On the evening of February 8, 2000, Paul Hickson, sub-editor at The Sun, came up with arguably the greatest headline in Scottish football history – maybe even in football history.
A few days later, he told The Guardian: “The headline came long before the final whistle. Caley were 2-1 up. It had looked like a straightforward evening. We expected Celtic to win, but it soon became obvious something big was happening. Celtic losing to a team nobody had heard of – or could even spell – that was the story.
“The Scottish sports editor, Steve Wolstencroft, mentioned the 60s headline used when Liverpool striker Ian Callaghan scored three goals against QPR. It went something like: ‘Super Calli Scores a Hat Trick, QPR Atrocious.’ I didn’t know it. I hit back with ‘Super Caley Go Ballistic, Celtic Are Atrocious’.”
And the legend was born.
Six years later, in the spring of 2006, I spent six weeks in Dunedin, the city on the south island of New Zealand, doing an elective project as a medical student. Whilst there, I got to play a bit of ‘soccer’, and although most of my fellow players were Kiwis, I did meet the odd Scottish ex-pat along the way. One was the coach for the University of Otago, a resident of the southern hemisphere for a couple of decades.
To my horror, the night I went to train with them was the night they were doing a bleep test and despite fancying myself as a keeper, I was expected to give it a shot. It was a complete disaster, and ultimately I swallowed my pride and just helped carry the equipment. But when Coach discovered I was from Inverness, his eyes lit up. “Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious!” he exclaimed.
Six years on, 11,703 miles away (according to Google Maps), people had still heard the story.
Celtic’s wonderful Scottish Cup record
Previously, the mother of all Scottish Cup upsets was attributed to Berwick Rangers, who in January 1967 had achieved “the most ludicrous, the weirdest, the most astonishing result ever returned in Scottish football”, according to The Scotsman. Their victory over Rangers at Shielfield Park marked the first time the Ibrox side had been knocked out in the first round of the cup for 30 years, and the first time they’d ever been beaten by a club in the lower division. It had plenty of the ingredients of the traditional cup shock, such as part-time players – Berwick’s goalscorer, Sammy Reid, was back to work in an engineering yard the following day – and a heroic goalkeeper; Jock Wallace, the player-manager, kept a clean sheet despite playing the second half with only one contact lens.
The aftermath was brutal. Scot Symon, the manager, survived for another ten months, partly because Rangers simply did not sack managers. Symon was only the third in 68 years. However, Jim Forrest and George McLean never played for Rangers again and were swiftly sold. The defeat at Berwick ultimately triggered a period of turmoil; Rangers wouldn’t win the league again until 1974-75, the longest barren period in their history. Their manager? Jock Wallace.
Rangers’ suffering in the late 1960s and 70s was of course exacerbated by the achievements being racked up on the other side of Glasgow: nine titles in a row, the 1967 European Cup. By the 1990s, the boot was very much on the other foot. Off the pitch, only Fergus McCann’s last-gasp intervention saved Celtic from bankruptcy in 1994; on it, Rangers managed to equal that nine-in-a-row record. While their rivals racked up the league trophies, Celtic could at least find some solace in their Scottish Cup record. Not only did they have more cup wins than Rangers – though that gap narrowed in the 1990s – they also didn’t have a stain on their record to rival the catastrophe at Berwick.
The latter part of the decade finally brought success back to Parkhead. Rangers entered the 1997-98 season aiming for that tenth consecutive title, but a Celtic side under the leadership of Wim Jansen and with a Swede named Henrik Larsson playing up front stopped the rot, winning the league by two points. But even that great joy was fleeting; Jansen left the club just 48 hours after the end of the season, his relationship with general manager Jock Brown irreparable. His replacement was the underwhelming though likeable Slovak Dr Jozef Venglos, who struggled initially before leading his team on an unbeaten run between December and April 1999 which left them just about clinging onto the coattails of Rangers – in hindsight a quite remarkable feat given the incredible spending by David Murray on Dick Advocaat’s squad that year.
