I guess you don’t feel as tense right now as you did on the morning of May 9th 1998. I was away early that day, so early that I missed a call from a Hibby mate wishing us all the best. The feeling from the Craig Falconbridge goal hadn’t left me, it felt like my heart had been ripped out my chest as thousands gleefully told us that this would be Rangers year (again) and that we were perennial losers.
Deep down that nagged at all of us.
I went through on the train to Glasgow that day and settled into a Gallowgate full of nervous anticipation. The players had gone to Dublin for a couple of days to get away from it all, us fans just has to grin and bear it all week. Every outcome was played out in our heads, every omen was studied and every escape route planned should we not do it. “It” being protecting our cherished nine in a row record.
As the hours ticked on, beer glasses were drained but the humour was akin to pre court in America when you’ve already had two strikes. As we moved along the Gallowgate, faces were studied nervously and, again, we talked about every possibility “Get an early goal” “Surely Dundee Utd will give them a game” “Christ, I keep thinking we have blown it”
Upon arriving in the stadium I got involved in a silly argument with a mate, it was a something and nothing type where the tension far outweighed the subject matter. It was that kind of day.
As the teams emerged, the noise was deafening. I sat in the back row of section 443 and all around me people clenched fists whilst looking at each other, steely determination exuding from all. If the players match the fans, we are going to be fine.
We barely had time to get nervous when Henrik sailed past two defenders and planted a ball in the St Johnstone net like Dennis Taylor on that last black ball in 1985. An eruption of blanketed Celtic Park and as folk held each other for grim life.
Everybody needed a hug.
We expected the barrage of goals to come but of course, this is Celtic, we don’t do anything the easy way and we settled into the ebb and flow of anxiety football.
Anxiety became The Exorcist type fear as George O’Boyle stalked our goal and missed a header that looked easier to score. We all looked at each other as if considering taking up Rugby as it would be far less stressful.
In the second half, news filtered through from Tannadice that Rangers were two goals up and any slip from us would be catastrophic. We made subs and Brattbakk appeared for a walk on part in the war.
A ball was flitted down the wing, suddenly it was in the middle and Harald found a burst of pace that resulted in the time needed for a cool finish and to put us 2-0 up.
The world just turned on its axis.
Simon Donnelly, just subbed, jumped on John Clark’s back. Tosh McKinlay and Darren Jackson danced in the tunnel. Henrik jumped on Harald and pointed at him profusely.
We were lost in a sea of relief, grown men cried and screamed in equal measure, the realisation dawning: we have done it.
The remaining minutes faded away like the last bath water down a plug hole and the explosion from Tom Boyd on full time matched the explosion from the stands that echoed round Scotland and sent the flag up right round the planet: Celtic are back.
As drained as the players, we left the stadium, our seats not allowing us to join the magical pitch invasion and we met with others, equally lifeless and just stood there in awe. As we moved along the Gallowgate once more, bars had shutters down and the first pub we could get in was The Braemar.
From there we got the train home to Edinburgh, a brief meeting with a clearly miffed ICF as well, and went to The International Bar where folk danced in the streets and long into the night.
The players went to a restaurant in Newton Mearns where Phil and Eileen O’Donnell danced on tables and summed up the mood.
From there the players went to play a game in Lisbon that most could not tell you the score of and the next day it was confirmed, Wim was off and Wim’s Tims were no more.
Thankfully our nine in a row record still remained.