If you happened to be looking through the results of Celtic’s 1994/95 season, this 1-0 home defeat against Motherwell would hardly jump out as one of the most momentous results of modern-day Celtic. More likely it would appear to be yet another dismal defeat in a dismal season on the pitch.
But it was not.
This 26th March 1994 was the date of the first home game since Fergus McCann had taken over on the 4th March. We had played two games since then, beating St Johnstone 1-0 in Perth thanks to a Rudi Vata goal, and eking out a scoreless draw against a Hibs side managed by the dour Alex Miller. There were plenty of ‘dour’ managers in the league at this point; it seemed to be a trademark of the top flight in Scotland with Sandy Clark, Willie Miller, Paul Sturrock and today’s opposition manager Tommy McLean all haunting dugouts as if hiding from wives who wanted them to go shopping.
Today’s match programme was the first that saw Fergus McCann named as ‘Managing Director’ on the club directory page. It was new and fresh in bold writing confirming that it had really happened. This was a new era for the club and it was a narrative that Fergus himself was keen to promote in his address to the fans.
“Celtic has just undergone a dramatic and difficult change,” he told the match programme. “Tonight is not the time to talk about transfer money, staff changes, family feuds or share contests; this is the time to join together in a new beginning for this great institution that is Celtic… We all have the same aim. Let’s be team players and build on this new foundation.”Listen to PAUL ELLIOTT with A Celtic State of Mind here:
The staff changes hinted at would have been concerning to our newish management team of Lou Macari, Chic Bates, Ashley Grimes and Peter Henderson. The St Johnstone programme from the 5th March informed us that Chic Bates had a ‘stellar’ playing career with Shrewsbury Town, playing over 300 games and scoring 70 goals. Shrewsbury Town! It was nice to be reminded of such greatness in our dugout.
Macari himself was looking forward to this game against Motherwell. He told the programme: “I’ve looked at the football form guide in one of the papers recently and over the last seven games, we have the second-best record in the country, behind Rangers predictably. Again with the joint best defensive record in the country we’ve done well at keeping other teams out recently and have six straight clean sheets in the league over the last two months.”
During this supposed fabulous spell, one of Macari’s first signings, Carl Muggleton, signed from Leicester City for £150,000 in January 1994, had made his debut on January 22nd in a no-score draw against Dundee. In his first seven games for the club, the only team to score past him was today’s opponents, Motherwell. Tommy Coyne scored the 84th-minute winner in the 3rd round of the Scottish Cup to send us to our earliest exit since 1976. But, we had to forget about that as our form was better than anyone in the country, apart from Rangers.
Muggleton was the subject of the feature article in the program, and he spoke about how he was settling in: “It’s the first time we’ve moved away from Leicester totally, so it’s all been a bit strange, but we both (he and Justine, his wife) know we’re going to like it in Scotland. And the fact that I’m playing regularly in the first team has helped me as well.”
He also spoke of getting the keys to his new home in Bothwell that May. He and his young family would scarcely have been settled in the property before he was sold to Stoke City in July 1994.
Muggleton is often lampooned as being a poor player but he was impressive in his initial spell. Perhaps, he was too closely linked with Macari, when he was certainly no worse than the other goalkeepers at that time. The goalie played thirteen games for Celtic and lost only nine goals. I do understand that it’s quite a leap to suggest that we should have kept the player but, when you think that in only eight short months Gordon Marshall would spill the ball in the League Cup final against Raith Rovers, then it shouldn’t be that great a leap of faith.
The manager was hoping that the takeover and this up-turn in the form (still behind Rangers predictably) would see a bumper attendance at Celtic Park. He said: “It’d be great if we get the expected 30,000-plus crowd this afternoon, because make no mistake it is a big help to have a large vocal backing behind you.”
The manager got his wish as 36,199 turned up and there was a charged atmosphere as the game kicked off. The fans serenaded the manager with numerous choruses of “Lou, Lou super Lou”, showing that the goodwill and optimism were still there. Many fans were still waiting to get in, turnstile operators not being used to such a large crowd, when Dougie Arnott scored in the 9th minute for the visitors. The goal may have signalled the start of Muggleton’s crisis of confidence, as he failed to hold onto an over-hit pass. He fumbled the ball and Arnott took full advantage like he always seemed to do against Celtic.
Tommy Coyne should have scored in the second-half for Motherwell but instead lobbed the ball over the bar as the visitors held out without much trouble against a toothless Celtic side who failed to muster a shot on goal in a dire performance. Motherwell were second in the league and only four points behind leaders Rangers. They had a decent squad with players like Rob McKinnon, Miodrag Krivokapic, Paul Lambert and the best young talent in Scotland at that time in Phil O’Donnell. With McLean in charge, they were always a tough prospect and, when you look at the seasons both clubs were having then, that we failed to land a glove on them shouldn’t have really been a surprise.
This was really the end of the beginning, and the long road that the club had to steer was stretching out in front of us, culminating in the domination that we are now enjoying. The seeds were being sowed during these early days such as on 26th March 1994.
How Celtic line up that day: Muggleton, Gillespie, Boyd, McNally, Mowbray, McGinlay, Byrne, McStay, Nicholas, Falconer and Collins. Used Subs – Donnelly for Byrne, O’Neill for Gillespie.
Kevin GrahamWatch SAUL DAVIES with A Celtic State of Mind here: