The Bitter-Sweet Scottish League Cup …

No, there hasn’t been a last-minute change of sponsor – tomorrow’s League Cup Final between Celtic and Kilmarnock remains the deciding tie of the 2011/12 “Scottish Communities League Cup”.  The use of  “bitter-sweet” above is purely adjectival, reflecting our topsy-turvy record in the third-most-important competition in post-war Scottish football.

Characterised by spectacular highs and lows, ranging from the climactic ecstasy of “Hampden in the Sun” in 1957 to the purgatorial agony of 1994 (the least said about which, the better), nothing encapsulates Celtic’s see-saw, love-hate relationship with the event better than the truly astounding League Cup stats of the Jock Stein era.

That glorious chapter in the sprawling saga of our Grand Old Team’s going-on 124-year honour-fest would have been even more glittering were it not for the most dramatic trend reversal imaginable. Big Jock (and Sean Fallon in season 1975/76, during Stein’s extended absence in the wake of a near-fatal car crash) led the Hoops to a mind-boggling 13 consecutive League Cup Finals – yes, EVERY complete season of the Stein era!

Incredibly, though, following 5 successive victories from 1965 – 1969 inclusive, Celtic, despite their domestic dominance of the period, somehow contrived to win only 1 of the next 8, albeit a thrilling 6-3 mauling of a very formidable Hibs team in 1974.

A truly epic occasion, that match featured not one but TWO cup final hat-tricks – by Hibs’ luckless Joe Harper; and of course, our own irrepressible “Dixie” Deans.  Jimmy Johnstone, Stevie Murray and Paul Wilson provided the goals back-up for Celtic that day.  Deans’ threesome reel was his second national cup final hat-trick in just over two years, having earlier achieved the feat in the 1972 Scottish Cup Final.

Remarkably, Hibernian had been the victims on that occasion, also – a ruthless 6-1 mauling, which more reflected the awesome attacking power of that year’s version of Stein’s “Green Machine” than the inexperience of Hibs’ fledgling “Turnbull’s Tornadoes”, so-called after their manager, the legendary Eddie Turnbull.  Indeed, his exciting young team would go on to lift the Dryborough Cup and the League Cup later that very year, in the process gaining a measure of revenge by turning us over in both events (5-3 aet in the former and 2-1 in the latter) … and just for good measure, those precocious young Hibees retained the Dryborough the following season, doing Celtic yet again, 1-0 aet.

So much for the history, then – tomorrow offers Neil Lennon’s emerging young lions their chance to stake a claim for a place in future Celtic folklore. Play as we all know they can and it could be the start of something very special.  Good luck, Bhoys.

Happy St Patrick’s Day!


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