This week we heard the sad news that Celtic hero Wim Jansen is living with dementia and all of us at The Celtic Exchange would like to first of all extend our best wishes to Wim, his family and friends, and those closest to him at this challenging time.
This curly-haired convivial Dutchman will forever live in the canon of Glasgow Celtic folklore. I first recall Wim playing against us for Feyenoord in the 1970 European Cup Final (a match I was lucky enough to be at) where we lost 2-1 after extra time, and then again in a 1-1 draw between the two teams Hampden Park in a friendly the following year.
I doubt if any of us watching those two games would have imagined that we would be watching a future Celtic manager twenty-six years later. Feyenoord’s victory in 1970 was the start of a four-year domination of European football with their fellow Dutch side Ajax, winning Europe’s most prestigious prize for the following 3 years. Their National side who became known as exponents of “Total Football” reached the final of the World Cup in both 1974 and 1978 with Wim Jansen playing in both campaigns.
In a playing career spanning seventeen years Wim won four League Championships (three with Feyenoord and one with Ajax), a European cup in 1970, a UEFA Cup in 1974 and two World Cup Runners up medals in 1974 and 1978: an impressive medal haul. From 1982 to 1996 he worked on football’s technical side as a youth coach, assistant manager, manager and technical director. His clubs included Feyenoord, SC Lokeren (Belgium), Saudi Arabia’s National side and Sanfreecce Hiroshima of Japan.
ARRIVAL IN PARADISE
He was recruited by Celtic as our new manager in July 1997. The day-to-day pressure on a Celtic manager at all times is intense but with the free spending Rangers bankrolled by their tax avoidant chairman there was the danger of one of our greatest achievements, nine league titles in a row, being surpassed.
The pressure on the new Celtic manager was at boiling point. The 1997/98 League Championship was the only trophy that mattered. We had a stuttering start to the league campaign losing to Hibs away and Dunfermline at home, we picked up maximum points in our next eight league fixtures then faltered again dropping eight points in three fixtures in a twelve day period in November.
Wim Coaching at Celtic
Wim had made several new signings at the start of the season. Jonathan Gould, Craig Burley, Stephane Mahe, Regi Blinker, Darren Jackson and an unknown quantity to the Celtic fans – a young Swede signed from Feyenoord, going by the name of Henrik Larsson.
The signings of Marc Rieper and Paul Lambert in September and November, and the Clark Kent lookalike Norwegian striker Harald Brattbakk in December were to be the final pieces of Wim’s jigsaw. It was early March before we hit the top with Hearts and Rangers just behind, nobody was running away with the league and we gave up our lead and recovered it again with two games remaining.
THE FINAL WEEKS OF THE SEASON
It was all to play for and we were a point in front of Rangers who played Kilmarnock at Ibrox on the Saturday. Kilmarnock won 1-0 with a 95th minute goal from Ally Mitchell, the title was ours – all we had to do was beat Dunfermline at East End Park the following afternoon!
Fate can be a cruel mistress however and no more so when Dunfermline equalised our 1-0 lead with 7 minutes to go, the game finishing in a draw. The Celtic fans were more nervous than Wyatt Earp and Doc Halliday at the final showdown.
Saturday the 9th May 1988 was a glorious summer afternoon in the east end of Glasgow. Myself and my 2 youngest kids, Kevin and Jan, made our way along with 50,000 others to what we hoped would be our theatre of dreams. Celtic Park was still under reconstruction at the time and thousands of Celtic fans had to stand outside listening to a radio commentary and the cheers of the crowd.
Approaching 4.30pm and with 18 minutes to play we are 1-0 up. Henrik Larsson having opened the scoring in the third minute of the game. We’ve had a few scary moments and the tension on the park and on the terracing is palpable.
Suddenly Tommy Boyd is on the ball, he passes down the right to Jackie McNamara who sweeps it into the box and our much maligned nervy Norwegian striker, Harald Brattbakk, who has come on as a sub firmly places it in the back of the net.
The stadium erupts, a cauldron of noise, a sea of green and white, old men crying, tricolours flying, “The Bhoys Are Back In Town “. The Celtic choir is in full voice, “Cheerio to 10 in a row ” The Fields of Athenry ” “Sure It’s A Grand Old Team”, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, “This Land Is Your Land”.
In the words of Robert Browning “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world”.
Some may argue that Wim’s greatest legacy at Celtic was the signing of Henrik Larsson, but for me winning the title in 1997/98 was his greatest achievement.
Our best wishes and fondest memories will always be with Wim Jansen. World class footballer, screen star, and a great Celtic Manager.