Infamously, the 1998/99 title race came to a head at Celtic Park, where a 3-0 away win handed the Gers the league and referee Hugh Dallas was struck by a coin. In hindsight though, Celtic were probably a lot closer to Rangers on the pitch than that result suggested. However, drastic change was called for by the fans and those in charge of the club, and drastic change came. McCann, never a popular figure during his tenure, quit as managing director in April 1999, handing over day-to-day responsibility for the club to Allan MacDonald. And Allan MacDonald happened to be close friends with Kenny Dalglish.
The Dream Ticket
Dalglish is still, of course, a Celtic legend, one who made 322 appearances and scored 167 goals for the club between 1969 and 1977 before joining Liverpool for a British record transfer fee. As a manager, he won the league three times at Anfield, and again with Blackburn Rovers in 1994-95 with the millions of Jack Walker bankrolling the squad. Immediately he moved upstairs to a director of football role at Ewood Park for a year, before moving on at the same time as his struggling successor Ray Harford.
Most recently, he had been dismissed by Newcastle United in August 1998 after less than two years in charge, finishing second in his first half-season after succeeding Kevin Keegan but only 13th the following year. One of his signings was a 34-year-old John Barnes, who had, ten years earlier, joined Liverpool when Dalglish was their boss.
In 2011, an article in The Independent described Dalglish’s tenure on Tyneside as “the only part of Kenny Dalglish’s career that came anywhere near failure”. That was not entirely true.
There was great excitement at Celtic Park on June 9, 1999, as their prodigal son came home. Dalglish was appointed as director of football. In turn, he identified John Barnes as the best candidate for the role of head coach. There was an air of happiness and optimism around the place – in fact, the normally dour Dalglish beamed and cracked jokes. “There could have been no greater indication that change was firmly on the agenda”, one journalist wrote.
Allan MacDonald, who left the club the following season, subsequently claimed that the Dalglish-Barnes ‘dream ticket’ wasn’t the original plan at all. Whilst Venglos was often portrayed as bumbling, doddery and not quite up to the job, in fact the club had been impressed by his management and wanted to keep him on. However, the Slovak had a clause in his contract that allowed him to walk away; in what was largely a PR move, he was offered a role as a European scout. However, this was sold to the public as Venglos stepping aside to let the new regime taken over. In their euphoria, the Celtic support were happy to believe it.
Some had concerns. The obvious one was Barnes’ previous experience as a coach, which was absolutely nil. He had played his final match only the month before, for Charlton Athletic. Dalglish quickly pooh-poohed these naysayers, referencing his own experiences. “I got my first opportunity in a similar way at Anfield when Bob Paisley was in charge and I had him to turn to.” Unfortunately, there was no boot room at Celtic Park (metaphorically speaking, at least); nor was there the same level of quality in the squad that Dalglish had been blessed with back in 1986. But there was at least as much expectation.
“Football is a simple game”
On that fateful first day, Barnes told the press: “Football is a simple game.” However, he saw himself as quite the tactical revolutionary. His vision was bold to say the least. He wanted Celtic to play attacking football, in a 4-2-2-2 formation. The width would be provided by the full-backs, who therefore were required to be adventurous. He would use two deep-lying midfielders, and two attack-minded ones, along with two strikers.
Perhaps he had been inspired by the Brazil side from the 1998 World Cup. They had Roberto Carlos and Cafu, the two best attacking full-backs of the era. They had immense talent up front. They also managed a solitary clean sheet on their way to the final. For the flaw in Barnes’ system was its defensive weakness, with four attacking players effectively devoid of defensive responsibility and full-backs at high risk of being caught upfield. In short, it was naive – an adjective that would be used many times in the coming months.
