Now that our European adventures are over for another season Liam Kelly, an English Bhoy in Paradise for the inter Milan game, tries to explain what is so special about Celtic and Celtic Park on European nights…
Finally it was 19thFebruary. The sound of ‘Sean South’ from my alarm clock at 6am signified that it was time to get ready to head to Southampton airport. I put on my Lisbon Lions shirt and grabbed my favourite Celtic scarf from the wardrobe. A four provinces flag was folded and left by the bedroom door but I couldn’t be bothered carrying that about and anyhow I needed to hurry up and leave. I grabbed my quality Fred Perry dead 60’s tartan jacket and managed to find time for a quick Celtic selfie. (Which I’m not posting).
A bacon roll and orange juice slid down in the airport, almost as fast as my money was sliding out the wallet – £5.60!
I said goodbye to my family and felt ten feet tall as I went through security, going to see the Celtic on my own for the first time. I was nice and early so irritated all my Facebook friends with sharing and tagging people in Celtic pictures and information ahead of the match. “Flight BE552 to Glasgow, please go to gate 7″ sounded from the announcer. I was booed as I took my seat by a couple of Inter fans! Then it was time to board the propeller plane; the trip had started.
A little over an hour later, I arrived in Glasgow Airport. There, I was greeted by one of my greatest pals, who took me to his brother that I stay with on my travels north of the border. Both are fantastic people and it’d been a year and a half since our last meeting so we talked Celtic, mocked the *uns and chatted about my book at length.
My good day was about to get better. It was 4pm and time to make way for The Squirrel Bar in the Barras. After a quick stop at the cash point I could safely reveal my colours and head to the pub. By then it was 4.20pm and already The Squirrel was mobbed. I pushed the door open to a wall of noise: “Open up your hearts and I’ll sing for you this song!” Glasnevin were playing and an intoxicated Celtic support, giving good vocal back up.
After a couple of pints my friends from Port Glasgow had arrived. I had been immensely looking forward to seeing them. A couple of them (John and Aidan) had sat with me at the Ajax game last season, and I’d not met the other (Kevin) who had kindly sorted my ticket for this game.
Before long a b****** by the name of Ryan and his girlfriend Lynsay, also from the Port, had joined us. It was busy so we went to The Saracen Head. There we got a table and this gave us a chance to have a good laugh and chat. They were great guys and girls and I was thoroughly enjoying their company, even if I was being mocked for my ‘posh’ English accent. At that point the singing started to get in full swing as we roared and thudded the floorboards, telling the stories of our heritage.
The jukebox played some fantastic Irish songs and Celtic ones too. Everything from ‘Rock on Rockall’ to ‘The Belfast Brigade’ was sung with gusto but best of all was YNWA. We all swayed together, scarfs and flags were up and the whole pub was slowly but loudly singing along. The noise was deafening when we all passionately raised our voices for the last line: “And you’ll never walk alone, you’ll NEEEEEE-EEEEE—EEEVVV-EEERRRR WALK all-oo-ne” before Ryan, unbeknown to him had me pissing myself with a scream “god bless the Celtic!” The video my pals have seen on Facebook of this is magic!
The night was still young so with that quality start we made our way further up the Gallowgate. We shared a battered Mars Bar from the takeaway just up from Timland and really it’s not that bad. It’s there that I took the opportunity for a couple of pictures with the boys – credit to Lynsay for the group photo.
It was on to Kerry’s bar next. I’d never been here and was surprised how big it was, that’s not the first time I would say that on the evening … Kevin really does have a big … gut. Anyway, some Italians were in the bar with us and seemed to be in awe of the atmosphere. The pub was mobbed and absolutely bouncing. A band played some great tunes for us and each was sung with fervour. Similar to the Sarry, we heard songs ranging from ‘The fields of Athenry’ to ‘Celtic Symphony’. Kerry’s is possibly the best Celtic pub I’ve ever been in. The atmosphere was phenomenal and the people were great.
Myself and my new found pals huddled together to sing ‘Over and Over’ deeply. You could tell how much we all love Celtic and how pissed we were too. I thought the moment was great and without being soppy I appreciated that. These people had sorted me tickets, they’d welcomed me, they’d left work early, took me up the Gallowgate and it felt as if I’d been friends with them for ages. There was time still for a truly electric rendition of ‘Heat of Lisbon’, which went on and on for about five minutes and didn’t abate for a second. Then, after another quick photo and handing of pints to the Italians; it was time to head to Paradise.
