roaming about north Lanarkshire for photos opportunities with Kieran Tierney. Stopping the 10 will be only bettered by doing the 10.

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