Turn up the lights in here, baby
Extra bright, I want y’all to see this
Turn up the lights in here, baby
You know what I need, want you to see everything
Want you to see all of the lights
It’s not often you get to start an article quoting lyrics from a Kanye West song, but for days before Celtic’s Europa League clash with RB Leipzig, those five lines had bounced around my head non-stop. This was a game that had been prefixed with so much coverage, column inches and Yer Da patter of the Light Show™ we were all promised before kick-off that it was impossible to escape it.
Nothing says dramatic entrance like an official club statement complete with safety warnings and exact timings, but it added something a little extra to an occasion that many Celtic fans believed was going to turn out as miserable as the Glasgow weather.
Celtic’s Europa League campaign so far had been a bit like the aforementioned Mr.West of late; mistake ridden with some utterly bizarre partnerships, wishing we would just go back to doing what we do best. Two disappointing away defeats back to back had left us with a challenge on our hands and RB Leipzig were coming to Glasgow absolutely flying (get it?) fresh off two very impressive domestic wins.
On a rainy, dark night underneath the disco lights, with a large away following and a sell-out home crowd, I found myself slap bang in the middle of the standing section at Celtic Park without the faintest clue what I was about to witness.
Many haven’t watched a big European game in the standing section and I’ve seen some refer to it as “raw” or “feral”. One Twitter user even referring to it as “lawless” after a particularly high stakes game. Yet, I can’t help feel that the most accurate emotion is fun.
An area of a ground that is devoted to those who want to jump about, whistle and truly embrace some of the aspects that makes football more than just a sport. In a week where a European Super League looked ever closer and information on how major clubs were flaunting laws and going unpunished became public knowledge, it was refreshing to be in an area so far removed from such ills.
As you ascend the stairs to the standing section, new signage from the club reminds patrons that the use of fireworks, consumption of alcohol and overcrowding are not permitted. By 19:05 on Thursday, the signs had been altered with stickers in such a way that all the above was now perfectly fine. Maybe that person was right about “lawless” after all!
As the lights went back to their core duty and the game got underway, the standing section really kicked into action. On such big occasions, it feels like you’re in an artificial wave pool: designed in such a way that crushing and falling are nigh on impossible, it is your own momentum and that of the people next to you that seems to send you in all directions as the game ebbs and flows.
Huge flags are waved, scarfs are twirled and hands rise in unison following the orders of the Capos at the front. As the seconds tick by, it’s natural that the section will lull ever so lightly from the pre-match fervour.
On Thursday it was hitting that point when James Forrest was alive to a quick free kick and set off haring down the inside right. As he strides into the box the noise level rises, you find yourself and the others around you pinned to the barrier in front, so focused on the action that you fail to notice how close you’ve suddenly become to the person in the row in front. As the ball falls to the left foot of Kieran Tierney and he takes a touch, there’s a collective intake of breath stronger than any gust of wind battering the stadium at the time. When the ball hits the back of the net, there is that split second where all noise disappears as everyone’s brain processes the fact that it is indeed a goal. I really like that split second before the chaos.
You propel yourself forward as hands and arms appear from all angles, people grabbing at your clothing as they lose all sense of time and place. Slowed down and shown to a group of people who don’t like football, it would look like an incredibly violent group fight.
Managing to break free from a headlock from my big mate, I look to front to see all the Young Team who have flooded the space at front in the hopes of getting 2 feet closer to Tierney. Red faced Stewards and clearly pissed off polis struggle to contain the mass of bodies as Celtic’s young left back stands, arms wide soaking it all in before being mobbed by team mates.
As a mild sense of order is restored, it’s time to catch my breath and try process what just happened. As the Capos kick into action and the celebratory songs start, I take a second to look round the whole stadium as all four sides begin to bounce and sing in unison, euphoria engulfing the stands and threatening to swallow the RB Leipzig fans whole.
Half time comes and it’s time for a breather. Some sit on their usually folded up seats (UEFA Competitions require seats be in a ‘down’ position for their games), others disappear outside for a smoke, while some drape their drained bodies over the barriers.
The second half is so fraught with tension that the section naturally becomes drawn into the game, each misplaced pass and missed tackle met with groans and hands being slapped against the crush barrier.
As RB Leipzig equalise, there is a silence that seems to be amplified by the halt in the almost incessant drumbeat, with the giant flags falling momentarily and hands that had previously been clapping now gripping the barrier in front in frustration.
A call to arms comes from the Capos and the standing section is roused from their momentary slumber, reminded of their duty to push the team on, regardless of score or feeling of dread. Before there is time to properly kick back into a song, Ryan Christie is bounding into the Germans’ box, shifting the ball on to his left foot and squaring it across goal. There’s that split second of silence again.
French Eddy taps it in and the celebrations that follow make the first goal look tame. An arm flies across and catches me square on the nose, someone has just kissed me on the ear and I think there’s a police officer’s hat on the park being fetched by a ballboy. The stadium is rocking.
The otherwise quite loud away support in the corner are stunned, their own celebrations cut short by an incisive passing move that has cut their team to ribbons. The next 12-15 minutes are a living hell.
Every tackle is met with the type of guttural roar that you never knew you were capable of, as those around you howl with indignation at every decision that doesn’t go the way of Celtic. My mate turns to me, convinced that the clock on the giant screen has just skipped back a minute.
Seconds tick by and chances for Leipzig are missed, each spurned opportunity met with a roar just as loud as any Celtic goal. The ball is carried up field by Celtic and the final whistle comes.
Relief, euphoria and a huge outpouring of emotion can manifest themselves in many ways. I was dragged into a 5 person huddle, indecipherable screams coming from each participant. There’s a young guy in the row in front who goes down on his haunches and sparks a cigarette, looking physically and mentally shattered.
The team salute the whole stadium, stopping at the now crouched standing section, waiting to bounce in one. As players and fans alike bounce to an adapted dance tune, I find myself trying to take it all in.
I look round the whole stadium and afford myself my own personal split second of silence, something that has been so rare on a night of spectacle and drama. I join the rest of the standing section in bouncing along with the players, the lyrics bouncing around my head have finally shifted to something else.
Du, Du, Du, Du, Du, Du, Du, Du…
(original illustrations by Frankie Mitchell)