The Witches Cauldron
There was a moment midway through the second half of Thursday’s epic encounter between Celtic and RB Leipzig when the German side were starting to push Celtic back and looking more menacing. The Celtic fans in the near 60,000 crowd realising their team needed them began to rock the stadium with their chants and songs and the team responded, fighting like tigers for the ball and putting their bodies on the line in order to block shots and thwart the German side’s attacks. It was an illustration of the symbiotic relationship between Celtic and their supporters. Those fans get so engrossed in the game, the kick every ball, respond to every incident and give their team unconditional support.
It’s a unique environment in European football and German newspaper, the Leipziger Volkzeitung, described Celtic Park as ‘Der Hexenkessel’ (the witches cauldron) and praised it with the following words…
‘Sorry Borussia Dortmund, sorry Besitkas but Celtic Park and the Celts top everything that Red Bull has experienced since its inception in 2009. The fans of the Scottish side live up to their reputation as the world’s best fanatics, driving their Bhoys in green for 94 minutes to a deserved victory, celebrating every tackle, profane interjections at corners. They also celebrate themselves, their loyalty, and their songs. The history of this cult club founded in 1888 by the Irish clergyman Brother Walfrid, looms over everything. The score is a decorating accessory, the big picture is more important. Celtic season tickets are traded like gold dust and carry an inscription, ‘A club like no other!’ Yes indeed; a club like no other.’
The atmosphere at Bundesliga games is among the best in the world so praise from experienced German press reporters is praise indeed. Another German newspaper painted a picture of the scene as kick off approached, stating in almost poetic terms…
‘Before the game, the entire stadium was bathed in a light show as the green and white hymn "You'll Never Walk Alone" was sung so loudly that probably everyone in the stadium - including the 2200 travelling along Leipzig fans - got goose bumps. When the nearly 60,000 sing along and everyone in the oval raises his Celtic scarf, it creates one of the most powerful and exciting scenes you can experience in a football stadium.’
Nor was the epic atmosphere lost on players experiencing it for the first time. Celtic’s on loan defender, Filip Benkovic, was similarly impressed….
“When we went out on to the pitch at the beginning our fans were on fire. The atmosphere was crazy and they gave us the wings to play. The memory of it will live with me forever and I want to enjoy as many of them as I can.”
If results go Celtic’s way in the next round of matches we should be set up for an incredible evening when runaway group winners RB Salzburg come calling in December. That will be an incredible occasion too.
One of the most pleasing aspects of Thursday’s match was the fact that the players believed in themselves and matched their more fancied opponents in every aspect of the game. The tactics were good, the effort and application superb. To see young Scottish players who have come through the Celtic Academy playing so well was pleasing. Ryan Christie too has been a revelation of late and his return after loan spells away from Celtic has been like signing a new player. Callum McGregor too has stepped up of late and shown that he can do an excellent job in midfield. With Brown recuperating, Rogic and N’tcham on long term contracts, the Celtic midfield is looking powerful indeed.
In defence Boyata and Benkovic looked a solid pairing although in a worst case scenario the club could lose both in January. Celtic should try to persuade Boyata to sign another contract, even if they acknowledge that he’ll leave in the summer. If he refuses then they would be wise to sell him in January and at least get a few million pounds for him which could be used to buy in a replacement. Benkovik would I’m sure be up for staying for at least the rest of the season if the alternative was warming the bench at Leicester? Either way the January transfer window needs to be handled in a more effective way than the summer one after which even Rodgers admitted the team was weaker.
I had a Swiss friend with me who was visiting Celtic Park for the first time and it was interesting listening to what he thought about the game. He was most impressed by Tierney and Forrest who he thought could play in any league successfully. The atmosphere of course impressed him and he told me that he’d never seen a crowd so involved, so focussed on the game and driving their team on.
The passion Celtic fans bring to these big European games is recognised the world over. It drives the players to new levels and helps them compete with teams most feel are too strong for them. The link between the players on the field and the fans in the stands is the key to so much this remarkable club has achieved down the decades. That passion still makes little miracles happen now and the as Barcelona found when they came to Celtic Park in 2012. The late Tito Villanova said at the time…
The stadium was spectacular. I have been lucky in my career to have been to many grounds but I have never seen anything like it.’
Leipzig is not yet at the level of Tito’s Barcelona but they are a very good European side and Celtic did exceptionally well to overcome them. It isn’t often Scottish teams defeat Bundesliga sides so we can take pride in a fine result. I’m glad the ‘twelfth man’ played an important part in that victory by creating that ‘witches cauldron’ which so infuses the team with energy and confidence. As Tommy Burns once said of the Celtic supporters; ‘They’re there and they’re always there and God bless every one of them.’
The great man was spot on with that comment. We’ll always back Celtic; they are our club, part of the fabric of our lives, part of our very being and they always will be. For all of us they are indeed… a club like no other.