The Scottish Cup is the trophy that one has associated the most with Celtic over the years. Yes, Lisbon was more prestigious, and the Scottish League is more important in that it can lead to the Champions League, but the Scottish Cup is the one that, in some ways, defines Celtic’s season. As this year’s competition began, we had won it 36 times, and what a host of memories it could stir in us – the very first Scottish Cup win in 1892, an occasion which had as great an effect of the Celtic community of its day as the European Cup did in 1967, Jimmy Quinn’s great hat-trick of 1904, Patsy Gallacher’s demolition of Hibs on the eve of the Great War, the same Patsy’s epic and scarcely believable goal in 1925, the comeback against Motherwell in 1931, the world record crowd in 1937, Bllly McNeill’s great winner in 1965, the contemptuous sweeping aside of Rangers in 1969, Dixie Deans’ hat trick in 1972, twice coming back from the dead against Dundee United in the 1980s, and Henrik Larsson in 2001 and 2004 – all these are woven into the Celtic psyche.
By the same token, this trophy has given us heartbreaks as well. Those of us old enough will recall the scarring of our childhoods and adolescence by the awful four Cup final defeats in 1955, 1956, 1961, 1963. We were outclassed in 1956 (although a question or two was asked about some of the Celtic defending) and in the other three, we should have won the first games but let them go to disastrous replays. In all four, there was a faulty team selection, and all four provided us with some “unspeakable grief” as Aeneas says to Dido.
The Scottish Cup is a remarkable success story, and has been since its first tie was played in 1873/74 (the trophy pre-dates Celtic by well over a decade) and although the FA Cup (or, as we call it, the English Cup) is a couple of years older, the venerable old trophy that one sees in the Hampden Museum (well worth a visit, incidentally) is the oldest in world football, so old that it can only be presented to the winners before it is replaced by a replica for the winning captain to take on its lap of honour and keep for a year. 36 times, as we say, the Scottish Cup had made its way to Celtic Park. Could Brendan Rodgers and company make it 37?
There are two good quiz question about the Scottish Cup. One is which team comes third in the total of most wins, behind Celtic and Rangers? Unless you ask this question of someone who knows a certain amount about Victorian football, it will be a while before anyone comes up with Queen’s Park, and once, famously, Jock Stein did not know that! The other is what have Queen’s Park, Vale of Leven, Rangers and Aberdeen done with the Scottish Cup that Celtic haven’t? And the answer is that they have won the trophy three years in a row, something that Celtic, for all their prolific success in the Scottish Cup, have yet to achieve. They might have done it in 1901, but goalkeeper Dan McArthur had a shocker, they might have done it in 1909 but the fans rioted, and they might have done it in 1990 but they lost in a heart breaking penalty shoot-out to Aberdeen. So while we look for 10 in a row League championships, we could also be doing with 3 in a row Scottish Cups.
The secret of the Scottish Cup has always been its essential simplicity. Not the least exciting part of the Scottish Cup is the draw now made live on TV. There has been a little tinkering with the early rounds over the years including, in recent years, the admission of what we used to call Junior clubs, but by the time that Celtic enter the competition, it is a straight draw with the SFA laudably resisting any idea of seeding with the intention of cooking things for a Rangers v Celtic final. Cynics may say that that has happened anyway pointing to the fact that Celtic and Rangers between them have now won the trophy 70 times, but on the other hand, since the turn of the century teams like Dundee United, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and St Johnston have all had their moment of glory. That cannot but be good for Scottish football.
On the other hand, Celtic fans are generally interested in the success of their own club rather than the common good. Mind you in 2016, there was the rare example of Celtic fans shouting at their TV screens in support of another team in the Scottish Cup final. The other team were Hibs – and of course the origins of both clubs were similar with Hibs sometimes being contemptuously referred to as “the Edinburgh branch” by those who found common Irish heritage a problem – but there was also the fact that Hibs in 2016 hotched with ex-Celts – Dylan McGeough, Anthony Stokes and Manager Alan Stubbs, and of course Liam Henderson, that grossly under-rated player, was with Hibs on loan. Added to the fact that the opponents were the apparently revivified Rangers, and there was no excuse for not supporting the green and whites of the other big Scottish city that day.
