Celtic v Inter Milan
Celtic Park / Europa League 2nd Round 1st Leg / 19th February 2015
25th May 1967: one of the most famous nights in the history of British football. In the Estadio Nacional, Lisbon, Celtic took on the reverred Inter Milan, coached by the imperious Helenio Herrera, in the European Cup Final. Herrera had already led Inter to two European Cups in 1964 and 1965 and they were considered favourites to defeat the Bhoys. However, despite going 1 – 0 down, Jock Stein’s Celtic fought back to win 2-1. Famously, all but one member of that Celtic team were born within 10 miles of Celtic Park (the odd one out was born 30 miles away) and the team was immortalised as the Lisbon Lions – hailed as the greatest team in Celtic’s history.
Jump forward 48 years and Celtic were to take on Inter Milan once again, this time on the less glamorous stage of the Europa League in a first leg 2nd Round tie with both clubs fallen a long way from their golden eras in the 1960s.
As the younger brother by 7 years, I was prone to certain clothes hand-me-downs. However, this did mean I got old football shirts that didn’t fit my brother anymore and so around the age of 8 I acquired a Celtic shirt. For no other reason than that, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the Hoops since and I had wanted to visit Celtic Park for ages. With it being my week off work, what better excuse to head to the East End of Glasgow than a European game under the floodlights at Parkhead against one of European football’s aristocrats. And what a great idea it was to go too, as, I’m going to throw it out there now, I’d say my trip to Parkhead is definitely one of my all-time favourite experiences inside a football stadium. Here’s how it all went down.
I began my traipse north of the border from Manchester shortly after 9am and was in a chilly Glasgow by midday. I’d explored Glasgow quite a bit when I visited Partick Thistle last year, so I was fairly confident that I knew where I was going on my arrival. I perused the streets for a short while before I eventually headed into Wetherspoons, which seemed to have a lot of Inter fans within. A particular highlight of the day was to be the calamitous Inter fan who accidentally hit a glass off a table. As the glass hit the floor and smashed into smithereens, the Inter declared, “Mamma mia!” A lovely bit of living up to the stereotype there.
I plodded onwards through Glasgow, dropping in at a pub or two on my wander, before eventually I arrived at the Celtic club store. As expected, the place was full, surprisingly with Inter fans more than anything. However, I timed my visit perfectly, as an employee of the store was going around the shelves wapping massive ‘SALE’ signs on everything. I already had a Celtic shirt (a 2006-2008 one, which I bought off Ebay for a fiver) but I did leave the store with a Celtic scarf for £4. For a measly £9, I looked like a Celtic diehard.
I decided that I’d head to hostel, located in the Park Gate area of Glasgow. Incidentally, in the distance I could see Ibrox, but with me now draped in green and white I thought it best that Ibrox did remain in the distance. With my bag dropped off, it was onwards to Gallowgate.
Everyone had told me beforehand that I if I was to visit Celtic FC, I had to go to Gallowgate, a stretch of road leading towards Celtic Park and with a few Celtic pubs on it. My first port of call though would be McChuills, a bar located on High Street and just around the corner from the Gallowgate area. And what a bar it is. It wasn’t even 5pm and the bar was already jam-packed with Celtic fans, enjoying some of the many continental beers on offer. Plus, the place had great music playing out too.
Groundhopper and Partick fan Paul had offered to show me the sights of Gallowgate, so I met up with him in McChuills before we then headed onwards to Gallowgate. Every pub was full and the noticeably green and white Hoops Bar even had people queuing around the street. We tried to get a drink in The Phoenix, but the queue by the bar was a bit ridiculous so we went in search of another drinking hole.
We did find the very busy, but manageable, The Hielan Jessie pub just up the road from the other boozers and we decided to make base there. This pub is very traditional so no TVs or music, just a good atmosphere. Me and Paul discussed all things football travel-related, before I ended up chatting to some Celtic fans. When Paul had to leave, the Celtic fans took me under their wings and informed me of another good pub up the road and en route to Celtic Park. It seemed a bit strange when they firstly informed me that there was a barren, pub-less road heading towards the ground and even stranger that some of the nearby streets were very much Rangers communities.
The match had a 8.05pm kick-off time and by now it had gone well past 7pm. The Celtic folk insisted I have one more drink with them and that it would be on them. I thought it would be rude not to accept. We eventually arrived at The Drover Bar, after enduring a walk with me going on about my love for former Wales and Celtic striker John Hartson (and, more importantly, a Swansea fan). I was insisting that I was only going to have a quick drink in here as I wanted to get to the stadium in plenty of time, so I was then greeted with the question from one of the lads in the bar, “Are you OK with brandy then?” I didn’t really get a chance to answer and soon I was drinking brandy before I headed back out into the cold Glasgow night.
