A 'Stopping the 10' Story - Fergus McCann v David Murray

Stephen O'Donnell - author of the new 'Fergus McCann Versus David Murray; How Celtic Turned the Tables on their Glasgow Rivals' book - has been kind enough to send us this extract from the end of the 1997-98 season to post.  Grab your book today at the link below or contact @StephenODAuthor to get a signed copy.  Enjoy!


Jansen’s side started the match in Fife strongly, appearing focused and determined, and with Donnelly’s strike in the -fifth minute giving them the lead, Celtic went into the half-time interval deservedly ahead and on the brink of finally securing the long-awaited championship. The second half initially developed along similar lines, but as the match wore on, with the visitors failing to add to their lead, anxiety began to creep into Celtic’s play, as the Parkhead men made the mistake, perhaps understandably in the circumstances, of starting to watch the clock rather than maintaining their focus on the match itself. In the 83rd minute, with the Celtic defence retreating too deep towards their own goal line, Dunfermline equalised from a set piece, as a long free kick into the box was met by the head of substitute Craig Faulconbridge, a beanpole striker on loan to the Pars from Coventry City, and the ball looped agonisingly past Jonathan Gould into the Celtic net. It would be a long week for the Parkhead club’s supporters, as the race for the title went down to the final match of the season.

Nerves were clearly beginning to fray, and sensing a final opportunity, which they originally assumed had been squandered after the defeat at home to Kilmarnock, the Rangers management, and in particular owner David Murray, began to make preparations for the celebrations which would greet the capture of a tenth consecutive title, with news leaking out in the press – no accident to be sure – about a helicopter being put on stand-by to take Walter Smith’s squad back to Ibrox, if the title should be won in the club’s last fixture of the season against Dundee United at Tannadice. To prevent such a scenario, Jansen’s side were required to secure a home win over St Johnstone, as any other result would allow Rangers the opportunity to finish in top spot with victory on Tayside. On Saturday 9 May, the final fixtures of the season kicked off simultaneously at 3pm, and within 90 seconds the nervous tension inside Celtic Park was eased by Swedish striker Henrik Larsson’s dipping shot from the edge of the box, which beat Saints keeper Alan Main to give Celtic an early lead, as the Parkhead ground, in the words of one writer at the time, ‘exploded in what can only be described as a volcanic eruption of happiness’.

With the early goal, however, the edge began to come off Celtic’s play and after opportunities to add to their lead were wasted, St Johnstone missed arguably the best chance of the half as the interval approached, when striker George O’Boyle headed over the bar from just outside the six-yard box. The anxiety was starting to ripple around the stadium once more, with the experience of East End Park still fresh in the memory and particularly after news of Rangers’ two goal lead at Tannadice began to filter through. Celtic historian David Potter, recalling the mood among the supporters as the second half progressed and the Parkhead side fought to cling onto their narrow advantage, wrote, ‘One goal from St Johnstone would kill all Celtic hopes and plunge us into the sort of Stygian melancholy that would be unimaginable in its ferocity, intensity and permanence’, before comparing what happened next to Armistice Day, 1918 in terms of the sheer, bloody relief that it was all over.

In the 72nd minute, Norwegian forward Harald Brattbakk, who had appeared as a substitute for Donnelly on the hour mark, accelerated into the box and, latching on to a perfectly weighted pass from McNamara, calmly placed his shot past Main to extend Celtic’s lead. It was the clincher and supporters inside Celtic Park, as well as fans of the club listening around the world, were at last able to celebrate and savour the occasion, as the club finally claimed its first league title in ten long years. It had been a period during which supporters had witnessed their club plumb new depths of often self-inflicted hardship at a time when, conversely, their rivals had ascended to a period of unrelenting dominance of the Scottish domestic game, and the celebrations and street parties around Glasgow continued long into the night and for many days thereafter.

Hope you enjoyed that as much as we did.