You couldn’t have said that Hibs had exactly dominated the Scottish Cup. They had won in twice – in 1887, (and that was one of the catalysts for the founding of Celtic later that year in that if the Edinburgh Irish could win the Scottish Cup, why couldn’t a Glasgow Irish team do likewise?) and in 1902 when they beat Celtic with a back heeler from a man called Andy McGeachen, but since then it had been total failure with Celtic through Patsy Gallacher, Joe Cassidy, Dixie Deans, Henrik Larsson and Gary Hooper wrecking their Cup final hopes on many occasions.
They looked as if they were going to blow up again in 2016 for they were 2-1 down until late in the game when Liam Henderson took these two corner kicks and “Hibs” and the “Scottish Cup” could now be mentioned again in the same breath. Sadly, some less than totally intelligent spectators decided to have a fight on the pitch, but nevertheless it had been a good Scottish Cup final for Celtic supporters and we looked forward with anticipation to the draw for the 2017 competition.
The draw was held on a Monday night in late November at Rugby Park, and Celtic were paired with Albion Rovers away from home. It was a shame that Celtic supporters were denied the opportunity to visit Cliftonhill, that derelict old lady of a stadium, where one would definitely have seen football in the raw, but any rational look at things would have seen the logistic problems, and after a certain amount of toing and froing, the game was arranged for the Shyberry Excelsior Stadium, the home of Airdrie. Celtic fans were familiar with this ground, for they had played there last year against East Kilbride in a game which singularly failed to excite anyone’s imagination.
Albion Rovers are a club that one has to admire. By any method of reckoning, they should really have disappeared long ago like Bathgate, Broxburn, Leith Athletic, Third Lanark and Clydebank, but good management and stewardship along with the determination of men like Tom Fagan had ensured that this team did not go under. The town of Coatbridge, by any standard a Celtic supporting stronghold, is very close to Glasgow, but the Rovers have preserved their own identity and kept going.
One would look in vain for any sustained glory from Albion Rovers throughout their long history since 1882, but they did reach the final of the Scottish Cup of 1920, that chaotic season where everything took such a long time to settle down after the war, only to lose narrowly to Kilmarnock in the final after they had beaten Aberdeen and Rangers en route! They finished bottom of the League that season as well! In the war years, they gave an opportunity to a young miner called Jock Stein, a man who was a “Bevin Boy” producing the much needed coal for the war effort rather than fighting overseas, and there was also a fine player called Tony Green in the 1960s who went on to play for Newcastle United and Scotland, but apart from that, success and Albion Rovers have not exactly gone hand in hand. In January 2017, they were struggling near the bottom of Division One, the third tier. (How can Division One be the third tier, do I hear you ask?)
Celtic’s game against Albion Rovers was to be televised, a welcome boost to the coffers of the wee Rovers and was arranged for Sunday January 22. It would be the first game after the midwinter shutdown, a phenomenon which was not always well liked by the fans. Thus by the time that Celtic took the field against the Rovers, Celtic’s main rivals Rangers and Aberdeen were already through to the next round, Rangers having come from behind to beat Motherwell in a somewhat depressing TV game the day before. Aberdeen had dispatched Stranraer 4-0, Hibs had beaten Bonnyrigg Rose to the tune of 8-1, while Hearts who were on TV just before the Celtic game had victory snatched from them by a late Raith Rovers equalizer.
The weather was cold and raw but the virtually full stadium of 8,319 spectators provided a good atmosphere for what was Celtic’s first game since Hogmanay when they beat Rangers. There was never, I suppose, any great doubt about who the eventual winners were going to be, although the all-weather pitch at Airdrie, like all pitches of that ilk, took a little getting used to. It was good to see Kieran Tierney back for his first game since October, and although he was wisely taken off after about an hour in order to break him in gently, we saw enough to remind us of just what we had been missing.
Celtic scored about the hour mark with a chip from Scott Sinclair on the edge of the box. It looked for all the world as if it were going to hit the bar or sail harmlessly over, but Scott had judged it perfectly so that it entered the net at the very corner. Those who expected a deluge of goals were to be disappointed, for Albion Rovers stuck to their task very well and thwarted Celtic up to half time and well into the second half. Celtic, clearly struggling with the artificial pitch and the effects of the lay-off, took their time. Quite a few chances went abegging, but eventually in the 77th minute Scott Brown cut one back from the right and Dembele was on hand to do the needful. 13 minutes later and virtually at the end of the regulation 90 minutes, Stuart Armstrong added a third to ensure that Celtic would be in the draw for the next round at the end of the game.
The making of the draw for the next round of the Scottish Cup is normally a staid, stylised, stilted and stiff sort of affair with a pompous official saying Mr “so and so”will draw the home team and Mr “someone else” will draw the away team. It is not unheard of for mistakes to be made and everyone having to start again, as had happened embarrassingly in front of TV cameras last year. Not this time, however, for in a welcome innovation, the SFA invited Rod Stewart, pop singer, to do the needful. Rod was of course an unashamed Celtic (and Scotland) supporter and had attended the game before making the draw, being seen talking to the fans in the crowd before he did so.
Alan Stubbs, ex-Manager of Hibs and of course the last Manager to win the Cup was there to help as well, but it was Rod Stewart who stole the show with his rather eccentric method of diving into the urn to bring out each team. Some traditionalists were horrified at all that, but most people saw it as a laugh. The draw managed to keep Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen apart but the best tie of the round was of course the Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle. Celtic had the task of facing Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Celtic Park. The weaker among us might have remembered the year 2000 and recoiled, but this was a different Celtic and indeed a different Inverness.
A more recent painful Scottish Cup memory was of course the 2015 semi final. That was the day we met referee Steven McLean who made a howler by missing a fairly obvious hand ball, and then reduced us to ten men by sending off Craig Gordon. Inverness went on to win the Scottish Cup that year, but they were not doing so well now, and even though Griffiths and Armstrong were out injured, it was confidently expected that Celtic would drive them back up the A9, hammered and chastened, in this early Saturday kick off on February 11.
Possibly there was some kind of a protest at the early kick-off for only 25,577 turned up at Celtic Park, a good 30,000 below what one would expect for a League game. There were reasons for this – the main one being that it was not included in the season ticket package and you had to pay for it! The fact that the game was on TV was also a factor, it was a cold raw February day, spring not as yet anywhere near Celtic Park and there was also quite real logistic factors in supporters who lived in Ireland, England or the more remote parts of Scotland getting there on time for an early kick-off.
But whether one watched the game on TV or in the flesh, it was a marvellous Celtic performance as the Highlanders were torn apart 6-0, and it really should have been an awful lot more. Most unusually, Celtic started kicking off to the Jock Stein Stand, but it hardly made a huge amount of difference. James Forrest started off well on song, and arguably played his best ever game for the club. The first goal scorer was, of all people, Mikael Lustig who turned brilliantly to put Celtic ahead. Then for the second week in a row Moussa Dembele scored a hat-trick (he had done similarly last week against St Johnstone at Perth) before Kieran Tierney scored the fifth – a very popular goal that one was! – and even more welcomed by the Celtic support was the one scored by Scott Brown who then faced the Lisbon Lions stand and did his own “Broonie” impersonation of himself!
Small crowd or not, it was a very happy one at this performance. Granted, the opposition was not great but there seemed to be no reason to believe that this side could not now go on to add the Scottish Cup to the Scottish League Cup which was already theirs and the Scottish League which was now only just a matter of time. In the meantime we settled back on our buses, happy with the ways of the world and awaiting the other results in the Scottish Cup, content in the knowledge that we at least were in the last eight.
That afternoon Partick Thistle, St Mirren and Aberdeen joined us. Aberdeen were, by the admission of very many of their supporters lucky to get the better of Ross County by 1-0 at Dingwall. There were two draws – Dunfermline v Hamilton and Ayr United v Clyde (Ayr United and Hamilton would eventually win through in the replays), and on the Sunday we settled ourselves in front of the TV to watch the Edinburgh derby and then to cheer on Greenock Morton when they took on Rangers. The game at Tynecastle was goalless and disappointing in terms of quality football, if not in effort (Hibs would win the replay at Easter Road) and from our unbiased perspective, Greenock Morton had really bad luck at Ibrox after scoring first.
Rangers had sacked Mark Warburton on Friday (we could now go back to buying Warburton’s bread in the supermarket without feeling traitorous!) and we hoped that Morton could take advantage of this, but their forwards were profligate of chances with a couple late on in particular that should have been put away, and Rangers were through with the draw taking place at Ibrox immediately after the game and being done by Alec McLeish. No complaints about Big Eck this time – he gave us a home tie against Championship strugglers St Mirren! Once again the big boys avoided each other.
