On this day, ten years ago, Gordon Strachan officially resigned from his post as Celtic manager. The previous day, the final league game of the season, Celtic needed to beat Hearts and for Rangers to lose, in order to win the title.
Celtic drew 0-0 and Rangers won 0-3, securing their first title in four years. Despite all his progress, Gordon had failed to win a fourth consecutive title and left the club under a bit of a cloud.
Even though he had bagged the League Cup earlier in the year, it was a fairly disappointing season. If the support were still split over his initial appointment, then more were clambering for his resignation.
I was a big fan of Gordon. The football wasn’t the best, but he did get results and we did have some pretty amazing games during his time.
Whether it was domestic or European football, I had some great nights watching Naka, JVoH, Maloney, Boruc and co. I would have liked Gordon to have stayed on if I am being honest and he most definitely should have won a treble during his tenure but it was not to be.
His replacement, Tony Mowbray, was announced three weeks after his departure. It divided the support a little, me myself taking the view that he was a mediocre replacement.
That assessment turned out to be spot on. I never gloated about being correct, but I’ve never felt so exonerated about pinning my opinion on something, given the level of arguments I got in.
Following a lacklustre nine months at the helm, Mowbray was fired. He’d failed in pretty much every department since his arrival.
Neil Lennon stepped up from Reserve Team Coach – a position Mowbray had ‘relegated’ him to pretty much upon arrival – to resolve first team matters. Neil won all eight remaining league matches, but it was not enough to rest the title from Rangers.
He also lost a poorly attended Scottish Cup semi final to Ross County 2-0. A match that Neil heavily criticised the players for.
It was Celtic’s first trophy-less season since 2002-2003. The club’s stock was pretty low by this point and a spark was needed to revive matters.
Having enjoyed domestic and European joy through Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan, Tony Mowbray brought nothing but disappointment and dullness. The person charged with restoring some belief and excitement was Neil Lennon.
He had no experience as manager, but he was a passionate supporter of the club and a fans favourite. We were not under any illusions though, because appointing Neil was risky and we all had our reservations.
The club had spent money on freeing Mowbray from his West Brom contract and they now had to compensate his exit as wekk. It was an expensive failure and now with a squad needing extensive surgery, they could not afford to reel in a big fish.
Celtic were not an attractive prospect at this point. It became apparent that Neil was the only man for the job.
On his first full season in charge, Neil came within one point of matching Rangers. Had he done so, he would have won his first title as a manager on goal difference.
For his first season in charge it was a great attempt for a rookie manager. He also got Celtic to both domestic cup finals, losing out to Rangers in the League Cup, but beating Motherwell in the Scottish Cup.
On paper, it’s a pretty good effort at club with expectations. He’d drafted in some good players such as Fraser Forster, Joe Ledley, Gary Hooper, Kris Commons, Beram Kayal, Charlie Mulgrew, Emilio Izaguirre, Anthony Stokes and Efrain Juarez.
Things were on the up and Celtic were had rediscovered their mojo. Would the season that followed yield greater success?
It certainly did and Celtic bolstered the squad further with the likes of Adam Matthews, Victor Wanyama, Mikael Lustig and Kelvin Wilson. Celtic would make a better impact in Europe, but this would also be the season Neil would win his first title as a manager.
For Rangers, this might have been the season that spelled the end of their existence. For Neil Lennon, this was just the beginning.
Neil had lost the League Cup Final to Kilmarnock and the Scottish Cup Semi Final to Hearts. However, he had won the biggest domestic prize by some distance and was a ticket to the Champions League.
A staggering margin of 20 points separated Neil Lennon and Ally McCoist. Rangers had been deducted 10 points for falling into administration, but a further ten points separated the two clubs anyway.
The liquidation of their rivals meant that Celtic’s domination would continue. No other Scottish club mounted a serious challenge upon the Champions.
Neil would go on to enjoy more domestic success. He would also claim the biggest scalp of his managerial career by beating Barcelona 2-1 at Celtic Park.
Whilst he would become the only the fourth Celtic manager to win three titles on the bounce, that victory over one of the worlds finest every teams is up there with the club’s finest ever moments in history. The odds were stacked against Celtic that night, but they got a result that will live long in the memory.
There’s no doubt Neil must take credit for assembling a squad of believers. Especially in a time when he was under a torrent of abuse from rival supporters and outside factions regarding his Northern Irish roots and allegiance to Celtic Football Club.
Eventually, Neil would walk away from Celtic to seek new challenges after four seasons in charge. His three titles got the ball rolling for what has been total domination in Scotland for the last eight seasons.
Now in his second spell as caretaker manager he has helped deliver an eighth title and today he will take this Celtic squad to Hampden in a bid to win the Scottish Cup. Victory would mean another treble for Celtic the long discussed, Treble Treble.
What treasured times these are for Celtic. This trophy may have not been on the agenda that was handed to Neil when he came in during February, but Celtic are here now.
The players must go out and give it their all today against a Hearts side that will be desperate to halt Celtic’s drive for another piece of history. I believe I’ve seen enough of Celtic over the last few weeks to know that this final can be won.
There may be fatigue, niggling injuries and an overwhelming sense of pressure to deliver. This squad have been here before though.
After this season I do not expect a repeat of this level of success. Not next season, not in my lifetime.
We will have a managerial appointment in the coming days. It might be not be Neil Lennon as it was nine years ago.
All I know is that whoever takes that job has a lot to live up to including what Neil, Ronny and Brendan have all done. We’ve witnessed greatness and history for almost a decade and today we may see some more.
I thank Neil, his back room staff and the Celtic players for delivering the title and for making this day possible. Whatever happens today, whatever happens tomorrow, I will support this team and this club forever.
Today is also the day, 52 years ago that Celtic lifted the European Cup in Lisbon. We shall mark the passing of two of those Lion’s in recent weeks at today’s final.
Victory would be a special tribute to them, their families and the supporters. We must do our best to ensure of that.
Good luck Bhoys. History awaits you.