“I’m going to kiss Peter Grant.”
Those words were uttered by an emotional Tommy Burns on 27 May 1995. He was standing on the Hampden pitch in a dark-green tailored suit, and expressed the gratitude he held for his combative midfielder during an interview with Jim White. In doing so, the Celtic boss was also reminding his club’s supporters of the often-lamented Grant’s contribution in ensuring that Celtic clinched their first trophy in six years.
Many of the Hoops’ faithful present – just under 37,000 due to Hampden being renovated as part of the SFA’s vanity project – weren’t going to disagree with that assessment. Grant deservedly got the man of the match, but it was a big Dutchman nicknamed ‘Huggy’ who headed himself into folklore and Celtic history.
Tosh McKinlay picked up the ball in the 8th minute and pitched in a perfectly weighted cross. It was a cross that was hung up so well it could have been in the national gallery. Tosh was an expert at these types of balls. It’s an art of the game that seems to be lost under the weight of statistics telling us that crossing the ball isn’t the best way to score or create a chance. That may well be true. But there is nothing more aesthetically pleasing than a great cross and headed goal. It is one thing, which shakes hands with the past and refuses to die in the present.
Also, you need two players to be on the same wavelength at the same time. The cross needs to be predicted or read. The crosser needs someone to be there to support their art, and that is talent.
Paul Quinn was one of the three members of the Teenage Fanclub who had season tickets for Celtic at this time. The drummer had recently left The Soup Dragons and his new band were preparing for the release of the album ‘Grand Prix’ on 29 May.
“We had booked two weeks in London for the press but no-one was interested,” he recently told the ACSOM podcast. “We knew that we had made a good record but we just came up the road and thought that was that.”
Britain was in the grip of Britpop and sounding American; sounding like The Small Faces or aping Mod culture wasn’t of interest to the press. We were still two months away from the Oasis v Blur ‘battle’ but Cool Britannia was in full swing.
On the day the Fanclub released ‘Sparky’s Dream,’ Pulp released ‘Common People’. The satire-dripping latter gained more publicity than the maximum sugar hit of the former with stick-thin Jarvis pointing and prodding his way to commercial fame. Both bands had done their time, but Jarvis was more fitting of what was deemed fashionable with his kitchen sink realism and British eccentricity.
It’s hard to keep decent songwriting down, no matter the fashion or flavour of the month. ‘Grand Prix’ is songwriting gold. It’s a ‘Dear John letter’ so beautifully written that you frame it and keep it above the mantelpiece.
“Our manager got a phone call from Steve Sutherland, who was the editor of the NME, one night. He proclaimed the album to be f*cking genius and would promote it.” continued Paul.
That seal of approval from an influential magazine saw the album get the publicity that it deserved while, on the same hand, showing the fickleness of the music business. I’m certain that ‘Grand Prix’ wouldn’t have been lost as it’s too good and still would be troubling the all time Top 100 lists that it does to this day. It’s just that bit of luck or fate helped it along the way.
A lot like football.
Pierre van Hooijdonk arrived from NAC Breda for £1.2m in January 1995. The papers greeted his arrival by focusing on his £300,000 signing on fee that he was rumored to have received. It wouldn’t be the last time that money and Pierre would make the back pages. The press could have focused on the fact that Celtic had managed to sign a player who had scored 71 goals in 99 games for an unfashionable Dutch club.
“I’m strong and brave with a big heart and like to win. But, although I’m big, I like to play football on the ground, not in the air,” the player told the press after he signed, and he wasn’t wrong.
During Pierre’s first game in the hoops, Mike Galloway punted a ball out of defence, and the Dutchman pulled it out of the air. In one movement he flicked the ball over the Hearts defender, held off another challenge and then fired a shot into the top corner. His first of 56 goals for Celtic was a memorable one on a cold January evening – where his appearance added thousands on to the attendance – and one that made us further believe that we had a hero in our midst.
We had tried many lipsticks in the striking department in the early nineties. All with varying degrees of forgetfulness in a period where the team struggled. The returning favorites of Andy Walker, Frank McAvennie and Charlie Nicholas were all older, rounder, less mobile and not as attractive this time around. All had decent spells of form but the magic and goodwill weren’t there for long spells.
Big name signings like Tony Cascarino simply failed to live up to lofty transfer fees, and little known players like Wayne Biggins showed why they were little known outside their own family. An honorable mention should go to Andy Payton who just came to Celtic at the wrong time. The stocky striker had ability, but the club was chaotic and he was a victim of that. I always have a feeling of ‘what if?’ with the Burnley man.
Pierre was deceiving on the eye. His first goal saw the touch of a feather, the turn of a ballerina and the finish of a marksman which his lanky frame didn’t suggest was possible. Like most Dutch players he had football intelligence and, as the players round about him improved, they found he was on the same wavelength as them.
He was a beacon of hope. A sign that Tommy Burns and David Hay could spot and sign a player that would see us seriously challenge for the title. He brought a threat, a genuine threat that we hadn’t had in years. He could score goals with both feet, was excellent in the air and accurate with a free-kick.
We had been spoiled by John Collins and his ‘Predators’ but it was a case that anything the Galashiels Galactico could do then Pierre could emulate and better. While Collins would place the ball into the net, Pierre would leather them into top corners with all the accuracy of a sniper.
Defenders who before would easily defend crosses into the box, now were as jumpy as buffalos at a watering hole. Pierre would out-jump them, outsmart them and out-muscle them.
He would form part of a team that is fondly remembered by Celtic fans. A box of delights that saw Thom, Di Canio and Cadete enthuse like the first day of the summer holidays every Saturday.
Of course, it didn’t last.
Amid claims of promises broken over a new, improved contract, we experienced the first signs of a headstrong, stubborn personality and trait that would follow him through what became a nomadic career. After a crass comment about his contract not being fit for the homeless, he left for Nottingham Forest with Fergus McCann quoting a few lines from the Dionne Warwick hit ‘Do you know the way to San Jose’ to him as he left:
“And all the stars that never were, are parking cars and pumping gas.”
So, was Fergus correct?
After he left, Pierre played for Nottingham Forest, Vitesse Arnhem, Benfica, Feyenoord, Fenerbache, NAC Breda (again) and Feyenoord for a second spell. His display cabinet has a Scottish Cup, English Championship, two Turkish Leagues and an UEFA Cup medal, which was won when he was at peak van Hooijdonk, free-kicking his way round Europe. He celebrated 335 goals with team-mates (well, not one at Nottingham Forest when none of his team-mates celebrated with him) and has a drawer full of personal accolades.
The void is the way his Celtic career ended. He was a star who could have been a contender but it was all arguments and sulking on the bench. He had a season that made us dream and realise that picking up promising players from the Netherlands was good business. McCann’s quoting of the David and Bacharach penned hit was an apt summing up of his time at our club.
So, as the ball hung in the Hampden air on the 27 May 1995, it wasn’t a story or a memory. It was just a ball in the air. It wasn’t until Pierre arrived with the smoothness of an of expensive watch, skimming seconds, directing the ball into the net, it became a moment – not of luck but of talent.
Steve Sutherland’s phone call was Tosh McKinlays cross. ‘Grand Prix’ was the talent that made the phone call a moment. Life is all about fate but hard work and talent can make fate far easier to come your way.
Kevin GrahamWatch the creator and cast of Bend it like Brattbakk with A Celtic State of Mind