Ian Campbell reviews the season in which Rangers broke Celtic hearts
The long-term significance
Rangers ended Celtic’s run of nine successive league titles, which had equalled a European record set a decade earlier by the Bulgarian army club CDNA (later CSKA) Sofia. Rangers went on to match this themselves between 1989 and 1997; Skonto Riga of Latvia are the current holders of the record, with 14 championships in a row up to 2005. This was the final season of an 18-team top level in Scotland. Concern about the gap in playing standards between the leading few clubs and the rest led to the creation of the Scottish Premier Division in 1975‑76, with ten teams playing each other four times a season. In 1998 this became the Scottish Premier League, whose current format involves 12 clubs playing a total of 38 matches.
Story of the season
Celtic won nine of their first ten matches but their one defeat in that sequence, 2-1 at home to Rangers in mid-September, was enough to send them down to second place. They regained top spot just before Christmas but were deposed by a second defeat to Rangers, 3-0 at Ibrox on January 4, and fell away to third after losing five of their last eight games. There was dissent behind the scenes, with several players unhappy with the club’s wage structure. Lou Macari had departed for Manchester Utd in the summer of 1974 and defender David Hay left for Chelsea a year later having being refused an increase to £100 per week. Kenny Dalglish also submitted a transfer request, which was turned down. With their young strike duo of Derek Parlane and Derek Johnstone scoring consistently, Rangers had only one significant slip-up, losing 1-0 at home to Hibernian in November. Their other two defeats were both against the semi-professionals of Airdrie, the second on the last day when the title had already been won. Also in the final round of fixtures, Motherwell clinched a place in the Premier Division by beating Dumbarton, while nearest rivals Kilmarnock were losing 4-2 at home to Dundee United. Ayr Utd, led by future Scotland manager Ally McLeod, were the only part-timers to qualify for the new set-up, although Airdrie reached the Scottish Cup final where they lost 3-1 to Celtic.X
For the record books
Joint top scorers with 20 goals each were Motherwell’s Willie Pettigrew and future TV pundit Andy Gray, who was in his second and final season with Dundee Utd – he moved to Aston Villa in October 1975. Hibernian’s Joe Harper scored a hat-trick in the League Cup final but his side lost 6-3 to Celtic. Both Old Firm matches were played before capacity crowds but their other home gates fluctuated – Celtic’s last two fixtures attracted only 13,000 each. Bottom club Arbroath drew the lowest gate, of 1,113 for the visit of Airdrie.
Same place today
Aberdeen and Dundee Utd join the Glasgow giants in not having been relegated from the Scottish Premier. With nine current or future Scotland internationals in their squad, Hibernian were runners-up for the second successive season but haven’t finished higher than third since.
Moved furthest away
Clyde and Arbroath have not yet returned to the top level. Dumbarton had one season there, in 1984-85. Like Arbroath, however, they have also finished bottom of the entire league, ie tenth in Division Three.
Went on to greater things
Gordon Strachan The current Celtic boss made his league debut for Dundee aged 18 in the final match of the season. He went on to win three titles with Aberdeen and one with Leeds.
Dundee United Fourth place in 1974-75 was their highest finish to date. Under manager Jim McLean, they later won a league title and two League Cups.
Gordon Smith The current SFA chairman was a midfielder at Kilmarnock. He moved to Rangers then Brighton, for whom he famously missed the last-minute chance that would have won the 1983 FA Cup.
Disappearing from view
Billy McNeill Celtic’s captain and centre-half retired having won 23 major trophies in his playing career. He went on to win another four league titles and various cups in two spells as Celtic manager.
Donald Ford It was the final full season at Hearts for the striker who had been in Scotland’s 1974 World Cup squad and was also an opening batsman for the national cricket team.
Erik Sorensen Morton’s Danish international goalkeeper, a fan favourite in the late 1960s, managed the club for this one season before stepping down.
From WSC 263 January 2009