Some of the players that Barnes inherited from Venglos could fit into his stratagem. In Stephane Mahe and Jackie McNamara, he had full-backs who were competent at attacking. Crucially, Venglos had bequeathed him his countryman Lubomir Moravcik, a wily little veteran who had created many a goal for Henrik Larsson. He had also signed Australian striker Mark Viduka from Dinamo Zagreb for £3.5million in December 1999. Within four days, Viduka had gone AWOL, blaming stress. Celtic actually tried to call the move off, but Dinamo weren’t for budging. Thankfully, he returned after a month away and impressed in the last few months of the season.
There were also experienced title winners there: Jonathan Gould in goal, Tom Boyd, Alan Stubbs and Johan Mjallby in defence, and Paul Lambert and Craig Burley in midfield. But like most new managers, Barnes wanted to bring in new faces. The club were willing to spend big to get who he wanted – and the player he wanted most was Eyal Berkovic. The Israeli had starred in the English Premier League for Southampton and then West Ham United. At Upton Park his goals and assists had made him a star, but his sophomore campaign there, 1998-99, had been a rough season, not least after a training ground fight with John Hartson ended with the Welshman kicking Berkovic in the head. Hartson was banned for three matches.
Barnes clearly saw Berkovic as one of the two attacking midfielders, alongside Moravcik, who would support the two strikers. The 27-year-old was signed for £5.75million, a Scottish transfer record.
Celtic forked out transfer fees for two other players. One was Stiliyan Petrov, purchased for £2million from CSKA Sofia. This seemed like an awfully big fee for a 20-year-old Bulgarian who fans in the UK had never heard of. Of course, Petrov went on to become a stalwart in the Celtic midfield for most of the next decade, making more than 300 appearances for the club. Sadly, the first season was a steep learning curve, and Barnes was never to see the best of him.
The other, less well-thought-of move was that for an Ivorian defender named Olivier Tebily. The fee of £1.25million was particularly curious. Tebily had joined Sheffield United only four months earlier for a fee of just £200,000. But Dalglish had watched the big central defender in action for the Blades and been impressed enough to fork out a big fee.
Not for nothing did Tebily acquire the nickname ‘Bombscare’ from Celtic fans. If I were to compare him to Efe Ambrose, younger readers will quickly understand what sort of player he was. He was physically gifted, technically quite capable… and prone to the most dreadful blunders and lapses in concentration. As with these sorts of defenders at bigger clubs, his good performances tended to go unnoticed as clean sheets were part and parcel. His bad days, however, were remembered forever.
Tebily’s season took a turn for the worse in the winter, after he went to the African Cup of Nations; incredibly, after a first-round exit the squad were detained in a military camp in Ivory Coast and required intervention from FIFA to get out. Tebily’s first game for Celtic after this ordeal happened to be the cup tie against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Larsson and Lyon
And yet it all started rather well. Very well, in fact. By October 17, they had accumulated 21 points from eight league games, the solitary blip coming in a 2-1 defeat at Tannadice. They were four points behind Rangers, who had played a game extra, and had themselves enjoyed an outstanding beginning to the campaign with eight straight wins. Barnes’ side had scored 25 goals in those eight games (as many as their rivals had scored in nine) and conceded just three. They had scored five at Pittodrie, four at home to Hearts, and seven in the return game against Aberdeen. The Dalglish-Barnes era was proceeding swimmingly.
But on the evening of October 21, in the French city of Lyon, things started to go horribly wrong. Because that was the evening that Henrik Larsson went in for a 50-50 challenge with a French defender named Serge Blanc.
Scotland only had one Champions League representative in 1999-2000, so Celtic were taking part in the UEFA Cup. Welsh minnows Cwmbran Town offered zero resistance; Hapoel Tel Aviv of Israel were then dismissed with minimal fuss. Lyon would be much tougher opponents. That summer they had spent £11million on Brazilian striker Sonny Anderson, and had plenty of quality elsewhere; Gregory Coupet, Sidney Govou and Vikash Dhorasoo would all go on to win many caps for France.
