BY WILLIAM HEANEY
As a kid football was, for me, divided into two very distinct worlds. There was the one where I played: gravel pitches, Mitre Mouldmasters and ridiculous scorelines. Then there was the one where I watched, and dreamed: big crowds, floodlights and moments of magic that I can remember even now. However, on 27th September 1989, the lines between those two places became somewhat blurred.
The late 1980s werenâ€™t the best of times to be a Celtic supporter. The centenary year league and cup double of 1988 wasnâ€™t, as had first been thought, the start of a glorious new era for the club. Instead, it had been a temporary moment of relief in an era when free spending Rangers were, in domestic terms, sweeping all before them.
If that werenâ€™t enough, there was the ignominy of watching Mo Johnston sign up at Ibrox in the summer of â€™89, weeks after agreeing to return to Celtic Park. It was a devastating blow for a fanbase buoyed by the return of a player who described his boyhood heroes as â€œthe only club Iâ€™ve ever wanted to play for.â€
Celtic did deny Rangers the domestic treble at the end of the previous season, a Scottish Cup final triumph allowing them entry to the now defunct European Cup Winners Cup.
Their first round opponents were Partizan Belgrade, who had finished the previous season in sixth position in the then Yugoslav First League. Partizan were themselves set to suffer at the hands of cross-town rivals. Red Star were in the process of assembling a team containing the likes of Pancev, Prosinecki and Savecevic who less than two years later would be champions of Europe.
A 2-1 away defeat in the first leg wasnâ€™t thought to be the worst result in the world. Mike Gallowayâ€™s strike meant that there was a degree of optimism amongst the 49,000 fans inside Celtic Park that night.
While the hosts could call on the talents of outstanding young midfielder Paul McStay and goalkeeper Pat Bonner â€“ at that point arguably one of the best stoppers on the planet â€“ they were, at best, a limited side. Recent signing Paul Elliott would prove to be an excellent acquisition but stars of the double team like Joe Miller and Andy Walker were shadows of their former selves.
I was stood in my normal vantage point for home games, behind the goal on the old west terracing, or â€˜Celtic endâ€™ as it was more commonly known. It meant that I had an ideal view as the visitors took the lead within the first ten minutes from a Vujajic header.
Despite the early setback, the crowd roared encouragement, still believing that the tie was winnable. However, it was going to take more than vociferous backing for the deficit to be overturned. Something, or someone, special was required.
Dariusz â€˜Jackieâ€™ Dziekanowski was another summer signing. He developed into something of a cult hero, though his disappointing time at the club probably didnâ€™t warrant the acclaim he received. He became an almost instant favourite when he found the net in a 1-1 draw with Rangers and while never a prolific goalscorer during his time in Glasgow, the Polish international was a player of undoubted skill. He also developed a reputation for enjoying the cityâ€™s nightlife, and it was rumoured that he was never short of female â€˜companionship.â€™
It was Dziekanowski who levelled the game on the night, his looping header providing some hope. The score remained at 1-1 until the break and while the first-half was entertaining, it was nothing compared to what was to follow in the second period.
Almost immediately, the tie was all-square. A half-volley from McStay was saved, but not held, by Pandurovic in the Partizan goal and Dziekanowski blasted the ball into an unguarded net. It was the first of five goals in a ridiculous twenty minute spell, with some of the defending being similar to what I would see when playing with friends or at school.
Celtic seemed determined to throw away the tie. Within a few minutes Derek Whyte conceded possession and Dordevic gave the visitors the aggregate lead once more. Dziekanowski then completed his hat-trick with a fantastic half-volley only for Durovski to give Partizan yet another away goal. The Pole then turned provider, setting up Walker who scored with a sliding volley.
There then followed a period of relative calm, with more than a quarter of an half passing without another goal. However, with just nine minutes left, Celtic took the lead for the first time in the tie. Mike Gallowayâ€™s driven cross from the left required only the slightest of touches and it was provided by, yes, Dziekanowski, as he guided the ball home from within the six yard box. It was his fourth goal of the night, completing one of the most remarkable individual performances in the history of European football.
This should be the rather dull part, where I describe how Celtic seen out the closing minutes of the match â€“ make a couple of subs, run the ball into the corners, that type of thing. If only.
Instead, the hosts continued to attack. McNeillâ€™s teams were always cavalier in their style, but this was incredible, even by his standards. It was also complete madness and, in the dying seconds they paid the price. The visitors won possession in their own half and broke down the left. A cross to the back post was nodded back across goal and Sladan Scepovic headed home to clinch the tie for Partizan on away goals. Incidentally, Scepovicâ€™s son, Stefan, moved to Celtic Park before the end of the transfer window.
Twenty-five years on, I can still remember the strange mixture of devastation and elation I felt as I made my way out of the stadium that night. My team had just gone out of Europe in the most sickening fashion, yet I wasnâ€™t completely deflated. Even at such a young age, I recognised that I had witnessed a match which, although lacking in quality (and defences), was still something truly special.
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