Soon the huge presence of Celtic Park was looming ahead with droves of white and green heading there. The area surrounding Celtic Park struck me as a bit odd as the stadium stands there quite lonely-looking with nothing really flanking it. Generally the area around the stadium consists of abandoned industrial buildings and some newer residential buildings – not much else at all really.
Within minutes I was in the shadow of the huge structure that is Celtic Park. I took in my surroundings, before I headed through the turnstiles and into the stadium itself.
Celtic were formed in 1888 by an Irishman known as Brother Walifrid. The club was formed in the East End of Celtic as a fundraising team, after the Irish population in Edinburgh had formed Hibernian for similar reasons. The name ‘Celtic’ has been ever-present at the club and was chosen as a name that the founders felt would reflect both the Irish and Scottish roots of the club.
There have actually been two Celtic Parks since the club began, both in Parkhead. The original was built within 6 months by a group of volunteers and Celtic would play their first ever game there, predictably against Rangers, in 1888. It would be called home until 1892, when the club were forced out by a huge increase in the rent for the ground. A new ground was to be built.
Just 200 yards from the old ground, a new Celtic Park was created, with it originally being a large oval-shaped stadium with a vast amount of terracing. The turf was shipped over from County Donegal and it was planted with shamrocks – the main feature on Celtic’s crest. Famously, when describing the move, one journalist declared, “leaving the graveyard to enter paradise.” And this is why the stadium is still referred to as Paradise by the fans to this very day.
The stadium underwent a huge amount of development from 1957 onwards, until the Taylor Report forced clubs to change their stadiums significantly in the 90s. The early 90s would see Celtic struggling financially so it would take until 1994 for Celtic to really overhaul Celtic Park and to make it fit the new ground requirements outlined in the Taylor Report. The infamous ‘Jungle’ terracing would go and be replaced by the new North Stand, which was then followed by redevelopments to the East Stand (now the Lisbon Lions Stand) and then finally to the new Jock Stein Stand ready for the 1998/99 season – obviously named after the great manager who led Celtic to European glory against Inter. I felt this would be a poignant stand for me to frequent on such a night as tonight.
I know a lot of fans don’t like sitting up in the heady heights of certain stadiums such as the away ends at Newcastle’s St. James’ Park or Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, but I love it and I loved my view up in the heavens of Celtic Park. The stadium did actually remind me of St. James Park, but a larger, much greener one (in colour, I’m not sure about how environmentally friendly the place is). The Main Stand is distinctively smaller than the other three stands giving the ground a certain lopsided feel.
On talking my pew, all eyes were drawn to the far corner of the East Stand where the Green Brigade – Celtic’s ‘ultras’ – were unveiling a large display with a picture of a TV showing Celtic’s Lisbon Lions winning the 1967 European Cup. Above the TV were the words, ‘It is up to us. To everyone at Celtic Park. To build our own legends.’ Legends were certainly made on this evening.
I’ve been on the famous Anfield Kop for a rendition of Liverpool’s club anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone. Admittedly its a great experience, although whenever I’ve been back to Anfield to watch the Swans, I’ve found the renditions a bit flat at times. However, Celtic’s rendition of the famous song is something else. The whole stadium became a sea of green and white scarves and the noise was absolutely immense. Typing this now is even giving me goosebumps thinking back to it. The music stopped and soon it was just the voices of the Celtic Park faithful filling the Glaswegian night and continuing in a raucous closing verse of the song. Sorry, Liverpool, but Celtic just do YNWA a hell of a lot better. But don’t take my word for it, just check out the video (stolen off YouTube directly below this. Just wow.
By now the teams were out on the pitch alongside the large Europa League crest and we were ready to go with Celtic in their green and white hoops and Inter in a light blue away shirt.
The atmosphere was immense from the very first minute and 60,000 Scots certainly know how to make a noise. Inter tried to ruin the party by actually scoring in the 4th minute, as new signing Xherdan Shaqiri’s left footed volley was saved by Craig Gordon only for the ball to go back to Shaqiri, who tapped home. 1 – 0 to Roberto Mancini’s men.
Just ten minutes later it was 2-0. Shaqiri hit the ball back into the box from a corner and after Celtic’s Emilio Izaguirre hit his clearance into fellow defender Virgil van Dijk, the ball fell to the Rodrigo Palacio to slide home. I was particularly annoyed that Palacio scored purely because he has the worst hair in football thanks to that ridiculous thin ponytail he audaciously rocks.
Inter had been nothing special and for me Celtic had been the far better team. I was actually very impressed with Celtic – they played nice passing yet attacking football and they certainly got in Inter’s faces. They definitely deserved their goal that got them back into the game. A passing move out on the right saw Welshman Adam Matthews break into the box and his cut back to Stuart Armstrong was simply tapped home. The stadium was rocking. The noise had barely dampened at 2 – 0 down, but now the volume was up a notch.
