Mark Poole describes the season in which Celtic won the championship on goals difference
The long-term significance
The year Hearts threw it all away, in one of Scotland’s most dramatic league finales ever. The Jam Tarts last won the title in 1960 and only Celtic and Rangers have won it since Aberdeen in 1984- 85. Hearts, unbeaten in seven months, went into the last day of the season needing just a draw.
While Celtic were eradicating the Edinburgh club’s commanding goal difference by beating St Mirren 5-0, nervous Hearts seemed to be doing just enough at Dens Park, until, in a last throw of the dice, Dundee brought on a journeyman striker who hadn’t scored all season.
Story of the season
Hearts and Celtic drew on the first day of the campaign. No one realised that it was a portent of how tight their fight for the title would be. Hearts, promoted just a few seasons before, were considered also-rans, and Celtic inferior to Dundee Utd and champions Aberdeen.
Hearts lost their next two games – one of them 6-2 to St Mirren – and for three months Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen traded the top spot like nervous party guests playing pass-the-parcel. Rangers self-destructed in November, however, as Hearts hauled themselves into the top half. The Gers would only win six more games from November to the end of the season.
Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen initially looked the most likely to capitalise on Rangers’ implosion, leading until just before Christmas. But then Hearts, fired by the goals of fans’ favourite John Robertson and with Player of the Year Sandy Jardine and current Scotland manager Craig Levein in defence, overtook them with a momentum that in the new year would appear as unstoppable as it was unexpected.
They went 27 games unbeaten, but Celtic and Dundee Utd remained in close pursuit. And on the final day of the season, with Celtic banging them in at St Mirren and Hearts apparently clinging on for the point they needed, Dundee substitute Albert Kidd sensationally scored twice in the last ten minutes. Supporters with transistor radios spread the news among the delirious away section at Love Street and Celtic, who had only been top for two weeks in the autumn, were champions. And Kidd was now an unlikely Celtic hero. Hearts then lost the Cup final to Aberdeen and the “I’m forever blowing doubles” jokes rang around Scotland’s playgrounds.
For the record books
Hearts’ 27 league games without defeat coincided with four consecutive wins in the Cup for their longest ever unbeaten run, of 31 games. Rangers 4, Celtic 4 on March 22 remains the highest-scoring Old Firm draw.
All was not lost at Ibrox – a young Ally McCoist was the season’s top scorer with 24 goals, followed by Celtic’s Brian McClair on 22 and Hearts’ John Robertson on 20. Motherwell and Clydebank fought a battle at the bottom that meant very little – there was no relegation this season as the top flight expanded to 12 for 1986-87.
Same place today
Celtic, Hearts, Aberdeen, Rangers and Motherwell have been ever-present in the top flight since 1986. Dundee Utd, St Mirren and Hibs are also currently in the Scottish Premier League.
Moved furthest away
Clydebank left the League set-up in 2002.
Dundee currently play in the First Division, and are facing a 25-point penalty for going into administration for the second time.
From WSC 288 February 2011