Old Back of the Net articles here

The SFL season ends

Celtic reach the UEFA Cup Final










End Games

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 promotion.

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.

Seville Deal

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 out.

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 the semi-finals.

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 players.

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 a whole.

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 the Final.

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.

Back to homepage Click here to download sample pdf files BLUE-WEB INTERNET DESIGN