Memorable Matches-Here For The Ten!
Concluding this round of the series on Memorable Matches,this is the one that sent us on a trip of a lifetime-Seville!!
Boavista v Celtic 0-1 (Agg: 1-2)
Semi-Final 2nd Leg.
Estadio do Bessa, Oporto, Portugal
Attendance: 10,163 (restricted due to renovations)
After the euphoria of beating the mighty Liverpool at Anfield in the previous round, the team went into something of a dip in form.
Papped out the Scottish Cup by Inverness Caley Thistle, and then a tepid 1-1 draw with Dundee. Two results that would prove to be significant, in ways we could not begin to imagine at the time, paved the way for one of the most awful evenings I’ve ever experienced watching Celtic.
Who knows what created the strange, sour, stifled atmosphere the night the Chequered Harlequins of Boavista turned up on duty for that 1st Leg of the semi-final.
It was more Purgatory than Paradise.
The stadium was lacking the usual euro-bite buzz, even the Spring evening floodlights didn’t seem to create that ‘big event atmosphere. Few of us there had attended a European night so late in the season and it did feel strange as there was still light in the Glasgow skies at kick-off time and it reminded me of the early season European games normally played in late July or August. Folk still on holiday and a kind of distracted mood.
It was surreal. For such a big game the atmosphere was flat, at best!
It wasn’t going to improve either…
Belgian ref clearly ignoring 3 handballs by the Portuguese.
A missed penalty by the King of Kings
An own goal by the very unfortunate Joos
Fans booing Lenny for trying to calm everyone down and keeping the ball.
Fans arguing and generally grumpy ( maybe that was just me, must have been insufferable)
A draw was the best result the visitors could have expected, and the fact they had achieved that AND wrapped up a precious away goal in their dirty laundry hamper, left everyone as down in the dumps as we had felt for a long, long time.
As I prepared to travel to the return leg in Oporto, my mood was not good and my expectations were less so.
As the days passed that would change.
The Portuguese FA had won the right to host (jointly with Spain) the 2014 Euro Finals. A programme of rebuilding work around their chosen venues mean that Boavista’s ground, which was cut into a mountain, would be drastically reduced. They spent £46 million building a 29,000 capacity ground on top of the original stadium. On the night of the game only 2 sides of the stadium were open to fans.
Rumours regarding availability of match tickets meant that surprisingly few Celtic fans travelled to Portugal’s second city for what was, in effect, our biggest away day since Madrid in 1980. One of my buddies told me there could be less fans in Oporto than travelled to Germinal Ekeren in the Early 90’s.
I was thinking right then about what I would give for a Mike Galloway pile-driver and a 1-0 away victory.
As I packed my bag for a busy week on the road, my travel documents did not include a ticket for the game. The general intention was to pay our hotel concierge to fix that and just pay the premium. I was thinking 50 euro max. Hoping for 30.
Walking through Glasgow airport on the Monday morning before the game, En-route to meetings in Bristol then Taunton, I bumped into Chic Young who was travelling to London. Or so he told me. I would discover later that he was trackside at the game summarising with our old hero Jorge Cadette.
He didn’t know me, but a few years earlier I had played a charity match against him and his Dukla Pumpherston team, and I used that to open up a wee dialogue as we walked to our respective departure gates.
When I explained I was heading to Oporto for the game he was non-committal, when I asked him what he thought of Celtic’s chances he just shook his head “cannot see it… sorry…”
He never even wished me luck, or made eye contact, as he toddled off to his own gate. I remember thinking he was probably right, but How much I would love to ram those smug words right down his throat!
The best I can hope for is that he reads this. So if you are hovering ….GIRUY wee man!!
Fortunately, the next few days were really busy and I was off-line in a football sense. A mad dash up the M5/M4 to Heathrow for a flight to Lisbon on the Wednesday afternoon offered the luxury of listening to radio build up,and some time to think. There was more chat about the positives and how well Celtic had done on our travels in the current campaign.
I was still thinking the worst and the only consolation was Henke back and scoring important goals, despite missing that bloody penalty…
My buddies had been in Lisbon for 24 hours already and were in full flow. The 1 nite stopover before taking the train to Oporto was full of the usual beer fuelled ribaldry and tales of previous campaigns. The mood was different though. None of us, now in early 40’s, had ever been to an away European Semi Final with the hoops. Suddenly, all those crushing disappointments of the 80’ and 90’s in Budapest, Vienna, Dubrovnik, Hamburg, Paris et al, seemed like distant memories.
I do remember we did not mention the forthcoming game or, more importantly, speculate on the likelihood of reaching the Final.
Seville wasn’t discussed.
As our train pulled into Oporto the city was buzzing. It’s worth remembering that both senior teams were playing Semi Final legs that nite and we could feel the atmosphere. Porto were off to Rome.
There were not many Hoops around as we headed to the hotel. Quick negotiations secured me a ticket for the game I paid 120 Euros for a ‘home’ end ticket that I would never use. I still have it somewhere.
Usual beers ‘n’ bars as the tension mounted and we worked our way from the beautiful city centre along the river towards the huge suspension bridge with huge Warehouses and ships advertising the local wares.. Sandman Ferriera and Salem etc.
They don’t call it PORTo for nothing…
At an hotel near the ground we bumped into a group of fans including the one and only Magdalena Larsson, Henke’s missus, who was in great form, organising huddles and leading off the songs. All of a sudden the mood was lifting. It had been fairly subdued until then.
We could actually do this. For the first time I started to have some belief that we could do a job here.
In that hotel I met an old buddy who had a few ‘away’ tickets and he sold one to me at face value ( around 15 euro). I was just glad to be in beside the Hoops fans at the game. It was a surprise how many tickets were available.
