Helicopter Sunday: Rangers' last-gasp triumph, 10 years on

Rangers get their hands on the Premier League trophy after a famous helicopter detour
Rangers get their hands on the Premier League trophy after a famous helicopter detour

As a former Australia international based in Europe, Scott McDonald will be a seasoned air traveller. Just don't ask him about helicopters.

The 31-year-old striker scored Champions League goals against AC Milan and Manchester United and netted the winner in an Old Firm derby yet he remains best known for the last-gasp double 10 years ago today that changed a chopper's flight path.

With Celtic holding a two-point lead over Rangers going into the final day of the season and leading 1-0 at Motherwell, the helicopter carrying the Premier League trophy set off for Fir Park.

But, with McDonald firing in his first on 88 minutes and adding a second soon after, the pilot had to do an abrupt U-turn and head for Edinburgh where Nacho Novo's goal had given Rangers a 1-0 win at Hibernian.

McDonald, now in his second spell at Motherwell, has a vital play-off final to prepare for and is fed up talking about 'Helicopter Sunday'. However, BBC Scotland found a few others willing to share their memories of an amazing climax to season 2004-05.

Alex McLeish
Alex McLeish won his second title with Rangers after a dramatic final day at Easter Road

At half-time there were a few slumped shoulders - the winning manager

Alex McLeish would celebrate his second, and Rangers' 51st, league title that day.

"There's wasn't much in the way of pre-match nerves because it was out of our control. They only thing we focused on was hammering home the message 'you have to win this game because if Celtic do drop points you'll regret it for the rest of your lives'.

"With Celtic leading and us at 0-0, there were a few slumped shoulders at half-time.

"I spoke to [captain] Barry Ferguson and said we need to keep them motivated. If there are two goals, one for us and one for Motherwell, the whole outcome changes.

"We said keep going, keep attacking, we need a goal. And then Thomas Buffel set one up for wee Nacho.

"When I heard the second roar, I assumed the Celtic game had finished. I didn't realise Scott McDonald had scored another.

"The only fear I had was Soto Kyrgiakos and Marvin Andrews, keeping the ball between them at the back. We're not talking Barcelona defenders here, they were two big warriors. But they didn't make any slip-ups, they were clever and careful enough to see the game out.

"Winning my first title with Rangers was the best feeling ever but, for the second, I don't think I'll ever experience another reaction like that from the fans. That spine-tingling enjoyment."

Scott McDonald and Terry Butcher
Motherwell manager Terry Butcher was happier than Celtic fan Scott McDonald at full-time

I ran the other way, I wasn't celebrating - a Motherwell view

Inverness skipper Richie Foran was in the Motherwell midfield and 'set up' the equaliser.

"There was no real pressure but [manager] Terry Butcher certainly had us up for the game. He's a big Rangers man, as we all know, and the team-talk was unbelievable. He really wanted to win it.

"Celtic had a lot of opportunities but big Gordon Marshall had a wonderful game and they just couldn't get the second goal past him.

"Some of the Celtic players started to argue among themselves and argue with the referee as they started to feel the pressure.

"I had a shot and shanked it but it fell to Scott and he absolutely pinged it into the top corner. When I saw that, I ran off the other way. I thought 'there's no way I'm celebrating, I'll be lynched when I go back to Ireland!'

"I remember a young Celtic fan crying his eyes out afterwards. He called over in an Irish accent, 'Richie, what have you done?' That stuck with me. There was such a sadness among the Celtic support.

"Skippy [McDonald] was also pretty devastated in the dressing room. He was asking for security guards to walk him to his car."

Alan Thompson and Jackie McNamara sense that the title is slipping away
Celtic missed a host of good chances at Fir Park before McDonald's late one-two

A silent dressing room for stunned Celtic

Craig Beattie came off the bench on 75 minutes, replacing John Hartson in the Celtic attack.

"We were favourites. Going into the match we had it in our own hands. We took the lead and it seemed pretty comfortable.

"Then, all of a sudden... Wow; it all just turned on its head. I can't believe it's been 10 years and I still can't believe it happened!

"It's a 10-and-a-half month build-up from the first day of pre-season and to lose it in the last five minutes of the season was heart-breaking.

"[Manager] Martin O'Neill made a few changes, going with more experienced players.

"Some of the players we had were world class, [Craig] Bellamy, Hartson, [John] Sutton, those guys were phenomenal. [Stiliyan] Petrov and [Alan] Thompson in midfield, it was a team full of quality.

"There was absolutely nothing said in the changing room. Martin sat on the floor for 20-25 minutes and didn't say a word; everyone was just looking at the floor. It was very rare for the manager to be stuck for words."

Scott Brown
Hibernian captain Scott Brown does not appear too upset at losing since Hibs clinched a European place

An extraordinary situation - a referee reminisces

Kenny Clark was the man in the middle at Easter Road.

"In terms of the sheer drama of the finish and the change of mood, I don't think anything compares.

"Twice prior to that I had refereed on the final day when the league could have been won or lost, so I had some experience of it.

"The added complication on the day was that Hibs could qualify for the Uefa Cup as long as they didn't lose by too many goals.

"Maybe 20 minutes into the second half, the game changed. It was like boxers backing off from one another.

"Hibs had retreated into their own half and Rangers were just being allowed to keep the ball. It was an extraordinary situation.

"Aberdeen weren't winning by enough goals [against Hearts] to put Hibs under pressure, so they decided losing by a one-goal margin was okay. And Rangers had decided as long as we have the three points all we can do is hope something changes at Fir Park.

"Just before the Rangers fans erupted at the news of the goal, Barry Ferguson had asked how long to go. I said, 'four minutes' and he said, 'just blow, this is boring'.

"A minute later, the whole mood changed completely and all of a sudden there was an urgency about Rangers, who thought 'let's not do anything stupid here'."

Alex Rae celebrates with his Rangers team-mates as they wait for the trophy to arrive
Alex Rae celebrates with his Rangers team-mates as they wait for the trophy to arrive

Rae of joy for Rangers

Alex Rae capped his first season with Rangers with a league winner's medal.

"It's without doubt the most dramatic day of my career. I sent the missus to New York on the Thursday because I thought 'if we lose this title, I'm going to be an absolute nightmare'.

"I remember Barry Ferguson jumping on my back and saying 'we've won this' and I had visions of big Marvin Andrews mis-controlling the ball or something. I was just trying to focus and get over the line.

"Marvin and Kyrgiakos were just playing the ball between each other. I've never been involved in a game when the opposition didn't try to get an equaliser but circumstances were with us that day.

"There were players dancing around like maniacs afterwards but I was actually overwhelmed. It was something that I'd never envisaged.

"A year before, I was at Wolves and I was doing an interview with Tony Gubba for the BBC and he asked me 'what's your passion?'. I said it was Rangers and he said he was seeing Alex McLeish the next day. I said 'tell him I'm available' and from that interview I got one of the happiest days in football.

"When you speak to fans, they always remember Helicopter Sunday. It will go down in folklore."

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