I have to admit I thought some of the quotes to emerge on social media from the world’s greatest players about Celtic Park were perhaps apocryphal. That concern was laid to rest on Barcelona’s website today as the team boarded a flight from the rainy Catalan capital, Leonel Messi on-board, alas.
Their article, titled, “FC Barcelona players ‘just can’t get enough’ of Celtic Park”, reads like a fantasy piece typed on a green and white keyboard.
“Xavi Hernández once said: “I don’t think I have seen anything like the Celtic fans in all the stadiums I have played at. When you step out at Celtic Park, the atmosphere they create for their team is incredible. It doesn’t matter how many big games you have played in, walking out into that atmosphere is always intense.””
Messi added, “I’ve been fortunate to play in some great stadiums in Europe with Barcelona but none compare to Celtic” he said after the game in 2013. The Argentinian has also been quoted as admitting that “I have a Celtic jersey at home. The games against Celtic were special and I want to remember them.”
Playmaker Iniesta said, “They were amazing, not quiet for a single second! The Celtic fans are very special and the club and players can be very proud of them. They are the best I have ever heard.” While Pique wrote, “no words to describe the atmosphere at Celtic Park”.
The article concludes, “Whatever the outcome on Wednesday night, one thing is for sure. There’s going to be a show, and the Glasgow Celtic (and Barça) will be there.”
This kind of respect has been earned the hard way. The game which kicked it all off, Celtic’s 1-0 win in 2004, wasn’t a pleasant affair. Three men were red carded and Barcelona were bitter about the pitch, their treatment and the luck which fell their way, but when the sublime Ronaldinho was substituted with two minutes remaining the home support gave him a memorable reception.
We lost 1-3 to them the following year in a game which still rankles. After levelling we had them on the rack for a period, but two late moments of slackness allowed Barcelona to take the points.
When Barca returned in the Champions League knock-out rounds in 2008 we absolutely battered them for 45 minutes. Barry Robson had been a Dundee United player a few weeks earlier but scored peach of a header to give Celtic a 2-1 halftime lead. We’d peaked too soon and were caught out by our gung-ho approach.
The 2-1 win on our 125th birthday will live long in the memory. It was probably the most intense occasion Celtic Park had ever experienced. Arguably the greatest team to play the game applied suffocating pressure as they tried to overcome an 18th minute concession. I doubt any team has ever faced such a formidable foe who passed and prodded with such intensity.
Regrets also linger from our 0-1 defeat with 10 men three years ago when a rash moment from Scott Brown was exploited by the writhing Neymar. Charlie Mulgrew’s header from a corner kick came close to handing the 10 men a remarkable point.
We’re not in Barcelona’s league in any literal or metaphorical sense, but tomorrow’s another occasion to earn points the hard way.