Let me clarify that statement a little, because there are many feelings regarding that particular subject. I was delighted that Rangers would not be in the SPL this season because the fixture list had already been drawn up and contained within that list was one that I had dreaded yet somehow avoided for several years.
Since my first trip to the United States in 2007, there is one thing I particularly like. Going to Florida in September. The weather is terrific, and although it rains in the afternoon you’re usually quite happy about that because it takes away the humidity and just leaves the heat. It’s also great because in September the schools in Scotland and England are back and the next set of holidays don’t come until October. No kids, no queues in the theme parks.
But, going to Florida in September has the major downfall of missing Celtic matches. I’ve usually been lucky with the games, although I’ve missed the odd Champions League group match. They’re fine though, I usually take a trip along to the home of the Orlando CSC in the Lucky Leprechaun just off International Drive and catch the game mid-afternoon. It’s a great pub, so if you’re ever in the Orlando area make sure you take a trip there, especially if there’s a game on. I’ve watched everything from Shakhtar Donetsk away to Inverness in the League Cup in there. I tend not to go for the early kick offs though as I’ve never been much of a morning drinkers. I’d be a terrible North American Celtic supporter.
So, with that in mind, I’ve been delighted that we’d never faced Rangers when I’d been away in Florida. The thought of getting up for a 7am kick off against them… yuck. I don’t like 7am at any time. But it had never happened. Then this summer out popped Celtic v Club 12 on September 22nd. I was already booked to go back this year, so you could understand my delight when eventually the tribute team were rejected and Dundee were invited to come up and fill in the twelfth slot.
Of course, that means I’m now missing the Dundee match at home, but I can live with that. I may even try to catch the 10am kick off (3pm CPT, 7 ET). Although if I’ve already caught the Benfica match earlier in the week it may require negotiation with the wife depending on the theme park plans!
Dundee’s return to the SPL was a very late call up for them of course, so it was of little surprise when they got off to a slow start. An opening day draw away to Kilmarnock seemed reasonable enough, but defeats to St Mirren, city rivals Dundee United, Ross County and then even Third Division Queen’s Park in the League Cup looked like it was going to be a nightmare season for the blue half of Dundee. But then they went to Tynecastle and scored their first SPL goal of the season to win 1-0. That lifted them off the bottom of the table ahead of last week’s home match against Motherwell. Admittedly, I have no idea what happened in that game since I’m still in Florida and this was written weeks ago, but not to worry!
There is one very familiar face in the Dundee line-up. Goalkeeper Rab Douglas will forever be remembered as our goalkeeper in Seville, and while many are quick to point the finger of blame Rab’s way for certain matches (including Seville), others prefer to remember his performances in places like Valencia and Anfield (where without his performance there may never have been a Seville in the first place). Also at Dundee is current Celtic player Lewis Toshney, but you would hope his loan deal prevents him from playing against his owner club!
Following that, it’s a return to League Cup action on Tuesday at 7.45pm (14.45 ET, 11.45 PT). The disappointment of last season’s final defeat to Kilmarnock is one that will live with me for a while, even more so than the defeat 12 months earlier to Rangers. This tournament is always the poor relation to the other two – the Diddy Cup if you like – and I’d say that if we’d won the last two finals too. Last season seemed more like confirmation that the League Cup has never been kind to us, and I’m now convinced I will never feel good about this particular competition. As if we all needed reminding of just how bad this competition has been to us in the past, the draw will have stirred up horror memories of the mid-90s.
The League Cup final of 1994/95 was held at Ibrox due to our ongoing tenancy of Hampden Park. Having made it to the final of the tournament for the first time in four years, and our first final of any kind for the same time period, confidence was high as all that stood between us and our first trophy in five and a half years was lowly First Division side Raith Rovers. Just six months after the rebels had won, and with Tommy Burns in charge, surely this was the beginning of a glorious new chapter of our history?
20 minutes into the game, Stevie Crawford gave Raith the lead. It was an early warning that the game wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought. Still, Andy Walker had us level just after the half hour mark and with just over five minutes of the game remaining Charlie Nicholas put us 2-1 up. Job done? No one told Gordon Dalziel who levelled the game a couple of minutes later and took us to extra time. Then came the penalty shootout. Raith Rovers took theirs first, so by the time Paul McStay stepped up the pressure was on as Raith lead 6-5. As we know, he failed to score and Raith won the first major trophy of their history.
Of course, we’ve played them since then. We last met them in 2000 at the beginning of Martin O’Neill’s treble winning season. With two goals from Tommy Johnson and one from Chris Sutton, the real highlight was Alan Thompson’s backheeled fourth and final goal in a 4-0 win - not a bad way to mark a debut! Other players who featured that night included Rafael Scheidt, Oliver Tebily, Mark Burchill and Eyal Berkovic. Yes, Martin O’Neill really did give everyone a chance to prove their worth at some point!
Twelve years on from that last meeting, Celtic will play host again. You can probably guess which of the two previous games will get more focus in the media of course. What may also get some focus is the backing that Turnbull Hutton has had from the Celtic internet bampots. After going public with his stance regarding newcos and Scottish Football, Raith Rovers now have several Celtic fan sponsored players among other things! Lets just hope those players don’t come back to bite us on what I hope turns out to be packed Celtic Park night. With Raith getting half the gate for a cup game, it’s possibly the best way for us to thank Turnbull Hutton and the rest for their steadfast belief in Scottish football meritocracy.
Krys (twitter @Krys1888 and @HHMParadiseRep)