The Scottish Cup – 2002 – Is there a twist in the tale?

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By Lee Clark
May the 4th 2002. One of the greatest days I’ve ever had following Rangers, and I wasn’t even in the stadium! It’s a game I’ve watched back again and again, and more than twenty years on I’m not ashamed to say, I still get a little bit emotional watching the final few minutes, thinking about the absolute bedlam that was about to ensue. Strangely though that season, in general, has never given me too much to think about, other than the Final and, now that I am looking back in a bit more depth it’s hard not to see the striking similarities of that season as a whole, with what we are facing with the current crop. As far as the league title was concerned, it had been a disastrous start.
Dropping points in three of our first six (including a quite shocking performance in a 0-0 home draw to Livingston) was bad enough but, being swept aside by Celtic in the opening Old Firm match of the season at Ibrox, meant manager Dick Advocaat was very much under pressure, and by the time he saw his side lose at Parkhead and draw at Dundee in successive November away games, the writing was on the wall for ‘The Little General’. 12 points behind before Christmas, the league was already gone and it was the first time in my young life that I had truly seen ‘failure’. Although I had experienced us losing the title the previous season (and in 1998), I was used to seeing us win 11 titles out of 12 so, those felt very much like a ‘one off’ at the time. This was different though, it was the first time in my life, I felt like we were miles behind Celtic on the park and after seeing them win a treble the previous season, as well as the afore-mentioned 12 point gap, it’s fair to say I couldn’t see much light at the end of the tunnel. Only our UEFA Cup form gained us much respectability, knocking out a highly talented PSG before being inches away from defeating eventual winners, Feyenoord. Other than that though? It was a shocker and the Rangers support didn’t half let the team know it.
Big Eck’s arrival wasn’t met with huge excitement, I have to be honest, and a couple of opening draws did little to lighten the mood, however McLeish did steady the ship, winning 13 of his next 14 domestic games, including a 2-1 victory over Celtic in the League Cup Semi Final with a memorable pile-driver from Bert Konterman at a reduced capacity Hampden Park. A draw with Celtic the week before the League Cup Final, where he would clinch his first trophy as Rangers managers, against Ayr Utd, suddenly made everyone sit up and take notice again and after drawing again with Celtic, this time at Parkhead, our fans went into the 2002 Final believing something special was about to happen. In truth, we didn’t really have any right to be optimistic given Celtic had just won the league by 18 points but, those three games unbeaten against them, since Big Eck’s arrival, reminded me that we weren’t quite the pushovers that everyone believed us to be, and I certainly wasn’t alone in thinking that.
I know there is much debate (now more than ever) when it comes to the impact a crowd can have on a team but, I firmly believe the Rangers support played as big a part as any player that day. As I mentioned already, I wasn’t lucky enough to be in the stadium but, no matter how many times I watch this game back, I still get goose bumps listening to our supporters at the match. For my part, I had taken up position in the Louden Tavern, Kinning Park, persuading my tee-total pal that it would be as good as being at the game and that he should drive us through to Glasgow; I wasn’t wrong. Arriving at 11am the place was absolutely jumping already and it didn’t stop all day and night. By the time kick-off arrived, the pub, heaving and in a state of somewhat frenzy was so loud I though the roof was about to come off.
The game kicked off at a frantic place, with us doing the early running through Caniggia and Lovenkrands. Big Amo headed one over, (when he should’ve done better) and McCann put an early free-kick just past. We could breath, we were getting after them, we were in this. No sooner had that thought crossed my mind, it was shattered as Celtic scored the opening goal in the 19th minute. A corner is swung deep, that we don’t defend comes back across goal and Hartson, with all the time in the world, casually nodded the ball in to the net from about a yard out. It was an absolute sickener, all that work and such a positive start to allow them such an easy goal.
Thankfully I didn’t have any time at all to lament our defensive short coming as, within seconds Lovenkrands has a yard in the Celtic box and he’s equalised! Complete and utter bedlam both at Hampden Park and Kinning Park as pints and people go flying, it’s 1-1 in the Cup Final. In truth, the goal was nothing more than a hopeful ball into an area from newly appointed Captain, Barry Ferguson but, I can remember thinking before the game that if we just got in their faces early, particularly in the final third, the pace and trickery of our forwards would force them into mistakes and we would get chances. That goal was indicative as to how we took the game to Celtic all afternoon and it was very much one way traffic to half time as McCann, Lovenkrands and Numan all had half chances. Celtic, by contrast didn’t seem to have any tactics at all, other than to launch it hopefully towards our box and boot us off the park.
