CELTIC supporters head for Lancashire tonight 24 years after an infamous visit to the same county shamed the club. In Blackburn, they will meet a massive police presence designed to keep the peace. It is almost sure to be an unnecessary precaution as the sort of crowd trouble which marred trips over the border by Scottish sides in those days seem to be a thing of the past.

The scenes in Burnley in 1978 were symptomatic of dark days for Scottish football. The hooligan element was at its peak, and the club game was being dragged down by actions of the minority. Scottish football fans had a dreadful reputation, especially down south

It was against such a backdrop that Billy McNeill took his Celtic side to face Burnley in a quarter-final of the Anglo-Scottish Cup on September 12, 1978. In the first leg at Turf Moor, the Celtic supporters rioted and the game was held up for 10 minutes. Violence flared after they rushed into an area of no-man's land on the terracing designed to keep rival fans apart. They tore up 6ft-high fencing and began to shower missiles on police and Burnley fans who fled on to the pitch to escape the barrage.

Bottles, cans, and pieces of concrete were thrown at police, with some Celtic supporters using sections of railing as spears to launch on to the pitch.

The referee, Pat Partridge, took both teams off the pitch and McNeill came on to restore calm. Pictures from the night show McNeill, surrounded by policemen, pleading with supporters to leave the pitch, while George McCluskey and Johnny Doyle look on bemused.

Afterwards, the Celtic manager described the supporters who rioted that night, and who caused trouble in Burnley that evening, as ''scum which the club didn't want anything to do with.''

As if the appalling scenes were not bad enough, Celtic, who had opened their domestic campaign with eight straight wins, including a 3-1 Old Firm victory four days before heading south, lost both legs of the Anglo-Scottish Cup clash.

Burnley won 1-0 at Turf Moor and 2-1 at Celtic Park a fortnight later. It was one of the Parkhead club's most humbling losses and came despite the presence of Danny McGrain, Davie Provan, Tommy Burns, and Alfie Conn in the side.

Nor was Celtic's suffering eased by Rangers' remarkable 2-0 success against an exceptional Juventus side in the European Cup the same night. Such was the shock to the system for Celtic that they won a mere two of their next 10 games, although they were later to stage a dramatic recovery which secured the league title.

The riots at Burnley came on the same day as the last of the 110 supporters arrested during the Old Firm game four days earlier appeared in court. Four months before that, Celtic were fined (pounds) 1000 by the SFA following a crowd invasion at Parkhead during a league game against Hibs.

The hooligan problem was not Celtic's alone. Rangers were fined (pounds) 2000 after a crowd invasion at Fir Park in 1977, and Hearts were the subject of an SFA inquiry following ugly scenes on and off the field during an Edinburgh derby match.

Against that backdrop, the trouble, even after Old Firm games, these days seems almost negligible. Indeed, in recent years, Celtic fans have travelled in their thousands to bring colour and a party atmosphere to numerous testimonial games in England without a hint of trouble.

Whatever happens tonight, it is reasonable to assume that the club's name will not be damaged, on or off the field, anything like the way it was just along the road 24 years ago.

Violent times

Mar 1974 Over 100 arrested as Rangers and Manchester United supporters fight during a friendly

May 1974 Seventeen Rangers supporters arrested during a testimonial match against Everton. A fan streaked across the pitch and fighting broke out when police tried to arrest him

May 1974 Nineteen Celtic fans arrested in Liverpool. A train carrying Celtic fans was so badly damaged it had to be taken out of service

Oct 1976 A match between Aston Villa and Rangers erupted into violence. Villa were 2-0 up when the friendly game had to be abandoned