The Scottish Cup – 1999, Hot Rod Wins A Treble

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By David Herd


The Scottish Cup final defeat to Hearts in May 1998 represented the end of an era at Rangers, the heroes on and off the pitch of 9-in-a-row bowing out after an emotional and controversial defeat. Genuine club greats such as McCoist, Durrant, Gough, Goram, Laudrup and McCall wore the colours for the last time, and they waved goodbye alongside Walter Smith, the man who had guided them to legendary status. It was a sad farewell, the only season in Walter’s glittering Ibrox career that there was no silverware won, the dreams of Ten having bitten the dust just seven days earlier.

The Rangers support inside Parkhead stayed behind to salute these heroes, giving them the send-off they deserved even in defeat. But at the same time, thoughts were already turning to the future, and to the unknown journey ahead under the first-ever overseas manager of the club. Dutchman Dick Advocaat had already been confirmed as the tenth man to be manager of Scotland’s biggest and most successful football club. By the start of the season in late July, his expensive and ambitious rebuild of the team was well underway, and it had grabbed the imagination of every supporter.

The Scottish core that had dominated under Smith was replaced by a series of big-name continental stars, as Rangers moved towards the 21st century with a distinctly European look. One of the reasons Smith had been replaced was the frustration of repeated failures in the continent’s club competitions, here was Rangers making a bold statement on how they planned to compete better on this international stage. But, at the same time, national honours needed to be won, and many were intrigued to see how a team filled with foreign players would fare in the blood and thunder of Scottish football. Advocaat’s team gave a decisive answer to the doubters.

With multi-million buys such as Arthur Numan, Lionel Charbonnier, Gabriel Amato, Andrei Kanchelskis, Colin Hendry and Giovanni van Bronckhorst in the team, and a midfield built around young homegrown star Barry Ferguson, Advocaat’s team captured the first domestic trophy of the season by defeating St Johnstone in the League Cup final at Parkhead. And in the days before transfer window restrictions, another expensive recruit in French World Cup-winning centre forward Stephane Guivarc’h opened the scoring in the 2-1 victory. It wasn’t all plain sailing, however, with a painful 5-1 loss to Celtic at Parkhead in the league showing that with so much new blood would come inevitable inconsistency while the team gelled together.

But with the arrival of another talented young Scot in Neil McCann, the signing of Champions League-winning goalkeeper Stefan Klos from Dortmund, and the regular goals of summer free transfer signing Rod Wallace, Rangers had hit the front in the title race by the time they entered the Scottish Cup in the third round once the January shutdown had ended. The draw was kind, a home tie against the minnow of Stenhousemuir at Ibrox. There was a healthy crowd of over 37,000 inside the stadium for the game, no doubt helped by the fact that the Ibrox season ticket still included matches in the competition at the time. Skipper for the day Hendry presented Stenny captain Graeme Armstrong with a crystal decanter set on the pitch before the action started in recognition of the veteran playing his 1,000th senior match. And lining up alongside Armstrong at the other end of the experience scale was a young striker out on loan from Hibs who was keen to make his mark in the game. Kenny Miller, at the age of 19 would play his first competitive match at Ibrox, a place he would call home on three different occasions in his future career.

The game itself was something of a non-event. Rangers looked rusty after the winter break, but they still coasted into a two-goal lead by half-time through an early Guivarc’h strike and a typical Wallace poacher’s effort when he pounced on the rebound after former Gers’ goalkeeper Lindsay Hamilton spilled a Jorg Albertz shot. Hamilton would make amends later when he saved an Albertz penalty, and there were no more goals for the Rangers fans to cheer as many drifted towards the exits long before the final whistle. It wasn’t a 2-0 win that would live long in the memory, although if an Adrian Sprott effort had gone in instead of hitting the post in the first attack of the match, who knows how it may have turned out. Sprott would need to content himself with just the one Ibrox giant-killing, his name forever associated with Hamilton’s shock win over a different expensively assembled Rangers side under Graeme Souness.

And Hamilton would be the next opponents for Rangers, the draw giving the Lanarkshire team home advantage in round four. Advocaat had been scathing of his men in the post-match interviews after the Stenhousemuir game, slamming them for what he saw as a failure to exert themselves and play at half pace. His words must have had an impact, as Rangers then won their next three games in the league, scoring eleven times in the process. Hamilton were a homeless First Division team in 1998/99, playing their home matches in Glasgow at Firhill. The Sky TV cameras were there on Valentine’s Day to see if there could be a cup upset, but they captured a ruthless one-sided procession instead.