Nowadays, the pictures of the Swede’s double fracture of his left leg might be considered too gruesome for public consumption, but any Scottish football supporter of the time will remember the images and wince. Literally adding insult to injury, Blanc went on to score the only goal of the game; Lyon would win the second leg in Glasgow by the same scoreline to eliminate Celtic from the competition. But the loss of Larsson for eight months – remarkably, he recovered to make a cameo appearance in the last league games of the season and represented Sweden at Euro 2000 – was a far greater blow than the end of their European aspirations.
Not that it initially seemed so. Barnes could call on Mark Burchill, the occupant of the role of Scottish Football’s Next Big Thing at the time. He also moved swiftly to add further depth by acquiring ex-Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright on a free transfer. Just a few weeks short of his 36th birthday, Wright was clearly past his best, but it was only a year since his final international cap and he would score three goals during his brief spell at Celtic Park, all in his first six appearances.
And if Larsson’s plight was causing any dressing room alarm, it didn’t show initially. Three days after the loss at Lyon, Morten Wieghorst struck a last-gasp winner in Perth which cut the gap to Rangers to just a solitary point.
A quirk of the fixture list meant that the first Old Firm clash would not be until November 7, at Ibrox. By then, the gap had lengthened again, after a shock loss to Motherwell at Celtic Park. It was just the first domestic home defeat of the Dalglish-Barnes era, but it hurt – not least because the visitors played for 56 minutes with ten men. Burchill and Viduka had started up front, but the former was sufficiently ineffective that he was replaced midway through the second half by Harald Brattbakk, the Norwegian who had scored, and missed, a few in the title-winning season but who was by now a peripheral figure.
That said, the response was impressive: a 5-1 rout of Kilmarnock with Viduka notching a hat-trick (giving him 12 league goals already for the season) and a debut goal for Wright who started in place of Burchill. Then came the second leg loss to Lyon, and after that the first Old Firm game.
Exposed at Ibrox
Despite being away from home, Barnes stuck with the adventurous 4-2-2-2. For the neutral, it meant a thrilling 90 minutes. For Celtic fans it meant a lot of watching through the gaps in their fingers. A defence including Tebily at centre-back and Vidar Riseth as a makeshift left-back would have been vulnerable regardless; left utterly exposed like this, they were torn apart.
At the other end of the park, Eyal Berkovic was certainly up for the occasion, equalizing with a clever angled finish after a one-two with Viduka and then actually putting Celtic in front just before half-time with a deflected finish; however, they couldn’t see out the four minutes until the break. Jorg Albertz became the umpteenth Rangers player to find acres of space out wide, and he was comically taken out by a Paul Lambert sliding tackle that was so mistimed that he literally tripped up the German with his face. Lambert was stretchered off with a broken jaw and without some teeth. Albertz converted the resulting penalty.
In addition to scoring twice in the first period, Rangers had hit the woodwork twice too. Amoruso’s deflected free kick early in the second half put them back in front and Gabriel Amato raced through to make it 4-2. Only a combination of good goalkeeping and poor finishing prevented a rout. To add to the gloom, the late introduction of Regi Blinker from the bench led to chants of “there’s only one Regi Blinker”… from the Rangers fans.
Coming on the back of the European exit, the knives were already coming out. “If Barnes is a football prophet, he is too far ahead of his time,” wrote Tom Shields in The Herald. “His system, whatever it is, does not work. Good players have become bad. Moderate players have become worse… Barnes has not only lost the dressing room, he has lost the entire stadium.” The club’s response to the overwhelming criticism was to almost completely deny the press access to players and staff beyond compulsory media commitments.
Dressing room dissent
If this was an attempt to install a bunker mentality, it didn’t work. Viduka’s agent was touting him around England; there were rumours that Mjallby and Wieghorst wanted out; and Craig Burley, a star of the title-winning team, was sold to Derby County for £3million. This was not a popular decision amongst the support, but the industrious Scotland international, neither a defensive midfielder nor a creative playmaker, didn’t fit into Barnes’ system. At least the money was going back into the team though. In early December, the club were linked with a Brazilian international defender named Rafael Felipe Scheidt.