Thinking I could recoup my losses by selling my ‘home’ ticket to a local I headed out. In my mind all the Portuguese are at least as fitba daft as we are and they would all be bidding for the ticket by kick-off time….aye!
I went to the bar outside the stadium, full of Boavista fans and some Celts, and was hawking my precious brief around … in the end I couldn’t give it away. I sat at the bar and ordered a beer got chatting to a local bloke who was about my age and he was really good craic. As we departed to go the game he said that his team would soon be playing in an ‘all Oporto final” I said if that was the result I would meet him in the bar after the game and buy him a cigar and a glass of the finest port… and we shook hands on our wee wager.
Inside the modern but tiny stadium I was sat in front of two old buddies from Mickey Joe’s in Strathbungo. We settled down to watch the thick end of 70 minutes of torture. There was only one team trying to win this and they were not wearing checked shirts.
What we watched that night would be repeated in the next month in Spain. We didn’t know it then of course, but the culture of wasting time and play-acting in Portuguese fitba just does my thruppeny bits in. They clearly have talented players who could do serious damage if they really out their minds to it.
However, this mob seemed to think the best strategy was to hold onto their precious away goal and sit and frustrate Celtic for 90 minutes.
Celtic came at them wave after wave without any joy. I have to say the mood was flat as a pancake ( maybe, that was just me) as I looked around the wee stadium and their fans sitting watching their team just trying to kill,the game and waste time. I looked at the Celtic fans ( no more than a few thousand travelled and there was room for many more as the game was not a sellout) My thoughts turned to all the games I had attended away from home and the game this reminded me most, was the night in Budapest when we couldn’t beat Honved. i was with the same boys, the crowd was as small and the atmosphere was as shit.
The stakes were higher, much higher and that did make a difference. However, in that moment I was thinking that European semi-finals are not all they are cracked up to be.
You will all have seen that game and there are few highlights, the most exciting thing that happened was a guy getting covered in a tray of soft drinks…orange juice, ironically… and some comedian shouting over to him “hey big man…you’ve just been Tangoed”
The events immediately prior to the Keystone Cops skit, involved a completely knackered John Hartson dragging two players to the right side of their box and a ball breaking loose to a stretching Henrik Larsson…
I swear to almighty god and all his angels and archangels in heaven above that in that moment..time stood still for a few seconds. As we all stopped and stared with open-mouthed wonder … to this day I can remember having time to look along at the rows of Celtic fans as they waited for Henke to put that ball into the Boavista goal.
He seemed to twist his foot at the last second and the keeper looked to me to have reached it .. he had… and for another eternal second I was convinced the moment, our only real chance, was lost. If that ball didn’t cross the line right here, right now. It never would! That’s how it felt at the time.
It is beyond my gift to describe the emotions and what happened next. The closest I’ve ever felt was when Murdo thundered the 4th in at the 4-2 game almost 25 years earlier. There is that short time delay when everything is registering and all the visual checks are made… linesman running back to the centre line… ref running to the centre circle… Celtic players doing a pile up behind the bye line… Boavista players with heids doon and one or two scrambling to get the ball back. Check, check, check, check
OK Celtic fans, you can NOW go right aff yer heids.
The bedlam of the next few minutes is unimaginable … I can remember a throbbing pain forming in my head, probably a mixture of too much sun and bevvy …and tension and excitement. Its not a complaint at all, but I do recall feeling disorientated until long after the final whistle.
As Boavista finally realised they could actually play fitba, and I have to admit they were capable of beating us over the two games I watched if they had tried to play as they could for 180 minutes. They just lacked that one crucial ingredient.
We had that in abundance and it transmitted up down and along that pitch and into the away section. Of course, we were nervous and they could have taken it to extra time. By then I just knew they couldn’t because those 11 Bhoys out there in Green and Gold wouldn’t let them. We chased them and harried them using all the street smarts i had never seen any Celtic team adopt before or since.
Then the son.
“You’ll be watching The Bill whilst we’re in Seville,coz Rangers and Europe don’t go…..Oh, Oh, Oh ” ….ad infinitum
With The Wullie Maley song thrown in for good measure.
At the final whistle I didn’t hang around, I just wanted to get out and clear my aching head. Try to gather my thoughts and take it all in. Must have ben one of the first outside the ground and I saw my lawyer and fellow teammate walking past with some of his buddies… we never spoke just looking at one another, he was sobbing real tears streaming down his face.
I popped into the bar beside the ground and it was filling up sharpish… there was no sign of the guy I made the wager with and I don’t blame him. When it came my turn to be served I thought, this is going to get mental, and as was first there I ordered 8 beers (don’t ask, I don’t know why it was eight it would have been rude to order 20 with so many waiting to be served… ) standing there alone with 8 beers as the bar filled up rapidly and a guy standing beside me looking at the beers and licking his lips ” are they all for you ye greedy bassa” … Without looking at him I was watching the door for my mates and said “just waiting for the bhoys to arrive buddy”
” can I have one…I’m parched…”
I looked up at him and immediately recognised Greg Hemphill from Still Game…
Offering him a beer ” I didn’t know you were a Tim..”
“i didn’t know YOU were a Tim either…” he replied with a huge grin.
” some result eh?” …”absolute belter!”
The bhoys arrived one by one after that and the rest of the night will stay with me forever, and ever.
We bumped into Porto fans who had just qualified from their own Semi-Final by drawing 0-0 (4-1 agg) with Lazio in Rome. We all rubbed along together and we started building the bonds of friendship that were sealed in the frying pan of Spain the following month.
Grateful thanks to SALTIRESENSEVILLA for this excellent article,and of course to everyone else who contributed articles and comments. Back to normal tomorrow-I wonder what the topic will be?