The Final Hurdle




Celtic’s relationship with the League Cup has never been an easy one.  From awkward first liaisons to moments of sheer bliss (Hampden In The Sun) and a period of sustained love and harmony, it has ultimately proved a bitter and painful coupling – with only occasional moments of satisfaction in recent times.  Could all that be about to change this weekend?

It took Celtic ten years after the League Cup’s introduction in 1946 to reach a final.  This was one of the club’s most barren periods and it took a replay in that first final – against Partick Thistle – for it to sit proudly on the old Celtic Park sideboard, where the Scottish Cup and the old League trophy had been regular residents.  That Celtic team, managed by Jimmy McGrory, liked it so much they went right back out and won it the following season, in the most amazing circumstances:  7-1 against Rangers, a record British senior cup final score to this day.


United Irishmen:  Captain Bertie Peacock and Charlie Tully celebrate the 7-1

Yet, seven years would pass before we made it into another League Cup final, losing 2-1 to Rangers in front of 91,423 fans in 1964.  This was the first of an incredible run of FOURTEEN straight appearances in the competition’s Final tie, from season 1964-5 through to 1977-8.  After that initial disappointment, Jock Stein’s team won it five years in succession.  Rangers were defeated the first two years of the five, 2-1 (Hughes 2) and 1-0 (Lennox) respectively.  This was followed by an extraordinary final against Dundee in 1967 where the teams shared eight goals, Celtic running out 5-3 winners (with five goals being scored in the last 17 minutes!).

A feast of goals was repeated the next year when Hibs were beaten 6-2 with Bobby Lennox grabbing a hat-trick. A more straightforward 1-0 victory over St Johnstone in October 1969 thanks to a Bertie Auld goal meant it was five League Cups in a row for Celtic – a feat that has not been equalled in the competition – and the club were developing a strong attachment to the trophy, as were the support.

Cheers soon turned to jeers though.  Despite reaching the final in the following eight years, Celtic would only record a single victory – the memorable 6-3 thrashing of Hibs in 1974 when Dixie Deans scored three.  The lamentable stretch either side of that final included three defeats to Rangers, a shock 1-0 loss to Dundee who had Celtic favourite Tommy Gemmell in their side – as well as the barely believable (even after more than 40 years!) 4-1 hammering from Partick Thistle, with the Jags having scored the four goals without reply by the 37th minute.

From the mid-70s onwards the League Cup was as popular with the Celtic support as a fart in an elevator.  The Celtic players became disenchanted too with four years elapsing before another final appearance, leading this time a rare victory:  2-1 against Rangers in December 1982, thanks to Nicholas and McLeod.  Was Celtic’s luck in the competition beginning to change?


Sombrero-sporting Tommy Burns and Davie Provan celebrate in ’82

Not a bit of it.  The competition was now in the midst of a myriad of name-changes thanks to sponsors ranging from Skol Lager to Coca-Cola and Bell’s Whisky to CIS Insurance, and underwent various changes in formats and times to make it more popular with fans and to work around ever-increasing European commitments.  (It is now sponsored by what sounds like a bookie’s stall in the Barras).

The fine trophy lost a bit of its lustre along the way and remained a stranger at Celtic Park.  From the 1982 success Celtic did not win it again until 1997, fifteen ridiculously long years.  In that time another three miserable finals were lost to Rangers but the 1994 loss on penalties to First Division Raith Rovers was much, much more painful to endure (you may have heard of it – it’s on virtual auto-replay on the BBC Sport Scotland website and their radio and TV platforms).  It took goals from Rieper, Larsson and Burley beat Dundee United 3-0 at Ibrox in November 1997 to finally end the miserable sequence, allowing Wim Jansen to claim the trophy in what was to prove a momentous season for Celtic.


