Greatest Goal I Ever Saw: Henrik's Crafty Chip Against Rangers

I was there when Henrik Larrsson tore apart Rangers' expensively assembled defence and signalled a new era of dominance for the Celts...
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I was there when Henrik Larrsson tore apart Rangers' expensively assembled defence and signalled a new era of dominance for the Celts...

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Greatest Goal I Ever Saw: Henrik's Crafty Chip Against Rangers

Being a football fan is all about “I was there” moments. For years, I listened to older Celtic supporters saying, “I was there when the Lisbon Lions conquered Europe. I was there when we sealed the world record nine titles in a row. I was there when McAvennie popped up at Hampden to win the double in the centenary season.” The list goes on.

Well, now I have a few of my own. I was there in 1998 when we won our first title in a decade and stopped that other mob beating our nine-a-row record. I still have a chunk of the turf growing in a plant pot on my windowsill to prove it. I was there when Juventus, Man Utd and Barcelona were put to the Celtic Park sword. I was there to celebrate the league triumphs under Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan. But most of all I was there when Henrik humiliated Rangers with a goal straight out of a Roy of the Rovers comic. Ladies and gentlemen, the best goal I ever saw. Watch and enjoy.

This goal wasn’t just about the immense skill with which Henrik executed it, although it was a sublime piece of individual brilliance. It was also about the context – what had gone before and the new era this result was to herald. Martin O’Neill was just a couple of games into his Celtic reign. He was tasked with reincarnating a team that had won just one title in twelve years, with their rivals from south of the river claiming the rest. The last couple of years had been a disaster. Since the false dawn of the ‘98 league win Celtic had self-destructed again. Morale had been obliterated by lack of investment, the acrimonious departure of manager Wim Jansen, Henrik’s career-threatening leg break, and the catastrophic John Barnes era. We could only watch enviously as Dick Advocaat spent fortunes bringing players to Ibrox and hoovered up the domestic silverware. But this was a new millennium and a new era. The supporters had faith in O’Neill. The board had spent, by their standards, decent money on the likes of Chris Sutton. And, most of all, Henrik was back from injury. There was light at the end of the tunnel but we needed a moment – a sign that things really were on the up. It was fitting, and probably inevitable, that the man who needs no surname should be responsible for that moment; the iconic image that Celtic fans will forever associate with the glory days under O’Neill.

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The scene was set. The first Old Firm derby of the season. The Celts had scarcely won an Old Firm game, let alone a league title, for some time but they came out all guns blazing and stunned their ancient rivals with three goals in the first eleven minutes, from Sutton, Lambert and of course Henrik. Euphoria swept the stands, but it wasn’t over yet. Claudio Reyna pulled one back and things were almost back in the balance when Rod Wallace had a seemingly legitimate goal chopped off for offside. Then it happened. Sutton nodded down into Henrik’s path just over the halfway line. Rangers’ expensively-assembled defence stood between him and the goal. Henrik didn’t  care. A frisson of anticipation built up in the stands as he brushed Tugay off with disdain. New big-money signing Bert Konterman closed in but again Henrik cared not a jot, effortlessly nutmegging the Dutch international and leaving him on his posterior. All of a sudden he was in, and the frisson became a groundswell of excitement. Lorenzo Amoruso approached from the side, doubtless planning a typically bone-crunching challenge. Much-vaunted goalkeeper Stefan Klos rushed out to try and deny the Swede but he might as well have stayed at home. All he could do was watch as Henrik, as if he had all the time in the world, languidly chipped it over him into the empty net. 4-1. Game over. Cue bedlam. Henrik was back in business, Celtic were back in business, and Rangers were dismissed with their tail between their legs, in both the short and long term.

Celtic would win 6-2, one of the most amazing results in Old Firm history, and they would go on to win the domestic treble. The core of the side would win three titles under O’Neill and reach the UEFA Cup final in Seville (another ‘I was there’ moment for many, though sadly I wasn’t). Dick Advocaat would leave Scotland, having failed not only in his mission to buy European success for the Ibrox club but also to maintain domestic dominance over the rejuvenated green-and-white upstarts. The pendulum of Scottish football swung completely to the other side of Glasgow and the turning point was that moment. The brilliant Swede defied the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the Old Firm to play as if he were in a park with his pals, score a goal that was truly world class, and create Celtic history. And the best part? I was there.

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