Champions League returns to Paradise

So last night was, erm, entertaining…

At 5-0 up going into the second leg nobody considered Astana to have a chance of qualifying for the group stage of the Champions League; including the Astana players going by the opening period of the game.

Celtic looked comfortable in possession and created plenty of chances in the early stages, whilst Astana sat off and surrendered possession as soon as they won it back. It was in stark contrast to the first leg, where Astana pressured Celtic high up the pitch and made life very uncomfortable for the first half an hour at Paradise.

Yesterday a deflected strike put Astana 1-0 in front on the night, although at 5-1 down overall it couldn’t really be classified as a lifeline. Soon afterwards Scott Sinclair curled in a delightful equaliser to further confirm the tie. Or so we all thought.

The second half began and within 5 minutes we were in complete panic. Astana scored twice inside 2 minutes and the makeshift defence, as well as Scott Brown, who had dominated the first leg and the first half, looked utterly lost. 

With Astana still requiring 4 goals to qualify it was disappointing to see the team lose their composure as they did; although the pressure on the players in these games is something I can only dream of imagining.

By the 70th minute it was 4-1 on the night and this was no longer a laughing matter. The thought of horror headlines regarding our most embarrassing defeat ever, and Europe’s most famous comeback began to creep into the imagination.

Fortunately, we are a vastly improved side on previous years, unrecognisable in some respects. Whilst we did crumble under the pressure for a period in the second half, when it really mattered the players reassured themselves and pushed on to put the tie beyond any doubt once and for all.

In Olivier Ntcham we appear to have a truly gifted player. His quick footwork, spatial awareness, power, and ability to find a pass are being demonstrated more and more each game. Ntcham’s goal on the 80th minute calmed everyone down, and finally knocked the stuffing out of the Astana players.

Leigh Griffiths’ finish in the 90th minute made amends for his earlier miss seconds before Astana fired in their 4th and made the scoreline on the night more respectable, and perhaps a truer reflection on a night were Celtic dominated the match but were severely punished for a shocking 25 minute spell.

Ultimately we could have pulled it back to a draw, and a 4-goal aggregate victory is a tremendous outcome for a Champions League play-off tie. The only disappointments come in our unbeaten run in all competitions ending; and how the players lost their way early in the second half, at times it really did appear that we were hanging on.

But, under Brendan Rodgers this Celtic side has learned from their mistakes at a phenomenal rate. The unbeaten run may have ended, but these players are used to winning, and certainly won’t have welcomed the taste of defeat. The mentality that drove us on to an invincible treble remains, the squad will be further strengthened, and we will once again be enjoying Europe’s elite competition in Paradise.

The good times just keep on coming. This is how it feels to be in the Champions League…

That was beautiful. That was magical. That was Celtic

Wow. Even the most confident of Celtic fans can not have been expecting quite such a phenomenal result as that.

Celtic 5-0 Astana.

Not only was the scoreline wonderful, but we also saw the return to his beautiful flying best from Scott Sinclair. Magical.

All credit to Nir Bitton. His lackadaisical style of play in midfield scares me; at the back recently he has terrified me. But he proved all his many doubters wrong this evening with a composed and ensured performance.

Special mention to Olivier Ntcham. Since his arrival Ntcham has looked extremely comfortable in possession of the ball, and indicated a real footballing brain with some of his turns and passing under pressure, but tonight he really stepped it up a gear. Always eager to get on the ball, regardless of the opposition closing him down, Olivier displayed exceptional footwork to get away from his marker. Only Tom Rogic can come close to close ball control like we saw from Ntcham tonight. Olivier already looks like he could be a great signing, and the style of European football certainly suits him.

After fairly tepid performance in the first half we found ourselves going in 2-0 up at the break. In the second half we came out flying, with James Forrest’s goal the pick of the bunch.