With a winter break scheduled for the 1999-00 season, the next clash between the two would be on December 27 rather than the traditional New Year slot. Celtic won four of the five league games between the derbies, including a 6-0 win at Aberdeen which made for an aggregate score of 18-0 across three games between the clubs. But they managed to slip up against Motherwell yet again. In poor weather they had led 2-1 but a goal from Don Goodman early in the second half proved the winner. Frustratingly, Rangers had lost to Dundee a few hours earlier, so a chance to close the gap at the top had been spurned.
Then another derby day, and another opportunity missed. This time Celtic were far better, Viduka hitting the woodwork early on before opening the scoring, and had Moravcik scored rather than hitting the bar a few minutes before Billy Dodds’ equalizer they surely would have won. The Slovak repeated the feat in the second half, but ultimately the spoils were shared and the teams headed into the four-week shutdown four points apart, with Rangers having played a match fewer.
A few days prior to the Old Firm match, the aforementioned Scheidt – now being referred to as ‘Rafael’ by Celtic for obvious reasons – had completed his £5million move from Gremio and joined the squad; however a few days before the first game of the new year, at Kilmarnock, he came down with acute appendicitis. With Alan Stubbs ill and Tebily off to the African Cup Of Nations, it wasn’t ideal timing. Celtic again were held to a draw after taking the lead through Viduka, but there were more signs of crisis; Blinker threw a hissy fit when he was subbed (Barnes: “If he was annoyed, that’s good because it shows he cares”) and Ian Wright managed to get himself sent off after the match following an altercation with Jim Lauchlan in the tunnel. Two months later he would get a longer ban after it transpired that he had then ‘severely pushed’ the fourth official Willie Young in the aftermath. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing that to the very amenable and well-liked Young.
So that was the gap up to six points. Next up was the Scottish Cup, the tournament with which the Bhoys held such great affinity. Barnes could have been forgiven for hoping for an easy draw, and if so he got his wish – first division Inverness Caledonian Thistle at home.
A dangerous opponent
At the start of the year 2000, Inverness Caledonian Thistle were just five and a half years old. The amalgamation of two longstanding Highland League clubs had paved the way for admission to the Scottish Football League for the start of the 1994-95, and resulted in a rather clumsy-sounding but unique name which the supporters became rather fond of.
A mediocre first campaign led to the exit of the club’s first manager, Sergei Baltacha, and his replacement was successful Highland League stalwart Steve Paterson. Many, if not all Scottish football supporters will forever associate Paterson with his dreadful later spell as Aberdeen manager, where his problems with alcohol came to the fore. At Inverness, though, he remains a hero to this day, for his devotion to cavalier and reckless attacking football; two strikers; wingers playing as wing-backs; every match a quest to outscore the opposition.
The 1999-00 campaign was their first season in the First Division. Unsurprisingly they took time to find their feet, but by the start of February they had climbed to sixth in the table. Well out of the promotion race yet comfortably clear of the drop zone, they could concentrate on enjoying the tie against their prestigious opponents. If nothing else, it would be a wonderful experience for the players and fans, as well as providing a financial windfall.
Already in their short history they had taken on Rangers in the cup, losing 3-0 in the 1995-96 quarter-finals at Tannadice after local police refused them permission to host the game at the cramped Telford Street ground that they then occupied. And now they faced the other half of the Old Firm.
Not that the squad was completely green (if you excuse the pun). The 33-year-old midfielder Charlie Christie had been on Celtic’s books more than a decade earlier, but despite an excellent goalscoring record for the reserves, he couldn’t break into the first team and returned north.