Young Finnish striker Jonathon Johansson opened the scoring after just four minutes, and from then on it was just a case of how many. Accies somehow survived till the 42nd minute, but when they conceded a penalty that was expertly converted by Albertz, the scoreline started to take on a more realistic look. Rangers moved up the gears after the break, and goalkeeper John Hillcoat picked the ball out of his net four more times. Australian Tony Vidmar was the first of the second half scorers, and he was joined by Kanchelskis, Johansson’s second of the match, and a first goal in Rangers colours for McCann. When the winger made it 6-0, there was still fifteen minutes to play, but Rangers showed mercy to their hopelessly outclassed opponents and played out the rest of the game without wishing to inflict any more pain.

Rangers were hitting top form at the perfect time, hammering both Dundee and Kilmarnock in the league games that preceded the Scottish Cup quarter-final. Falkirk were the team with the task of trying to derail the Advocaat juggernaut, The Bairns having an impressive season challenging for promotion to the Premier League as well as enjoying a cup run. The clash at Ibrox was selected by BBC Scotland for live coverage, and the kick-off moved to the Sunday afternoon. The TV audience and the 39,000 crowd expected to see a routine Rangers win, but instead they saw a competitive cup tie that Rangers scraped through thanks to a slice of good fortune.

Despite their lower league status, Falkirk had an excellent cup pedigree, having reached the final two seasons earlier under former Rangers assistant manager Alex Totten. He had his men well organised, and not lacking in belief, with the Premier League leaders unable to make the breakthrough in a tight first half. Veteran Falkirk winger Kevin McAllister was giving the Rangers defence as many problems as any top division forwards, and with the usually deadly Ibrox front line having an off-day, the home fans signalled their displeasure when the teams left the pitch after 45 goalless minutes. Advocaat was never a man to quietly accept poor performances, and he presumably gave his players the hairdryer treatment in the dressing room.

His words seemed to be ignored in the early stages of the second half, and Falkirk very nearly took the lead when Marino Keith and David Moss both missed decent chances as the Ibrox atmosphere grew more frustrated. Then out of nowhere, the favourites scored with the most unexpected of goals. A van Bronckhorst corner was headed past goalkeeper Paul Mathers by Neil McCann, not a player noted for his aerial ability. Most assumed this would finally kill off the underdogs and Rangers would now score a few more. But nobody told Totten’s men, and they stunned Ibrox by equalising. A long throw caused panic in the Rangers defence, with the 6’7” Kevin James winning the header, and after Klos stopped the initial shot by Scott McKenzie he was given no chance when Moss buried the rebound.

Rangers were wobbling, and it took a wonderful Stefan Klos save from ex-Hearts striker Scott Crabbe to prevent Falkirk taking the lead. Then, with just fifteen minutes left, Rangers scored the goal that proved to be the winner. Skipper Lorenzo Amoruso took possession forty yards out, ambled forward a few strides then hit a hopeful low shot that looked no great danger. Incredibly, it found a way into the net through a forest of legs and via an unfortunate bobble on the turf right in front of the diving Mathers. The celebrations looked more a mixture of relief and embarrassment than of any great joy, but cup ties are all about getting through to the next round and that is what Rangers had achieved.

The draw for the last four was made straight after the match, with both halves of the Old Firm still in the hat after Celtic had comfortably defeated Morton. A first Scottish Cup final between the Glasgow giants since 1989 looked a real probability after the teams were kept apart. Rangers would play St Johnstone at Parkhead, with Celtic to take on Dundee United at Ibrox. But by the time the semi-final weekend came around, Advocaat’s team had stumbled in their title pursuit, successive defeats to Dundee United and St Johnstone casting doubt over a championship win that had looked a formality. Sky Sports selected the Rangers tie for live TV coverage, meaning it was moved back a day to Sunday 11 April, giving Celtic the chance to get to the final first and heap a little more pressure on their rivals. They won 2-0, and it was a nervy Rangers support who travelled to the east end of Glasgow in a rematch of the League Cup final earlier in the season.

Live television coverage was certainly the main reason for the disappointing attendance of just over 20,000, although those recent defeats hadn’t helped. Saints were making confident noises after their league win in Perth the previous weekend, but they were brushed aside by a Rangers team who rediscovered their form at just the right time. The contest was over by the interval, Rod Wallace grabbing his 25th goal in a sensational debut season with a fine finish after quarter of an hour to settle any nerves. The second goal looked as if it could arrive at any time, Rangers totally dominating with Albertz in particularly impressive form in midfield. It came after 33 minutes, an unstoppable low drive by van Bronckhorst from 20 yards after a clever free kick had wrongfooted the Saints defence.

The Perth fans in the meagre crowd feared a severe beating, with memories of a 7-0 defeat to Rangers earlier in the season still fresh. But Rangers made do with scoring just two more. Jonathon Johansson had only replaced Guivarc’h six minutes earlier, and he got his name on the scoresheet when applying the final touch to a wicked Albertz corner. And the big German was involved in the last goal too, his pass releasing Kanchelskis who then set up McCann who made no mistake. 4-0, with the scoreline only barely reflecting the difference between the teams on the day. It would be an Old Firm finale to the domestic season at the now reopened Hampden on Saturday 29 May.

Before then, there was a title to be won. And it was won in the most memorable way possible. Just four weeks before the cup final, Rangers travelled to Parkhead on league duty for the fourth league fixture between the clubs. Despite no wins in any of the first 3 Old Firm clashes of the Advocaat era, the lead over Celtic was seven points, and with just three fixtures to play afterwards it meant a Rangers win would seal the title at the home of their greatest rivals. It was a dream scenario for all in blue, and the stuff of nightmares for the green corner of the city. Those nightmares came true in the most sensational way, not only did Rangers comprehensively win 3-0 to clinch the championship, but Celtic players and supporters completely imploded in a display of ill discipline and thuggery that shocked the watching nation. But while much attention was given to the disgraceful scenes, the fact was it was a tenth title in eleven seasons for Rangers, and a day that would go down in history as one of the greatest for the club.

In the end, the title was won by six points, Rangers drawing two of those last three games once the pressure was off. All thoughts were geared towards Hampden and the chance to make treble-winning history. Victory would be a record sixth treble, and it would be the first of them that was won by defeating Celtic in the cup final. Celtic, of course, had revenge in mind for that humiliating recent defeat, and when they named their side, the danger of front men Moravcik and Larsson looked the obvious danger to treble dreams. They were without striker Mark Viduka through injury, who would likely have started. Advocaat, meanwhile, had been without two of his key men for a number of weeks, and he was still missing the class of full back Numan and the midfield excellence of Ferguson. Recent midfield recruit Claudio Reyna also missed out, having been signed too late to take part. He sprung something of a surprise when naming this eleven as his team to become treble winners:

Stefan Klos, Sergio Porrini, Lorenzo Amoruso, Colin Hendry, Tony Vidmar, Derek McInnes, Neil McCann, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Rod Wallace, Gabriel Amato, Jorg Albertz.

Substitutes – Scott Wilson, Ian Ferguson, Andrei Kanchelskis

The inclusion of McInnes in the midfield was the main talking point, although the manager’s options seemed limited given who was unavailable. It was the first time the former Morton man had been selected to start a match under the Dutch manager. The other ten had all started against Celtic in the title decider. Hampden was filled to its 52,000 capacity, with both sets of fans noisily confident of victory. It was a massive occasion, and as often the case when the stakes are high, the game itself was too tense for much in the way of good football.

Tackling was fierce, and players given little time on the ball, in a hectic opening period. There were half chances at either end for Amato and then Regi Blinker, but neither set of forwards were getting much change out of the respective defences. Celtic came closest to a goal when Paul Lambert tried his luck from distance, and saw his shot strike the crossbar. Celtic goalkeeper Jonathan Gould had to be quick off his line to smother the ball at the feet of Rod Wallace as he was sent in on goal in the best Rangers attack of the half. But it was the defenders who left the pitch at half time happier with their performances, Amoruso in particular doing a superb job ok keeping Larsson quiet.

Rangers started the second period with more attacking intent, Vidmar seeing Gould make a good save to keep out his early effort. And just three minutes after referee Hugh Dallas had restarted the match, Rangers struck. Vidmar was again involved, his cross from the left falling to McCann. The winger saw his attempt blocked by Alan Stubbs, but the ball then fell perfectly in front of the deadly Rod Wallace just seven yards out, and the Englishman gave Gould no chance with an accurate finish into the corner of the net. The Rangers end was delirious, those in green stunned into silence. The knockout blow had been landed.

Celtic had more than half an hour to stage a comeback, but they never really created a clear chance to get the equaliser they desperately needed. There were scares for the Rangers support, however. Klos was in the right place to deny efforts from Wieghorst and Stubbs. Hendy and Amoruso both put their bodies on the line to block efforts that may have beaten their goalkeeper, with Celtic’s claims for a penalty when the big Italian threw himself in front of one shot summing up their desperation. Advocaat used all of his substitutes, happy to protect the lead and focus on maintaining defensive shape. Ian Ferguson, that staunchest of bluenoses and hero of 9-in-a-row, added bite to the midfield for the last twenty minutes when he replaced McCann. There was no way through this determined blue line, and when referee Dallas ended the contest, man-of-the-match Amoruso had joined an illustrious band of Rangers treble-winning captains. Jock Shaw, Bobby Shearer, John Greig and Richard Gough were joined by the first, and only, overseas skipper to lead Rangers to the domestic clean sweep.

Advocaat had delivered total domination in his first season, his expensive and international signing policy yielding immediate results. But in amongst the millions spent, the treble had been sealed by a player who had cost nothing, and who had ended the season as the club’s top scorer with 27 goals. In the 1970s a manager named Wallace delivered two Rangers trebles. Now an Englishman with that same Scottish surname had won another.

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