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A Rapid Exit
Europe is an arena much cherished by Celtic supporters. It can produce magical moments and unforgettable nights. But on a rare occasion these continental encounters can leave supporters with little more than the sour tastes of deceit, corruption and plain old cheating.
In 1974 a barbaric Atletico Madrid side all but kicked their way to the European Cup final. Their tactics of brutality secured a 2-0 aggregate victory over a Hoops side left bewildered by how the Spaniards were allowed to get away with such unashamed thuggery.
Yet even the sense of anger and frustration stirred up by these infamous encounters would pale into insignificance compared to the injustice felt when the Celts took on Austria's Rapid Vienna in the 1984/85 European Cup Winners Cup.
After a 3-1 aggregate win over Gent in the opening tie Celtic traveled to Vienna in late Autumn for the first-leg of this second round clash. Some 80 years previously the Bhoys had visited this historic city as the club enjoyed their first ever tour of continental Europe. At that time the Celts received the warmest of welcomes with Willie Maley delighted at what he called a "wonderful reception".
Some eight decades on and the reception was far from warm. In the early 1980s the terraces of Vienna's football stadiums were used as a recruitment ground by the Austrian far-right. This tactic met with particular success at Rapid where a loud and violent pro-Nazi squad could now be found among the wider home support. On the night of October 24th 1984 the crowd of 16,000 were certainly noisy and hostile. Some Celts were attacked and in an interview with author Graham McColl Bhoys midfielder Peter Grant would recall how his own father and sister had their hair pulled and were spat on. Even Holly Martins in The Third Man didn't find Vienna this unwelcoming.
On the pitch matters were only slightly more cordial. An often ill-tempered game had seen the Austrian side take a 3-1 advantage from a match in which Celtic were reduced to 10 men after the sending off of Alan McInally. Throughout the game the Hoops had been subjected to some dangerous and cynical tackles from Rapid. In particular Frank McGarvey was the target of some brutal challenges and was fortunate to escape a serious injury after a particularly nasty and wild lunge from Reinhard Keinast.
Substitute McInally saw red for an undoubtedly poor challenge but it was his first foul of the night and was certainly no worse than a number of tackles dished out by repeat offenders in the home side.
It would though be very wrong to simply caricature Rapid as a team of cynical hatchet man. They were in fact a side with plentiful talent. Up front was the prolific striker Hans Krankl. At 31 the ex-Barcelona man was perhaps entering the veteran stage of his career but the former European Golden Boot winner remained a highly talented and dangerous opponent.
In midfield was another veteran - Antonin Panenka. Best remembered for his now legendary penalty in the final of the 1976 European Championships the Czech international was a fine attacking midfielder with a superb range of passes and a lethal delivery from a dead ball.
In truth Celtic struggled to get into their stride in Vienna and Rapid were worthy winners. However, thanks to Brian McClair’s 57th minute equaliser Celtic had got a valuable away goal. Despite Rapid netting twice more before full-time hopes were high that revenge would be served back in Glasgow.
Celtic would indeed dominate the return game in front of a packed Parkhead. It was a classic high-octane European night under a dark November Glasgow night sky and the floodlights of the cavernous old Celtic Park. Almost from the kick-off Rapid - minus the influential Panenka - engaged in blatant time-wasting, but their tactics would prove impotent against wave after wave of Celtic attack.
Roared on by a deafeningly partisan crowd the home side swept to a 2-0 half-time lead thanks to goals from McClair and Murdo MacLeod. The team had clearly learned the lessons from the opening leg. They combined tenacity and talent to produce a performance Rapid simply could not cope with. It had been a stunning opening period and one worthy of comparisons to those vintage European showings from the halcyon days of Jock Stein.
Tommy Burns would make it 3-0 after the break. Rapid claimed the midfielder had fouled keeper Karl Ehn but the reality was that Burns had shown the greater desire and bravery to nick a 50/50 from an increasingly nervy keeper whose cowardice would soon become even more evident.
With a European exit now looming Rapid could only muster the most vulgar of responses.
