Inverness in the Scottish Cup final sparks memories of a turbulent period in Celtic’s history. Curiously, in the 21st century, our meetings with these upstart Highlanders have provided moments of cinematic drama.

I’ve got unfinished business with Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup. And nor does this relate to the calamitous 3-1 home defeat to them in 2000. In fact, that particular result didn’t really bother me at all. You might even consider it a blessing of sorts.

It occurred during a wretched period for Celtic when the inexplicable decision to give John Barnes his first-ever job in football management came back to haunt us. I’d felt sorry for the brilliant former Liverpool and England winger. At any other time, his appointment might have been an adroit one. He was smart, eloquent and committed Celtic to an exciting and fast brand of football which saw us score stacks of goals in the opening weeks of the season.

He really ought to have started his fledgling managerial career in the traditional way, with a gig somewhere less frenetic like Plymouth Argyle or Tottenham Hotspur where he might have flourished in a much less pressurised environment and where expectations are always low.

I was Sports Editor-in-Chief at Scotland on Sunday and The Scotsman when Barnes became Celtic manager and I wasn’t impressed by the appointment in the slightest. Why was one of the biggest football jobs in the UK being handed to a man who had no previous experience of football management?

Celtic’s then Chief Executive, Allan MacDonald had also appointed Kenny Dalglish in a sort of mentor role, in the fond belief that he’d be able to babysit him through the testing first year as Celtic manager. This was an intriguing concept, but one that simply invited catastrophe.

Scotland on Sunday’s chief sportswriter at this time was Graham Spiers, and like me, he felt that the appointment of John Barnes was an act of folly. And so, rather than go with a report from a live sporting event on the front of our sports section that week, we decided to depart from convention and produce a statement page devoted to the appointment of Barnes.

Spiers provided a coruscating, 1000-word treatise on the move and I provided a suitably irascible heading as we left the Celtic CEO in no doubt as to the paper’s feelings on the matter (or at least the feelings of me and the indefatigable Spiers).

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Within 48 hours I received a call from Celtic’s press chief who informed me that McDonald was unhappy with our treatment of the John Barnes story. I might have mumbled something lofty and pompous about hacking away at the coalface of truth.

“Allan would like to discuss it further with you both. Would you both like to join him for dinner one night next week? You choose the venue.”

And that’s why the four of us sat down at Rogano and had a frank exchange of views about what was best for Celtic. This was no succulent lamb affair.

McDonald was a very affable chap but possessed a razor-sharp business instinct which saw him become a successful CEO at British Aerospace. His own appointment as CEO at Parkhead was then regarded as something of a coup for Celtic. He was also a die-hard Celtic supporter whose five children all had Parkhead season tickets.

In my youthful arrogance though, I felt I knew better than he in what was best for Celtic and told him so. And it certainly didn’t involve appointing a first-time manager. However, he absorbed the criticism and resisted the temptation to ask us for favourable treatment of the Barnes/Dalglish experiment.

Thus, we parted amicably enough with the Chief Executive perhaps having learned a little more about how newspapers worked than when he’d entered that legendary and louche Glasgow diner.

In those first few weeks of the 1999-2000 season, there was initial cause for optimism. We’d had a good start in the league and Henrik Larsson was showing signs of the player he would become for us. And then came Lyon away from home in the UEFA Cup and Henrik’s broken leg which occurred at a time when Celtic were acquitting themselves with a degree of elan against a team then regarded as one of the top ten in European football.   

Henrik would recover much more quickly than we’d all hoped, and was playing again before the end of the season. But the team never really came back from that injury. And then came Inverness at home in the Scottish Cup and the end of the John Barnes project.

Scarcely three years later, Inverness Caley featured in another dramatic Scottish Cup encounter with us. Celtic’s fortunes at this time could hardly have been more different from those which enshrouded the club in 2000. We had just beaten Liverpool at Anfield to reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup and only the act of larceny from a linesman had prevented Celtic defeating Rangers in the League Cup final.

Meeting Inverness Caley in the last eight of the Scottish Cup in a midweek game at the Caledonian stadium was never going to be anything other than challenging. Inexplicably though, Martin O’Neill chose to send out a weakened team which included Javier Broto, Ulrik Laursen, Jamie Smith, David Fernandez and Steve Guppy. Inverness deservedly won 1-0 and Celtic could have played from dusk until dawn and they’d still never have scored.

It was a very rare error of judgment by O’Neill and I felt it showed disrespect for our opponents and for the Scottish Cup, a trophy that has provided Celtic supporters with some of their sweetest memories. We got what we deserved.

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We didn’t deserve what happened 12 years later, though. In 2015 we met Inverness in the semi-final, knowing that victory would give Ronny Deila his first treble in his first season as manager. Inverness defeated us 3-2 after extra time. But they only did so with the aid of perhaps the worst refereeing decision Celtic have suffered in recent history. It was an incident Bobby Davidson or the Symes (pere et fils), IMD Foote, JPR Gordon and Mike McCurry would all have been proud to call their own.

Celtic were already a goal up and when Josh Meekings clearly palmed away a net-bound Leigh Griffiths header just before half-time we were looking at a penalty to make it two and opponents who would be reduced to ten men.

Incredibly both the referee, Steven McLean and the goal-line official – one Alan Muir – were the only two people inside the ground not to see the handball. You were left wondering what Muir, in particular, thought he was seeing when he had a clear view from a distance of two yards of Meekings’ handball.

In the second half, Craig Gordon was sent off harshly. The Inverness victory was handed to them on a plate by those two officials, neither of whom ought ever to have officiated at the top level again.  

Last week, in a tongue-in-cheek column for The Herald I hinted that I might not be too upset if the plucky underdogs won on Saturday. It was, of course, a jest.

Nor do I want Celtic to go easy on them if we were to go three or four goals up. After what happened in 2015 there can be no mercy.