Two sides and one ref­eree caught in a per­fect storm

Game of shame in 1999 tran­scended foot­ball, but for all the wrong rea­sons


ON a glo­ri­ous sun-kissed evening in the east end of Glas­gow, a per­fect storm was brew­ing. The so-called Shame Game on Sun­day, May 2, 1999 saw Rangers cap­ture the Scot­tish ti­tle at the home of their bit­ter ri­vals for the first time in more than a cen­tury but, in the end, that was al­most a mi­nor de­tail.

A toxic mix­ture of in­gre­di­ents – the his­toric brag­ging rights at stake, the mis­be­haviour of play­ers and the drink­ing time ac­com­mo­dated by the last 6.05pm kick-off on a bank hol­i­day week­end – com­bined to pro­duce an oc­ca­sion that changed Scot­tish foot­ball ir­re­vo­ca­bly.

No fewer than 360 po­lice in­ci­dents were logged be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter this 3-0 Rangers victory, with a to­tal of 113 ar­rests be­tween the ground and the city cen­tre. When th­ese two teams had pre­vi­ously drawn on a wet, cold night at Ibrox that Jan­uary, there had been just three.

More than 300 fans clashed in Duke Street. A stabbing took place on Shet­tle­ston Road. Hugh Dal­las, the ref­eree, needed four stitches in a head wound caused by a coin thrown from the Celtic end. That shock­ing in­ci­dent, not to men­tion the four in­trud­ers who in­vaded the field of play try­ing to reach him, il­lus­trated gen­uine an­tipa­thy to­wards the match of­fi­cial, who had sent off three play­ers – Stephane Mahe and Vi­dar Riseth of Celtic and Rangers’ Rod Wal­lace – and awarded a dis­puted penalty in favour of the vis­i­tors. The Dal­las fam­ily home in Carfin was raided by one of his neigh­bours that night, and Celtic even cast as­per­sions against the whistler. Al­lan McDon­ald re­signed as chief ex­ec­u­tive shortly af­ter a body lan­guage ex­pert, Chris Lewis, had in­sin­u­ated Dal­las was biased.

Re­liv­ing the footage on YouTube is akin to en­ter­ing a time warp but, for the ma­jor pro­tag­o­nists, the in­ter­ven­ing 16 years have not dulled the mem­o­ries. With the hype ma­chine firmly in over­drive – the back page of a tabloid la­belled it ‘Park Dread Crunch’ and in­voked the mem­ory of the 1980 cup fi­nal riot – it did not take long for the play­ers to sense that even by the stan­dards of the Old Firm fix­ture, this would be an ex­tra­or­di­nary day. “There were so many drunk peo­ple ev­ery­where,” re­calls Riseth.

In truth, the odds were al­ways likely to be stacked against Dr Jozef Ven­g­los and his team. Of the squad which pum­melled Rangers 5-1 in Novem­ber 1998, in­jury and sus­pen­sion de­prived him of Craig Bur­ley, Lubomir Mo­rav­cik, Jo­han Mjallby, Tom Boyd, Jonathan Gould and Marc Rieper. Scott Mar­shall was pressed into a de­but – and Rangers sensed blood. “I can still re­mem­ber vividly what it was like go­ing in on the bus,” says Neil McCann, given the nod to start up front along­side Gabriel Amato. “There were no nerves, just a be­lief I had never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. We knew what we were go­ing to achieve.”

It took 12 min­utes for Dick Ad­vo­caat’s schem­ing to pay div­i­dends. Gio­vanni van Bron­ck­horst fed Rod Wal­lace down the left, and his low cross was turned in by McCann. By the half-hour mark, the red mist was de­scend­ing. The anger co­a­lesced around the fig­ure of Dal­las and the ever-com­bustible Mahe. The French­man had picked up an early book­ing in a tus­sle with Wal­lace. While he com­plained bit­terly that he had been el­bowed in the torso, to watch the in­ci­dent now is to see a player out of con­trol, ag­gres­sively con­fronting the ref­eree. “Stephane was a lit­tle bit too high,” re­calls Riseth. “He wanted to tackle and win ev­ery­thing, but it was too much. You could see it be­fore he went out on the pitch.”

When, with 31 min­utes on the clock, the same player re­acted an­grily again to a tackle by the back­track­ing McCann, his fate was sealed. The Scot­land winger was booked while Mahe re­ceived a sec­ond yel­low, re­quir­ing him to be man-han­dled off the pitch by his team-mates and as­sis­tant manager Eric Black. “Stephane was right on edge,” says McCann. “I put my hands up to say ‘sorry ref’ but he was com­ing at me so I got a bit antsy as well and I got booked. But he just wouldn’t calm down.”

It was then that a strange level of an­ar­chy took hold, chaos that reached a crescendo as Van Bron­ck­horst stood over a free kick near the cor­ner flag. No sooner had the first of the day’s in­trud­ers been ap­pre­hended than Dal­las was down on all fours, blood stream­ing from his hair­line. There was no respite from the bed­lam. The re­sul­tant free-kick fi­nally ar­rived, only for the patched-up ref­eree to pe­nalise Riseth for an in­nocu­ous piece of grap­pling with Tony Vid­mar. A be­mused Paul Lam­bert walked over to Dal­las, sug­gest­ing in vain his head in­jury might have been re­spon­si­ble. “I could see the ref was strug­gling af­ter he got the coin off his head,” said Riseth.

In be­tween two more pitch in­va­sions, Jorg Al­bertz swept in a penalty for Rangers. The mercy of half­time ar­rived, shortly af­ter a Celtic fan fell from the up­per tier and was stretchered off to hos­pi­tal, ig­nor­ing med­i­cal ad­vice by wav­ing cheer­fully. “The place was in an ab­so­lute fer­ment,” re­calls Wil­lie McDougall, the watch­ing SFA se­cu­rity chief, who also had one eye on the up­com­ing Scot­tish Cup fi­nal be­tween the two teams later that month. “I am tak­ing notes on all

LORD­ING IT: Rangers were wor­thy cham­pi­ons but their play­ers were less than dis­creet in their cel­e­bra­tions af­ter the vi­o­lence that dis­fig­ured the game

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