St Mirren were a team who had fallen on bad times of late, but they were a club whose tradition in the Scottish Cup was second to none of provincial teams. They had won the trophy on three occasions, in 1926, 1959 and 1987, and on many times, they had been the death of Celtic. They had defeated us in the mysterious final of 1926 when, to use a modern phrase, Celtic, League champions and playing brilliantly “simply didn’t turn up”. Adam McLean was injured and that seemed to have an undue effect on the rest of the team with Tommy McInally in particular having an off day. Then there were these two awful semi-finals of 1959 and 1962 when Celtic were simply hammered to an extent that the supporters couldn’t accept and in 1962 turned very nasty in some sort of misguided attempt to get the game replayed. As recently as 2009, St Mirren had put us out of the Scottish Cup at the quarter final stage.
Against that, there had been that glorious Scottish Cup final of 1908 with Jimmy McMenemy on song, a very tight 1-0 win at a dangerously overcrowded Love Street in 1963, an epic replay at the same venue in 1980 when the crowd was similarly tight and uncomfortable and a rather uninspiring semi-final at Hampden in 1984 in the wind and the rain but it did produce a positive result.
St Mirren had never been the same since they left the old Love Street, a quaint old ground with loads of character and history. For us, of course, there are the happy memories of the “Albert Kidd” day in the rain in 1986. May 3 1986 was not all about Albert, however. Celtic’s first half performance that day will live in the memory for long, and if they had played anything like that earlier in the season, they would have won a domestic treble with a degree of ease. On the other hand, there was that awful night at the new St Mirren stadium in March 2010 when a 0-4 thrashing was the catalyst for the axe for the luckless Tony Mowbray who, likeable man though he was, was simply not up to the awesome demands of the job.
Celtic were scheduled for lunch time on Sunday March 5. By that time we knew that last year’s finalists were through to the semi-finals, Rangers having thrashed a weak and disappointing Hamilton side 6-0 at Ibrox, and Hibs having a little more difficulty in getting the better of Ayr United at Easter Road. St Mirren, by any standards were having a poor season. Ill supported by the town of Paisley, they had a good Manager in Jack Ross, but he had inherited a very poor squad and this season was a perpetual battle against relegation from the Championship into Division One. They eventually succeeded in retaining their status, and indeed reached the final of the Championship Challenge Trophy, but no-one will say that 2016/17 was a vintage season for the Buddies.
But today at Parkhead in front of another disappointing crowd of 27, 455, who impressively stood in silence for Tommy Gemmell who had died during the week, St Mirren with nothing to lose and rather enjoying the media attention (being on TV was a rare event for the Buddies) played a good first half, and a major seismic shock was feared when half-time was reached with St Mirren 1-0 up! The goal had come from a free kick, headed down by John Sutton (brother of Chris) into the path of Harry Davis (a man with the same name as a Rangers player of the early 1960s but presumably no relation) who put St Mirren one up.
Celtic took off Gary Mackay-Steven who was not having his best game and replaced him with Patrick Roberts. It would be nice to say that the effect was dramatic and instantaneous but in fact it wasn’t and indeed St Mirren might well have gone two up when a ball was driven into the Celtic penalty area, hit Dembele (of all people!) and bounced up to hit the bar and come down on the right side of the line and just out of the reach of a St Mirren forward. One would have had to admit that Celtic were lucky there.
It would have been difficult for Celtic to come back from that, but as it happened, Celtic then scored twice in a few minutes, added a third 10 minutes later before Leigh Griffiths finished it all off with a fourth. The first came from Mikael Lustig when he headed home a Roberts free kick, and then with the Paisley defence still struggling to come to terms with that one, Scott Sinclair showed just why he is so highly rated by the Celtic supporters. With several St Mirren defenders between him and the goal as he ran towards them on the left, he suddenly with the side of his foot, curled home a shot into the roof of the net. Simple!
There is simply no answer to that one and Sinclair was also involved in the third goal, teaming up well with Patrick Roberts to give Dembele a simple tap in. That made it three, Griffiths added a fourth before the end and we all wondered what on earth the fuss had been about at half time when all the pundits (including, apparently, those who should have known a great deal better) were talking of a “shock”! Nevertheless, St Mirren were given a good round of applause from the Parkhead crowd, who felt that St Mirren really should be a Premier League club.
Celtic were now into the semi-finals. So too were Aberdeen who beat Partick Thistle (not without a struggle) at Pittodrie to join Rangers and Hibs. We thus had the three favourites plus last season’s winners, and with everyone on social media happy to make a fool of themselves yet again with statements like “Celtic and Rangers will be kept apart for the Final”, the draw was conducted with stunning impartiality by Alex Smith who had managed Cup winning sides in 1987 and 1990 along with our very own Bertie Auld, and Celtic were paired with Rangers.
