Celtic 2 vs. 0 Villareal
UEFA Champions League, Group E
Wednesday 10th December 2008, Kick-Off 7.45pm
Celtic Park, Glasgow
It wasn’t my intention to visit the Old Firm’s grounds one after the other. It’s just the way it turned out after Saturday.
When I bought my ticket for this game it was unclear if it would be an all-to-play for nail-biter or a dull, meaningless fixture fulfilment. As it turns out with Villareal securing their place in the last 16 and Celtic going out of the competition by losing to Aalborg in the last round of matches, tonight’s fixture has little at stake.
There is prize money of course. On the table for tonight’s victor is £520,000. Villareal also need the three points in order to top the group, providing Manchester United don’t win their match with Aalborg. Pre-match, Celtic gaffer Gordon Strachan is playing up the chances of it being a decent encounter. He told a press conference, “I think it will be a good game. They will try to get to the top of the table and we will be looking to keep our good home record going.”
Everything however points to it being a non-event.
While the Celtic players and management have been suggesting that the players will ‘play for pride’ and keep the good home record going, no one has suggested that they’ll be out to provide top drawer entertainment for the thousands of punters who have spent 40 quid on a ticket to come here.
That’s pretty much the highest bracket for live entertainment in this part of the world. The cost of tickets for fans just doesn’t seem to be a concern for sides who expect people to pay it just because they support the team.
The press in Scotland have been all over the fact that this is set to be Scottish clubs’ worst ever season in Europe. There has been not one victory among our entrants in European competition this season. Tonight’s game bookends the Scottish season in Europe for me, as I attended the first game for a Scottish club in Europe this season, while tonight marks the last.
If Celtic don’t manage a win this evening, this will be the first time in 53 seasons of European competition that Scottish clubs have failed to chalk up a victory. Still it’ll give the Scottish press plenty to write about.
Which brings me to a comment from this article in the Evening Times which puzzled me slightly. If anyone can enlighten me I’d be grateful.
“But it is the prospect of, for the first time in their history, going through an entire European campaign without a win which is driving Stephen McManus and Co.”
Now that got me thinking, ‘Surely Celtic played a season in Europe and got knocked out without winning a game?’ Just a brief glance at Celtic’s history in Europe confirms this. In their very first season in Europe, Celtic went out in the first round of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup after losing to, and drawing with Valencia. The season they defended the European Cup they did likewise when they came up against Dynamo Kiev.
I can only presume that by ‘entire European campaign’, Ronnie Cully, the author of the article, means several games. However a club’s ‘entire European campaign’ is just that. The campaign lasts however many games the side play before getting knocked out.
Of course he could mean ‘The Champions League’ as opposed to ‘Celtic’s history’, as many folk seem to think European football only really came into being in 1992/93.
If anyone can decipher what he’s on about I’d be happy to hear it.
The ground is heavy with frost as I make the walk to Celtic Park from Bellgrove train station. At the stadium in plenty of time I take a wander round to the club shop and then hang around the main entrance for a while.
A guy who looks like he’s no stanger to the runner-up prizes in bar-room brawls comes past shouting, “Anybidy want to buy a ticket for a tenner?” He gets no takers. A seasoned entrepreneur, he adds, “It’s legit. I’m sitting a couple of seats behind you so that’s how you’ll know it’s legit.” Unfortunately no one seemed to be taking him any more seriously.
My seat is in the Jock Stein Stand. When I get inside and go into the concourse I find that it’s a veritable shopping mall. There’s a Celtic Shop, a Ladbrokes and a pie stall with an extensive menu. Cod and chips is only £4.50. There are also framed pages from a book called Celtic’s Greatest Ever Team on the walls, which gives us a chance to read about some of the legends who have worn the green and white over the years. As well as many photographs and paintings of former players and managers there are a few newspaper cuttings from matches such as the famous 1970 European Cup semi-final against Leeds United.
The atmosphere in the ground is certainly a little bit stale. It feels more like a Scottish Premier League game against a mid-ranking side than a European night. Not even ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ really lifts it.
Oddly the stadium announcer reads out the Celtic team’s first names only. “Number five, it’s Gary!” I presume this has become the norm at Parkhead, but it feels a bit weird to me.
The game starts off well enough though with both teams showing a competitive edge.
With 14 minutes gone Celtic get in front as Mark Wilson’s cross is fumbled by Sebastián Viera in the Villareal goal. The ball slips out of his hands and onto the head of Shaun Maloney who nods it in for 1-0.
Maloney’s goal is Celtic’s 396th in all UEFA competitions, fact fans.
The game takes perhaps its defining turn in the 35th minute when the assistant referee calls the ref’s attention to something. The Celtic fans jeer momentarily as it appears the referee is calling for a free-kick to be retaken. However the assistant has noticed that Guille Franco swung an elbow at Gary Caldwell. This results in a red card. To be honest I think the assistant was the only person in the stadium who saw it. On TV afterwards I can see that he was right, even if it seemed pretty tame.
Villareal were never a serious threat to Celtic with only ten men.
Just as half-time approaches Aiden McGeady goes on a run, finishing with a low shot from 20 yards which lands in the bottom corner of the net.
At the interval I go to the toilet and notice that smoke swirls around the air. It seems more like the bikesheds at school as it’s being used as a smokers’ den, by about two dozen folk. It almost seems like it’s a designated meeting point.
In the second half we’re treated to some calm and assured play from Celtic as Villareal are barely interested. Villareal’s Bruno causes a few of us to ‘ooh’ as he shows off a lovely move out on the left wing. But that was about it from the Spanish side.
Nakamura shows a silky touch or two, although Samaras frustrates me with his lumbering play this evening. He takes the ball towards the halfway line more often than he sends it forward.
In the Celtic goal Artur Boruc makes a great save from Nihat Kahveci in the 70th minute and the cheers come from all around the ground. The Celtic fans went out of their way to give him their backing tonight, after his blunder against Hibs on Sunday.
On the way home I opt to see if I can get a bus into town, but after the driver of the number 64 pretends not to see 20 folk standing at the stop, I walk instead.
The report of the match from Celtic’s website is here. This is the report from the BBC’s website. The Guardian’s report on the match is here.
Celtic: Boruc, Hinkel, Caldwell, McManus, Wilson (O’Dea 81), Nakamura, Scott Brown, Hartley, McGeady (McGowan 75), Maloney, Samaras (McDonald 81). Subs Not Used: Mark Brown, Loovens, Mizuno, Caddis.
Scorers: Maloney (14), McGeady (45).
Villarreal: Viera, Angel, Fuentes, Rodriguez, Bruno, Cani, Senna (Nihat 46), Edmilson, Fernandez, Franco, Ibagaza (Santi Cazorla 60). Subs Not Used: Diego Lopez, Eguren, Pires, Cygan.
Sent Off: Franco (35).
Referee: Claudio Circhetta (Switzerland)
Assistant Referees: Manuel Navarro (Switzerland), Beat Hidber (Switzerland)
Fourth Official: Daniel Wermelinger (Switzerland)
UEFA Delegate: Pekka Hämäläinen (Finland)
UEFA Referee Observer: Jaap Uilenberg (Holland)