Season 1996/97 was one of the most disappointing in Celtic history. Not only did the Hoops end the season trophyless, but they also had to suffer through the ignominy of losing all four Glasgow Derbies in the League and watched as city rivals Rangers equalled their long-held 9 League titles in-a-row record.
A great servant to the club, Tommy Burns, was dismissed as manager towards the end of the season; ultimately paying the price for his failure to defeat Rangers and bring an end to their dominance of the Scottish game.
A feature of Burns’ Celtic was their free-flowing, open and attacking style that won many plaudits. Going forward, there were few better teams to watch, but defensively the team was often found exposed and wanting.
A revolution was required for the ’97/98 campaign if ‘the 10’ was to be stopped. Wim Jansen was hired as coach to bring in a fresh approach and some much needed continental nous. Amongst several important signings made for the biggest season in Celtic’s history since 1967, was Danish international defender Marc Rieper, signed from West Ham with the task of shoring up Celtic’s leaky backline.Listen to DOMINIK DIAMOND with A Celtic State of Mind here:
The Great Dane in Paradise
The Dane came to Paradise with an impressive CV. A full Danish international, Rieper had represented his county at Euro ’96 and was an established member of the national team.
At club level, his rugged and uncompromising style had made him a firm favourite at former clubs AGF, Brondby, and West Ham. With the Celtic defence often accused of being soft and lacking discipline, Rieper was exactly the player we were crying out for.
Signed in September 1997, Rieper’s arrival at Celtic Park could not have been better timed. Defeats in the opening two games of the season against Hibs and Dunfermline, followed by a first victory in matchday three, had left many questioning Celtic’s title credentials once again. However, with Rieper added to the backline alongside Alan Stubbs from matchday four, the Celtic defence and title charge began to take shape.
Tall, commanding in the air, and comfortable with the ball at his feet, Rieper added experience and composure to the Celtic defence at a time when it most needed it.
He played a key role in the club’s run to the League Cup Final in November ’97, scoring the opening goal in the showpiece match against Dundee United as Celtic went on to lift the first silverware of the season, for the first time in 15 years. The League Cup success sent ripples of confidence throughout the club that, finally, we had a team capable of winning again.
By the end of the season, those small ripples of confidence had been transformed into waves as Celtic lifted the League trophy for the first time in a decade, stopping an EBT-inspired Rangers from claiming a record-breaking 10th title in-a-row.
Unfortunately for Celtic, and Marc Rieper, the joy of that success was short-lived. Wim Jansen departed almost immediately after the season’s end and it would take the club several more years to recover and become competitive again.
For Rieper, he, alongside fellow Celt Morten Wieghorst, would represent Denmark at the France ’98 World Cup Finals. The big defender played in all 5 of Denmark’s games on their run to the quarter-finals, scoring once against Saudi Arabia, before falling to Brazil.
Returning to Celtic for the ’98/99 season, Rieper picked up a toe injury in the October of ’98 that would eventually end his career and leave a sizeable gap in the Celtic defence.
Life After Celtic
Rieper eventually admitted defeat in his battle to overcome injury, retiring in July 2000 and embarked on his coaching career with first club AGF in 2001 using his Parkhead connections to help bring several young Celtic players, including Liam Miller, to the Danish Superliga side.
In 2002 he resigned his position at AGF following the dismissal of manager John Stampe and has since been ventured into the world of business owning a hotel in Aarhus, running an online women’s fashion store, and even returning to AGF to take up a place on the board.
He may have made only 51 appearances in the green and white hoops, but Marc Rieper left having made a vital contribution in one of the most historic seasons in Celtic history. Had it not been for injury then who knows what impact he would have had on Dr Jo’s team; perhaps if Rieper had remained fit there would have been no requirement to sign a certain Johan Mjällby.
Regardless, Marc Rieper is a name that is fondly remembered down the Celtic Way and by those of A Celtic State of Mind.
Kevin McCluskieWatch A Celtic State of Mind at the Stevie Chalmers Auction here: