The Scottish Cup
Celtic 1 Inverness Caledonian Thistle 3, 2000
Over 20 years have passed since the final whistle sounded on one of the biggest shocks in Scottish Cup history. In that time, few better football headlines have been written.
The words, emblazoned in the Scottish Sun following Celtic’s shock 3-1 defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle, are now legendary:
SUPER CALEY GO BALLISTIC CELTIC ARE ATROCIOUS
The repercussions of that cup loss, on a cold midweek night on February 8 2000, were explosive. Celtic careers ended that evening, most notably that of manager John Barnes.
In truth, the pressure had been steadily mounting on the England legend throughout his debut season. Celtic had gambled when they handed Barnes his first ever coaching job, hoping that the appointment of Kenny Dalglish as director of football would add experience.
The two men knew each other well from their halcyon days together at Liverpool and Celtic backed them heavily, spending over £20 million on players including Eyal Berkovic for £5.75million from West Ham and the £4.8million for Brazilian internationalist, Rafael Scheidt. The grand plan soon began to unravel.
Celtic suffered a devastating blow in October 2000 as Henrik Larsson was ruled out for the season following a horrific leg break. By the time Caley came calling in February, Barnes’ side hadn’t won a game in three and there were reports of discontent in the dressing room.
The visitors were, meanwhile, on the rise. Caley had rapidly scaled the divisions since being allowed to enter the professional leagues as a newly formed club in 1994/95 and were already viewed as promotion contenders in what was then called the First Division.
Managed by Steve Paterson, their team was built on a strong core of local players, among them grafters such as Bobby Mann, who was in his first full season as a professional, and mercurial talents like Paul Sheerin and Barry Wilson.
The latter opened the scoring in the 16th minute at Celtic Park, getting in front of a flat-footed marker to nod home a Sheerin cross from the left.
It took Celtic just a single minute to level through Mark Burchill, but this goal did not signal a charge from the home team. Instead, it was the Highlanders who redoubled their efforts and restored their lead in the 24th minute when a Mann header was deflected past his own keeper by Lubo Moravcik.
What followed is now the stuff of legend. In the dressing room at half-time Barnes lost all authority and striker Mark Viduka reportedly took off his boots and threw them in the corner, refusing to come out for the second half.
There was little fight from Celtic after the interval. Caley were the team forcing the issue and, when Wilson burst into the box shortly before the hour mark, Regi Blinker stepped in with a half-hearted challenge and conceded a penalty. Sheerin duly delivered, sealing the 3-1 win.
An unforgettable headline
Largely thanks to the Sun headline, the Scottish Cup shock was heard around the world. Two days later John Barnes was gone. Kenny Dalglish replaced him as interim boss, serving until the end of the campaign and winning the League Cup in March. It was scant consolation for a club who started the season full of hope. A complete rebuild would take place at every level of the club in the summer, at boardroom and dressing-room level.
The famous Caley headline would again get an airing in 2003 following another Scottish Cup win over Celtic, this time in the Highlands. However by then Caley were well established as a Premier League team while Celtic were again a force to be reckoned with under Martin O’Neill.
Whenever there is a Scottish Cup shock, that headline still springs to mind and you will still find it today, proudly framed and hanging in the reception of the Caledonian Stadium.