Anton was always a cult hero to many Celtic fans, but for me he was the guy that missed the penalty in probably the first Celtic game in which I really took a proper interest.
In hindsight, I was harsh on Anton. For one thing, Dariusz Wydowczyk also missed a penalty in the 1990 Scottish Cup final shootout, and I never held it against him. But I guess that’s the difference between missing the first penalty and missing the last.
What I only came to realise later was just how big it was to be losing that penalty shootout.
For one thing, it meant we finished the season without a trophy. We would do that again and again for another five years. It also meant that we failed to win the Scottish Cup for a third successive season. For a team that has won the trophy more than anyone else, that seems almost hard to believe!
Queen’s Park won the first three. Vale of Leven won the next three. Queen’s Park then won the three after that. It was the 1930s when Rangers won three in a row, and again in the 1940s and the 1960s. Even Aberdeen managed it in the 1980s, the last team to manage such a feat.
But we’ve never done it. We’ve come close, and that 1990 Scottish Cup final is as close as we’ve ever come. But we’ve fallen at the last hurdle several times prior to that too. In 1973 we lost 3-2 to Rangers. In 1909 we drew twice with Rangers and on the second occasion when it became apparent the fans were being ripped off by arranging a third game instead of getting extra time, the two sets of fans rioted together and the SFA withheld the cup.
I’ve said previously that I think we jinxed ourselves out of a hat trick of Scottish Cups on that day, but actually there was one more time prior to that where we could have won three Scottish Cups in a row and fell at the last hurdle.
Having won the Scottish Cup for the first time in 1892, we had to wait seven years to get our hands on the trophy again. The 2-0 win over Rangers was followed the following year with a 4-3 win over Queen’s Park. Our first chance at winning a third consecutive Scottish Cup came to a disappointing end in the final at Ibrox that season as Hearts beat us 4-3.
Today we have the chance once again to make it three consecutive Scottish Cups, and so maybe it’s fitting that today’s final should come against the team who stopped us the first time.
Our road to Hampden has been relatively straight forward on paper. A 3-0 win over the current incarnation of Airdrie was followed by a 5-0 thumping of St Johnstone. The 2-0 win away to Hibernian sounds reasonably until you remember that we ended that week with a different manager from when we started it! The 3-0 win over Aberdeen was certainly helped by our opponents self destructing, although it was one of our better performances in recent months.
Hearts reached this final relatively straight forward too. A 1-0 home win against Livingston was followed by a 4-0 home win over Juniors side Auchinleck Talbot – far easier than the last time Hearts played them when they sneaked through despite a dodgy offside denying Talbot an equaliser. The quarter final also saw Hearts at home, with a 2-1 win over Championship strugglers Partick Thistle, before seeing off Championship playoff semi finalists Inverness Caledonian Thistle 3-0 in the semi final.
Hearts have had something of a topsy turvy season. They started it by getting away with cheating – having two points docked in the League Cup sections instead of three and that extra point being enough to see them through where they eventually made it to the semi final, before finally losing 3-0 to Celtic at Murrayfield.
During that period they had terrific form in the Premiership, beating Celtic 1-0 on the second weekend at Tynecastle, and were top for several months before injuries saw them tumble. They would eventually finish sixth, not exactly what they had in mind when they were still top in November even after losing 5-0 at Celtic Park.
Our other results against Hearts this season have been 2-1 victories, the first of those coming late on against ten men at Tynecastle a day after Neil Lennon’s return to Celtic, and the most recent was last week. No one is reading much into that given both teams made several changes. The fact that our opening goal came thanks to a one-two from Mikey Johnston and Euan Henderson should tell you everything you need to know there.
The blow for Hearts last week was the injury to Olly Lee. Adding him to the talismanic Steven Naismith is a huge blow for Craig Levein’s men, but in better news for them they should see Peter Haring, Arnaud Djoum and Uche Ikpeazu return from the injuries they’ve had in recent weeks.
On our side, we’ll be without Ryan Christie who made such a difference at Murrayfield and who got the winner in the League Cup final earlier in the season. But we should see James Forrest and Kieran Tierney return to the side, which should hopefully give us the attacking threat down the wings that often makes such a difference.
The omens for this game are mixed. Craig Levein has never won a trophy as either a player or a manager, so he’ll be hoping to finally change that. Hearts have won their last three Scottish Cup finals, with victories over Rangers in 1998, Gretna in 2006 (another time we blew it going for three in a row incidentally) and Hibernian in 2012. They haven’t lost in the Scottish Cup final since Rangers beat them 5-1 in 1996.
As I mentioned earlier, Hearts beat us in 1901 the first time the teams played this showpiece final together. When the two met again six years later, it was Celtic who came out on top with a 3-0 win in what ultimately became the run of wins into the 1909 Hampden riot. The only other time the two teams have met in the final was way back in 1956, when again Hearts came out on top with a 3-1 win.
So you can either look at that as they have the better of us, or you can see it as alternating and today is our turn!
Just as Hearts haven’t lost their last three Scottish Cup finals, so Celtic haven’t lost their last seven. Since losing to Rangers in 2002, Celtic have beaten Dunfermline Athletic in 2004 and 2007, Dundee United in 2005, Motherwell in 2011 and 2018, Hibernian in 2013 and Aberdeen in 2017.
We won’t break that record today, Queen’s Park won their first nine finals in a row, and didn’t lose in the final until their tenth appearance… the day Celtic won the trophy for the very first time in 1892. Win today and it will be our thirty ninth Scottish Cup victory. If Hearts win it will be their ninth – still one behind Queen’s Park.
Victory today would also clinch Celtic’s sixth domestic treble. Considering it would also be our third domestic treble in a row, it’s remarkable to think that until recently I’d only seen us do it once! I wasn’t even born in the sixties for the first two, I had to wait for Martin O’Neill to do it.
The double treble last season was unprecedented, so clearly to win a treble treble is too. We’ve already surpassed the record number of consecutive domestic trophies won in Scotland by winning the league, so for me today is mainly about winning the Scottish Cup itself.
I’ve always loved this tournament. My earliest proper Celtic memory is of watching us in the final. The first trophy I remember us winning was this one. I’ve been to several finals along the way and actually I’ve been lucky enough to see us win it every time I have. I won’t be there today, hopefully I’ll be watching us overcome Hearts live on television instead.
One last game to play. One last victory to aim for. One last trophy to lift. Hopefully it’s wrapped in green and white ribbons once more, and we honour the two legends we lost in recent weeks who will always lay first claim to today’s date.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)