CELTIC are just 90 minutes from Scottish Football immortality.
46 domestic matches have been played across three competitions, 14 opponents have tried their luck and Brendan Rodgers side are still undefeated in the Scottish season. Even by their standards, and Celtic are miles ahead of the rest of Scottish Football on and off the pitch, that record is stunning.
Saturday’s Scottish Cup Final against Aberdeen, whom they finished 30 points clear of in the League campaign and dismissed them easily in the League Cup Final, gives them the chance to complete the treble and declare themselves as Invincible’s throughout the entire season.
It’s a far cry from 22 years ago, when they were ready to face, then, First Division Airdrieonians in the 1995 Scottish Cup Final!
Prior to that game, Celtic had went through the leanest period of their history. They had gone six years without a major trophy, finished outside the top two on each of the seven seasons since their previous League title win of 1988, failed to qualify for Europe twice and, more importantly, were on the brink of bankruptcy before the 11th hour intervention of Fergus McCann 14 months prior to the Final.
Having finished a distant 4th in the League behind Rangers, Motherwell and Hibs, and surprisingly losing the League Cup Final on penalties to First Division Raith Rovers, the pressure on Celtic was enormous going into the showpiece climax to the Scottish Football season.
For manager Tommy Burns, defeat was unthinkable and he knew that an Airdrie victory would be the end of his Parkhead reign less than a year after taking the job.
Although they were in the second tier of Scottish Football, Airdrie were no mugs back then and had built a reputation of being Cup Specialists in the 90’s having reached the League Cup Semi Finals and winning the Challenge Cup earlier in the season, in addition to reaching the Final of this competition three years earlier. Having defeated Hearts in the Semi Final, the Diamonds were confident on causing an upset and delivering their first major trophy since 1924.
There was doubt as to where the Final would be played, given that Celtic had been leasing Hampden for the season whilst Celtic Park underwent major refurbishment, with suggestions that Ibrox, which hosted Raith’s League Cup triumph, should be the venue for the showpiece occasion. However, the SFA decided that the Final should stay at the National Stadium, not that it gave the Bhoys a direct advantage given their patchy “home” form throughout the season.
So the scene was set, could Celtic finally get that monkey off their back and deliver that long awaited wait for silverware or would lightning strike twice against second tier opposition in another Cup Final?
Nine minutes into the game, they got off to the perfect start when Pierre Van Hooijdonk rose to head Tosh McKinlay’s cross past the despairing John Martin into the corner of the net.
That should’ve eased Celtic’s nerves but they didn’t kick on in a dire game as Airdrie tried in vein to get the equaliser, creating very little. By memory, there was an Alan Lawrence chance which Pat Bonner dealt with on the hour mark but there wasn’t much else in terms of clear cut chances as Celtic held on to claim that elusive victory. The relief could be felt round the majority of the stadium that day as the six year wait for silverware was over for the Bhoys.
Nobody in the ground was as relived as Paul McStay. The skipper had missed the crucial penalty in the League Cup Final defeat to Raith six months earlier and felt the burden of the clubs pain throughout their trophy famine. He was so eager to get his hands on that trophy that he was a good few yards ahead of his teammates when the club were called to collect the Scottish Cup.
That victory in 1995 not only ended their six year wait for a trophy but sent a statement of intent that Celtic were back to challenge at the top of Scottish Football again. After running Rangers closely the next two seasons, they won their first League title in ten years three years later and have won 12 out of the last 19 Scottish titles since, including this season, and claimed many Scottish Cups and League Cups along the way.
Today’s Celtic side are in a completely different world these days having won six titles in a row and are miles ahead of their rivals on and off the pitch. This season, they’ve upped the ante big time and are now on the brink of history. It’s far too easy to say “there’s no competition” to dismiss Celtic’s run so far this season, to be unbeaten in every domestic game no matter what standard you’re up against is incredible and they deserve full credit for that run.
Should they defeat Aberdeen to complete the treble and invincibility, the Celtic faithful who suffered through the turbulent early 90’s period, will look back and wonder if any of this would’ve been possible had they lost to Airdrie that day in 1995? It may not ranks as one of their greatest Scottish Cup victories in their history, but it was certainly one of the most significant to get them out of the doldrums and back on the road to the top.