The Ghosts of the past…An Olympic champion once said that ‘Gold medals aren’t made of gold, they’re made of sweat and determination.’ Both those qualities were found in abundance at Celtic Park this week when Shakhtar Karagandy came calling with a two goal lead and more arrogance than their limited footballing ability should have allowed them. After 44 minutes of physical effort from both the players and the fans, it looked as if the visitors might get to half time with 0-0 on the scoreboard. That was until Kris Commons decided to unleash a shot of ferocious power and accuracy which signalled that Celtic were far from finished in this tie. The ghosts of yesterday would have smiled to see that old Celtic Park roar drive the Bhoys on to a famous victory. The despair of the first leg was forgotten as Celtic blasted the time wasting, diving and occasionally thuggish visitors into the Europa League. It was no more than they deserved.
As I looked around the Stadium at full time from my vantage point in the Jock Stein stand watching the celebrating thousands share yet another magical moment, I couldn’t help but think of the generations of Celtic fans who have backed the club since that first tie in May 1888. What a journey they have come on! My own family have followed Celtic for 5 generations now and as I get older I think of those, now long gone, who once shared this ordinary space with thousands of others and made it sacred by their dedication to the ideals of Celtic and their passion to see the club succeed. They treasured Celtic and passed it on to their children like an heirloom of great value. The great North Stand now stands where the old Jungle was and before that the old curved roofed shed with its rusty holes, leaks and grass growing on the terrace steps. From there, the hard core would belt out their songs of hope and joy and find their hard lives illuminated by those who wore the green and played the game in that quintessentially Celtic way. They would marvel at the great temple of football which stands there today and be glad that their Celtic, the club they loved so much, is still thriving, still giving its support memories to cherish.As I watched the joy on the faces of young and old in those moments after Celtic’s victory it made me a little emotional. I was a reminded that history is remade every day, that all our glories of the past are simply markers on our journey. There are undoubtedly more pages to be written and new heroes to emerge as this great club continues its amazing journey. We who follow Celtic take pride in all the club achieves for it has punched above its weight for virtually all of its existence. Few clubs have the bond with their followers Celtic has. Reading the messages on Twitter and Facebook in the wake of Celtic’s victory demonstrated the genuine strength of feeling thousands have for Celtic. Even those with little connection to the club have warmed to our magnificent support and our club’s unique history and want us at the Champions League party. Xavi Alonso of Real Madrid tweeted…
’What a night for Celtic FC !! Celtic Park buzzing again. I wish we could meet in group stage and play for once in there.’
The draw didn’t pair Celtic with his tremendous Real Madrid team but hopefully one day our two great clubs can meet again. Barcelona’s Director of Football, Andoni Zubizarreta said of the tie with Celtic…"Celtic again, it's like meeting old pals. I love going to Celtic park, the atmosphere is great".
Our club has a reputation which goes far beyond any expectations of a team playing in a small league on the periphery of Europe. AC Milan announced on their Website that the Group involving Celtic, AC Milan, Barcelona and Ajax should be termed ‘The Group of Nobility.’ Not just because the Clubs involved have won 16 European Cups between them, but because they play the game in the best traditions of free flowing, attacking football. The word ‘Nobility’ it should be noted has its roots in the Latin ‘nobilitas’ meaning noted or high born. But it can also denote people who behave with integrity, honesty and generosity. In that sense, Celtic, born among the poverty and despair of the late nineteenth century east end of Glasgow, created to feed the poorest of the poor, is indeed noble.
Barcelona called it the ‘Group of Champions.’ While Ajax Manager and old adversary Ronald De Boer stated on their club Twitter Feed after seeing his club’s opponents, "Three great teams, Wonderful for the fans." It is remarkable that Celtic are held in such esteem by the great clubs of Europe and much of this is down to the tremendous support our fans give the team in Europe and the fact this drives the players on to heights they seldom achieve in the domestic game. We know we can’t compete financially with the giants of Europe but when its 11 against 11 under the lights at Celtic Park anything is possible. If I’m being honest, in my heart of hearts I can’t see Celtic getting out of the incredibly tough group they’ve been drawn in but that’s not the point. The point is we are where we belong, among the elite of European football. The point is we will pour that Celtic passion from the stands onto the field, drive our team on and show the watching world that there are no fans quite like Celtic fans, no arena quite like Celtic Park. If we take a few scalps along the way then I’ll be as delighted as anyone but one thing is for sure we’ll enjoy watching our team on our field of dreams.125 years ago a good man, a friend of the poor, said he would start a football team for the maintenance of dinner tables for the children and unemployed. He could not have envisaged the success his club would attain nor the fame it would win across the footballing world. Nor could he have predicted that those supporters who built this club literally with their bare hands would be feted as the greatest fans in Europe by so many who know football well. 125 years on we are still dreaming our dreams and who knows what the future holds.
What I do know is that that when Barcelona come calling on October 1st and the Champions League anthem is echoing around the Stadium, I’ll think for a moment of those who have made this club what it is over the past 125 years. I know the ghosts of the past would smile down on dear old Paradise and be proud that Walfrid’s team is again living their dream. Then I’ll turn to the field and roar the Bhoys on with all the rest.God bless you Glasgow Celtic, from desperation to celebration, it’s a story like no other.