It was no secret, they were a big, physical side under O’Neill but, it was taken to ridiculous levels that day. Caniggia was literally kicked off the park in the opening stages (replaced by Shota Averladze on 22mins), Balde displayed his usual thuggery (although it would come back to bite him spectacularly later on) and how ‘Brother’ Hugh Dallas failed to send off John Hartson (despite having two chances to do so) really is a mystery, although it’s fair to say retribution would be dished out to the latter, in the second half by the solid Craig Moore. It was a crunching challenge, well worthy of the yellow card but, just put down a further marker that this Rangers team’s days of being bullied by Celtic, were over.
At half time, there was a sense that there could be only one winner and speaking to friends who were there, it seems our fans in attendance agreed.  The Rangers end was rocking and although Balde put them 2-1 up early in the second half, there was a strong belief amongst everyone that we were going to turn it around. At one end Moore and Amoruso were coasting it and at the other, chances came and went for Artur Numan and Fernando Ricksen before Barry Ferguson smacked a post with a thirty yard screamer. Inches away and the tension was excruciating but, we had to keep going. Just as it looked like it wasn’t going to be our day Ferguson stepped up again from distance, and made no mistake this time as he curled a sublime free-kick away from Rab Douglas after Balde inexplicably charged through the back of Amoruso on the edge of the box. Explosion at the Rangers end of the ground and even Barry, normally such a cool customer went wild, charging towards our fans in the corner, shirt ripped form his back; it was 2-2! To this day Ferguson’s goal is right up there with my very favourites, his performance that day epitomised everything it meant to be a Rangers player and Captain. He led from the front, never hid and showed everyone around the World watching, why he was the best player on that park, an outstanding display.
From there the last 20 minutes seemed to pass in a blur, I was vaguely aware that we were all over them but, at 2-2 you are always worried to the point you feel physically sick every time Celtic cross the half way line. If I was feeling the tension, our fans at the game never wavered one bit. There is a fantastic clip on YouTube showing one side of Hampden completey shaking, with only minutes to go as the Celtic end sat in muted silence. The players believed, our fans believed, I continued to feel sick.  In the dying minutes, Lovenkrands had a great chance to win it, if only he had pulled the ball back to De Boer when he was through on goal and Fernando had one kicked off the line. The team had given everything, completely emptied the tank and I prepared myself for extra time. Who could we bring on? Did we have enough to see out another half our in that heat? Thankfully the events of the next 90 seconds or so, means we will never know the answer.
It’s injury time and Amoruso decides to surge forward, as he often did. A few shouts of ‘what the hell is he doing?!’ and ‘get back you’ quieten as he finds McCann (is there a twist in the tale?) who instantly drives at the Celtic defence. Even at that point, it looked hopeless. It was McCann and Lovenkrands v Five defenders and yet the wee fella, as he had a knack of doing someone how picked out an incredible cross for Lovenkrands to nip between two of them and header the ball past the helpless Douglas (YES. THERE. IS!)  for his fifth goal of the season against Celtic and into Rangers immortality.
The celebrations for that winner, were complete mayhem, there’s no other word for it. Tables went over, ladies were screaming, grown men were crying, people were on the bar, people were on the floor, everyone was showered in drink. In the melee I somehow found myself bounced out the side door (for those who know the pub) and stopped in my tracks as I seen my (normally) quite reserved and stone cold sober mate, on his knees, fists aloft shouting into the May sunshine. What he was shouting, or how the hell he got there, I’ve no clue to this day, all I know is, I picked up him up and we ran around the street for a minute or two embracing and jumping about with complete strangers. We had done it!
The party that followed, went into the night, long after we departed for home and in truth it gave us all a spring in our step for the full summer. Here was a set of fans that had just watched their rivals romp to a second consecutive title, dropping points to absolute dross along the way and yet, the ascendency felt very much with us. It’s why I can never get on board with this notion of people not being able to get up for it this weekend and that winning the Scottish Cup this season won’t matter as much because we lost the league title.
That sense of belief and fight carried right onto next season and drove us to the Treble. I’ve been lucky enough to see us win last minute league titles, win the league at our biggest rivals ground, march through Europe to two major finals and believe me, this game and the feeling I had afterwards, which is yet to leave me 20 years down the line, is right up there with all of them. It was a truly magical day and whilst I understand people being disappointed right now, winning the Cup against them on Saturday, might just kick us on to something very special after this very important summer. One thing is for sure, it will mean absolutely everything to me, just as it did in 2002.
For Willie, JC and Bluenoses around the World. Just do it Rangers!

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