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  • 10 men won the league on this day 40 years ago

    10 men won the league on this day 40 years ago

    By: Joe Sullivan on 21 May, 2019 10:45

  • IT was on this day 40 years ago, May 21, 1979, that on a balmy spring Monday night at Celtic Park, history was made as 10 men won the league – it was the night that the Hoops beat Rangers 4-2.

    This was the last game of the season - Celtic had to win while Rangers only needed to draw – the Celts were a man down – they were behind in the game and it looked as though nothing was going right.

    With men like Danny McGrain and Roy Aitken in the side, however, this team were never going to give up and the legend of 10 men won the league, or the ‘4-2 game’ was born.

    Here, 40 years to the day, we look at the background to a breathtakingly thrilling climax to an otherwise seemingly unremarkable season.

    May 21, 1979

    Celtic Park                 

    Celtic 4-2 Rangers

    (Aitken, McCluskey, Jackson og, MacLeod)

    CELTIC: Latchford, McGrain, Lynch, Aitken, McAdam, Edvaldsson Provan, Conroy (Lennox), McCluskey, MacLeod, Doyle.

    ON paper, this was hardly a season to write home about, no player scored more than seven league goals, the side went seven league games without a win (three of those without scoring), neither of the domestic cup finals were reached, there was no European football – only the ignominy of the Anglo Scottish Cup and defeat to Burnley.

    To add to that, new manager, Billy McNeill’s side never won more than four games on the trot – they did achieve the four-game run twice, though, in the very first four games, and, the very last.

    And it was the last of those final four games, the very last of the campaign that turned this otherwise lacklustre term on its head and produced one of the most memorable season finales ever.

    Of all of the 50 championships Celtic have won so far, season 1978/79 was the least successful in terms of percentage of points gained, indeed, on 36 previous occasions the Hoops have earned a bigger share of the points but still failed to win the league.

    It does stand to reason, though, that the fewer points you earn to win the league, the tighter, and therefore, more exciting it must be. Indeed, the two other occasions that Celtic have lifted the title by winning with less than 70 per cent of the points available were in 1985/86 and the last-day drama at Love Street and 1997/98 with another nail-biting spectacle in stopping the 10.

    However, this one was probably more dramatic as it was a face-off, toe-to-toe and head-to-head with our greatest rivals in what was literally a cup final to win the league – except that Rangers, with another two games remaining, only had to draw, so the odds, as they had been for much of the season, were stacked against Celtic.

    Indeed, despite being top of the table for eight games between August 26 and October 21, Celtic fell from the No.1 spot amid a run of 11 games that delivered only one win, a 1-0 home victory over Partick Thistle on November 18 thanks to a Tom McAdam goal in the 47th minute.

    The final game in that disastrous run was just two days before Christmas when an Andy Ritchie penalty in the 89th minute for Morton at Cappielow consigned Celtic to a 1-0 defeat and fifth place in the league.

    Celtic had recorded only seven wins in the 18 games up until that point, but winter struck and the Hoops wouldn’t play a league match between December 23 and March 3 – but that was to be a stroke of luck.

    A couple of Scottish Cup games had managed to beat the freeze and Danny McGrain, who had been out since October 1 of the previous season, returned in those matches – in the meantime, though, with other teams getting in league action here and there, Celtic had fallen to eighth place.

    They were four games off the pace, though, and the first game back was against Aberdeen who were looking to go top with a win, but an Alfie Conn goal gave Celtic a 2-1 win.

    The Hoops then carried on in the winning vein, only interspersed by 2-1 defeats at Easter Road and Tannadice with a 1-1 draw at Pittodrie thrown in.

    Following that Aberdeen trip, a 2-1 home win over St Mirren with Roy Aitken scoring two minutes from time moved Celtic back into second place with 36 points to the 43 of Dundee United who had played five games more.

    The wins kept coming but a 1-0 defeat to Rangers, played at Hampden due to work at Ibrox, dropped Celtic back into third place.

    Two games later, however, ironically in a game played at Ibrox because of work at Love Street, Celtic went top after beating St Mirren 2-0 on Friday, May 11.

    By that time, Dundee United and Aberdeen had played all of their games leaving only Celtic and Rangers in the fight for the title and on Monday, May 14, a Mike Conroy goal gave the Hoops a 1-0 win over Hearts.

    In those two-points-for-a-win days, that put Celtic on 46 points with one game to go while Rangers were on 43 with three games to go and the next game was the derby meeting. Even a draw for Rangers could see them amass 48 points to the 47 Celtic would have in that scenario – it was a scenario the Hoops had to avoid.

    If the odds were stacked against Celtic earlier, they plummeted with only 35 minutes to go, as, already 1-0 down from a ninth-minute opener, the Hoops were reduced to 10 men when Johnny Doyle was sent off.

    However, Roy Aitken in the 66th minute and George McCluskey in the 74th, put Celtic ahead only for Rangers to equalise two minutes later – the ball was still in their court.

    At least it was until five minutes from the end when Colin Jackson headed into his own net – Celtic Park, or at least three quarters of it erupted in delirium.

    However, even that was eclipsed by what happened in the 90th minute when a long-range shot by Murdo MacLeod rasped into the net.

    History had been made – it was 4-2, 10 men had won the league.

    In the aftermath, Rangers beat Partick Thistle 1-0 at Ibrox where only a couple of thousand turned up and many of them would have been fans of the Maryhill side, then Rangers finished off with a 2-1 defeat at Easter Road.

    But, in Billy McNeill’s first season as manager, just to recap, history had been made – it was 4-2, 10 men had won the league.

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