This is how it feels to be Celtic. This is beautiful. This is magical. This, is the Champions League

Celtic Progres with Europe guaranteed

What at times was another nervy night for Celtic in the Champions League qualifiers, ended in delight as Brendan Rodger’s men saw out the final stages of their tie versus Rosenborg in composed fashion. In reality once James Forrest had fired Celtic into the lead, a second away goal looked the most likely outcome.

Throughout the ties there were moments where Celtic looked a little off the pace, predominantly due to competitive match fitness, however, and particularly in last night’s game, the confidence in the players’ ability to pass the ball under pressure was there for all to see, even when perhaps the match sharpness wasn’t quite up to speed for this always to succeed.

Barring the early stages of the second half Celtic dominated the tempo of last night’s match, creating plenty more openings than in the sluggish performance at Paradise last week.

The team certainly still need some reinforcements. Whilst Forrest was the hero on the night, and visibly grew in confidence after his fantastic goal, he still struggles in situations given time and space to think about what to do as opposed to relying on sheer instinct. Hopefully that goal gives him the boost he needs to rediscover his early season form from last year, however another creative wide man, capable of scoring goals, is a necessity. (Come on KT, get Paddy to come home!) 

The introduction of Griffiths and Rogic in the second period swayed the game in Celtic’s favour with Leigh Griffiths in particular proving the catalyst for our improvement. Leigh put in a tremendous shift holding the ball up, bringing the midfield into play and creating space with intelligent runs innate to a natural centre forward. With Dembele out until September, Griffiths’ importance cannot be underestimated.

Whilst we our yet to come close to finding out blistering form of last season, we now have two weeks to prepare on and off the pitch for the all important play-off round. 

Tomorrow morning we will find out who from Qarabağ (AZE), Astana (KAZ), Rijeka (CRO), Hapoel Beer-Sheva (ISR), Slavia Praha (CZE), will be our next opponents. No tie will be easy, but if we are prepared properly we should be confident of Progres-ing (yes, I’m still not tired of this) into the Champions League group stage for the second year in succession.

25 de Maio de 1967, Lisboa, the greatest day before my life…

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the most special day in Celtic Football Club’s history. 25th May, 1967, Lisbon. Celtic 2-1 Internazionale. European Cup Champions.

During my studies here in Poland we have spent some time exploring how folk tales can become myths and fables, how fallacies become realities, and how these stories become ingrained and indeed influential in modern day cultures and society.

As a young boy growing up in London, raised by Glaswegian parents, and surrounded by family (my grandfather, aunties, and uncles having also moved down south) originating from Scotland’s finest city, it was not fantasy and fairy tales that captured my imagination. It was the tale of legends. Eleven local Bhoys, led by the immortal Jock Stein, to triumph on the greatest stage of all.

Simpson, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Auld, Lennox.

Their names forever etched into sporting history.

1967. This was not a time when teams from the British Isles dominated European football. From its inception until that sunny day in May, the European Cup had been won by only four sides; Real Madrid, Benfica, Milan, Internazionale.

When Celtic stepped onto the pitch to face Europe’s most formidable defence, most did not give them a chance.

The captivating Bertie Auld recalls those majestical moments in the tunnel, as the Lions prepared to enter the fray, looking across to their dashing, Italian counterparts. The peerless Jimmy “Jinky” Johnstone, turned to Bertie and said, “Look Bertie, they’re like film stars.”

His response was simple, “I know, but can they play?” 

These eleven Celts were not there to make up the numbers, they lived not in fear of their more experienced and renowned opponents, they believed in their own ability. Their style of play was innovative; a team built on the DNA of playing pure, beautiful, inventive football.

It may not have been until around 35 years after the event that I, at last, got to witness our most celebrated day via my old VHS, but even then, watching for the first time, I was filled with excitement as Celtic bombarded the Inter goal with wave after wave of attack. 

Officially the formation was 4-2-4, but with Ronnie Simpson pulling off back heels outside his box, and the full backs continually bursting down the wing, this was a game of complete domination. Inter camped at the edge of their own box.