If there had been a roof on Celtic Park, it would have blown off moments later. Many were still dancing and celebrating Armstrong’s goal, when a ball into the box by Stefan Johansen was hit by Hugo Campagnaro and, under duress from Armstrong, the ball was hit past his own keeper. Scenes. The stadium went crazy and I was caught up in it all too being hugged by anyone near me. There was only 28 minutes on the clock, but already we had had one brilliant game of football. It was relentless,
Then Celtic suffered a sucker punch. A long ball from former Cardiff City pitbull Gary Medel (boooooo!) bounced towards the Celtic goal. Gordon tried to dive to stop the ball going to the onrushing Palacio, but the stretch was too much and instead he merely palmed the ball into the path of Palacio who finished into an empty net. Amazingly, Celtic Park still didn’t quieten and a chorus of chanting Craig Gordon’s name emanated around all four stands instead. Class.
Half-time: Celtic 2 – 3 Inter Milan.
After that rollercoaster of a half, I could have done with a drink, but that wouldn’t be happening for two reasons: 1) alcohol is forbidden in any football ground during any UEFA competition like tonight 2) Scottish football has also forbidden alcohol within its grounds in recent years – much to my disdain. I did make sure to go have a nose around the busy concourse though, before heading back up to my seat ready for the second half.
Admittedly, the action wasn’t as bombastic as the first half, but the game was still brilliantly entertaining. Celtic were playing some lovely football at times and I was genuinely really impressed by them. The Celtic fan next to me informed me that this style of play had been slowly developing since the team was rebuilt at the start of the season. The commitment to the style of play from young Norwegian manager Ronny Deila was starting to pay dividends and definitely starting to capture the imagination of the Parkhead faithful. It was a far cry from the Celtic I witnessed scrape to a win at Partick Thistle’s Firhill last season.
Celtic pushed forward looking for an equaliser, but Inter always looked dangerous on the counterattack and thus a very edge-of-seats half ensued. Nir Britton almost scored from long-range for the Bhoys, before later on Carrizo denied Leigh Griffiths from point-blank.
Inter looked the slightly more likely to score in the final ten minutes, but a more confident looking Gordon held off the Italians. Despite a late surge in injury time from the home team it looked like Celtic were going to lose this first leg 3-2. But then…
BANG. The biggest eruption of the night. From absolutely nowhere, a ball chipped into the box by Liam Henderson fell to substitute striker John Guidetti – on loan from Manchester City. The ball bounced awkwardly, but Guidetti wrapped his foot around the ball to volley it home acrobatically in the 93rd minute. The next thing I knew I was dragged to the floor by some lad and ended up lying on top of him on the steps with many other bodies around me on the Jock Stein Stand floor and steps. The place was going bonkers. Chaos like you couldn’t imagine – but chaos in its most joyful form.
There was still one more nervy moment as Shaqiri was denied by Gordon with a last gasp freekick, but the Hoops would hold on to secure a point on another famous European night at Celtic Park.
Full-time: Celtic 3 – 3 Inter Milan. The sounds of Depeche Mode’s Just Can’t Get Enough boomed around Celtic Park and was sung emphatically by the home crowd in pure elation.
Put simply, this was easily the best game I’ve seen all season and probably one of the best games and most entertaining games of football I’ve ever had the pleasure of being at. The game, the stadium, the fans and the atmosphere – everything was just unreal. The next day in The Telegraph I saw one match report sum it up beautifully:
“What 60,000 incredulous spectators witnessed in the East End of Glasgow was not so much a contest as a commotion.”
I didn’t really want it all to end, yet having had the usual photos in the ground, I was back out into the street, absolutely buzzing. To the pub!
Once again, the bars on Gallowgate were rammed and so I continued back to McChuills, where I was originally told by the bouncer that it was full, before I unleashed a trick to get in: pretending to phone someone who was already in there and speaking loudly about how I couldn’t get in and would have to wait outside. The bouncer immediately acquiesced and let me in. Feel free to use that trick in future folks if you are ever stranded outside a bar/club by yourself.
More beers were enjoyed with some more Celtic fans who I befriended and who wanted to make sure that my Celtic experience continued to be a good one. Once again though, after a few Brooklyn lagers, the festivities had to come to an end and as the lights came on in the bar, I knew that that end was now. I did consider continuing the party into the early hours of the morning, but something told me that I should finish the night now on a high having had great fun with the Celtic faithful.
I’d been excited to visit Celtic Park since I purchased my ticket a few weeks before, yet the night still blew all my expectations far out of the water. Quite simply, one of my all-time favourite football experiences. It had everything I love in a night of football: drama, passion, entertainment and most importantly of all, good fun. Celtic fans, I salute you. I’ll definitely see you again soon. Celtic Park is indeed ‘Paradise’.
Highlights: Glasgow is a fun city, ground easy to get to from the city centre, McChuills pub, Celtic Park is very impressive, friendly fans, the Celtic Park atmosphere, You’ll Never Walk Alone, the game (bloody hell what a game!)
Low Points: the no alcohol in stadium rule.
Check out all my photos from my Celtic experience here.