Soon after Celtic's third Kienast was sent off for punching Tommy Burns. He had ran up behind the Celtic man in the Rapid penalty area and hit him on the back of the neck. The punch was spotted by the lineman yet while the referee ordered Kienast off he amazingly failed to award a penalty for this assault.
With the game entering its closing stages goalkeeper Ehn kicked out at Burns while beating the Hoops man to a through ball. It was a shockingly obvious and cowardly foul but yet again the Rapid players surrounded officials in protest.
With the match bubbling well beyond boiling point a near 15-minute delay followed before the referee was able to calm the situation and Celtic were allowed to take the penalty - which Peter Grant duly missed.
In the chaos before the penalty players from both sides argued with each other and officials on the ‘Jungle’ side touchline. It was at this time a bottle was seen to be thrown onto the field of play. Fortunately this missile landed harmlessly on the turf without striking any official or player. But sensing one final chance to derail Celtic’s progress Vienna’s Weinhoffer collapsed holding his head. After pro-longed treatment from Vienna’s physio he was taken off, his head theatrically wrapped in bandages.
With the final whistle the Celtic players should have celebrated a great comeback and a wonderful victory. But the missile incident had cast a shadow on the night. Rapid were already planning their next trick. The Austrian club quickly lodged a complaint to UEFA, urging the governing body that Celtic be expelled or a replay be held in a neutral venue.
TV evidence showed that the object thrown from the crowd had not even come close to striking Wienhoffer. The Celtic board were confident the victory would stand. Indeed, having examined the report of the Swedish referee and the German match observer the UEFA Disciplinary Committee ruled against Rapid’s submission, with Wienhoffer’s claim of being hit by a bottle dismissed.
Celtic were fined £4,000 for the missile throwing while the Austrian team were ordered to pay £5,000 for their scandalous antics on the night. In addition to this Kienast was handed a four game ban and Rapid’s coach given a three match touchline ban. But the Viennese were set to prove that their underhand tactics were not confined to the field of play.
Almost immediately after the original ruling they began lobbying UEFA officials and an appeal was submitted. Celtic were convinced, given the overwhelming evidence against Rapid, such an appeal would be routinely dismissed. But they had underestimated the Machiavellian talents of Vienna.
In an extraordinary appeal hearing, just three delegates of the 21-member UEFA committee were present and it was this trio who incredulously ruled that Wienhoffer had indeed been hit by a missile from the crowd. As Rapid had to complete the game with just nine men the match was ordered to be replayed at a venue at least 100 miles from Celtic Park.
It was a staggering decision. The details of the Wienhoffer incident were laughably vague. No details were given except that the alleged missile which struck him was no long the bottle thrown from the crowd but merely a “small object”. So small it seems it was invisible to TV cameras, was unseen by the match observer and was never recovered from the pitch. The fact that Rapid had changed their story no fewer than three times seemed to matter little to the committee members, although bizarrely Rapid’s fine was doubled to £10,000.
If that did not set the alarm bells ringing it would later emerge that some members of the UEFA Disciplinary Committee had not even been made aware of the appeal meeting. Yet despite such a strong stench of corruption the Celtic board meekly accepted the decision. A replay would be held at Old Trafford.on December 12th.
A crowd of 51,500 packed into the Manchester ground to witness Rapid steal a 1-0 victory. Given the circumstances of the game it was unsurprising the huge Celtic support in attendance harboured a deeply intense sense of injustice. The atmosphere at Old Trafford was both volatile and poisonous. There was almost a sickening inevitability when some Celtic supporters decided to take personal revenge on the Viennese. There could however be no excuse for the attacks which were launched on two Vienna players.
Celtic exited Europe with, thanks to the actions of a small group of morons, the reputation of the support severely damaged while Rapid would progress to the final. The pitch invasions and assaults at Old Trafford were inexcusable but in truth the overwhelming number of supporters had taken this most bitter of defeats admirably.
There was however nothing admirable about the actions of Rapid Vienna, the decision of UEFA or of those idiots who tarnished Celtic's name.
Latest page update: made by TheHumanTorpedo
, Dec 19 2012, 10:15 AM EST
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