The Rangers v Celtic derby which had everything - 25 years on, was this the greatest Old Firm clash of all time?
Eight days earlier, Scottish football had been pushed from the back pages to the front of every newspaper in the land amid the fall-out from a 1-1 draw between Rangers and Aberdeen.
The Procurator Fiscal’s office in Glasgow took it upon themselves to investigate a series of incidents in the ill-tempered contest, including clashes involving Paul Gascoigne, Paul Bernard, John Inglis, John Brown and Billy Dodds. The criminalisation of offences on a football pitch had become a contentious issue after then Rangers striker Duncan Ferguson was sentenced to three years in prison for head-butting Jock McStay during a match against Raith Rovers at Ibrox the previous year.
This time, the long arm of the law ultimately decided to take a step back and decided no action should be taken against any of those involved in the Rangers-Aberdeen contest. The only punishment dished out was a one-match ban for Gascoigne from the SFA’s disciplinary committee.
But as they took the field to face Celtic 25 years ago today, some of the Rangers players did so still under threat of being dragged before a court. What followed was an epic 90 minutes of tumultuous action between Walter Smith’s then seven-in-a-row champions and a vibrant Celtic side under the adventurous management of Tommy Burns. The extraordinary 3-3 draw had just about everything and is still regarded by many seasoned observers of the Old Firm fixture as the finest ever between the Glasgow giants.
Managers united in praise
“I think everyone went away grateful they had watched it – apart from the two managers!,” was Smith’s wry reaction afterwards. “A lot of bad things have been highlighted about the game in Scotland, there’s been a lot of doom and gloom. But I hope the same focus and attention is given to the football Rangers and Celtic played here today.”
Smith’s sentiments were echoed by Burns, a close friend who would later become part of his coaching staff in the Scotland managerial set-up.
"It was a helluva game, tremendous stuff,” said Burns in the post-match media conference. “People will look back and say ‘I was at that game’. After a bad week, it was good that so many positive things came out of this match.”
It was the second meeting of the teams that season, Rangers having won 2-0 at Celtic Park in the September with goals from Alex Cleland and Gascoigne. It was the only defeat Burns’ side suffered in the Premier Division all season but that was not sufficient to prevent them still finishing four points behind Rangers in the final analysis as Smith’s squad secured their eighth consecutive title.
There was a sense that the momentum in the title race would have shifted clearly in Celtic’s favour had they won at Ibrox that November day – but despite leading twice, they had to settle for a point as Rangers displayed the quality and resilience which underpinned their successes under Smith.
This is how a breathless occasion unfolded:-
10th minute – Celtic open the scoring with a thunderbolt of a shot from outside the box from German forward Andreas Thom which leaves Andy Goram grasping at thin air.
25th minute – Rangers think they have equalised when David Robertson fires the ball beyond Gordon Marshall but it’s ruled out for offside. While the celebrations of the home fans inside the stadium are cut short, those watching the live coverage on STV believe it’s 1-1 for the next 10 minutes as commentator Gerry McNee and his producer initially fail to spot it was disallowed. “I took my eyes off the game for a few moments to watch the replay on my monitor,” said McNee. “It was a genuine mistake and I hope it didn’t ruin the game for anyone.”
40th minute – Rangers do equalise when Gascoigne and Cleland combine at the edge of Celtic’s penalty area to set up Brian Laudrup who beats Marshall with a precise angled shot.
52nd minute – Celtic are back in front from the penalty spot after John Hughes is flattened in the box by Richard Gough. Goram guesses right and gets a hand to John Collins’ kick but can’t keep it out.
63rd minute – Shortly after coming on as a substitute for Ian Ferguson, predator supreme Ally McCoist makes it 2-2 when he heads home a free-kick from Gascoigne.
66th minute – Celtic are sure they have regained the lead once more when Pierre van Hooijdonk is picked out on the edge of the six yard box by Tosh McKinlay’s cross. But the Dutch striker is denied by a stunning reaction save by Goram. Venerable football writer Rodger Baillie observes in his match report – ‘Gordon Banks’ save from Pele in the 1970 World Cup was replayed on TV for the umpteenth time last week – fans never tire of seeing it and, 25 years on, Goram’s save will deserve to be screened again and again’.
71st minute – For the first time in the match, Rangers go in front. Tom Boyd loses possession with a risky backheel near his own penalty area and Oleg Salenko’s cross is turned into his own net by McKinlay.
72nd minute – An immediate response from Celtic as McKinlay thunders down the left to deliver a brilliant cross which is headed beyond Goram via the inside of a post by van Hooijdonk.
Rangers: Goram, Cleland, Robertson, Gough, McLaren, Petric, Ferguson (McCoist), Gascoigne, Salenko (Miller), McCall, Laudrup.
Celtic: Marshall, Boyd, McKinlay, McNamara, Hughes, Grant, Donnelly (McLaughlin), McStay, van Hooijdonk (Walker), Thom, Collins.
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