Celtic have played Blackburn Rovers 19 times, 17 friendlies and two very memorable competitive games. The English side travelled north for the first leg of a Uefa Cup tie, on Halloween 2002. Manager, Graeme Souness waited until after kick-off before walking out of the tunnel, an indication that he expected a hostile reception. His players were less intimidated.
Blackburn bossed the game, so much so, that Souness felt comfortable enough to overlook the fact that Henrik Larsson scored the only goal of the game in the 84th minute, to declare the match “Men against boys”.
That was a decent Blackburn side; Champions League winners, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole supplied the cutting edge, with Damien Duff, ex-Rangers Tugay in midfield and a host of solid internationals and Premier League professionals. If football success was about unconverted chances and unproductive possession, Blackburn won hands down. Souness was blind to his side’s failure.
Celtic shredded Blackburn in the return two weeks later. Chris Sutton didn’t mind celebrating his opener on his return to the ground he became an EPL champion at, while Henrik scored a peach to secure the tie 3-0 on aggregate. The game went out live on terrestrial TV across the UK, allowing Henrik to tell the nation, “We knew we played s### in the first leg.”
We tasted Champions League football for the first time a year earlier, then felt the disappointment of elimination in qualification to Basel. That win over Blackburn gave us hope that we may be able to remain in Europe at Christmas for the first time since 1979.