Wim the Tim

Last year, when Scotland were preparing to take part in Euro 2020 (yeah, last year was 2021, I will never be okay with that in my head) the podcast team put together a video to wish the team good luck.

I’ll be honest, I was just going to do a quick good luck Scotland thing, but then I saw some of the pieces that were coming in and I felt like I had to up my game. So I did a weird sketch where the 2021 version of me talked to the 1998 version of me. It was hard to tell as I didn’t get changed into different clothes – mainly because I’m too fat to fit into my football tops from 1998 that I still have – but the hint of me singing ‘Don’t Come Home Too Soon’ over and over again was supposed to help indicate that.

The truth is, the real summer of 1998 version of me was absolutely loving football. Scotland were opening the World Cup against Brazil and Celtic had just won the league for the first time in a decade.

In fact, there was a “stopping ten in a row” comment in the video given Rangers had just done the same thing in 2021. It’s funny how these things work out!

For the 1998 version of me though, it wasn’t just stopping Rangers win ten in a row, something that clearly wasn’t insignificant in itself since it saved Jock Stein’s record and (of course) his Celtic team is the best Scottish team of all time and how dare anyone compare nine in a row feats!

Yes, I did three blogs doing just that on this very site. You’ll note the conclusion is no different from what I just said though!

My interest in football started properly in 1990. I have vague memories of some things that happened in 1989, like Celtic signing some Polish players and not signing one particular former player who went across the city in some controversy! But the memories of actual football matches all seems to start in 1990. The Scottish Cup final followed by Scotland’s Italy ’90 warm up match against Poland specifically.

As such, I had no memory whatsoever of Celtic being Scottish champions – that had last happened in the club’s centenary year of 1988.

My later school years were spent watching Rangers scoop up league title after league title, trophy after trophy. If it felt like they won everything, it’s because they did. The seven trophies in a row that Rangers won were done so right in the middle of their nine in a row success.

Meanwhile during that same period Celtic almost went bust, hadn’t won a trophy since 1989, and were so bad that for a time people (including my own parents) thought I was an Aberdeen fan because they were the only team likely to stop Rangers!

Ironically, they didn’t, Dundee United did.

Celtic did win the Tennents Sixes in 1992 though, which is technically the first trophy I was there to see Celtic win. I think the next time I was actually there to see a trophy presentation was when Martin O’Neill’s Celtic were given the SPL trophy in 2001!

Tommy Burns came along and ended the six year trophy drought with Scottish Cup glory – albeit after a failed attempt to do end the drought in the League Cup earlier that season – but it was something of a blip and he wasn’t able to stop Rangers equalling Stein’s record.

When he left, the three amigos of Pierre van Hooijdonk, Jorge Cadete and Paolo Di Canio all left for one reason or another, and Paul McStay hung up his boots due to persistent injuries, there just didn’t feel like any chance we would stop them winning the ten.

Then Celtic brought in Wim Jansen.

It’s embarrassing to admit now given what he had achieved prior to his time at Celtic, but I’d never heard of him until then.

As a player, Wim Jansen played in two World Cup finals, and actually played in all seven of the Netherlands’ games at both the 1974 and 1978 World Cups. Perhaps more significantly as a Celtic fan, he played in the Feyenoord team that beat Celtic in the 1970 European Cup final! He also won four league titles, and a UEFA Cup too. That’s some record for someone I’d never head of!

As a manager, he won the Dutch cup with Feyenoord twice, which was amazing it itself as they were almost bankrupt not long before it. But perhaps more significantly for Scottish football he was responsible for bringing through and developing young players like Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Henrik Larsson.

Not only that, but Jansen knew of Larsson’s release clause of £650,000 that meant Celtic were able to pull off one of the biggest heists in world football. Even in 1997, to pick up a player of Larsson’s quality for well under £1m is daylight robbery. Even if he did go on to improve his game at Celtic in the years that followed, this is a guy who played in the Swedish side that finished third in the World Cup in 1994.

It took a while before Jansen’s Celtic would really click, and after two games in the league Celtic were actually bottom of the table having lost both games. The first derby of the season – which should have been the second but the first was postponed after a royal death brought the country to a standstill – was won by Rangers. That game is probably most memorable for goal scorer Richard Gough’s celebration as he ran off doing a “raise the ten” hand signal. The rearranged game became the second derby and that took an injury time Alan Stubbs equaliser to get anything from the game.

But Celtic continued to build, continued to evolve. As well as Larsson, Celtic brought in Craig Burley and Jonathan Gould in the summer, whilst Marc Rieper and remarkably European Cup winning Paul Lambert also joined before the end of the year. The signing of Lambert probably made a bigger impact on this one season than the signing of Larsson if we’re honest, despite Henrik’s involvement at key times. His finest moments were still to come. Lambert’s quality and experience changed the Celtic midfield for the better.

But even by the time Lambert joined, Celtic had already won the League Cup for the first time in fifteen years – a remarkable stat in its own right – without even losing a goal.

