May 2nd, 1999 – the day that Scottish Football died.
Well, some would argue that.
But for fans of Rangers, it will be a day that will never be forgotten, even up there with the glory days of Barcelona ’72 and Helicopter Sunday. Dick Advocaat’s first season in Glasgow could not have gone any better and having already secured the Scottish League Cup at Celtic Park, Rangers were on the verge of something only ever done three times before – a Rangers/Celtic title decider.
There was a poisonous atmosphere around the East-End of Glasgow as Rangers aimed to make it 10 league championship wins in the last 11 seasons. And so, Advocaat’s Light Blues took to the pitch amist an incredibly-heated atmosphere at Celtic Park, with the likes of Jorg Albertz, Giovanni Van Bronckhorst and Arthur Numan, aiming to silence the home supporters on the night.
It took Rangers just 12 minutes to open the scoring after neat-work from Rod Wallace who teed up Scottish winger Neil McCann and he had the easy task of poking the ball past Stewart Kerr in the Celtic goal. But the game plunged into controversy when French defender Stephane Mahe reacted petulantly towards Neil McCann and was shown his second yellow card of the evening.
Mahe’s red card sparked incredible scenes for the next 15 minutes or so with referee Hugh Dallas being struck with a coin from the Celtic supporters. The lengthy delays also included a pitch invasion and a storm of objects being thrown at Van Bronckhorst as he prepared to take a free-kick. And from that set-piece, Dallas decided to award Rangers a spot-kick after Tony Vidmar was hauled down by Vidar Riseth inside the penalty box.
Another pitch invasion ensued and a raging Celtic fan decided to jump off the top-tier of the ground in the aftermath of Dallas’ decision. As Rangers stood back in amazement at the scenes from the Celtic-end, Jorg Albertz stepped up with composure and class to slot home from 12 yards and make it 2-0 to the visitors.
The second half was calm, in comparison, to the first and 21 minutes after the restart, McCann pounced on a mistake in the Celtic defence to dribble past Kerr and add a deserved third for Rangers. Dallas would soon become a busy man again with Rangers’ Rod Wallace being shown his marching orders before Vidar Riseth of Celtic was dismissed for a serious of ridiculous challenges.
And after the final whistle, Rangers fans went straight into party mode with the final controversy coming as Advocaat’s men began mocking Celtic’s huddle in front of the away fans. As the visiting players left the field, they were treated to a barrage of abuse and had objects thrown as they went down the tunnel.
In the days after Rangers’ historic title victory at Celtic Park, Scottish Football would endure a turbulent period with the Scottish Premier League’s relationship with broadcasters Sky under serious scrutiny. The late evening kick-off on Sunday had been the norm across the season but Strathclyde Police stepped in which altered the kick-off times in the SPL.
Just under 13 years later, we are back in the same position but this time Celtic aim to secure their first league championship in four years at Ibrox. It has been an incredible campaign for both Rangers and Celtic for a host of different reasons. The Light Blues stormed clear in the championship race with a 15-point lead (albeit with two games extra) over Celtic. But, arguably, the defining weekend of the season may have come as early as October as Neil Lennon’s men produced an incredible fight-back at Rugby Park to come from 3-0 down in the second-half and leave Ayrshire with a point.
Since that match, Celtic have lost just one domestic match, whereas, Rangers who drew 1-1 with St Mirren on the same afternoon as the Hoops’ 3-3 draw with Kilmarnock, have been in free-fall since the season-ending injury to Steven Naismith. The 25-year-old had been in terrific form for Ally McCoist’s side in the first part of the campaign with nine goals from 11 matches.
But Rangers’ misery was compounded in February when the club went into administration and were automatically deducted 10-points, leaving the championship effectively in the hands of Celtic for the rest of the season. Celtic’s lead at the top stands at 21 points and a victory on Sunday at Ibrox would be enough for them to win the title.
However, for that to happen, third-placed Motherwell, who will be playing Champions League football next season, need to fail to win at Kilmarnock on Saturday.
Many worry that Sunday could be a volatile, or if not, even more poisonous than Rangers’ championship triumph at Celtic Park in 1999. The last 18 months or so has seen the Celtic boss receive hoax bomb threats, an inflamed relationship between the two clubs and the Scottish government introduce harsh legislations against offensive behaviour at football matches.
On the other hand, Rangers have also endured one of the toughest eras in their history under Craig Whyte with administration and the prospect of liquidation looming. Since February, Rangers have fought many battles with HMRC and have recently come under investigation from the Scottish FA and SPL. Some Rangers players have received continual racial abuse through social media networks, such as Twitter,
That’s just for starters and Sunday’s match is almost certainly going to be a ‘no-holds-barred’ affair between Scotland’s biggest clubs.