Celtic were struggling in January 2005. The departure of Henrik Larsson had unsurprisingly created a huge void, and despite the great form of John Hartson - who would end the season with 30 goals - the rest of the team was in freefall, with two defeats to Rangers showing that the team needed freshening up.
The ideal opportunity to give the team the boost it needed came with the unexpected loan signing until the end of the season of Newcastle United's mercurial striker Craig Bellamy. Bellamy had fallen out with both Newcastle manager Graeme Souness and star man Alan Shearer and told that he would never play for Newcastle again. Celtic, in a period of frugality, swooped in to sign him in an unexpected move which shocked Scottish football. This was the man we hoped would propel us to another league title.
Bellamy's debut was set for Inverness, but the game was postponed due to a frozen pitch. So the stage was set for him to debut...against Rangers. Sadly he didn't have his best game, in the first half being denied in a one on one situation by Rangers goalkeeper Ronald Waterreus and a dreadful mistake by Rab Douglas put Rangers on the road to a 2-0, their first win at Celtic Park in five years.
Bellamy kick started his Celtic career with a goal against Clyde in the Scottish Cup, then tormented Hibs in a 3-1 win over Hibs which enabled Celtic to close the gap on Rangers at the top of the league.
Celtic and Bellamy were suddenly in a rich vein of form. A 6-0 victory over Dunfermline was followed a 2-0 win in the rescheduled game at Inverness, with Bellamy opening the scoring. Then came perhaps his best game in a Celtic jersey.
On March 19th, Celtic travelled to Tannadice to face Dundee United knowing that a win would take us back to the top of the league, whilst United, in a relegation battle also badly wanted the points. Bellamy opened the scoring after only five minutes, smashing the ball into the top corner from just inside the penalty box, the perfect start to the game. United equalised through Jim McIntyre, before another Bellamy wonder goal made it 2-1, this time taking a pass from Jackie McNamara and curling the ball into the net in off the post. This classic encounter took another twist when a Neil Lennon error let in future Celtic Barry Robson who beat Rab Douglas with an unstoppable strike. The need for a winning goal was getting desperate, and once again Bellamy didn't let us down latching on to a Hartson headflick and scoring on the half-volley. A great game - maybe the best Celtic game this writer has ever attended - ended with Celtic back on top of the league.
Incredibly, after battling so hard to get back to the top of the league, we threw away the advantage in our next league game, as defensive errors lead to a 2-0 loss at home to Hearts. A week later, we faced Hearts again in the Scottish Cup semi-final and after the Hearts fan made a fool of themselves booing a minute's silence for the Pope Celtic played like a team with a point to prove, and after an early Chris Sutton header gave us the lead, a fine Bellamy effort made it 2-0, the game ended 2-1 and Celtic were in the cup final.
A week later came another incredible game in the title race, as Aberdeen - for the second time that season - raced into a 2-0 lead at Celtic Park. Bellamy not for the first time took the game into his own hands and with the game poised at 2-2 gave Celtic the points with an incredible volley.
Celtic were two points ahead of Rangers with five games to go, and headed to Ibrox knowing that a win would all but seal the title. 'WELCOME TO THE CRAIG BELLAMY SHOW' read one of the banners in the Celtic end and this proved to be the case as after a Stan Petrov header gave Celtic the lead Bellamy once more took centre stage, giving Kyrgiagos twisted blood and curling home a wonderful goal into the corner of the net. The game ended 2-1, and surely the title was once more bound for Celtic Park, right?
Bellamy had suffered a hamstring injury in the victory over Rangers, and missed Celtic's next game, at home to Hibs, and he was badly missed as a young Scott Brown ran Celtic ragged in a 3-1 Hibs victory. With Rangers winning at Aberdeen the next day, the title race was back on. Bellamy missed the following week's 2-0 win over Aberdeen, but was back in the side for the nerve-shredding 2-1 win over Hearts, which meant that Celtic had to win at sixth place Motherwell to clinch the league title.
The events of 'Black Sunday' have been gone over many times, but it seemed to me thinking back that the impending departure of Martin O'Neill seemed to spook the team, there was a sense of impending dread as Celtic failed to build on Chris Sutton's first half goal, and somehow Motherwell's two late goals didn't come as that much of a surprise; Celtic's energy was gone, and sadly Bellamy didn't have his greatest game, as he missed a great chance to make it 2-0 during Celtic's best period of the game.
Bellamy finally won the first medal of his career a week later, and was man of the match in the 1-0 Scottish Cup final victory over Dundee United, where he dominated the game and did everything but score.
The usual noises were made about Bellamy staying at Celtic, but with the club in upheaval it was always unlikely, and he joined Blackburn in the summer, then continued his nomadic career at Liverpool (twice), West Ham, Manchester City before his final spell at Cardiff. He retired in 2014 and now runs the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone, good going for a man once seen as a major troublemaker.
As we have examined in this article, Craig Bellamy's brief tenure at Celtic brought many twists and some great football, but in the end was it a risk worth taking? He was brought to win us the title and despite at times almost single-handedly keeping Celtic in the title race he, and the rest of the team failed, so you have to say that the signing didn't work in the end, but he was always be remembered fondly at Celtic for some of the memories he provided.