Goalkeeper Jim Calder, a sprightly 39, had an even stranger association; in 1985, he had come off the bench for Inverness Thistle as they went down 6-0 at Celtic Park in the fourth round of that year’s competition… as a striker. A knee injury ended his career as an outfield player soon afterward, but he had reinvented himself between the sticks, though his previous incarnation left him with a tendency to attempt to dribble round opposing forwards. A stalwart in the lower leagues, he had actually come close to leaving ICT a few months earlier before winning back his place in the team from Les Fridge. Christie and Calder, along with many others, were about to enjoy the night of their lives.
The footballing gods chose to have a bit more fun at Celtic’s expense, and the expenses of the 5,000 Inverness fans who travelled to Glasgow for the tie on January 29. Less than an hour before kick-off, with the players on the pitch checking out the playing conditions, the match was postponed after 60mph winds damaged some guttering on the roof of the East Stand, causing it to hang loose.
So the match was rearranged for February 8, which meant one more league game to be played beforehand. Hearts were the visitors to Celtic Park, and after early goals from Moravcik and Viduka it looked like a comfortable afternoon was in store. Unfortunately, the Jambos were inspired by an epic all-action performance from Colin Cameron, who scored twice in a stunning 3-2 comeback win. The same deficiencies were on show; being caught short at the back for Gary Naysmith’s equalizer, and panicky defending resulting in a silly penalty being given away.
Unsurprisingly, the final whistle was greeted by boos and catcalls. Even Barnes sounded his own concern post-match: “Assuming that Rangers win tomorrow (they drew, in fact, moving ten points clear), the championship now comes more difficult by the day. If we continue to play like this, we’ll be lucky to finish second.” This was a daft comment given that there was a ten-point gap to Dundee United in third, but it emphasised the struggles. The mood was hardly improved when Berkovic then gave an interview to an Israeli journalist where he admitted the title race was “all but over.”
The fateful night
So to the rearranged cup-tie. Despite being on a Tuesday evening, around 4,000 Caley Thistle fans made the journey.
(This writer gave up his ticket as he had a higher chemistry exam the following morning; he will regret this decision for the rest of his days.)
Celtic lined up as follows: Gould, Riseth, Tebily, Boyd, Mahe, Healy, Blinker, Moravcik, Berkovic, Burchill, Viduka. They were without McNamara, Lambert, Mjallby, Petrov and Stubbs, with rare starts for youngster Colin Healy and veteran Tom Boyd. With Moravcik, Berkovic, Burchill and Viduka on the pitch – yup, that 4-2-2-2 formation again – there was no shortage of firepower. However ICT manager Paterson later recounted in his autobiography: “Bloody hell, I thought, we could beat this lot if every member of my team hits his best form.”
Caley Thistle’s team read: Calder, Teasdale, Mann, Golabek, Hastings, Tokely, McCulloch, Christie, Sheerin, Wilson, Wyness. The only notable absentee was Canadian international striker Davide Xausa. As a result, Paterson moved Barry Wilson, usually on the flank, up front.
Celtic looked out of sorts from the off. “It didn’t feel right,” said Bobby Mann years later in an interview with Tell Him He’s Pele. “We got a corner, someone won the header, and then we won another, and they were all arguing about who was picking up who. There was definitely a bit of friction in their camp.” Paterson turned to his assistant Alex Caldwell and said: “We’re looking the better team here.”
It was Wilson who opened the scoring after 16 minutes, with a goal far more typical of a penalty box striker than a winger playing out of position. From Celtic’s point of view, Paul Sheerin had far too much time to deliver a cross from the left flank. Wilson attacked the front post, got half a yard ahead of Tebily, and glanced a header into the net. The warning shot had been fired, and to be fair Celtic took some heed initially. They were level within a minute, cutting through the opposition like, well, a team of internationals taking on a lower-league team. It was Mark Burchill who finished off an impressive move with aplomb, taking advantage of a fortunate ricochet off Mann to fire past Calder.
It was about the only good fortune they were to have that night. However, for the next few minutes, the match threatened to follow the expected script. Celtic nearly took the lead almost immediately. Viduka managed to round Calder, but resisted the chance to go down under pressure from the goalkeeper and Richard Hastings, and the latter got back to block his shot.