Their fame and strength was built on holding on to narrow leads. Their defence was believed to be impenetrable. The Catenaccio. A style famous throughout football; synonymous with the Italian art of defending.

Once Inter took an early lead through a 7th minute penalty, most experts would have written Celtic off.

But Lions do not shy away in the face of adversity. 

Before the match Jock Stein declared, “Celtic will be the first team to bring the European Cup back to Britain… we are going to attack as we have never attacked before.” And his prophecy was true in every aspect.

The match statistics highlighted Celtic’s attacking supremacy; 42 attempts on goal, with 24 saves made by Giuliano Sarti. Whilst the scoreline didn’t reflect the nature of the game, this was an annihilation.

Once Tommy Gemmell fired in the equaliser there was only ever going to be one winner.

In the heat of Lisbon those eleven local Bhoys, Jock Stein, and Sean Fallon forever became legends.

This is our past, our present, and our future. The Lisbon Lions are eternal. 

I grew up on the tales of Jimmy Johnstone tormenting full-backs across Europe, the Bernabau watching in awe as he stole the limelight from Alfredo Di Stefano at his own testimonial.

At home on my shelf sits a vinyl record of Pink Floyds “The Wall”, scribed on the inside is the starting line-up from Lisbon, eleven Lions graffitied by my grandfather onto the cover. These are the moments to be appreciated, to be treasured, to be celebrated.

I was not born when Celtic lifted the European Cup, but that does not stop the 25th May 1967 being the greatest day before my life.

Invincible Celts roar like Lions

50 years ago eleven local Bhoys became legends in Lisbon.

In this special anniversary year of Celtic’s finest moment, the current squad have paid their own, most fitting, tribute to the Lions’ magnificent achievement. Undefeated throughout the entire league campaign, a feat never before achieved in a 38 game season.

Season 16/17 has seen the current squad break records for most points won, most goals scored, and of course completing our unbeaten campaign.

Like the Lions before them, they’ve done it by playing pure, beautiful, inventive football.

This has been a truly remarkable season. Brendan Rodgers’ side have written themselves into the history books, and with the Scottish Cup Final to come next week we could be on the brink of just our fourth treble in history.

Today is the beginning of a special week, the undefeated league campaign has been achieved. Thursday will see a night of celebration of the Lisbon Lions, on Saturday further history could be made, and Sunday will see a return of past legends to Paradise.

Enjoy it Bhoys and Ghirls.

This is how it feels to be Celtic. Invincible.

This is how it feels to be Celtic…

Champions. Unbeaten domestically. Scottish Cup final to come. League Cup secured…

Sometimes in football, everything just seems to be going right. The announcement of Brendan Rodgers as Celtic manager on 20th May 2016 was met with jubilation amongst the Celtic faithful, with almost 13,000 supporters welcoming Brendan into Paradise.

These days a league title is the minimum expectation at Celtic Park, just ask Ronny Deila, and whilst the excitement and anticipation ahead of a new season under a truly top class manager in Rodgers was clear for all to this time last year, I think it’s fair to say none of us quite expected it to reach these ecstatic heights:

Champions League qualification at the first time of asking (the first ever Celtic manager to achieve this).
43 Domestic Matches played. Undefeated. 39 wins and 4 draws.
Progressive, high-pressing, attacking football. 122 domestic goals scored.
Double secured. Potential Treble.
Winning 5-1 home and away vs The rangers (biggest every victory at Ibrox)
Brendan Rodgers 76.36% win rate in all competitions (highest winning percentage of any Celtic manager).
6 in a row.
Rodgers signing a new 4-year contract extension.
And last, but by no means least…

Jozo’s tackle on Kenny Miller.