Or so I thought. How foolish it was of me to think that the past 150 minutes hadn’t provided sufficient drinking time. I should have remembered the tales that a mutual friend, John D had told me about their drinking habits! And so it was, we headed to the Tesco in the retail park near the stadium, to stock up on cheap *ish, which being a posh Englishman I didn’t drink. As I recall, there was also a little Rangers fan stood outside collecting for charity. Though Kevin told him to keep the quid he gave him for himself or better still – his team. I felt sorry for the lad stood there in the rain so gave him a couple of quid and kept it quiet. Not that it would have mattered of course but I had just had the *iss taken out of me for my swagger and had a feeling there’d be some closet *un patter forthcoming so kept my counsel.
Alas we made way for the Jock Stein stand, after a quick pee behind the buses. It was just me and Kevin now. He’d planned it all night no doubt, me alone with my jeans undone behind the buses in the dark! Joking of course. We went into the ground and I can’t reveal what happened at the catering area but I found it funny. Anyway, our tickets were for slightly different areas but we just crammed in, three to a seat – I got the short straw, a cheek to the seats either side of me.
After trying to take in the steepness of Celtic Park and the masses of tricolours all around the ground, it was time for YNWA. My favourite part of a European Night at Celtic. Everybody to a man had a scarf aloft, the players were in a huddle and the music stopped. The noise was tremendous and I screamed my lungs out. What a way to introduce the teams to the park. Just after kick off Celtic Symphony had 60,000 people out of their seats and screaming again. The place was jumping. Two quick fire goals from Inter slightly dampened the mood but there were still loud roars of defiance and songs like ‘Hey Glasgow Celtic’ sung with full participation. I was proud but a bit down in truth. I told another new friend sat next to me, Mcaulay, “This is like Juve, I was up for that game too.” To which he replied, “Well don’t effin’ come back again then.”
Suddenly, bedlam! It was 2-1 and the atmosphere was mad but hadn’t even got going before we grabbed a second. That was just out of this world. I genuinely don’t believe any other club produces these moments. The roof came off. Kevin grabbed me and Mcaulay, us and 60,000 others yelling in sheer elation. The celebrations were phenomenal. The period from that ball hitting the net to the 45th minute was crazy. The stadium shook under the weight of the full ground jumping and roaring ‘Just can’t get enough’ and ‘Hail Hail’ among countless others. The atmosphere was better than anything any club in Europe can conjure up. The noise was going right through me and it was just a sight and sound to behold.
Craig Gordon made a howler right before half time to hand Inter the initiative. Craig has been great for us this season so I was full of pride when the entire support sang his name and rallied behind him. Unique of Celtic again and truly faithful through and through.
Half time gave different entertainment. Work this out if you can. My friends and I bought pies and Bovril, totting up to £15 apparently. From a £20 note, we received £22.50 change! Thanks Celtic.
The second half was entertaining and the atmosphere was decent. Every attack was met with an intense roar and there were more electric songs in patches. ‘The fields of Athenry’ and the straight forward chant of ‘Celtic’ being my favourites.
Then when all seemed lost, the ball was looped onto the chest of John Guidetti inside the box. As he swivelled Parkhead held it’s breath. “YAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!” I’ve not seen anything like it. Passion like nothing else. I was hugged by Kevin and cuffed round the lug, Mcaulay sandwiched in the middle, we were going crazy. The whole support weren’t just celebrating, they were going off their nut!
I fell into the man next to me whom I hugged and roared with before being pulled back towards Kevin and then falling onto the concourse and narrowly avoiding the metal bar infront. I could make out a few bodies flying down the rows. It was incredible. I was so happy to share that moment with my pals and the special support. Kevin has since said “I wish you could bottle up these moments because they take you to another place!” He couldn’t be more correct.
We partied in the ground some ten minutes after the game before it was finally time to leave. I headed for Parkhead Cross fist pumping and scarf twirling all the way. My dad phoned me from home and said he had watched it on TV. He asked how it was to be there. I said dad “It’s one of the best days of my life, what an atmosphere, what a club!”
At the weekend I flew home and in the Celtic shop at Glasgow Airport I met an Irish Bhoy. We were discussing the atmosphere and the club in general. He said: “I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s more than a club, it’s a family, it’s a community and I love it!” We sat and watched the video of Jay Beatty being named SPFL Goal of the Month winner before I boarded my flight. That was a fitting way to end the trip.
To the Bhoys and Ghirl from Port Glasgow Emerald CSC: John, Aidan, Kevin, Ryan, Lynsay and Mcaulay – thank you! I had a great time and loved meeting up. Would do anything to be back in the Gallowgate with you all again.
Thanks too, to the good people that have got me tickets and shared great moments with me as well. I’m forever indebted to you all.
Liam Kelly posts on the CQN Magazine Facebook page: www.facebook.com/cqnmagazine