Four Great Headers

Our series “Just Look at the Way” tells the stories behind key Scottish moments in European competition, whether important, trivial, aesthetically pleasing or simply funny. The name comes from a favourite phrase of the commentator Jock Brown during his analysis of action replays.

1. Billy McNeill, CELTIC v Vojvodina, 1966/67 European Cup quarter-final second leg

Jock Stein paced the touchline, a worried man. With just over half an hour of the tie still to play, Celtic were 1-0 down to Vojvodina and heading out of the European Cup. There would be no Lisbon, no quintuple (the Glasgow Cup counts, ok?), no “John, you’re immortal now.”

Then, a lifeline. Tommy Gemmell’s cross from the left was misjudged by Vojvodina goalkeeper Ilija Pantelić and Chalmers prodded in the equaliser. Pantelić was the side’s star player, captain and even goal-getter – he scored in the previous round against Atletico Madrid. He was also a master of the dark arts who had wound up the Celtic players throughout the tie. Bobby Lennox, for instance, had been yanked up from the ground by the hair. Whilst his teammates were celebrating, the normally placid Lennox went straight to the goalkeeper to rub in his error. “I don’t dislike people normally,” recalled Lennox, “but he really got to me.” It was a sign of how fraught the match had become.

Celtic pushed for a winner which looked like it would never arrive. A draw would have meant a prearranged playoff in Rotterdam, which Stein felt might be one game too many for a team still fighting on three fronts.

With seconds remaining, Jimmy Johnstone forced a corner. Charlie Gallagher swung it away from the grasp of Pantelić (whose movement was impeded by Chalmers) for the onrushing Billy McNeill. “You could almost hear the thud of brow meeting ball,” said the Evening Times. The Vojvodina net bulged; the players sank to their knees in the Parkhead mud. There was barely enough time to restart the match.

“I always liked Charlie Gallagher taking corner kicks because Charlie used to fire them at you,” said McNeill. “My belief is that, in a situation like that, you always put the ball back to the post from where the ball has come.” 

It wasn’t the first time the pair combined to create Celtic history. With the 1965 Scottish Cup final against Dunfermline deadlocked at 2-2, Gallagher’s inswinging corner was met by his captain, who headed in the decisive goal and sealed Celtic’s first major trophy since 1957. There were 108,000 inside Hampden that day. How many dreamed that the same combination would take the club to the brink of the European glory just two years later?

2. John Hewitt, ABERDEEN v Real Madrid, 1983 European Cup Winners’ Cup final

The winning goal against Real Madrid in a European final shouldn’t really need an introduction. But let’s go back to the start: 23rd January 1982, Fir Park. There, Aberdeen defeated Motherwell 1-0 and took the first step towards lifting the 1982 Scottish Cup, which allowed them a crack at the Cup Winners’ Cup. 

The game’s only goal was scored by John Hewitt after just 9.6 seconds – still a Scottish Cup record. Four hundred and seventy-three days later, he would finish what he started against the Spanish giants in Gothenburg.

Hewitt played his part in Aberdeen’s European run, often from the bench. His most celebrated contribution came in the quarter-final against Bayern Munich, scrambling in the winning goal two minutes after taking the field. Having already seen off Sion, Dinamo Tirana and Lech Poznan, the Dons would comfortably dispose of Belgians Waterschei to reach the final.

Despite his earlier heroics, Hewitt knew he wouldn’t start the game against Real: “I was just hoping I was going to be on the bench and that at some stage I was going to get the chance to get on.” He certainly did, with three minutes of the 90 remaining and the game heading for extra time, tied at 1-1.

In the 112th minute, Peter Weir tip-toed through the midfield and clipped a ball down the left wing for Mark McGhee to chase. His cross was missed by the goalkeeper but not by the vigilant Hewitt: “When the ball passed his hands it was just a case of letting it hit my head and going in the goal.” A humdrum way to describe Aberdeen’s greatest moment, but perhaps in keeping with his lamentable celebration, described by Richard Gordon as “a less than impressive limp star-jump.” 

Alex Ferguson must have been delighted with his first European success, no? “Fergie later slaughtered me for not making a front post run as I’d been taught,” revealed Hewitt. Indeed, Ferguson admitted that the soon-to-be-hero was having such a nightmare he was considering substituting the substitute. Some people are never happy.

3. John Clark, Barcelona v DUNDEE UNITED, 1986/87 UEFA Cup quarter-final second leg

In the words of Jim McLean, it was the “corner shop against the supermarket.” His rag-tag bunch of foundlings against the expensively-assembled Catalan side coached by Terry Venables. Gaudy against Gaudi. 

Except, it wasn’t really. Dundee United were a fine team, packed with talent and just the right blend of youth and experience. The squad contained a number of survivors from their two League Cup successes at the start of the 1980s and the league title win in 1983. Crucially, United also had European experience. The tie against Barcelona (finalists in the previous European Cup) was the fourth time McLean’s side reached the quarter-final of a continental competition that decade.

United were entitled to believe they could win. However they suffered a setback in the Camp Nou moments before half time, when Ramón Calderé cancelled out Kevin Gallacher’s first leg goal. With the tie level at 1-1, United continued to play with confidence and skill. Then, with four minutes remaining, Ian Redford swung in a free-kick from the left flank and John Clark rose above Mark Hughes to clatter a header in off the underside of the crossbar. Clark had broken into the first team as a striker before McLean converted him into a defender, and his attacking prowess was evident here.

Barça needed two goals to progress to the semis but it was United who would grab a winner, Iain Ferguson nodding a Sturrock cross past Andoni Zubizarreta to keep up their bizarre 100% record against the Catalan side and send their supporters berserk. “They are entitled to get into the vino collapso tonight,” acknowledged match commentator Archie Macpherson. Many of the travelling Dundonians would have seen their side scape a 2-2 draw at home to Forfar just days before. This may have just made up for it.

4. Ally McCoist, Leeds United v RANGERS, 1992/93 Champions League second round second leg

Headers can capture the essence of a player. Think of Billy McNeill, rising imperiously above everyone in a congested penalty area and powering his side to victory. Ally McCoist’s effort against Leeds was quintessentially McCoistian, showcasing his intelligent movement and predatory instincts.

Rangers were already leading 1-0 at Elland Road and 3-1 on aggregate when Mark Hateley led a Rangers counter attack down the left wing. The big Englishman had already made an impact, looping a fantastic half-volley over John Lukic to give his side the lead. Here, he galloped towards the box, glanced up and slung over a cross straight onto the head of McCoist – six yards out, of course – who, with a deft diving glance, diverted it back into the far corner of the net. It was his 29th (TWENTY-NINTH) goal of the season by 4th November and sealed Rangers’ passage into the inaugural Champions League group stage, despite a late consolation by Eric Cantona.

Rangers, meanwhile, would put up a decent showing in the groups, finishing second behind eventual winners Marseille and thus missing out on a place in the final. Whilst the circumstances still elicit anger (Marseille were later found to have fixed domestic matches), the fact is that Rangers struggled to score the goals to turn draws into wins. They won only two of six group matches with McCoist failing to find the net after his header at Elland Road. Despite the disappointment, the 1992/93 Champions League campaign must be considered Rangers’ best of the period, taking into account the failures that came afterwards.

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