This is how it feels to be Celtic…

Following the shameful behaviour of a few morons across the city last week; attacking our captain, throwing objects at our players, and most disgusting of all, racially abusing Scott Sinclair, it was a wonderful sight to see the Celtic fans and Scotty in solidarity at the end of the St. Johnstone match yesterday, declaring that racism has no place in our game, in our society, and it won’t be accepted.

Where last season apathy appeared, this year it has been replaced by unity, hunger, and enthusiasm.

The squad, the manager, the fans, everyone at the club is together, on board following the same message in order to drive the club forward.

We have our limits, we all know that, but with a young and passionate squad being directed by a respected, and indeed gifted, manager our potential is there to reach a level we’ve not witnessed in years.

Champions again as you know…

As is always the way in the Scottish media our top performing players are continually linked with moves away from the club: Dembele, Sinclair, Tierney, Armstrong the most frequent to be at the moment. Of course just a few weeks ago it was our manager himself who we apparently wouldn’t be capable of holding onto. Then the 4-year contract extension came.

If big money comes calling for one or two of our stars it will of course be hard to resist, but currently it is clear that Celtic Park feels like home to this squad.

Brendan is in charge of all footballing matters, that much is clear, he has his own plans and ideas of how the club should function and where it can progress to, on and off the pitch. These are exciting times ahead.

… Brendan Rodgers is here for 10 in a row.


It’s been a long time coming…

Not since September have I found myself in this situation; it feels strange, and due to the amount of time that has passed since this occurred I feel a little out of practice writing like this…

I am of course talking about the eagerly anticipated return of the blog – I can still label it ‘eagerly anticipated’ even if only one pal has jokingly pestered me about when “are you going to get off your lazy arse and start writing again,” right? (Danny, this one’s for you)

Anyway, back to football, what a season it has been in Brendan Rodgers inaugural year as Celtic boss. The lift the entire club has been given, the football we have played at times, the sheer calibre of our manager and the level some of our players are performing at is magnificent. Everything surrounding the club is glowing right now.

Even in Europe, where we appeared completely out of depth and awestruck by the opposition in our first match, we grew as a team and began to show indications that next season, with some luck in the draws (qualifying and hopefully the group stage), we may be at a level to compete and push for a last 16 place, if not, a Europa League spot.

I made it very clear last year that I was a fan of our previous manager, but things got to a stage where the apathetic nature at the club demanded a changed. We now have a manager in control of all footballing matters; from recruitment, to dietitians. Not only that, but Brendan Rodgers man management skills are at level amongst the best in Europe. Players who appeared uninterested, lacking any confidence, or simply on their last legs, have been re-energised this season. And some of our signings have proven to be inspired ones.

The reason for my lack of activity these past months is that in September of last year I decided to take the, perhaps crazy, decision to move to Wrocław, a city in South-West Poland, and begin studying for an MA in Journalism. It was quite a spontaneous move and around 10 days after submitting my application for the course I found myself boarding the plane with my one-way ticket.

Now you may think a sports blog would be the perfect way to practice your written skills whilst studying Journalism. And of course you would be correct. But as you settle into life in a new country… Discover that a beer can cost as little as 80p, it can become difficult to find the time to sit down and write again.

This season has been inspiring in Glasgow, and I hope that now that I have settled into something of a routine (only taking advantage of that beer price a few times a week these days) that this brief sabbatical from the blog will be over… I mean, I’m sure the 10 or so people who read this will be dying to hear more of my nonsense opinions on all things Celtic.

Oh yes, and while we may have dropped points in the league for the first time since September, and it may have felt bad on Sunday considering we appeared to sink close to the level of the opposition. The wild celebrations from the club across the city at their 1-1 ‘victory’ were enough to lighten my mood and a reminder of how lucky we truly are… Though perhaps not as lucky as the Sevco fan who managed to go home with star-man Bobby Madden’s jersey as he launched it into the crowd.

After a slight slip up, I’m certain that minds will now be refocused. Brendan wouldn’t allow it any other way.

The party is just about to get started.