The next twist wasn’t long in coming, though. The home fans might have thought they’d dodged a bullet when Gould made a superb reflex save at the back post from a Mike Teasdale header. But the way the Inverness players queued up unmarked to attack the ball exposed a weakness. Just a few minutes later, the Highlanders retook the lead. Though Mann still claims the goal to this day, the truth is that his header probably didn’t have enough power to beat the diving Gould. But inexplicably Lubomir Moravcik, under no pressure just inside his six-yard box, flung his left leg desperately as the ball went past him and sliced it into the roof of his own net. Of all people, the Slovak, renowned for his calm and coolness when surrounded by defenders at the other end of the pitch, had panicked.
After 24 minutes, Celtic were 2-1 down.
For the rest of the first half, the outcome was still very much in the balance. The home side upped the tempo and put the minnows under sustained pressure. This was Calder’s time to shine. First, he did well to get down low to his left hand side and get a strong hand to turn a Viduka shot round the post. Next, he managed to reach Stephane Mahe’s stinging effort with only a few fingertips, enough to divert it onto his near post, with the ball rebounding to safety. Then he denied Moravcik some redemption, parrying his long range effort back into the goalmouth and to the feet of Viduka, only for the Australian to hit it straight at a blocking defender with the goal gaping.
Whilst to a neutral onlooker it might have seemed that a second equalizer was inevitable, the home support were clearly not so confident. The last action of the first half saw the hapless Tebily take an air-shot and nearly fall on his face. Dougie McDonald’s whistle was followed by a cacophony of boos and catcalls. The players headed for their respective dressing rooms; the Celtic players trudging with shoulders slumped, their opponents practically bouncing.
Handbags at half-time
“Steve (Paterson) had to scrape us off the ceiling,” recounts Mann. “We were all hyper. But he told us ‘keep attacking’ and not sit back. He felt there were definitely more goals for us there.” It was typical Paterson – a manager devoted to sending out his team to attack and score goals. Even in these circumstances, he wasn’t going to suggest parking the bus.
The Celtic dressing room, meanwhile, spilled into all out warfare. Eric Black, Barnes’ assistant, tried to provoke a reaction from Viduka.
“Is it too cold tonight? Do you not fancy it?”
He got a reaction, just not the one he was hoping for. The Australian striker took his boots off, threw them in the bin and said: “Fuck this bollocks!” before heading for the showers. He refused to emerge for the second half. Years later, Black still claimed: “I’ve no doubt I made the right call on the night.” Barnes, looking on helpless, might have disagreed.
Then keeper Gould stuck his oar in. “I then stepped in and told the manager he should be directing his anger at Eyal Berkovic because I didn’t think he was pulling his weight, and John (Barnes) and I had a bitter exchange.”
In the midst of it all, Viduka had to be replaced. On came Wright, who was shocked by the whole episode. The 36-year-old later claimed it was “the only time I’d ever seen anything like this happen. After a scene like that, the whole dressing room was unsettled.”
Gould is scathing of Barnes’ response. “We needed leadership and John didn’t provide it, he was in a situation he hadn’t the experience to handle.”
There was one more chance, right at the start of the second half, with Calder spreading his enormous frame to block from Burchill at point-blank range. But then came the coup de grâce.
The passage of play leading up to Inverness’ third goal summed up the second period beautifully. It started with some showboating orchestrated by the outstanding Christie – a set of one touch triangular passes in the centre of midfield. Eventually the ball was given away, but won back immediately in a crunching tackle. Play moved out to the right flank, where Wilson had drifted, and he played a one-two with Wyness, sprinting away from the Celtic midfield. Regi Blinker tried desperately to keep up, but Wilson, just inside the penalty area, cut across the Dutchman, who had the choice either to check his run and allow Wilson in on goal, or to run into the back of him. Worse, he decided to nudge the attacker in the back.