The New Year derby against Rangers was a real turning point as Celtic won it for the first time since 1988 (remember when they last won the league?) and the goals came from two of Jansen’s signings in the aforementioned Burley and Lambert. Amazingly, the new year win was the only actual win against Rangers that season!

The months that followed were rocky as Jansen’s relationship with Celtic general manager Jock Brown deteriorated. If I’m honest, had Rangers kept their act together in the final months of that season then they probably would have clinched that tenth title but they lost too many matches while Celtic were only really drawing them.

Actually, the same could be said for Hearts, who were still in the hunt for the title at the turn of the year. But they faded worse than either Celtic or Rangers in the second half of the season.

Rangers did manage to win the Scottish Cup semi final tie against Celtic, denying Jansen the chance of a treble, as well as the last league derby of the season. But that was the only league game Celtic actually lost in the second half of the season, and that proved to be the difference.

Although Celtic lost that one game, and drew another six after the new year derby victory, Rangers lost four and drew three. The fact that Walter Smith had announced he was leaving at the end of the season seemed to have more of an effect on them than the disruption behind the scenes at Celtic.

When Kilmarnock got an injury time winner at Ibrox on the penultimate weekend of the league season, it gave Celtic the chance to clinch the title at East End Park the following day. In hindsight, it’s probably better that they failed to do that. Winning it at Celtic Park in front of a home crowd probably made it a far bigger spectacle and allowed far more Celtic fans to be a part of it. But at the time it felt like the longest, most nervy week ever. It was still in Celtic’s hands to win it, all they had to do was beat St Johnstone at home. But that was still a nervy game.

Larsson opening the scoring in the first couple of minutes settled the nerves, but as the game remained 1-0 and we could still remember how Dunfermline had equalised late on the previous week, it was an absolute eternity. I wasn’t there, I was listening to the radio at home, but somehow I have memories of time stopping when George O’Boyle headed over the bar. I don’t think I even heard that on the radio properly, I saw it in the highlights later on. Likely the years have merged the two into one.

St Johnstone were on the attack again in the second half and it was getting too much for me. I was hiding under a pillow when Celtic got the ball clear and broke up the park. That same pillow went flying when Harald Brattbakk scored the second goal that settled everything and we knew we’d go on to win the game and the title.

I can still remember the Rob McLean commentary on Sportscene for those two goals. Many people remember Roddy Forsyth’s comments on Radio Five in the celebration scenes that followed. Ten years after the event I used them in a video of my own (not one of my better efforts!)

I can still remember Scotsport finishing their coverage using M-People’s cover of Itchycoo Park as they played a montage of key moments in the season. It always ends with the image of the players tossing Wim Jansen up in the air.

Sadly, Jansen didn’t stay to build on the success. As Scotland went to the World Cup, Celtic were already on the hunt for his replacement as he had resigned just 48 hours after those wonderful scenes.

It took a bit of shine off the achievements, and yet it is still something that is looked back on fondly even today. Even Celtic having “the ten” stopped last year hasn’t changed that.

When news came through this week that Wim Jansen had passed away after suffering from dementia, it was incredibly sad and yet thoughts immediately turned to the happy moments he gave us.

For me, it was the first time we had been champions. The first time we had won the League Cup. The first time we had won more than one trophy in the same season. It’s the second and third major trophies I remember Celtic winning.

It’s very hard to explain that to younger Celtic fans who have never known such disappointment, especially when winning twelve trophies in a row is still a very recent memory. But trophyless seasons were a common thing for me growing up.

If you count 1990 as my first, which is fair since it literally has a cup final defeat as my prominent memory, then I had seven trophyless seasons in eight years prior to Wim Jansen’s arrival. Since Wim Jansen’s double winning season I’ve only experienced it another four times – 1999, 2003, 2010 and 2021.

Even then, 2003 was the year Celtic went to Seville, so it doesn’t even feel like it should count as there were plenty of other memories from then! And 2021 was just rubbish with no fans.

Wim Jansen didn’t just “stop the ten”, he brought in my all time favourite Celtic player in Henrik Larsson and set Celtic on a path to believing we could win things again. He put the foundations in place that Martin O’Neill was able to pick up later and use to amazing effect – Henrik Larsson and Paul Lambert accounted for half the Celtic goals in the seismic power shifting 6-2 defeat of Rangers remember and players like Jonathan Gould and Stephane Mahe were pivotal in that game as well.

For a man who was only at Celtic for one season, he did some phenomenal work. I don’t think I’ll see someone make that big a difference and not stick around to build on it again.

It feels like the last few years have seen so many key people from my childhood pass away. As this blog goes live it’s a year to the day that Jansen’s successor, Dr Jo Venglos, passed away. It’ll be three years in April since we lost Billy McNeill. Obviously we lost Tommy Burns in 2008 to cancer as well, and I wrote about Walter Smith’s passing just a few months ago. That’s a significant part of my early footballing years where the managers have now all passed on.

It’s almost a running joke among Celtic fans that we should “remember the 90s” any time we feel like the current Celtic team aren’t doing well enough. But in this case, I feel like “remember the 90s” is appropriate for what is undoubtedly the biggest highlight in it for all Celtic fans.

Thank you Wim, rest in peace.