Shock Cup Exit To Bairns Actually Helped Celtic Halt Ten-In-A-Row
Celtic’s cup defeat to Falkirk in 1997 became the catalyst for change and altered the course of history.
Andy Thom, Paulo Di Canio, Jorge Cadete – your boys took a helluva beating!
Ironically, this was a bogging Wednesday at Ibrox, the night Falkirk toppled Celtic.
The year was 1997, and after a late equaliser from big Kevin James just four days earlier, Tommy Burns’ hoops were beaten as Paul McGrillen lobbed Stewart Kerr to send the heavily outnumbered Bairn’s faithful into hysterics.
Now, I say this not to rub salt into old wounds. I bring it up as this was a watershed moment for Celtic, so goes a theory.
Because a good friend and work colleague of mine, himself a Celtic Park season ticket holder, believes that it was on this night, a wet night in Govan in April 1997, that was ground zero for Celtic stopping Rangers march to ten-in-a-row.
This defeat by lower league opposition signalled the end for club legend Burns’ as Celtic manager.
Think about it. Burns and his star-studded squad dispatch Falkirk and face Kilmarnock in the final. In all likelihood Celtic win that game of football and take the Scottish Cup back to Celtic Park.
Would Celtic have parted company with Burns after such an event?
That would have been a difficult one to sell to fans.
But, just over a week after the Falkirk defeat, Burns was relieved of his duties. Relatively unknown former Dutch International Wim Jansen was given the task of stopping Rangers writing history.
As a result, history would be written alright but not in the way many predicted.
Notable other signings made during his time in charge included Craig Burley, Marc Rieper and Paul Lambert, the man who would captain Celtic in a UEFA Cup final six years later.
Celtic squad 97-98
The new manager led Celtic to their first league cup triumph in 15 years with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Dundee Utd. Three of the aforementioned new signings each helped themselves to a goal.
But its the league win that season that the Dutchman is affectionately idolised for by the Parkhead punters.
What Was At Stake
The stakes couldn’t have been higher going into season 1997-98. Much like season 2020-21 has been. Rangers had rampaged to nine league trophies on the bounce.
Celtic by comparison, were creeping back after their own period of turmoil, that almost saw the famous Glasgow giants go bust just three years earlier. The green side of Glasgow was desperate.
History was at stake. Celtic had reached the magic nine in the 70s and Rangers were on the cusp of going one better than their bitter rivals.
Rangers started the season with some big names such as Brian Laudrup, Paul Gascoigne, Jorg Albertz and Andy Goram.
This meant the Gers were overwhelming favourites as the campaign began.
It wasn’t a flying start to the 1997-98 league campaign by any means. Celtic lost their first two league games and flirted with disaster after being beaten by Tirol Innsbruck in a UEFA Cup first leg match.
However, the hoops managed to claw back some momentum and were four points behind Rangers when they went into the Ne’er Day Old Firm of 1998.
Goals from Burley and Lambert secured Celtic’s first New Years Day Old Firm win in ten years and poised Scotland for the closest title race in years.
Despite that win, Rangers still held the upper after beating Celtic at Ibrox in their final meeting of the season.
But the Gers began tripping up. Defeats to Aberdeen and Kilmarnock handed Jansen and his side the advantage.
It then all came down to a sunny day in Glasgow and all that stood in Celtic’s way was St Johnstone. A win would secure their first title in ten years.
Goals from Larsson and Harold Brattbakk achieved the dream, on a day that Celtic fans hold as dear as any of their recent treble wins.
Jansen resigned from less than 48 hours after, citing irreconcilable differences with both Jock Brown and chairman Fergus McCann.
However, he had achieved what he was brought in to do and became a martyr to the Celtic support.
Going on 24 years after that famous season and as we sit through a complete reverse of that this season, we’ll never know what might have been if it hadn’t been for Kevin James, Paul McGrillen and Falkirk Football Club.
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