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