Take yourself back for a minute. Back to a time where NTL were still a functioning media and communication organisation in its own right, the price of a pint was roughly around the £2.30 mark, Enrique Iglesias was topping the charts with ‘Hero’ and the former President of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, was about to go on trial for War Crimes. The only thing that mattered in the West of Scotland though was that Rangers were facing Celtic in the CIS Insurance League Cup Semi-Final at Hampden!
Now there was a lot going on at the time along Edmiston Drive. Dick Advocaat had been moved up the stairs at Ibrox to become our new Director of Football, and incoming boss Alex McLeish found himself getting ready for his first Old Firm match as Rangers Manager. A task made all the more daunting considering that Celtic’s Martin O’Neill was enjoying a run of 5 matches undefeated against us. Rangers had started that season poorly with an awful lot of inconsistent performances, and it was the dawn of the financial plight at Ibrox, which was becoming more and more apparent, both in the stands and in the news, such was the level of player we’d lost that summer compared to what came in. Advocaat couldn’t cope with the financial constraints, and it showed. Add to that stories of dressing room disharmony, Dutch cleeks and banks demanding millions, and it’s fair to say Rangers were by far the underdogs going into this one.
I remember securing my ticket via a family friend (big Leslie), who would come into play a bit later on, as we had tickets side by side one another. Anyway, I took a sicky that day (obviously), and as it transpired, the rest of the working week would also fall by the wayside. I arrived at my local in Anderston, Bannisters Bar, around the back of one as office workers and workies alike came in for their lunches, game of pool and/or a pint. My nerves were shredded, and as it was a mixed pub, I would spend the next few hours having some top banter with friends and acquaintances both sides of the divide, but I remember the time dragged in till Leslie eventually arrived with our tickets about five o’clock or thereabouts. My Dad was there with me, but he never got a ticket which upset me at the time I recall, but we’d have our day out at Hampden on my birthday the next month.
As usual, we watched the same news report on the sports channels every hour, anticipating team news, injury updates, and general build-up to the match. By the time we got to Hampden and took our seats, it finally filtered through that Rangers had dropped Tore Andre Flo, Stephen Hughes and Tony Vidmar, who all found themselves relegated to the bench. In came Dutch trio Ronald de Boer, Arthur Newman and Bert Konterman. Now when the teams were getting read out over the loudspeaker inside the ground, the biggest cheer came for Konterman……from the CELTIC supporters. That will tell you all you need to know about what kind of impact the big ‘born again Christian’ was having in Govan. He slipped against Henrik Larsson the season before and never really recovered I think. He was affectionately referred to as “Bombscare” by the Rangers fans. Our Regi Blinker, Anton Rogan mash-up if you will.
We lined up; Klos, Ricksen, Numan, Moore, Amoruso, Konterman, Ferguson, de Boer, Caniggia, Lovenkrands, Arveladze. Subs: McGregor, Flo, McCann, Vidmar & Hughes
A very good team compared with today’s side of course, but Celtic were strong…..very strong. Like today they were stomping all over anything domestic football had to offer and where something like 20 points in front at the top of the league. With players like Balde, Valgaeren, Petrov, Lambert, Hartson, Sutton and Larsson they were a real force going for six (yes, six) Old Firm wins in a row. But they had big Rab Douglas in goal and no McNamara that night, which I thought was huge.
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Now both Leslie and I were sitting in the very front row of the second tier at the Rangers side of the tunnel and the atmosphere and view were terrific! I had a good buzz heading to the game from my afternoon drinking session but became instantly sober the minute I walked through the turnstyle. I can’t explain it, it just happened. Like someone had turned off my drunk switch the minute I entered Hampden Park. And it’s with that I instantly remember feeling the uncomfortable feeling in my mouth again. I had a bit of an accident some months prior and lost 3 of my front teeth either side of the two middle gnashers. So I was wearing a plate with false teeth while I waited on surgery and a reconstruction of my mouth, giving me the winning smile I have today. The plate itself was so uncomfortable and sore! It made me feel sick, and cut into my gums. Plus it was loose, and I had to apply a foul tasting gummy substance to keep it in place……which I’d forgot to bring along with me didn’t I?
The match itself is a bit of a blur. Noise, swearing, emotion, a swig of wine off a stranger next to me and a rolled up cigarette sneakily puffed at from my new found neighbour. I remember Larsson rounding Klos, and Amoruso clearing it off of the line, a Larsson free-kick and a Hartson header. But still, it was 0-0 with scents of a Walter Smith style smash n’ grab in the air. And it was us that took the lead sure enough. A free kick on the edge of their box, a bit of pinball, Arveladze flicked it onto Peter Lovenkrands who sprinted past Mjallby and drove it home. Queue bedlam! Cups of fluid up in the air, confetti, hugs, kisses…….just absolute bedlam! 25,000 heads sinking behind shabby green and white scarfs to my left.
But then Rangers regressed and sat back, which was more to do with the loss of Craig Moore, it really shook us. Add to that Celtic brought on Sutton and Moravcik. And it was the latter’s free-kick that caused disarray in our box and let Bobo Balde scramble an equaliser over the line. You don’t know it’s a goal until you hear that lot’s cheers. Cheers, that seem to arrive later than what your eyes are witnessing as the hordes fall over one another, blessing themselves and clasping their hands as if to thank Jesus Christ himself who is sitting in the Celtic end with a bottle of Eldorado and a 3 skinner of rocky black! We could, and should, have won it though in 90 minutes when we were awarded a penalty after de Boer was felled in the box. But Shota Arveladze fluffed his lines and smashed it off the bar, then Balde cleared a Flo toepoke off the line at the death. Full-Time……and I was physically and mentally shattered!
Their leveller and our late misses had knocked the stuffing right out of me, and their fans smelled blood. I must admit, I thought we might be lucky to get to penalties because the players looked as spent as I was. But in 105 minutes of football Arveladze was thwarted in his attempt to enter the box. The ball broke to Big Bert 30+ yards from goal, and he hit the cleanest most sweetly struck rocket of a shot you’ll ever see in your entire footballing life. It was like someone had hit the NOS button. You know, the wee red button on the gear stick in the Fast & The Furious cars that make the cars go into stupid speed mode? Well, that was me. And I almost paid the price…….
When we jumped up to celebrate the goal, I let out a scream of….I don’t know what, to be honest, but when I did, my plate with the false teeth came flying out and right over the gantry and into the Rangers fans below. My instant reaction was to try and catch it, but there was no chance! And as if in slow motion, my momentum started carrying me up and over the wall, and I remember thinking, “I’m going over here!” Just as I was about to hurtle over and into my fellow fans below, a big hand from Leslie grabbed my belt and hauled me back over. Where she found the strength I’ll never know, but she saved me, and the fans below, from a serious mischief.
The game ended, McLeish had arrived, and the players had stopped the rot. The next 3 days were spent between Bannisters and a certain nightclub where I worked as a steward at the time as well. I stayed off of the demon drink, and other poor recreational pursuits, for about 3 weeks after that. My liver and my sole were in tatters man, I kid you not! I’d come into a bit of a windfall prior to the match and had a right few quid, but needs to say, I ended up tapping bus fares off my Mum the week after.
What an adventure and they say it only lasts 90 minutes….aye, nae bother pal.
Simply The Best……..