14th May, 1988. Celtic 2, Dundee United 1.
Picture the scene. The “old Hampden” in the sun. Granted, Celtic weren’t destined to defeat their opponents by seven goals to one as they did in 1957, but nevertheless, this was still to be a famous day in the history of Celtic Football Club.
The cover of the programme from the 1988 Scottish Cup Final.
Celtic had already faced their opponents three times during the 1987/88 season, having been beaten once at Tannadice, won once there also, and drawn at Celtic Park. While Dundee United had finished the league season in fifth place, twenty five points behind champions Celtic, they were still formidable opponents to face in a Scottish Cup Final.
In saying this, while Dundee United were regular Scottish Cup finalists, they weren’t often Scottish Cup winners. They had lost in the final in their last five appearances there, all within the last fourteen years at the time. In fact, Celtic had beaten them only a few years earlier, as they won the 1985 Scottish Cup Final 2-1.
However, while this match was to have the same scoreline, it was to be very hotly contested, and would take one of another one of Celtic’s now infamous comebacks to steal the trophy from the Tannadice side at the death.
As referee George Smith (born October 1943) blew his whistle to signal the start of the match under a blistering sun, no less than 74,000 people packed the terraces at Hampden Park to witness Scotland’s show piece cup match.
Early in the match, a clever pass from Paul McStay set Frank McAvennie free on the right wing, as Celtic shot towards to the goal at the end of the ground housing supporters of their opposition. McAvennie caught the ball and delivered a scintillating cross with his right foot, setting up a gilt edged chance for Joe Miller at the back post. However, Miller couldn’t even hit the target let alone break the dead lock, as he headed the ball weakly into the ground and the goalkeeper proceeded to gather the bouncing ball. Archie MacPherson, commentating on the match for a television company, described it as “a dreadful miss”.
In truth, that was the best chance either side had in what was a fairly dull first half of football, where each side attempted to gently feel their way into the game, without risking much in doing so. However, the second half was to be a much livelier affair all round, as the teams returned to the field under the Scottish summer sun.
Early in the second half, McKnight (a late replacement for Pat Bonner who was injured) saved a clever free kick from Bannan, as he struck the ball low from around twenty five yards out. Interestingly, especially for those younger readers who (like myself) have no memory of this man ever playing football, the other player addressing the ball as the free kick was taken was none other than Mixu Paatelainen.
Only minutes later however, a long ball sent over the top of the Celtic defence would lead to the opening goal of the afternoon. The long diagonal headed pass was chased keenly by the young Kevin Gallacher, grandson of Celtic legend Patsy Gallacher, who beat Roy Aitken for pace and only touched the ball once, striking a superb right footed half volley past McKnight in the Celtic goal. As the Dundee United supporters celebrated, some of them may have started to believe that this, finally, was about to be their year.
Sadly for them though, it was simply not to be. This was, after all, Celtic’s centenary season, and whether it was fate or sheer stubborn determination that inspired Celtic’s comeback matters not.
As the Dundee United fans continued to rejoice at the thought of their 1-0 lead, Celtic’s players set about trying to find an equaliser from somewhere. Almost immediately, the industry of Joe Miller won the Hoops a corner, from which Mick McCarthy sent the ball sailing over the cross bar.
In saying this, Dundee United did continue to threaten as Celtic pushed forward, as over and over they attempted the long diagonal pass to the young and pacey Gallacher, forcing McKnight to leave his area and volley the ball into the stands on one occasion.
Only minutes later, Celtic won a free kick about thirty five yards from goal. It was taken by Burns, who found Mick McCarthy in the box, only for him to see his looping header cannoned off of the crossbar. This was incredibly unlucky from the Celtic players’ point of view. However, it was to be no where near as critical as a header at the other end of the field only minutes later.
Dundee United won a free kick on the right hand side on one of their increasingly rare forays forward as the match wore on. The ball was delivered fantastically well into the box by McKinley, leaving the defence helpless to stop it reaching Bowman. Unluckily for Dundee United, this was to be one of the moments that haunt football fans for decades, as the player looked almost certain to score, before heading the ball into the turf and over the bar, just as Joe Miller had done in that same penalty box during the first half.
McAvennie celebrates of of his goals in the Scottish Cup Final
This mess was to the first one two integral “turning points” in this tie, as Celtic continued to up their game and began to increasingly dominate the match, particularly in the midfield. A long ball was played from the defence, and Billy Stark rose to win the header, and found a Celtic jersey. As the ball was returned to him, Stark over hit his pass into the box, and it arced out onto the right wing, where it was meet by Anton Rogan. Rogan quickly controlled the ball, and beat his man, heading for the byline. Once he got there, he chipped a lofty cross into the box, over the goalkeeper and several defenders, before it was met in the air by Frank McAvennie, who headed into an unprotected net from all of two or three yards to draw the match level with fifteen minutes remaining.
In the next few minutes, as Celtic pushed for a winning goal, both sides had chances, as Miller sent a shot straight at the goalkeeper at one end after some stunning build up play, while Bannon snatched at a shot from the edge of the area to send it high and wide at the other.
And so, as not only the match but the competition entered it’s final moments, and the teams tired in the heat of the afternoon sun, Frank McAvennie slid the ball to Chris Morris on the right hand side of the box, and Morris won Celtic a crucial corner kick, in the final minute of the match.
As the ball flew into the box, it was met by a Celtic foot, causing the goalkeeper to dive. However, it was blocked by a defender, and the ball broke to McAvennie, who struck it home from less than ten yards. Once again, Celtic had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with late goals at Hampden Park.
Roy Aitken and Anton Rogan show off the Scottish Cup at Hampden Park
Celtic withstood the small offensive backlash Dundee United mustered in stoppage time, and added the Scottish Cup to their centenary season trophy haul, alongside the Premier League, forming a famous double for the club from the East End of Glasgow.
The passion and delight on the field was matched only in the stands, as thousands upon thousands of joyous Celtic fans celebrated their historic win. As captain Roy Aitken lifted the famous old trophy, everyone involved with the Football Club could relax for the first time in a long while. Celtic had marked their centenary year in a fitting fashion, and a manner of which the Club’s founders would have been incredibly proud.
As the celebrations continued on the field, Tommy Burns was interviewed for the television cameras, and the words he spoke that day have gone down in Celtic’s history forever more. Once he had said hello to his wife, his children, and someone he knew who was ill and in hospital at the time, he said:
“You’ll not realise how much I wanted this. When people look back in a hundred years time, we’ll have been the team who done the double.”
“That’s what’s so special about them right there Jim (as Tommy turns and points at the Celtic support, scarves raised and flags fluttering as they belt out “You’ll Never Walk Alone”), that’s what’s so special about them. They’re there, and they’re always there, and God bless every one of them.”
“If we’d have been another team we’d have got beat one nothing today. They didn’t allow defeat against Hearts, and they certainly didn’t allow defeat against Dundee United today. They’re absolutely incredible.”
Celtic celebrate a historic victory in the afternoon sun.
I don’t really think there’s much more I can add after that, other than to thank you all for taking the time to read my five articles describing Celtic’s 1988 Scottish Cup triumph. If you missed any, they’re all freely available in the “blogs” section of the website. I hope you enjoyed reading them, and all feedback, both positive and negative, is more than welcome.