Lubomir Moravcik: Celtic attacker's remarkable Old Firm derby debut

By Jonathan SutherlandBBC Scotland

"We didn't know anything about him at all."

If the Dr Jo Venglos era at Celtic is remembered fondly at all by Celtic fans, it is generally for one major reason - Lubomir Moravcik.

Mark Burchill was the rising star in the Celtic dressing room in 1998, a dressing room underwhelmed by their new manager, who seemed like a nice guy but who struggled to get his ideas across with his broken English.

However, Venglos would pull off one absolute masterstroke by bringing in his fellow Slovak. Moravcik might have been at the wrong end of his career - and a complete unknown in Scotland after a career spent with the likes of St Etienne, Bastia and Duisburg - but the 33-year-old still had magic in his boots.

"I remember speaking to the senior players about him and they were like, 'No clue, no clue," Burchill recalls. "Probably some of them were thinking, 'This guy is not going to be any good'. Small, not particularly in great shape.

"But what I do remember was his first training session - his technique was incredible. We were doing crossing and finishing and he would just absolutely put the laces through it. Both feet, bursting the net. And you were like, 'Wow!'."

'This guy is a player'

With just a couple of games under his belt, Moravcik was thrown into the heat of Old Firm battle against Rangers on 21 November. Inside 11 minutes, he had given Celtic the lead from the edge of the box with a sublime strike.

"I knew he was right footed and he whips one in with his left foot and you thought 'This guy is a player!'," said Burchill, who was watching from the bench.

Moravcik's second was a stunning header from a Tom Boyd cross. It was an example of perfect technique. His celebration - like for his first goal - was nonchalant and low key. Just a big, broad smile.

"He was so unassuming and quiet. Didn't speak much English, but a lovely, really nice guy," added Burchill.

Moravcik's two goals inspired a 5-1 victory. From that moment everyone realised Celtic had a player on their hands.

With eight minutes left, he would make way for Burchill to make his own mark, scoring the fifth from a Henrik Larsson assist. "I had just had my debut a couple of weeks previously," he recalls. "So to follow that up was amazing.

"At that point, playing like that with Lubo coming in, we felt we were going to win the league."

'He was just standing there eating a burger'

While Rangers would bounce back to claim not only the title but complete the domestic treble, the 5-1 derby win was just the start for Moravcik, who would go on to become a Celtic idol.

But immediately after his Old Firm starring role, he was able to drift off into the Glasgow night a relative unknown.

"Outside the ground, there used to be a burger van," recalls Burchill. "Who's standing on the corner waiting for a taxi eating the biggest burger I have ever seen? Lubomir Moravcik. On his own, no family. He'd walked out the stadium, walked 150 yards and bought this burger.

"Not one fan knew who he was. He had this ill-fitting suit on and he was standing just eating, waiting for a taxi. I was just thinking, 'This is amazing'."

"I said to him, 'Do you want a lift anywhere?' And he didn't really understand me he was just saying 'Taxi, taxi!'."

Noteworthy for another reason...
The match - played at 15:00 on a Saturday - was the last Old Firm game not broadcast live. Sky Sports' contract only included the rights for three of the derbies that season, so the game was covered by a BBC Scotland outside broadcast unit that supplied pictures to the countries around the world. Commentator Rob Maclean mentions an expected global TV audience of around eight million, but viewers in Scotland had to wait for Sportscene at 22:30 to see the action. That is, except the 30,000 fans who went to Ibrox to watch a live beam-back of the game.

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