36 years after ‘Shame Game’ but concerns are no longer about on-field indiscipline

As Celtic head to Ibrox for the final Glasgow Derby of the season, we decided to take a look back at a former player who had something of a chequered history against our city rivals.

Frank McAvennie made a name for himself at St Mirren before moving down to London in 1985, where he became a hero of Upton Park. During his successful two-year spell in England, McAvennie became a star off the field as well as on it, where his fame famously peaked when he starred as a guest on Terry Wogan’s primetime BBC 1 chat show alongside Denis Law. Macca quickly developed a penchant for Page 3 models, the champagne lifestyle, and London’s bright lights, but as long as he kept banging in the goals, his manager John Lyall didn’t seem to mind that his maverick number 9 had become a fully-fledged celebrity.

Two years after signing for the Hammers, and with Macca’s playboy image fully established, the call to return to Scotland and his boyhood heroes was too strong to resist. Rumours of a move for Charlie Nicholas from Arsenal were rife, but when Billy McNeill sent £725,000 down to London, it was for Nicholas’ international team-mate, much to the chagrin of Champagne Charlie, who was desperate to return to Celtic. The transfer fee shelled out for McAvennie was a club record and the signing felt like something of a coup at the time.

If it felt as though Billy McNeill was spending big, Rangers were doing it on an even grander scale by doubling Celtic’s record transfer fee and wiring it down to London for another Scottish international – Richard Gough of Tottenham Hotspur. These two moves reversed the trend of players leaving the Scottish game for England and both transfers were huge statements of intent by the Glasgow giants.

McAvennie joined Celtic during the club’s centenary season, and was eager to set down a marker in his first derby game against big-spending Rangers. The game took place on 17 October 1987 at a sun-kissed Ibrox Stadium, but disaster struck for Macca just 16 minutes into what was then considered to be one of the biggest derbies in world football.

Macca picked up the story when talking to A Celtic State of Mind:

“Big Billy told me not to get involved…”

Cesar’s words of wisdom fell on deaf ears, as McAvennie instigated an incident that put Scottish football on the front pages and in the dock! Following what Macca described as “handbags” with Chris Woods, the Rangers’ keeper was backed up by Graham Roberts and Terry Butcher, who all rounded on the seemingly isolated Celtic striker.

“I used to tell Roy or one of the boys to launch the ball into the goalkeeper,” explained Macca, “and I used to go and hit him. I used to put him in the net just to let him know I’m there and keep him on his toes. Didn’t matter who it was. I done that with Chris, but Chris has knocked it round the post. It was a foul, I mean, I put him right into the net. The referee gave a corner, I couldn’t stop laughing, because Chris was all tied up in the net. He didn’t take too kindly to that. So, the next time I went for it, he could have picked it up earlier but he never, he let me come in and, as he’s tried to pick it up, he’s tried to elbow me and that’s why I put my hands up. I’ve never seen so many people react.”

Three red cards were brandished during the 2-2 draw by referee Jim Duncan, but that was the least of the players’ worries, as Glasgow’s procurator fiscal, Mr Sandy Jessop, ordered a police probe after the match which resulted in summary complaints being served for an appearance at court on 15 December 1987.

During the criminal trial, which was eventually heard in April 1988, Inspector James Moir explained that, had the incident occurred on the street, “all four would have been in Govan Police office and a report would have gone immediately to the procurator fiscal.” Meanwhile, the match commander, Chief Superintendent William Marshall described Old Firm games as “tribal confrontations”.

Referee Jim Duncan threatened to quit the game over the police involvement, and the Rangers players involved all considered leaving Scottish football after the verdict at Glasgow Sheriff Court, which found Woods and Butcher guilty of breach of the peace, Roberts with a verdict of ‘not proven’, and McAvennie was found not guilty.

When fining Woods and Butcher, Sheriff Archie McKay told them:

“Some supporters are readily converted by breach of the peace on the field into rival mobs. That they were not so transformed is no credit to you.”

The trial – referred to tongue-in-cheek by some as ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ – sent shockwaves through Scottish football and Celtic’s Chairman Jack McGinn was moved to conclude that he was, “disappointed that any of the players were found guilty at all. It is important in any field of sport that the authority responsible for that sport should be able to discipline players. That should be enough.”

Celtic – and McAvennie – were able to put this low point behind them to go on and win a league and Scottish Cup double in a special anniversary year for the club. 36 years later, and Ange Postecoglou’s men are looking to go one better with a domestic treble.

This afternoon’s game at Ibrox will have a completely different dynamic to that infamous ‘shame game’ of 1987, but only one set of fans will be able to react to whatever the contest brings. That, in itself, is more of a concern than any trouble on the park, and we can only hope that all the post-match discussion is around Celtic’s performance and not what happens in the stands.



Leave a Reply