I was like a child waiting for Santa Claus to come and deliver the presents at Christmas while I waited for the Champions League last 16 draw. Every Celtic fan had a team they wanted Celtic to draw. Some wanted to go to Germany, some to Paris and my choice was Malaga for some winter sunshine and cheap beer and food. Nobody seemed interested in drawing Manchester United except Chris Commons, whom I think may have supported them as a child but Chrissie bhoy we have all been there before. Another team nobody wanted was Juventus because of the treatment we received that last time Celtic played them both on and off the pitch.
If memory serves me right the referee was Helmut Krug who gave Juve a late penalty when Amoruso dived in the box. Let’s hope we can get the rub of the green this time because we may need it against a team capable of going all the way this year to Wembley. No Italian champions are ever poor and they came out on top of a very tough group. A group which included the multimillion spending Chelsea who as you know are the reigning Champions. Many traveling fans have opted for one day trips or for staying in Milan and running buses up to Turin.
It has been a brilliant Champions League journey so far. Not many within the footballing world gave us much of a chance but we punched above our weight and landed a knockout blow against the mighty Barcelona on an emotional filled night at Celtic Park as we celebrated 125 years of unbroken history. In the process we made many eat humble pie. All the players deserve credit but big Fraser Forster has been brilliant. How unlikely a hero was he when he arrived on loan from the Newcastle reserves and we all said Frazer Who? Well everybody knows who he is now.
When the group was announced as usual we jumped onto the internet to book flights to Glasgow, Lisbon, Barcelona and Moscow. Some got good deals others got screwed by the airlines that were not shy in charging over the odds as soon as a few cheap seats had been sold. Was it worth it to be there? Yes it sure was.
Barcelona at home was some result and some night, I was delighted to have my son, Conor with me. It was a special night for many reasons. The clubs birthday, arguably the greatest team ever to grace the Celtic Park turf and it was Conor’s first CL game and what a game to make your debut after traveling to domestic games for 9 years with me, that night may never be topped as he jumped into my arms when Tony Watt stuck away the second to send all of us absolutely barmy we were like the darts fans in the Ally Pally on speed. The atmosphere was amazing and the Green Brigades display will never be bettered in my opinion. Wow! What followed was well you know the story. We beat the best team in the World and we celebrated into the early hours back in our hotel.
The hotel was a lot quieter after the Benfica draw which kicked off the group back in September. Although Celtic had played well against a very cautious Portuguese team, many were silently thinking we really needed three points. Although nobody was too down and a few pints were sunk before an early rise to head for home and a long day’s work.
The Barcelona win was fantastic but would have meant sweet FA if we had not beaten the Russians. It was a much tenser Celtic Park that is of course till Chris Commons penalty hit the back of the net right in front of us to send us into absolute pandemonium. Full Time could only mean one thing, Party time! Oh no an early flight again and a long day’s work ahead I thought for a split second but then my emotions took over my normally sensible brain and the drink once again flowed till the wee hours. As I boarded the early bus to the airport I thought to myself, will I ever get sense? (But when your team is doing so well -sense just does not come in to it. Overpriced flights, tickets, hotels and it was all worth it)
What a pity I always have to catch an early flight home to go to work. After all the CL games I was shattered but I was buzzing and delighted that so many of my workmates wanted to talk about each game. I had some swagger about me after both the Moscow and Barca wins. It was like I was walking on air for a few days. I think it is adrenaline alone that gets me through work on such days.
Away games are a little different as I actually get to spend more than 12 or so hours in a foreign city. I regret not going to Moscow especially after the brilliant result but I was so happy for those who traveled especially the Mt90M teetotal travel correspondent Michael Pringle, well one of us has to stay sober and sensible on such trips to tell the stories as they are not as the tabloids would like us to believe and don’t worry they will be on the bandwagon until we lose a game and then the daggers will come out for Lenny and the players. Not to mention us the fans, remember the Dundee riot!
I may have not witnessed the Spartak win in person but I did watch it on TV and when the winning goal went in I must have jumped six feet in the air and landed that hard on the floor that I had a back spasm. I did however make both Barcelona and Lisbon and on both occasions my back stood firm. Barcelona was great, soaking up the atmosphere in the square before the game with friends, sipping cold beers in the afternoon sun before some tapas on the way to the ground and then to witness Celtic put in a magnificent shift on the pitch before there late winner which was heart breaking but we have all been there before games that spring to mind in recent years are Motherwell on black Sunday, Lyon, Seville and Turin. The Celtic supporters were in Barca in big numbers and although shattered by the defeat they behaved very well and will be welcome back anytime.
Lisbon which like Barcelona is a wonderful city to visit, possibly the only time I have gone on a session in a shopping center after a match. It was the poorest the team had performed in the group and although we lost narrowly qualification was not certain even if we had beaten Moscow we were relying on a Barca team who had already qualified to beat Benfica. However they won and we won and the rest as they say is history.
If you’re traveling to Turin I hope to see you there but be careful and remember there is strength in numbers so don’t be wandering off on your own especially if you have had a few beers. Be vigilant and be safe and may God go with you.
Keep the Faith