Although the SPL still has a couple of weeks
to run, the curtain rang down on the Scottish Football League
season 2002-03 with a series of exciting matches. While the First
and Second division titles had already been secured and one relegation
slot in each of those divisions had previously been confirmed, there
was still much to play for on the last day of the season
In the first Alloa had looked dead and buried at Christmas
along with Arbroath but the Wasps hauled themselves
back into the fight against the drop, aided it must be said by a
string of poor results from Ross County.
Alloa thrashed St Mirren 4-0 but to no avail as County came good
when it mattered. Goalless at half-time against Ayr United and with
one foot in the Second division, Britain's most northerly League
side turned it on in in the second half, winning 4-1 to escape relegation
on goal difference.
Falkirk had won the title weeks beforehand and they said
goodbye to their ramshackle Brockville home, losing to ICT before
a capacity crowd of 7,300. Clyde finished as runners-up and
as fourteenth best overall in Scotland, this represents their best
finish since 1969. Yet crowds at Broadwood remain poor.
We will address the vexed question of Falkirk and promotion to
the SPL in the near future.
Raith Rovers led from start to finish in the Second but stuttered
across the finishing line, winning just one of their last eight
matches. The fight to join them went right to the wire. Airdrie
United thought they had done enough winning at Stranraer but
Chris Templeman's last-minute equaliser for Brechin
at Hamilton was enough to give the Angus team a second successive
At the bottom four teams entered the final day facing the prospect
of joining Cowdenbeath in the bottom flight next season.
An edgy draw for Stenhousemuir at Berwick, Hamilton's
point from the game with Brechin and victory for Dumbarton over
Raith ensured survival for these clubs while Stranraer's
defeat by Airdrie sent them down.
Had they won 2-0 they would have survived. It was a sad end to
a season in which the Stair Park club had reached the last eight
of the Scottish Cup for the first time.
But the most dramatic ending came in the Third Division. At 3pm
on the last day, four clubs still contested the two promotion places.
The top two - Morton and Peterhead - clashed at Cappielow.
A crowd of 8,497 - easily a record for this division and
just 30 short of bettering anything the Second has ever produced
- saw a tense match. Victory for either guaranteed the title. A
draw would have sent Morton up but left Peterhead waiting on results
elsewhere. Defeat would have meant likewise for either club.
In the event the only goal of the game came from Morton's Scott
Bannerman nine minutes after the break, ending the Greenock
club's stay in the lower reaches after just twelve months and sending
them up as Champions.
Elsewhere, Albion Rovers played their part by beating bottom
club East Stirling - a result which removed Peterhead from the equation
and saw all eyes turn towards New Bayview.
East Fife - leaders for much of the season - looked to have
blown it after losing at home to both Morton and Peterhead but on
the last day they had a chance to redeem themselves. They took their
time. Frustrated by ten-man Queen's Park it wasn't until the last
minute of the match that they produced the goal that brings Second
division football next season and which condemned Albion Rovers
to a second successive third place.
And, as it turned out, not bad bit of forecasting by this website.
Back in August we made these predictions. For the First we said
"we take Falkirk" while noting that "Alloa
and Arbroath are most likely for the drop." In the
Second we forecast "Neither Airdrie United nor Raith
Rovers should be playing at this level and we expect them to
be in at the death." While in the bottom division we confidently
proclaimed "Morton are clear favourites and the ignominy
of playing at this level should last no longer than twelve months."
Of course, unlike newspaper predictions, web ones don't have to
be cut out and kept for comparison. By checking the link
you can see where we went wrong as well as what we got right.
On the plus side we also said St Mirren would struggle and
that Tom Hendrie might depart Love Street. We also took Cowdenbeath
to go down. However, for the club most likely to accompany the 'Blue
Brazil' we thought it would be either Stenhousemuir or
Brechin. As Stenny's survival was in doubt until the final
day, that wasn't too far out but far from going down, Brechin have
actually gone up.
Ah well, our consolation is that we knew it would be tough for
them to STAY in the division!
Other errors? Gretna didn't make the promotion challenge
we thought they might. Nor did Hamilton. And while we reckoned
Falkirk would beat St Johnstone to the title in the First,
we didn't think for one minute that the gap between the clubs would
be so wide.
All in all, not a bad set of prognostications. And if you followed
our advice and invested with our favourite stockbrokers - Messrs
Ladbroke, Coral and Hill - a tidy profit to celebrate success
or, if you don't follow one of this year's winners, ample consolation
to tide you over till the onset of season 2003-04.
OK, it was Mogadon football at its worst and
coming just 24 hours after the classic at Old Trafford it showed
the huge gulf in class between the two main European tournaments.
But Celtic got the result they needed against Boavista
and are now in the UEFA Cup Final where they will meet
Porto on May 21st in Seville.
Martin O'Neill's team became just the second Scottish
team to reach this stage of the competition thanks to a late goal
from Henrik Larsson. The quality of the football was dreadful.