Some felt that Celtic got the easiest draw there! It didn’t matter, for there is no such thing as an easy draw particularly at the semi-final stage. The games were scheduled for April 22/23 (six weeks hence) with Celtic and Rangers on the Sunday, while Hibs and Aberdeen were on the Saturday. Both were lunch time kick-offs and both would be televised.
A Celtic v Rangers game needs no extra build up, but we had bitter memories of last year at the same stage and that heart-breaking penalty shoot-out which signalled the end of Ronnie Deila. This year was different however. The League was already won by some distance and if anyone needed to be reminded of the disparity between the two teams, all he had to do was to look at the League table. And yet, it was the Scottish Cup where anything could happen. We had fallen at the semi-final hurdle in 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2016, and on each of these four occasions, we had been the favourites. There was no place for complacency.
But before we psyched ourselves up to going to Hampden on Sunday, there was the other semi-final to be enjoyed on TV on the Saturday. And “enjoy” was the word, for it was a fine game, although we would have preferred Hibs to win. Surprisingly, Aberdeen hadn’t been to a Scottish Cup final since the year 2000, but they reached the final today, even though they squandered a two goal lead. But Hibs still had their own Scottish Cup death wish about them, and with a little more conviction, might have won. As it was, they conceded a late goal from a wicked deflection, something which happened too late in the game for them to counteract. We did, however, have the spectacle of Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano joining the attack and almost scoring with a late header which was saved by the other goalkeeper Joe Lewis.
The crowd at this game was a disappointing 31,969. Celtic supporters would get angry about this when they discovered that Aberdeen would have as many supporters as we did at the final, but in fairness it must be pointed out that getting from Aberdeen for a lunch time start at Hampden was no easy option. One accepts that a televised game shouldn’t be played at the same time as other games, but surely there is a strong case for making a semi-final involving Aberdeen kick off at 5.30 pm if it is to be played at Hampden. This would have allowed more Aberdeen supporters to get there. The sad thing is that Hampden, inadequate though it is, is still better than anywhere else. Tynecastle or Murrayfield might have helped Hibs fans, but it would not really have solved the problems for the Dons.
So Aberdeen awaited the winners on the Sunday. Not everyone likes the atmosphere at Old Firm games, and there is certainly at Hampden a problem with parking on such occasions, but the place was full, as one would have been expected and one often feels that one of the problems with Hampden is that it is simply not big enough. The crowd of 50,000 could easily have been doubled.
Celtic were at full strength for this game with Dembele preferred up front to Griffiths – but not for long, because Dembele picked up what looked like a ham string and had to be replaced by Griffiths in the 34th minute. This did not exactly weaken Celtic, and, interestingly, in the same way as Dembele played a large part in the first goal, so too was Griffiths influential in the second.
Celtic kicked off playing to the Rangers end of the ground, and very soon had put down a marker. They were faster to the ball, they looked more in command of the game on what must have been a very nervous occasion for all players – it certainly was to all spectators! – and in 10 minutes we took the lead. A long ball from the very influential Mikael Lustig found Dembele who, intelligently, did not try to score himself, but cut the ball back to Callum McGregor who placed the ball perfectly from about 20 yards. It was a very well taken goal, and the Celtic End was a sea of appreciation.
Rangers, who had not yet lost a game under Pedro Caixinha, came back into the game to a certain extent but were extremely lucky to finish the half with 11 men still on the field when a strong case could have been made out for them being reduced to 9. The TV and radio commentators shared this opinion as well as the Celtic end, and it certainly seemed that Willie Collum, never in the past reluctant to brandish red cards, “bottled it” on two occasions.
One was when Andy Halliday committed a dreadful tackle on Patrick Roberts, whom Rangers clearly were targeting as the danger man. It was a shocker, a potential leg breaker and does not get any nicer the oftener one sees it on You Tube. It was a straight red card, one felt, and could hardly be excused on the grounds that Halliday was a “full blooded Rangers supporter” as a member of the press tried ludicrously to explain it away the following day!
And then Miles Beerman was rightly booked for his attentions on Patrick Roberts – but kept on fouling! Fortunately Celtic were professional enough not to let this distract them from the job in hand, and hurt Rangers where it was really sore – by beating them on the park.
The half time whistle came with Celtic 1-0 up and well on top. The phrase “well on top” does not of course mean very much, for such things can change rapidly. But then five minutes into the second half, Celtic went further ahead via the penalty spot when Leigh Griffiths, running in on goal, was brought down by James Tavernier and Mr Collum had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. The penalty was given to Scott Sinclair who, very calmly, picked his spot to the goalkeeper’s right. It was not the cleanest of penalties for the ball hit the post first and then entered the net.
There are those of us who worry about a 2-0 score line. It should be enough with 40 minutes to go, but sometimes it isn’t. Hampden has a big screen with the time on it, and I would have had to admit that I sneaked more than a few looks at it during the next 40 minutes. Rangers did rally a little, forcing Craig Gordon into at least three good saves, but Celtic missed a few chances as well and the feeling grew that even if Rangers did get one back, Celtic could without any great difficulty up a gear and deal with them. By about the 80th minute Rangers began to look a beaten team and unlikely to make any great impression on the excellent Celtic back four of Lustig, Simunovich, Boyata and Tierney with those who used to say that Boyata would never make it, looking more than a little silly now. “It doesn’t matter, cos we’ve got Boyata” began to make an appearance in the supporters’ repertoire.
Full time came and Celtic were now into their 56th Scottish Cup final, the previous 55 having consisted of 36 wins, 18 defeats and 1 withholding of the Cup because of the 1909 riot. It was another great triumph for Brendan Rodgers who behaved throughout the game with a dignity and a calm demeanour that perhaps belied his inner tension. Inner tension was certainly evident in the support as well but at full time our joy knew no bounds. Indeed it was a double victory in that Celtic were in the final, and Rangers weren’t. Those who are not in this system, often scratch their heads and wonder at the passion of it all, but that is just the way that it is.
So as Celtic went from strength to strength, Rangers’ season began to fizzle out. When they qualified for the Europa League a few weeks later, they celebrated with disproportionate glee. It was however obvious that under the ambitious Portuguese gentleman called Pedro Caixinha, things were going to change and that the exit door would be shown to some of their players who had served them well in the lower divisions, but had clearly reached the limit of their ability.
Once again, we compared the two clubs. Rangers had been in charge (they had also had a great deal of luck) some 20 years ago – some of our support argue that that was a different club altogether – but their methods had been false and pregnant with the seeds of their future destruction, whereas Celtic were now properly run and a model for other clubs. No dodgy deals, no illegal payments and the Income tax being paid to HMRC on time! But oh, what a bitter legacy had been left to Rangers supporters by those who used to run that club!
But moving on from the tribal stuff, it was Celtic v Aberdeen for the final. Celtic had won the Cup 36 times to Aberdeen’s 7. There had been six direct Scottish Cup finals between the two of them and the “score” was 3-3. Celtic had won 2-1 before a world record attendance in 1937, before a crowd that was only slightly less in 1954 and by the same score, and while en route to Lisbon in 1967, as it were, we had beaten the Dons 2-0 with two Willie Wallace goals on each side of half-time. Aberdeen’s three victories had all left a bad taste in the mouth. There had been bad refereeing from Bobby Davidson in 1970, a couple of controversial decisions in 1984 as well, and then the 1990 Scottish Cup final had been won on a penalty shoot-out which even Aberdeen players and fans agreed was no way to settle the venerable Scottish Cup. But, of course, a penalty shoot-out is good television and even as far back as 1990, it was all, very sadly, about money.
As far as 2017 was concerned, although Celtic were considered to be far and away the favourites, there was little doubt that Aberdeen on a good day could beat them. They had some good players, notably Jonny Hayes. Celtic on the other hand had better men in almost every position, it was felt, and as long as nothing stupid happened, the Scottish Cup would be theirs to collect. Patrick Roberts, still only on loan from Manchester City, actually turned down an opportunity to play in the England Under 20 team in order to play for Celtic in the Scottish Cup final, something that as well as going down extraordinarily favourably in Celtic circles, also sent out a message to everyone in England that here at least was one player who rated Scottish football very highly.
Celtic fielded their strongest team, and that allowed them to keep Dembele, Rogic and Forrest on the bench! Dembele had been out with an injury but was now fit again, but Leigh Griffiths was still given the nod. Aberdeen, in a move which caused some argument among their supporters, sacked Ryan Jack from the captaincy after he had unwisely let it be known that he was about to join Rangers for next season! And yet he was still playing for them!
The weather was very hot with heavy showers of rain alternating with periods of almost unbearable sunshine and thunder and lightning not very far away. Indeed at a key point of the game, lightning forked over Hampden. Now what would some civilizations have made of that? Whose side were the Gods on? The teams came out to very impressive colour displays from both sets of supporters, although the Aberdeen rallying cry to “Stand Free” seemed to be campaigning for free entrance to football games and no more seating! There certainly was not a lot of seating at the Celtic End for everyone seemed to have decided to stand.
Aberdeen started towards the Celtic end, and it was they who took the lead. A corner on the right was taken by Niall McGinn and it sailed over everyone until Jonny Hayes suddenly got away from Leigh Griffiths who had been detailed to mark him, ran in and scored to a huge eruption of sound from the Mount Florida End. It had been an easily preventable goal, but within a few minutes it had been counteracted when Callum McGregor, even when being fouled, managed to slip the ball to Stuart Armstrong who scored one of his trademark goals from outside the penalty box. And that is how it remained untll half time, although Scott Sinclair should have scored another for Celtic just before the whistle went.
It had been a pretty even first half, although Celtic had suffered the loss of Kieran Tierney with what looked like a broken jaw after a collision (accidental, one hopes) with the elbow of Jayden Stockley. TV pictures were inconclusive as to intent, although not everyone was prepared to give Stockley the benefit of the doubt. It was, however, a bad injury and Kieran was taken to hospital. It was interesting to note the substitution. It was the man for all seasons, the wizard of OZ, Tommy Rogic, the utility man. The rest of the game would show just how useful the Australian would be.
The second half saw some tremendous football from Celtic, as they gradually gained control of the game with the midfield of Scott Brown, Callum McGregor and in particular Patrick Roberts seizing the initiative. Scott Sinclair was playing well enough up to the penalty area, but had several culpable misses, one in particular that he put over the bar. Patrick Roberts hit the post. Dedryck Boyata, whose defensive work was impeccable came up for a corner, got a clean header but missed the chance. Against that, Aberdeen had the occasional breakaway and a bad and rare error from Callum McGregor gave them an opportunity which McLean should have made more of.
There was never a dull moment in this game, a point conceded by the English and European press covering the game. A thunderstorm was in progress – apparently, and I say that because no-one in the stadium really noticed, so engrossed were we all in the game and we were all under cover. What would it have been like on the huge open terracings of Hampden in the old days, one wonders?
Celtic kept plugging away, winning several corners on the left most of which were taken by Leigh Griffiths who gestured to the support for more encouragement, something that was hardly necessary for the crowd were in full cry. Confidence grew, and yet there was the nagging thought that this competent Aberdeen side might yet seize upon a moment of opportunity and win the day. Such things did happen in Cup finals and they happened to Celtic. Those of us old enough recalled 1961.
The 90 minutes had now gone, and we were playing the three added minutes, but reconciled to extra time. Penalties we did not want, for Celtic usually do badly on such occasions – the 1990 Cup final against today’s opponents or, perhaps worse, last year’s semi-final sprung to mind – but then up stepped Tommy Rogic. The wily Australian, in and out of the side this season and plagued with injury, picked up a ball about halfway inside the Aberdeen half. Realising that some of the Aberdeen defenders were tired and longing for the haven of full time and a respite, he charged at them, and through them to reach the six yard line. He might have cut the ball back – but that was what everyone expected him to do, and he also twigged that Sinclair and Griffiths were having an off say in front of goal and might have sclaffed the ball over the bar – so he simply had a go himself, transferring the ball from his left to his right foot to score.
The goal itself is of course available to watch on You Tube, but I think that the best commentary I have heard is the one on Celtic TV with the emotion of the commentator mirroring the attitude of the fans. No attempt at impartiality or anything like that, just sheer hysteria, while poor Jim Craig, suffering from a bad cold does his best to pour a little sanity and restraint on the proceedings. But it had nothing to do with sanity!
How hard it is to describe or even to read about the following few minutes. Ecstatic, delirious, rapturous, confused as complete strangers hugged, kissed and gave each other high fives. It was total, orgasmic, Celtic joy with the feeling that this was what life was all about. Not all our supporters enjoyed great fortune in their private lives…but they did in their public green and white existence. They were once again the risen people! Or as it was more crudely put “The Rangers and the Tories could go and f***!” Our bhoys have won the Cup!
And you almost sensed the presence of the dead generations of Celtic fans who had perhaps enjoyed 1892 or 1925 coming to join us now. To my certain knowledge, my father and grandfather joined me for a second, as did my grandchildren sitting watching TV in their Aberdeen (yes, Aberdeen – but they were draped in green and white!) home.
On a more worldly level, there was still a minute or so to see out. Whenever anyone scores a Cup final goal these days, they always go to the corner on the right to kiss a fan or two. Hibs did it last year, and we did it this year. It took a while to disentangle Rogic and we had to now hold out. In fact Aberdeen mounted an attack and might have equalized but did not quite get a touch on it to divert the ball past Craig Gordon who was fouled as he smothered the ball and lay on the ground with it. Seconds later, after the ball was kicked up the park, referee Bobby Madden (who actually had a good game) pointed to the stand, and yes again, and for the 37th time, our bhoys have won the Cup.
Leaving aside the treble and the fact that Celtic could now with justification be called “the invincibles”, this was yet another epic Celtic Scottish Cup win, featuring apart from anything else an ability to come from behind, and to score a late goal to drape the Scottish Cup with green and white ribbons, surely the most glorious sight in world football. 2017 thus takes its place among the great Scottish Cup years, joining 1892, 1899, 1900, 1904, 1907, 1908, 1911, 1912, 1914, 1923, 1925, 1927, 1931, 1933, 1937, 1951, 1954, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1995, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2011, 2013 – and now, welcome 2017. Celtic and the Scottish Cup are totally and irredeemably in love with each other. They are like an old married couple, in that they have the odd falling out now and again, but no-one can doubt their basic feelings for each other.
And the celebrations on the field! They came and showed us the lovely silver trophy, and the thing was that the players were as entranced and excited by the support, as we were by them. Brendan Rodgers started conducting the choir when it told him that he was going to be here for 10 in a row. He had been brought up a Celt, but he had never experienced anything like this, nor could be have dreamed that he would achieve what he did; Kieran Tierney, injured and just back from hospital for the celebrations, lifted the trophy vigorously and kissed the jersey with a passion. He was the boy who was simply living the dream. Others, not perhaps brought up as Celts in places like Edinburgh, Inverness, Sweden, Belgium and the Ivory Coast, were now as committed to the cause as anyone else. It was indeed “the greatest show on earth”!
Heading back to the buses down Aitkenhead road, the army moved singing, chanting, clapping, jumping on each others backs. It was all green and white, but a family of Aberdeen fans stood at the side trying to be inconspicuous and maybe even afraid to cross the mass of Celtic fans. “Magnanimity in victory” I had once heard, so I shook their hand and wished them all the best saying that their day would come. They were a decent bunch of ma, pa and the weans, or as they would have said up there “mither, faither, the loon and the quine”, and they were grateful for my words of consolation. Some Celtic fans jeered at me for my kindness, and I am prepared to admit that the Dons would have been unbearable if they had won, but that family was a decent one and they now had a long painful journey back home … and, in the past, we had been there ourselves.
The bus home was uproarious and happy with songs about volunteers approaching border towns, a young man giving his young life high upon the gallows tree, another being gunned down on his way to the Gaelic ground mingled with ten in a row and he’s oh, so wonderful as well as the repetitive but compelling champions again oh, eh, oh, eh. We talked about Patrick Roberts and how it was worth breaking the bank to sign him. The inevitably brought up the subject of money, but one fan in a memorable anti-materialistic, anti-capitalist aphorism, jerked his thumb back in the direction of Glasgow and Hampden and said “Money! Money! Money couldna buy a day like that!”.
Born in 1948, David Potter first saw Celtic at Dens Park, Dundee in March 29. It was a 3-5 defeat, which equipped him admirably for the horrors of the early 1960’s. He had “followed” Celtic for a few years before that and recalls having been called upon to impersonate Jock Stein and receive the family silver teapot which had to do for the Scottish Cup as it was presented on April 24 1954, after he and his father had spent a nerve wracking afternoon listening to the radio! Since then, he has “followed” every Celtic game with bated breath, and has written extensively about the club in magazines and books. His favorite team was that of 1969 (which he rates marginally better than 1967) and his favorite player was Henrik Larsson.
His ambition for Celtic is for them to keep on winning silver in Scotland and to be something in Europe once again. His other interests are cricket and drama. He is 70, a retired teacher of Classical Languages, married with three children and five grandchildren. He now travels on the Joseph Rafferty bus from Kirkcaldy. He also loves Forfar Athletic.
Further Long Reading
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