There was a moment during that pulsating match with Bayern Munich on Tuesday evening just after Callum McGregor scored when I looked around and drank in the sights and sounds of Celtic Park in full flow. From every corner of the stadium noise poured from the stands onto the pitch, it was an amazing assault on the senses. The racket was deafening but it was also in a strange way a beautiful noise. What else in our sanitised lives leads to such an outpouring of emotion, passion and joy? It’s as if the voice of every Celtic fan at the game merged to become one to roar out our songs of hope and joy. When such incidents occur, it can be a deeply emotional moment. Not only because we find ourselves subsumed into the greater whole that is the wonderful Celtic support but also because we remember in those moments that we’re following generations of Celtic supporters; our fathers, uncles, mothers, grandfathers and in some cases great-grandfathers, who also felt this passion for Celtic. It was after all they who gifted it to us.
Celtic may not have achieved the result their play merited on Tuesday but once again the Celtic supporters proved that they have few equals in European football. Experienced professional like Arjen Robben took time to express his appreciation of the Celtic Park atmosphere as did other Bayern players and officials. You got the impression it wasn’t some patronising line but genuine appreciation of an ambience which is rare even in the raucous world of the Bundesliga. One German Reporter went further and described Celtic Park in the following terms….
‘‘If you want to know what the big bang feels like, you just have to be in Celtic Park when Celtic Glasgow scores. This stadium is pure magic. The fans in the stands are just amazing. Goosebumps guaranteed. The perfect football atmosphere. Or simply: The best football mood in the world! I was able to watch many great games in Europe and have lots of magical moments: "You'll Never Walk Alone" in Liverpool. 100,000 fans in Barcelona singing the Barca anthem. The crazy fans of Sevilla, who ignite a runner in front of the teams, which makes the whole stadium shake. The whipping fans of Atlético Madrid. The trembling south stand in Dortmund, when the winner against Real came. . But Celtic tops it all! I've never heard a stadium roar louder than McGregor's 1-1 goal. Everyone, really everybody jumped up. Fantastic! A great orgasm of almost 60,000 Scottish throats. Magic also the 67th minute, when the whole stadium lights up the mobile phone lights and all fans sing the "In the heat of Lisbon" a song for the European Cup Heroes of 1967.’’
Of course we were disappointed to lose a game we could so easily have won but the mood among the Celtic faithful as they trooped out of the stadium after the game was upbeat. There are no ‘good’ defeats but many positives were taken from a game in which Celtic showed that they are capable of competing with one of the top European sides. Gone were the ‘rabbits in the headlights’ we saw when PSG came calling on match day one. Celtic harried and chased Bayern when they had to but also played some beautifully controlled attacking football which at times cut through the Germans’ well marshalled defence. Armstrong missed a glorious chance early on and Dembele almost finished off a beautifully constructed counter attack in that frantic first half.
Of course Celtic paid the price for defensive errors and missing chances but that is what happens when you play in the big boys playground. Rodgers was rightly effusive in his praise of his team but he knows that to stand any chance against the big guns you can’t give them any gifts. So it’s on to Paris in three weeks and realism tells us that we will be facing the outstanding team in Europe in the French capital. PSG have won all their four games so far in the Champions League and have scored 17 goals without conceding a single one. They have won 9 and drawn 2 of their 11 league games, scoring 34 goals in the process. Even at our very best it would be an incredible performance to go there and return with anything. I never watch a Celtic game thinking they will lose but even the most diehard fan will recognise the enormity of the task in Paris.
At the outset our real target in this group was to defeat the higher ranked Anderlecht side and secure European football after Christmas. We have a great chance of doing just that. Should Celtic make it through to the Europa League in the New Year they will find teams of the quality of Villareal, Lazio, AC Milan, Arsenal, Zenit St Petersburg and Lyon lying in wait. Third placed sides from the Champions League will also join them to make the last 32 an exciting prospect and another opportunity to grow and learn in Europe.
These are exciting days to be a Celtic fan and Europe remains the icing on the cake for many supporters. Brendan Rodgers is still just 18 months into his team building exercise and with patience and some judicious purchases, this team can and I think will, improve further. The squad now face five consecutive away games in November before facing a hectic 9 games in 28 days in December. Such a full fixture list is a sign of a successful team and we’d all rather be playing in cup finals and in European ties than sitting at home watching others do on TV.
By the time Rangers come to Celtic Park on December 30th though we will be clearer about where we stand in both the SPFL and Europe. We must do a professional job in all competitions and ensure we are ready for a challenging and undoubtedly bruising period of games. Celtic’s unbeaten domestic record will be tested but with Rodgers calming influence and steady hand on the tiller we can approach each game with confidence. A new UK record of 63 games will be set tomorrow if Celtic avoid defeat at St Johnstone and that would be a marvellous achievement for the club. It’s an old adage to take ‘one game at a time’ but that’s exactly what Celtic need to do now.
The supporters will follow the side everywhere in big numbers and give them that marvellous backing wherever they play. When Anderlecht arrive at Celtic Park in December they will be met by that wall of noise and a team showing signs of maturing at this level. We all crave and hunger for these big European games under the lights as we back the team through arduous qualifying rounds played in the heat of summer in far off places like Kazakhstan or Israel. As we show time and time again, the big stage brings out the very best in Celtic’s supporters.
That beautiful noise will soon pour down again from the stands again and give even experienced professionals goosebumps. There’s an old Neil Diamond song which contains the lyric…
‘‘There’s a beautiful noise made of joy and of strife
Like a symphony played by a passing Parade, it’s the music of life
There’s a beautiful noise and it’s a sound that I love
And it makes me feel good like a hand in a glove
Yes it does, yes it does…..What a beautiful noise’’
I’ve been privileged to hear that noise for many years now and I never tire of it. I heard it back in the days when I’d hold man old man’s hand as we marched along the Gallowgate and my boyish excitement when I saw the floodlights of Celtic Park lighting up the east end sky. The new stadium too has had its share of magical moments; watching as we beat Barcelona on a never to be forgotten night in 2012 will live with me forever as will the thrill of watching Nakamura’s free kick flash through the air on that famous night against Manchester United. So many memories of games won and lost, great players and great goals still seared into my mind. All of it shared as I stood shoulder to shoulder with the best fans around.
Following Celtic has been like a lifelong love affair; they thrill you, infuriate you at times but you always come back for more because life would be much the poorer without them.