Celtic made the short trip to Govan with Billy McNeill’s team sitting four points clear of the Graeme Souness-led Rangers at the summit of the league, and the game was barely a quarter of an hour old before things turned ugly.
With 17 minutes on the clock, Celtic forward Frank McAvennie barged into Rangers goalie Chris Woods as he fielded a pass back from Jimmy Phillips.
Woods and McAvennie then became embroiled in a tussle, with the ‘keeper grabbing his opponent by the neck as Rangers defensive duo Terry Butcher and Graham Roberts waded in.
A punch appeared to be thrown, McAvennie collapsed and referee Jim Duncan gave Woods and the Celtic striker their marching orders before booking Butcher and Roberts for their part in the chaos.
The reduction in numbers did little to spoil the game, and Celtic found themselves 2-0 up after 35 minutes, after an Andy Walker strike and an own goal by Butcher.
And Butcher’s afternoon went from bad to worse, as he picked up a second yellow and subsequent red after a clash with Celtic ‘keeper Allen McKnight.
As the Northern Irishman attempted to deal with a high ball, the pair tangled on the ground with Butcher appearing to aim a kick at McKnight. Duncan noticed, and Butcher became the third player to take an early bath.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Rangers pulled a goal back through Ally McCoist.
And the drama didn’t stop there, as Richard Gough netted a last-gasp equaliser following a stramash in the box, sparking bedlam in the stands as the Rangers fans celebrated an unlikely equaliser.
Roberts, who had taken over from Woods in goal - these being the days before reserve goalies were named among the subs - took it upon himself to conduct the Rangers fans behind his goal who were aiming a series of sectarian chants at the Celtic fans. Roberts later claimed he hadn’t been able to hear what the Ibrox fans were singing.
The aftermath of the game was almost as eventful as the match itself. Politicians condemned the scenes, a referee’s report into the fixture was ordered by the Scottish Football Association, and the Procurator Fiscal called for an inquiry into the match.
Woods, Roberts, Butcher and McAvennie were all charged with ‘conduct likely to provoke a breach of the peace’, although the quartet all contested the charges and appeared in court the following spring.
Roberts and McAvennie escaped punishment, but Woods and Butcher were fined £500 and £250 respectively.
When The Scotsman spoke with former Rangers player Derek Ferguson last month, he said he had little, if any, recollection of the match. An after-dinner speech by Roberts, his former team-mate, prompted Ferguson to rack his brains.
“Graham mentioned the match and all the mad things which happened, and I came away thinking, wow, that really summed up the Old Firm: the passion of the fixture, the verbals, the challenges, everything.
“It sounded like a magic game so the next day I looked it up on YouTube. There was me! I was playing!”
Rangers team: Chris Woods, Richard Gough, Graham Roberts, Terry Butcher, Jimmy Phillips, Derek Ferguson, Ian Durrant, Trevor Francis, John McGregor, Mark Falco, Ally McCoist. Subs: Avi Cohen, Davie Cooper.
Manager: Graeme Souness
Celtic team: Allen McKnight, Chris Morris, Roy Aitken, Mick McCarthy, Derek Whyte, Billy Stark, Peter Grant, Paul McStay, Tommy Burns, Andy Walker, Frank McAvennie. Subs: Anton Rogan, Owen Archdeacon.
Manager: Billy McNeill
Ref: Jim Duncan