John Barnes will always have the Maracana, where he scored one of the goals of the century for England. Likewise, and very much the flip side of that coin, he will always have Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Celtic’s Scottish Cup defeat by the Highlanders 20 years ago tomorrow still holds its charge. One of its immediate consequences was rendering Barnes’ position untenable. Kenny Dalglish, the director of football, was recalled from a trip to La Manga to take charge of the team.
The new century was barely a few weeks old before we had a result to rival Berwick Rangers’ defeat of Rangers in the Scottish Cup in 1967. Throw in a world-famous headline and you have yourself a story with a capacity to thrill even now, two decades on.
Bobby Mann, a barrel-chested defender with a sweet left foot, was 25 and in his first season as a full-time pro. He was charged with marking Mark Viduka, who had scored in his six previous games.
When Viduka was replaced at half-time after what we now know was a dressing-room bust-up, Mann’s new task was to handle Ian Wright, one of the greatest strikers of the modern era.
Of course, the Inverness players had no inkling of what had gone on at half-time across the corridor. They just presumed it was tactical or perhaps Viduka had picked up an injury. Little did anyone know that the striker had refused to play the second half after a heated row with Eric Black, the Celtic assistant manager.
“Suddenly I was up against someone I had watched on TV for years,” Mann recalls of facing Wright. There was already panic in the air. Celtic had lost a two-goal lead the previous Saturday when losing 3-2 at home to Hearts. The problem with the roof of the East Stand following high winds and which caused the postponement of the original match against Inverness had been fixed. The rescheduled clash was fixed for Tuesday 8 February. Losing three goals at home to Hearts was bad enough, but Inverness…
For younger readers, it might be hard to understand what the fuss is about. Inverness beating Celtic is a surprise, yes, but something worth recalling so many years later? While Inverness are an established Scottish top-two tiers side now, who have been in the top flight for 12 of those 20 years, they were only settling in then. Formed only five years earlier after a controversial merger between Thistle and Caley, this was their maiden season in what was then still the First Division. “The club was moving forward,” recalls Mann. “But the result definitely put us on the map.”
Mann played a huge part in the all-important second goal. Indeed, no-one will convince him it wasn’t he who scored it after getting his head to a corner.
“Paul Sheerin delivered a great ball in,” he recalls. “You always feel you have a chance. Tom Boyd I think was marking me but I met it – I still say it was just sneaking in at the post!” Lubo Moravcik ultimately deflected the ball past Jonathan Gould and the Celtic player was credited with the own goal.
“A lot of strikers would’ve been on to the ref to make sure it would be put down as theirs,” says Mann. “I didn’t mind. The players all came to me to celebrate.” A Barry Wilson header put Inverness ahead before Mark Burchill equalised. Sheerin made sure of the win with a second-half penalty. Meanwhile, on the sports desk of one newspaper a sub-editor’s imagination was working overtime. “Super Caley Go Ballistic, Celtic are Atrocious!” ran a headline in the next morning’s Scottish Sun, adapted from one that had appeared about Liverpool winger Ian Callaghan in the 1970s.
“Helped by the headline, the result became world news,” recalls Mann.
It wasn’t until the next day that the full impact of the result began to hit home. He was back in his home in Dundee by about 11pm he estimates.
“I had a few beers, a few pals came round,” he says. The party continued the next day.
“I got the train to Inverness, and the boys had a day out,” Mann recalls. “Because a lot of the lads were from Glasgow and Aberdeen there were no plans for directly after the game. We all went our separate ways, like after most games. We had not expected to win.”
He arranged to meet Martin Glancy, the Glasgow-based striker who featured as substitute, on the train at Perth. “We had a few beers on the train up then met Charlie Christie, Barry Wilson, Mark McCulloch, Duncan (Shearer)… and Steve.”
“Steve Paterson,” he confirms. “The manager liked to see the players let their hair down. Most of the nights out he would be there.” Paterson signed Mann three times in total – for Inverness from Forfar Athletic, and then for Peterhead and, finally, for Formartine United in the Highland League, where Mann finished up eight years ago. Striker Dennis Wyness was the last of the side to retire, hanging up his boots while at Huntly two seasons ago at the age of 41.
“He (Paterson) was obviously very laid back and always believed in what he saw in games,” says Mann. “He was never over-tactical. He had belief in the players he signed. A lot of the boys had been at other clubs before, like Rangers, Aberdeen and Celtic. They never really needed much coaching. He gave you a platform to go out and play, like we did that night”
“The next day was when it really hit home,” he adds. “Barnes was sacked on the Thursday but there were already rumours that had been his last game. You realised what the ramifications had been. The fact it had been at Celtic Park was the big thing.
Inverness and Mann repeated the feat in the same competition three years later, but in the Highlands this time and with Celtic en route to the Uefa Cup final. While a remarkable scoreline, it didn’t cost manager Martin O’Neill his job.
Mann has no mementoes from the night Caley Thistle went ballistic. “I never swapped a shirt in my career,” he says.
But he has many memories of a famous occasion and is happy to share them with passengers in the taxi the 46-year-old now drives in Dundee.