AwNawThere’sAnnoniOanAnawNoo – Rico enjoys the moment in 1997

It was next won two years in succession in very different circumstances.  A 2-0 win over Ebbe Skovdahl’s Aberdeen (Riseth, Johnson) in March 2000 was scant consolation for a club and support still reeling from a home Scottish Cup KO by Inverness Caley Thistle and the resulting departure of manager John Barnes.  Things were so, so different a year later though when a Henrik Larsson hat-trick against Kilmarnock secured Celtic’s first Treble since 1968-9 (only the 3rd in the club’s history) in Martin O’Neill’s first season in charge.

That was as much joy as the Blessed Martin had in the competition.  Gordon Strachan’s team were the next Celts to win the cup in 2006, beating Dunfermline 3-0 (Zurawski, Maloney and Dublin) and it was the current Scotland manager who struck silver again three years later, beating Rangers 2-0 after extra time with goals from Irishmen O’Dea and McGeady making it a memorable St Patrick’s celebration.


Big Mick McManus captains Celtic to victory over Walter Smiths’ Rangers in 2008

Only once has the League Cup been in Celtic hands since – in March last year when Kris Commons and James Forrest delivered a 2-0 Hampden win over Dundee United.  Ronny Delia was to be denied a Treble in both his seasons in charge but there is real optimism abounding that Brendan Rodgers will be able to go one better.


To do so he has to tip the weight of League Cup Finals in Celtic’s favour:  at present we’ve reached the final thirty times but won only fifteen of them.  It is truly a lamentable record and one that needs to improve.  If Celtic are to ever fall in love with the competition again, a sustained run of success is needed.  Reverting to an early season competition with a final before Christmas might just help, especially if this season’s form can be repeated in the years ahead.

While Celtic are unbeaten domestically, Aberdeen will prove tough opponents on Sunday.  Their form has improved of late and they have a decent strike-force to select from.  It should be a memorable encounter.  It is hard to escape the feeling though that Celtic have rarely been better placed to win this trickiest of trophies than right here, right now.  If anyone can deliver that fine old piece of silverware – and perhaps lead us on to a much sought-after and historic Treble – the man from Carnlough can.




EDIT:   Job done!  16-15


Aberdeen v Celtic - Scottish League Cup Final


Read more Celtic retro pieces in our magazine:  The Shamrock  Issue 3 out now

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Book Review: ‘Hoops, Stars & Stripes’

Hoops, Stars & Stripes: The Andy Lynch Story     Andy Lynch with Paul John Dykes




Andy Lynch has more than a few claims to fame.  Yet there can be few people out there who can boast of the fact that they were given their nickname – in his case ‘Kipper’– by none other than the legendary Jock Stein himself.

The story of how this Govan bhoy earned his moniker is one of many excellent tales told here which combine to give a tremendous flavour of what life was like as a Celt in the great man’s latter years in charge at Celtic Park.  Andy Lynch was a bystander and regular participant in the events which saw Celtic’s fortunes mirror those of a rollercoaster.  It was in February 1973 that he joined a record-breaking Celtic team which had just won 7 League titles in a row.  He would go on to experience the loss of Jock Stein while he recovered from a near-fatal accident, the Double-winning success of 1976-7, the sacking of Celtic’s greatest manager a year later quickly followed by the last day 4-2 League winning sensation of 1979.  Fortunately, Andy didn’t go to Celtic looking for a quiet life.

He was a Celtic fan from his earliest days, even though it was outside Ibrox that he collected money looking after cars on match days.  His time as a ball boy at Hampden gave him a unique view of cup finals and international fixtures.  His early promise saw him sharing dressing rooms with a youthful Kenny Dalglish and Vic Davidson who would form part of Celtic’s ‘Quality Street Gang’ but his beloved team didn’t come calling and he struggled to make an impression early on.  His determination was there to see as he didn’t give up on the dream, joined Queen’s Park and then entered the junior ranks before he finally got picked up Hearts – and was a first team player in Scotland’s top league within a matter of months.



