In his regular column, Ronan Kearney chronicles the emotional rollercoaster of following his beloved Celtic. In this edition, he looks back at his favourite European romances.
They say there’s nothing quite like a European night under the lights at Paradise. A cauldron of noise like no other has driven the team to famous nights time and time again. Having followed Celtic abroad, I would argue that there’s an even bigger thrill to be found there.
Arriving in a European city as the away team, in a minority on most occasions, taking over a street for a couple of days. Having the locals look on in bemusement as you’re not actually trashing their city (that’s the other lot) but just singing, dancing and having a party in the Champions League… tough to beat.
These are my top 5 favourite Celtic European nights from my personal experience. Nights like Naka’s free kick, the 4-3 revenge on Juventus and of course Tony Watt and Barcelona – who could forget them? But I’m looking at games I’ve actually been at, and the lead up to them in particular. The games I’ve lived.
What a disaster this was! I boarded a bus in Belfast on the morning of the game and was brought up to speed with just how long each guy on the bus had been “out”. Rather than be on board Belfast’s No.1 LGBT CFC bus, it was a roll call of The Maze’s freshest parolees, off to celebrate the Green and White. Word quickly spread on the bus that a leading jockey had a brother in our crew who had just received a solid tip for that afternoon. Of course the horse is still running and when the brave comrade came back with another, he was laughed off the bus. He was last seen buying bottles of champagne with the two grand he lifted off the second horse.
We arrived at the ground just in time for Tony Mowbray (it gets worse) to give all four corners of the ground a big wave and then proceeded to lose 2-0. A Gary Caldwell own goal was the particular highlight of that game. Then again, Landry N’Guemo and Danny Fox played in the Hoops that night so what was I expecting?
Having qualified for the last 16 after wins against Barcelona and Spartak Moscow, the draw threw up an intriguing tie against Juventus. As I was currently jobless after a short stint in Australia, it stood to reason that a trip to Glasgow was in order. Ticketless of course. With two mates in tow, we arrived on the morning of the game and walked up to Parkhead in the hope of finding tickets. Whilst there, we came across this dodgy looking Swedish guy answering to the name of Larsson. Crazy – he scored hundreds of goals in the Green and White and still couldn’t get three tickets for us.
Resigned to our fate, we were walking back to our hotel when an angel in the form of some drunk guy said he had two tickets for sale at face value. I wonder if he ever got his hand back as it was snapped off him that quick! Making our way back to the ground, word came through of the ballsiest move Neil Lennon could make. Efe Ambrose had stepped off a plane from Nigeria that morning and went straight into the starting eleven. Look, we all know what happened next so let’s carry on yeah? The night ended in a gentlemen’s club with one of the group having never been. Our time there didn’t last as he was insistent that no one could spend time with “his woman.” He had an Efe indeed.
3) AC Milan (December 2007)
This was it. Final group game. All or nothing. With Shakhtar at home to Benfica, Celtic travelled to the San Siro needing a result to qualify for the last 16. I travelled in excitement at seeing the illustrious San Siro for the first time. It was shite.
Crumbling and falling apart, it was a huge letdown. The trip itself was pretty subdued, nerves on the mind of most fans. The mood lifted when word came through that Benfica had somehow gone to the Ukraine and won, guaranteeing Celtic a spot in the last 16. Inzaghi’s goal sealed the result for the Milan outfit but there is only one thing I’ve ever taken from that game. Kaka ran quicker dribbling the ball that night than he did without it. It was a masterclass in composure, skill and ball retention. A pleasure.
2) Inter Milan
Having slated the San Siro to no end since 2007, I was delighted to go back for the Europa League second leg a few years back. Ronny Deila had been in charge of one of my favourite European nights at Parkhead when Celtic came back from 2-0 and 3-2 to secure a draw. The next morning, flights were hastily booked and the ticket SOS sent out. Feeling adventurous, we booked a two-night trip so we could take in a “Irish music celebration” in the Milan suburbs. When I say that it was a load of rebel bands playing in an abandoned warehouse with pints at two euro, I’m glamourising it. Great night!
The pyro corteo was leaving from said warehouse the next day to march to the subway for the game. Going through dark tunnels, marching through Italian streets, the corteo was stopped only so pictures could be taken and fans could be applauded. The game itself didn’t go to plan, with an early red card crushing our hopes. I was particularly sad after that trip as I felt things would never get any better for Ronny in Europe after that. Still, that Guidetti song was a belter.
What a trip. What a game. What a result! We had spied this trip just after the draw was made. A spin to the Nou Camp or to Manchester would have been nice but the jaunt to Germany just looked like it had the potential to be much better. My travelling partner for both Milan trips and I were joined by two others, neither of a huge Celtic background but desperate to experience an away day.
An overnight stay in Cologne before the game was pretty uneventful as fans were spread between there and Düsseldorf. Word spread early as to where fans would be meeting in Monchengladbach so with cans in tow, the train pulled out of the station. The disappointment when we reached Monchengladbach was real when we realised there was about 15 of us there in total. Then…mayhem. Carnage. Whatever you want to call it. 5 trains pulled into the station and about a thousand Celtic fans invaded the streets. Brendan Rodgers, Moussa Dembele… Jesus even Paddy McCourt’s song got an airing.
Still, we were ticketless until we somehow blagged four for the home end. This soon became a problem though. The stadium is difficult to negotiate at the best of times; however, with a belly full of German cans and no food, it was tricky. Making matters worse was the realisation amongst the home fans that they had enemies in sight. When a Monchengladbach monster touching seven foot grabbed my neck and lifted me off the ground, no amount of pleading would save me. Imagine my surprise when we bonded over common ground. “Monchengladbach fucking hate Rangers” he screamed in my face. Hans, you’re all right mate! A Dembele penalty secured a draw that night as Celtic put in a mature performance demonstrating the improvement under Rodgers.
I chose this trip as my favourite for one reason. Two mates came along on this trip having never been before. It felt like they were converted, taken in, totally immersed in Celtic on that trip. That’s what Celtic in Europe will do to you. Following Celtic in Europe has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Here’s to many more starting with PSG in November.