Following the finish of my travels around England, it would be unfair not to include those, reasonably limited as they are in Scotland. Now those trips to Scotland as you know are very well travelled journeys and the ferries between Ireland and Scotland could probably run on football business alone. Bit of an exaggeration but I know people who think that.
There is little I can tell readers here probably about Old Firm matches. I have only been to three but if the first two were non-events, the last one was more like the Boyne, Bannockburn and Culloden rolled into one. They were all in the eighties and occurred at Ibrox.
The first one was the first Saturday in November 1983 and I thought I should visit one on the way to see my sister. Just to pay some attention to the ferocity of these games, one was aware of a certain load in the air but 91 arrests I was told was an average enough day. Another odd thing I found were a couple of Celtic fans in the stand two rows away. Nobody bothered them but I don’t think the match got started before their presence annoyed somebody and they were moved. Brave folk! I never worked out how that happened and it did seem a talking point after the game in the press as it seemed to have occurred at various points in the Rangers’ stands.
Celtic were to win 2-1 with goals by Frank McGarvey and Tommy Burns. The fabled midfield of that era in the form of Paul McStay, Murdo McLeod, Tommy Burns and Davy Provan took the field, though Provan went off injured fairly early on. Rangers legend John Greig had just resigned as manager.
I went back the following August with a mate who was keen to go but on a baking hot day, it was to be the first 0-0 draw between the clubs since 1955. Players I remember from that one included the late Davy Cooper, Iain Redford and Bobby Russell. Peter Grant had a strong game for Celtic and Brian McClair also played in green. I remember reaching Glasgow city centre at about an hour after the final whistle absolutely amazed to see the ‘Pink’ paper ready for sale with all the day’s football.
My final Old Firm was fairly infamous. October 17 1987 ended up in the civil court rather than the team bath. I had forgotten that it was actually the 16th minute that Celtic striker Frank McAvennie tangled with English goalkeeper Chris Woods. Both saw red with ex Spurs’ defender Graham Roberts taking over in nets.
I mention ‘English’ as in those days Sassenachs were fairly unheard of in Scottish football. It was the height of the Graeme Souness revolution and alongside Woods and Roberts, English internationals Terry Butcher and Trevor Francis were also playing for Rangers. I still quite couldn’t get my head around Plymouth born, softly-spoken Trevor Francis finding himself in Britain’s most intense derby.
Andy Walker had Celtic ahead and then Butcher put in a classic lob against his own stand-in keeper much to the delight of the Celtic-filled Broomloan stand immediately behind. His day would further deteriorate as he was over aggressive with Northern Irish goalkeeper Allen McKnight. Third red of the day.
Ally McCoist would pull one back and then in injury time following good work by Ian Durrant, Richard Gough would put a loose ball in the net to send Ibrox into meltdown. It truly was one of the most frenzied atmospheres I have witnessed. Current ROI manager Mick McCarthy was in the middle of the Celtic defence that day. The three sent off plus Graham Roberts would find themselves in the Glasgow Sheriff’s court to give their observations amidst much media fervour about the outside world interfering on the field of play.
It would be five years later whilst working in Glasgow I went to my next match in Scotland which was a 4-1 midweek jaunt against Falkirk courtesy of a McCoist hat-trick. That was on the 7 April 1992 and unbelievably, ten years to the day I found myself back at Ibrox following a trip to Inverness for a Sunday match against Hearts.
Billy Dodds scored both in a 2-0 win but there were some interesting players on view such as Lorenzo Amoruso, Andrei Kanchelskis, Peter Lovenkrands, Michael Mols and Ronald de Boer. Claudio Caniggia was on the bench to complete the international array. What had my attention though was the most intricate tartan design on the pitch which clearly was the groundsman’s pride and joy. The things you remember!
My next visit to Scotland was for a stag do in Stranraer. Yes, I know. Just to perplex my date-fuddled brain it was on the 5th November 2006 which had been the day in ‘83 that I had first gone to Glasgow for a match. These things play with your head. A brilliant game unfolded between Stranraer and Britain’s most northerly club Ross County who won a humdinger 3-2.
Stair Park was as you would expect not unlike most Irish League grounds – all pies, concrete and familiarity. What I found interesting was that the Ross County supporters had flown to Belfast on the Friday, had a night out there, then took the ferry to Stranraer to get to the match. They were doing the same in reverse rather than slog their way down from the Highlands. Fascinating! They were as perplexed at us coming to Stranraer for a stag do as we were at their logistics.
I finally made it to Parkhead five years ago and attended a European game against Salzburg. The history and grandeur of the place impressed me no end and I loved the physical space around it which you don’t always get with British grounds.
A very impressive Salzburg won 3-1 and there were some familiar names playing for the home team including Scott Brown, Kris Commons, Craig Gordon and Charlie Mulgrew. Future Liverpool colleagues Virgil van Dijk and Naby Keita would face each other in that match as well with the latter scoring in the last minute for the Austrians.
I must try and get the Edinburgh grounds in.