Just a day before we had all been enthralled by the pyrotechnic
display served up by Man Utd and Real Madrid. No one
expected the same in Portugal but few could have reckoned that Celtic's
game against Boavista would have been quite as dire as it turned
But the result is all that matters at this stage of the competition.
And it is worth noting that the effervescent Celtic team that won
the European Cup in 1967 reached that Final after a sleep-inducing
0-0 draw in Prague in the last four.
So lt us pause and consider Celtic's achievements this season. Eliminated
from the Champions League on away goals by a Basle team that
turned out to be a lot more useful than many (this writer included)
thought. Suduva of Lithuania were smashed out of sight. Even
this has to be ranked as a fine performance as, all too often in
the past, Scottish teams have been embarrassed by games against
such minnows. And when we consider the national team's display in
Lithuania, Celtic's result looks praiseworthy indeed.
They have eliminated two teams from the much-vaunted English Premiership.
And they did it the hard way both times, winning away at Blackburn
and Liverpool. Since losing to Celtic, Blackburn have
lost just once at Ewood Park in the League and have beaten both
Arsenal and Man Utd. Liverpool have lost just once at home (to Man
Utd) all season.
As I write, Liverpool are fifth and Blackburn are seventh in the
League. Even Celtic's biggest critics will have a hard time convincing
anybody that their triumphs were undeserved.
They knocked out Stuttgart who are currently second in the
Bundesliga. And in despatching near-namesakes Celta Vigo
they got past a team currently in a Champions League slot in the
hardest league in the world - the Spanish Primera Liga. And while
Boavista may not have been of the quality of previous victims,
they in turn had beaten Spanish, German and French teams to reach
Yet there are still critics. Those who say that Celtic aren't a
particularly Scottish team. It is true that Rab Douglas was
the only Scot to play for 90 minutes in Portugal. Paul Lambert
came off injured after 34 mins and Jamie Smith played for
the last fifteen. Yes, it would be good to see more Scots in the
team. But Celtic are no different here than other teams. In that
amazing match in Manchester both teams started without their respective
national superstars - Raul and Beckham. The Brazilian
Ronaldo scored a hat-trick for Real, aided by his compatriot
Roberto Carlos and other foreign luminaries such as Zidane,
McManaman, Figo and Makalele.
Yet no one runs down the Primera Liga as a result
or seeks to claim that Spain is incapable of producing talented
Similarly, if Man Utd can recover and win the title thanks to Van
Nistelrooy, Barthez, Silvestre, Veron, Keane, Giggs, Solksjaer
and Fortune, no one will say that they are not a 'proper'
English side nor cite their manager's nationality as 'evidence.'
So it's time for the carping to stop and for Celtic's achievements
to be recognised as a much-needed boost for Scottish football as
And in keeping with this site's ethos it is interesting to make
a comparison between now and Lisbon in 1967. Then, as now, Real
Madrid were the benchmark - the reigning European Champions.
Then, as now, Latin football predominated. There are six clubs left
standing in Europe this season. Three from Italy (the two Milan
clubs and Juve), Real, Porto.........and Celtic.
That's an illustrious line-up. Every one of them a former European
Champion. Italy, Spain, Portugal and Scotland are
the only countries left with representation. Think for a moment
and consider. No teams from England, France, Germany and
Holland. Over twenty clubs from those countries entered
European competition this season and all have been eliminated
while one of our gang of four is still there. That's right. No Arsenal,
Man Utd, Ajax or Bayern Munich but Celtic are still there.
It is an accomplishment that absolutely no one would have thought
possible last August when the best our teams were hoping for was
to reach the last sixteen and still be in Europe in January.
This is a magnificent achievement which should be welcomed by
all supporters of Scottish football. For anyone to attempt to detract
from it (and there are a few) is to reveal a petty, mean-spirited
attitude we would be better off without.
As for those who try to hide their criticism by questioning the
quality of the UEFA Cup, well, obviously the tournament is nowhere
near as strong as it was in the days when the runners-ups from the
big Leagues had nowhere else to play but even so it remains far
stronger than the old Cup-Winners Cup ever was and no one says that
wasn't a major prize.
How strong is it? Put it this way. Twelve months ago the two Milan
clubs both lost in the UEFA Cup semi-finals. Today they are both
in the semis of the Champions League and one of them will play in
Finally, the big question. Can they win it? From the outset Porto
and Lazio looked to be a class above the rest in this competition.
Porto will go into this match as strong favourites. Just as Liverpool
did against Alaves and look what a cracker that turned out to be.
But it's 90 minutes on neutral turf with nothing to be gained from
being cagey. As they say in the ring, Celtic have a 'punchers chance.'
And, after all the "V" superstition, if they are looking
for an omen, they should look back to 1967. A European Final
in the Iberian Peninsula with Celtic as long-odds underdogs. They
did it then. Let's hope they can do it now.