JOE Miller was at Celtic yesterday to launch an association for former players of the Glasgow club in which he has been the driving force.
And the 46-year-old couldn’t escape the feeling a new version of the club’s oldest rivalry could be played out come May to drive the game out of what he sees as a current “lull”.
Miller recognises that the most “poignant” memory of him in Celtic colours for the club’s followers is scoring the winning goal in the Old Firm Scottish Cup final of 1989. The fact that the 25th anniversary of that 1-0 defeat over a treble-chasing Ibrox side arrives this year has him believing it might be written in the stars that the first derby between the Rangers created post-liquidation and his old team could come in the final of Scotland’s oldest trophy this season.
The former winger knows that there are three rounds for both clubs to negotiate before that becomes a reality, not least Saturday’s fifth-round encounter that sees Celtic host Aberdeen; his major clubs owing to two stints with the Pittodrie club book-ending his six-year spell in the east end of Glasgow. But despite claiming Scottish Cup winners’ medals with both clubs and being part of the last Aberdeen team to lift a trophy on the occasion of the 1995 League Cup win, he wouldn’t discount the prospects of even the lower-league Rangers that now exists.
“I think there is a lull in Scottish football at the moment where everybody’s talking about Rangers and things like that.
“This is a competition that Rangers have every chance of getting to a cup final. It is a one-off, there are three steps to the cup final and every team has a chance,” Miller said.
“Sometimes fate serves up funny things, [and with the 25 years] you wouldn’t rule it out. It could be the spur for Rangers to get there and it also could give Scottish football a boost. It could be the perfect thing, with Celtic keen for the double.
“Rangers openly admitted it will take them a few years to recover but they have every opportunity to reach the final. They are running away with the league themselves so there is a bit of quality there so their players will be motivated to get there.”
In 1989, Rangers were heavy odds-on to complete a clean sweep against a Celtic side that had struggled to secure third place in the top flight.
“We were big underdogs. But though Rangers that day were going for the treble, we were still under pressure to win it. That was a huge thing. That is why I say there can be underlying motivations for teams to do well. It is difficult with the way things are, Celtic’s financial set up and their support they have, for anyone to take them on. I’ve been at the other end of things at Clyde [as assistant manager against Celtic in the Scottish Cup in 2006] when you take on a giant and beat them. But these are one-offs.”
Miller takes a quiet pride in the fact that the 1989 Scottish Cup final means he has “a piece of Celtic history”.
The establishment of the Celtic Former Players Association, which Miller has devoted many hours to getting off the ground, is not all about banding together only those who have done likewise in the club’s colours.
“You can talk about the different generations and the poignant times in the club’s history: the Lisbon Lions, nine-in-row, the centenary team and the boys from Seville, they were all great. Then there are players who grew up desperate to play for Celtic and there is the guy who only pulled on the jersey once. But we have opened up the membership for that guy and that’s what makes it unique.
“He has fulfilled a dream by pulling that jersey, even if it was only once. There are players who may have played for the reserves for a few years. We will be there for them all. We have over 100 members signed up, but it will grow, and will be run professionally,” said Miller.
“It’s been a bit of a slog to get it off the ground but it’s going to have its rewards. The show of support we have had from the club has been encouraging and that’s what the players have been looking for.
“We have spoken about doing something like this for years, men such as Bertie Auld and Tommy Callaghan will tell you they spoke about it when their playing days were over. We were always meeting at functions or at charity football events and continually spoke about it. Then eight months ago we were over in Dundalk and the subject came up again.
“There is a growing trend among the top clubs in Europe of bringing former players back into the fold. Both in the running of their clubs or performing ambassadorial duties.
“I made a decision to have a go at launching this by getting in contact with as many players as I could and it has snowballed from there. We have over 100 members without having yet reached those former players who would struggle to switch on the kettle, never mind a computer.”