Harald Brattbakk takes to the skies on a regular basis these days. But the Norwegian striker -turned-airline pilot still draws significant satisfaction from the afternoon when he sent Celtic hearts soaring with the most important goal of his Parkhead career.
His strike against St Johnstone in May 1998, Celtic’s second in a 2-0 win, was the goal that ended Rangers’ quest for an historic tenth successive title and a goal that got a nervy Parkhead side over the line for their first title in a decade. Now, with the tables turned, it is his former club looking for a record-equalling nine, with Brattbakk suggesting that the pressure is all on Neil Lennon’s side as they look to sustain their dominance.
Ibrox manager Steven Gerrard spoke last week of how the constant chat about ten-in-a-row is an “obsession”, something that Brattbakk could appreciate having walked into a dressing room in 1997 that was in danger of suffocating under the weight of trying to stop Rangers making history.
“I wasn’t obsessed with ten. I was unknowingly taken into this storm,” said the affable Brattbakk. “I arrived in December ’97 and didn’t know anything about it.
“It is strange, but we didn’t think of it as winning the title, we thought about it as stopping ten in a row. Stopping ten, though, didn’t feel as the bigger prize for me — I was winning the league for Celtic for the first time. But for the likes of Tommy Boyd, Jackie McNamara, Paul Lambert – all the local boys – they were stopping Rangers from getting ten.
“I think being on the receiving end of ten in a row, that’s tough. I think Steven Gerrard’s right in many respects, it’s an obsession. I think [the pressure] is on Celtic to reach ten. The more you win the harder it is to defend the next title.
“It is more difficult to win ten in a row. To stop it, you only have to be lucky once. To win ten in a row you have to be consistent for ten seasons. The relief and the emotions are so different from stopping ten than winning ten.”
There is an increasing suspicion that this season’s title will be decided on how the Old Firm games play out. Both teams are better off than where they were at this point last term; Rangers 12 points better, Celtic ten – simply because of the consistency of both. Brattbakk, though, hasn’t ruled out other teams taking points off either of them as the intensity of the race increases.
“The teams they will play against have no pressure but they can have a part in deciding who is going to win the league,” said the 48-year-old.
“I know what it is like playing with and without pressure and it is two different things. Maybe there is a dark horse somewhere in the league that can be a decider.”
If Brattbakk’s name is etched into Celtic folklore given the weight of his goal against St Johnstone, it is indelibly written into Rosenborg’s most successful era.
Under Nils Arne Eggen, Rosenborg won 13 successive titles between 1992 and 2004 with Brattbakk pivotal in the delivery of eight of those championships. His most cherished piece of silverware, however, was the one he took away from Glasgow.
“I wasn’t part of all [Rosenborg’s] 13 titles because I was away for a few years.”
“But when I knew how much the [Scottish] title meant to everyone else and to the club itself it means it is still top of my list,” he added.
Brattbakk left Glasgow having savoured Old Firm derbies but never having scored in one. If that bothered him, he is not for showing it; “I’ve said to my friends who are interested in football ‘if you want to see one local derby then go to Glasgow’.”
Alfredo Morelos could well end up with the same experience if he lets the stat of not having scored against Celtic in 12 games eat away at him.
“If I should have scored it would have been in that first game in January ’98 – Andy Goram was in the way of everything for me,” recalled Brattbakk.
“It didn’t bother me. But if it bothers Morelos then it can get into his head and he will still be without goals against Celtic at the end of the season.”