With the weather outside being lousy, and there being very little else to occupy our time, we decided to crank it up a notch and watch two classic games back to back. Safe to say my girlfriend was less than impressed that the TV was occupied by over three and a half hours of grainy footage, but in return for doing the washing up and watching Pretty Women later in the evening, an agreement was struck.
One of the ways I’ve been passing the time with some other friends is daily top 5 lists- top 5 albums, takeaways, funniest times we’ve vomitted through drinking etc. One of the most discussed topis was the top 5 football matches you’d like to see live. One of the ones that made the cut for me was a Glasgow derby. With no real affinity for either side, I’d love to go to either Ibrox or Hampden Park to watch Celtic and Rangers face off against one another. It is unlikely this will happen even once lockdown has ended, partly due to the difficulty in getting tickets, but mainly because I’d be worried about getting my head kicked in, so instead I settled for the next best thing; the first league meeting between the two sides of the 2000/2001 season.
Partially picked due to the score not being displayed on the YouTube video, and partly because it was full of household names on either side of the divide. The likes of Larsson, Suton, Stubbs, Petrov for the Hoops, and Ferguson, Van Bronkhurts, Kanchelskis, and Lovenkranes for the Teddy Bears. That and both sides were sponsored by NTL, which brought back nostalgic memories of dial-up, with my Dad forever shouting at us for using the internet whenever he wanted to make a phone call. Memories.
As the lineups were announced, the co-commentator then attempted to describe the tactics each side would deploy. While what he was saying made sense, the interactive graphic they chose to display said tactics was either incredibly limited or being operated by a child. Safe to say such technology has drastically advanced to modern-day use on Monday Night Football with Neville and Carragher.
The game started at a frenetic pace, with Celtic opening the scoring through Chris Sutton after only 50 seconds. Later on, it was shown that he was clearly offside, so the goal would not have passed the VAR test. It didn’t really let up for the first half, with the Bhoys 3-0 up after only 12 minutes, with goals from a baby faced Stylian Petrov and a Paul Lambert. I’ve only ever really known Lambert as an average to poor manager, and with him currently struggling at my beloved Ipswich Town, I do have very mixed feelings about him. But even I can’t deny how well he took his goal.
The Gers pulling one back with Claudio Reyna in the lead up to half time, and Rod Wallace thought he’d added another, but for it to be pulled back for offside. Again the lack of technology cost the boys in blue, as replays showed him to be clearly level when the ball was played.
One of the great joys of the game was watching Henrik Larsson play at the height of his powers. Due to him only having a very brief spell in England in the twilight of his career, I tend to forget about him when I think back to strikers who really made me sit up and pay attention during my formative years. But the Swede genuinely was a special talent. His exquisite chip put Celtic 4-1 up, and with that, the game was pretty much over. You could tell much he enjoyed playing as well, as every celebration he cheekily stuck his tongue out, arms out wide with his dreadlocks bouncing up and down behind him. A truly special player.
As to be expected, many of the tackles verged on common assault. However, the referee clearly had made a decision to let the game flow wherever possible, so only the most severe were punished with a yellow card. This was a sensible decision, as it was probably the only way the man in charge could keep control.
While Rangers pulled another back through a Billy Dodds penalty, Larsson scored again, a header from a free kick. Sutton then got his second of the game to put Martin O’Neil’s side 6-2 up, a stunning victory for such an early stage of the season.
Amazingly there were only eight yellow cards in total, though you’d imagine in a game other than a Glasgow derby many more of these challenges would’ve warranted further punishment. It was the Rangers captain Barry Ferguson who finally received his marching orders after two equally needless and reckless challenges.
That goal-fest was always going to be a tough act to follow, so we decided to go for something completely different but equally as competitive for the next game; AC Milan vs Inter Milan from the 18th of April, 1992. Again the score wasn’t displayed so we were going in blind, but as it was near the beginning of the search options it had to be an entertaining game, right?
It was during this period that Italian sides were widely considered as some of the best in Europe, if not the world. Milan, in particular, were a powerhouse; under the stewardship of Arrigo Sacchi had won back to back European Cups, and were known as the ‘immortals’ by the Italian media. While Sacchi had moved on, Fabio Capello had carried on where he let off, as Milan were unbeaten in the league going into the season.
There was a slight delay at the beginning of the second game as the flat below mind decided it was an appropriate time to start paying incredibly loud drum and bass. Considering it was 5 pm on a Sunday it seemed like an odd time to choose, but thankfully after several loud stomps on the floor, the noise died down.
While of course there was intense rivalry between the two Italian sides, there was an added element of a German/Dutch conflict. For Inter Lothar Matthäus and Jürgen Klinsmann, in the Milan side was Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard. However, none of these exciting attacking players really had the opportunity to shine, as this game was a classic example of an Italian defensive masterclass.
I’m not sure if the players were aware that the change in the back-pass rule was imminent, but it definitely seemed like they were making the most of it while they still could. Defenders, often under little pressure from opponents, would launch the ball back to the goalkeeper whenever they couldn’t find a teammate in a bit of space. What was a novelty and something to chuckle about at first did become quite tiresome by the end.
Despite this, and the lack of clear-cut chances, it was still a very entertaining game to watch. Inter’s players especially were throwing themselves into tackles with little concern for the consequences. I suppose they were desperate to stop Milan from becoming the first unbeaten side in Serie A history, so were doing all they could to disrupt their rhythm. Eventually, the referee wielded his power by awarding Stefano Desideri with a second yellow card, for what easily could have been a straight red on its own. Despite being down to ten men, the Nerazzurri carried on with these dangerous challenges, clearly being undeterred by their inferior numbers.
Just as we were questioning whether the game actually was enjoyable, or only appeared to be because there was no other live football happening, Daniele Massaro popped up with a header in the 89th minute to secure a 1-0 victory for Rossoneri. Pandamonium on the stadium as 85,000 people went crazy. It was a beautiful sight to behold, but a sobering one when you consider how long it will be before that many people are allowed back into football stadiums, or even to congregate together in crowds of any size.
Milan went on to finish the season unbeaten, and claim their first Scudetto for four years. They would win a further three league titles under Capello, and capped it off lifting with the Champions League in 1994.
It was suggested that we could watch another derby, maybe the Intercontinental Derby between Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, or the Superclásico between Boca Juniors and River Plate, but it was all agreed that possibly it was time to quit while we were ahead. Another Sunday well spent watching classic matches, a few beers, and some reasonable company.