Wilson went down very easily, but it was a penalty. The reaction of the Celtic players said it all; Blinker, realizing the enormity of what he had just done, put his head in his hands. So did several of his teammates. There were no protests. To make matters worse, Paul Sheerin was one of the most reliable penalty takers in Scottish football. If the occasion increased the pressure on him, he didn’t show it. Gould’s dive to his left was half-hearted, but that might have been because he instantly knew he’d been sent the wrong way. It was 3-1. There was still more than half an hour to play.
The significance was beginning to dawn on everyone. BBC Scotland’s commentary game of choice that night was the replay between Aberdeen and St Mirren. With 20 minutes to play in Glasgow, someone made the momentous decision to switch games. The matchday reporter at Parkhead now had to commentate live, though there was very little action to comment on. The third goal had killed off the game, leaving Celtic utterly demoralised. They managed to bring one more save out of Calder, but the players just couldn’t get off the field quickly enough. Caley Thistle coasted to the finish line, with man of the match Christie strutting around midfield, utterly dominant against far younger and far more illustrious opponents.
At the final whistle they were hailed by the travelling support. A small number of Celtic fans offered applause as well. The vast majority were long gone.
Wright recounts it as “one of my worst footballing experiences.” To make matters worse, he and Blinker required a police escort to leave the ground. Viduka left just before them; the fans, unaware of the reason behind his half-time substitution, gave him what Wright described as “a hero’s welcome.”
The trip up the A9 was a rather happier one. Showing a touch of class, the Celtic directors paid for several crates of beer for the Caley Thistle team bus.
The post-mortem began the next day. Allan MacDonald released a statement describing the result as “totally unacceptable to myself, my fellow directors, and simply not good enough for the Celtic support.” He announced a full review would take place once Dalglish returned “from club business overseas.” ‘Club business’ was stretching the truth. There was indeed a football tournament taking place in La Manga, but it wasn’t due to start for a couple of days. By a remarkable coincidence, the director of football had a holiday home there, and his wife had accompanied him on this trip.
On January 10, less than 48 hours after the debacle, Barnes was sacked. So was Black. Dalglish was put in charge for the rest of the season.
In 2008, Barnes would claim that he had been up against it from the beginning. “Your bosses impact on you far more than what is going on on the field. If they don’t support you, you are in trouble. At Celtic they were not with me. They wanted Kenny Dalglish, they didn’t want me.” This seems rather unlikely. Even if there was an element of truth to it, the fact is that that he proved woefully out of his depth.
The secretary of the Association of Celtic Supporters Clubs, Peter Rafferty, put it best. “I can’t really feel that sorry for John Barnes. He had a fixed idea about team tactics and brought a lot of the problems on himself. It was common knowledge the players weren’t comfortable and the supporters were clearly unhappy. Celtic fans have been brought up on a diet of attacking football, glamorous football – but that’s not what we were getting.” The last sentence is all the more damning, given that Barnes’ tactics were all about attacking football.
And yet Celtic supporters may look back at February 8, 2000, as a defining moment in the club’s history, the earthquake that forced radical change. Dalglish kept things ticking over to the end of the season, winning the League Cup, but the gap to Rangers in the league grew from ten points to 21 (a record) during his tenure. There was no prospect of him being kept on permanently, not least as, despite his public protestations to the contrary, he had had a say in several of the dreadful signings made by Barnes.
When the club persuaded Martin O’Neill to move north from Leicester City, there was no room for the club legend. With O’Neill unwilling to work under a director of football – and no need for one anyway – Dalglish left Celtic on June 29.
In 2002-03, the two sides were drawn together again in the quarter-finals of that season’s competition. This time the match was in Inverness, but the outcome was the same; a Dennis Wyness goal just before half-time proved the winner as the Highlanders pulled off another great upset. Given that three days earlier Celtic had knocked Liverpool out of the UEFA Cup at Anfield, their fans were rather more understanding this time around.