Andy Lynch – as a youngster at Tynecastle


Andy came across more than his fair share of characters on the road to Celtic Park and beyond.  The first team coach at Hearts in the late 1960s was future Rangers’ manager Jock Wallace, renowned for his no-nonsense approach to training and . . . well, everything, really.  It didn’t come as a great surprise to the young Lynch to find his coach urging the Hearts players to “get into these Fenian bastards the day!” before an encounter at Celtic Park.  What was less expected was the coach’s cry of “Let’s sort out these Orange bastards!” before the Edinburgh team took on Rangers.  He had his battle fever on permanently, it seems. Other supporting roles in the Andy Lynch story go to Flax Flaherty, a one-eyed paper seller at Queen Street station who used to tap up players on behalf of Jock Stein; the unforgettable Johnny Doyle as both friend and foe; Brian Clough who promoted ‘the art of the deal’ before Donald Trump was ever heard of; and the great Franz Beckenbauer of the mighty New York Cosmos in the hey-day of the North American Soccer League, which Andy enjoyed as both player and coach.

It was funny to read of the start of Andy’s professional career as an accomplished left-winger when it was at left-back he would be best remembered as a Celt. That followed a tactical decision made by Jock Stein at a time when Andy had been struggling to find form after successive injury problems hampered the start of his Celtic career (and came close to killing it off) and the team couldn’t achieve any kind of consistency in the left side of the defence.  It was to prove a great solution for both player and club.



Andy takes on Harry Hood at Celtic Park – they would soon be team-mates in the Hoops

In due course ‘Kipper’ became a Celtic skipper when Danny McGrain fell victim to serious injury and he still got among the goals, even from the left back berth.  He was joint top scorer (with Tom McAdam) in the 1978-9 season, hitting 13 goals with 10 coming from the penalty spot.  It was, of course, the 1977 Scottish Cup Final against Rangers when Andy’s spot kick wrote his name in the Celtic history books for ever.  The chapter dedicated to that incredible experience is one of the book’s best as Andy’s memories of the game are intercut with television commentary from the match.  It’s a novel technique that works really well here.  Andy’s advice generally on the art of the penalty kick and the attendant pressures (having Dundee United players throwing mud at you in the run-up won’t feature in many coaching manuals) is also genuinely insightful.  Another fine feature of the book that made an impression is the detailed recall of Andy getting into the dressing room at Celtic Park before everyone else (having made his way across the city by public transport in a Hearts blazer and tie) and setting foot on the hallowed turf for the first time, viewing the old Jungle and terraces from the opposite perspective to that he was used to.



Andy in his prime and loving life as a Celt


The striking quality of the cover design (with Andy in classic ‘70s hoops with the club crest in the centre) reflects the writing inside.  This is the third Celtic book that Paul John Dykes has written and yet again he comes up trumps, telling the story of Andy Lynch in a fresh, absorbing and entertaining way with lots of great insights into Celtic and the professional game, both here and in the States, from the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Andy hasn’t exactly been a shy and retiring figure since – he once phoned up Celtic Chairman Desmond White and offered his own services as Manager to his old club!  His role in the attempt of an Arab Sheikh to buy Liverpool FC from Gillett and Hicks six years ago was a million metaphorical miles from the sands at Gullane where Jock Wallace worked him until he was sick.  It is one of the most bizarre stories in a book brimming with tales.

This is one Lynch mob well worth joining.


The Shamrock rating:  7/10 


Hoops, Stars & Stripes: The Andy Lynch Story by Andy Lynch with Paul John Dykes

Pub:  CQN Books


Buy direct from CQN books HERE


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The Shamrock: Celtic ReViews

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New t-shirt: The Pride of Europe Tour, 1966-7

The Shamrock is pleased to release a new t-shirt to celebrate this 50th anniversary season of Celtic’s ascent to the very top of European football.

Celtic’s European tour is mapped out from Zurich to Lisbon and all memorable stops in between as Jock Stein’s team became the first British and only Scottish team to be declared Champions of Europe.

This unique design with Cesar stencil and memorable quote from the great Jock Stein is available for only £15.


Ordering info and close-up photos available here: