I was 10 years old and It was a wet Thursday night in Dumbarton. I was in Primary 6 at St.Michael’s Primary and it was our Easter Holidays.
Now when you get to the end of the Easter Holidays, say the second week about Thursday/Friday, theres always a sense of ‘aw naw monday is round the corner’ but not in 2003. Why? Because Celtic were locked in an intense battle in a European semi final with Boavista in Portugal.
I watched the first leg in Safeway at their TV section! Long story cut short, when you’re a twin, even if its a sister you have, you have to share everything, even tickets for European Semi Finals. Anyway all thoughts of hating my sister were vanished when me and a wee skiver from his work danced in delight as Larsson squeezed in the equaliser. I mean I was only 10 but even I felt that the chance was maybe gone.
But one thing you could never do was write Celtic off, especially after winning away at Blackburn and Liverpool, and of course getting an unassailable 2-0 lead early doors in Stuttgart. So maybe it was a good thing that Celtic ‘hud tae come oot and go for it’ in the second leg.
Fast forward a fortnight and I’m sitting in my cousins nervously gripped to the telly as Celtic seemed to forget just how to attack in Boavista. But then, with just about 10 minutes left on the clock . Deliverance.
Larsson’s footballing ability seemed to pass him by as he franticly swung a left foot at the ball, no technique, no composure, no power. No worries.
Ricardo dived but he was getting nowhere near it, he playfully helped it into the net but by the time he looked up to see the ball in the net I was already at the bottom of a 3 man pile up ‘YEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSS HENRIK YA HERO HENRIK YA PURE PURE PUUUUURE BELTER YE’ as the clock slipped away I no longer felt 10, I felt about 50 as the nerves got to me,
Boavista charged forward ‘you’ve got school on monday’ said my conscious. The ball harmlessly sailed over the bar and the injury time was up. ‘F**k School we’re in a European Final.’
A lot can happen in 10 years, especially in the world of football and where most of us struggle to remember what happened last week, we all remember vividly the moment we all realised Larson’s shot had trickled in. The internet crashed that night, not because everyone was coming on twitter to praise the manager or tweet him tactics for the final (or nude pics of yerself) but because everyone was trying to book tickets and flights for Seville.
We all know what happened in the final, but its important to look back and remember just how far Celtic have come since that night in Portugal.
For a start, Boavista are now shocking, a slow decline was cast over their fortunes as the ‘fourth force’ in Portuguese football vanished into thin air without a trace. I’m fully aware that this next sentence is probably ignorance in my part but I cannot seriously remember Boavista doing anything noteworthy since they lost the semi final to Celtic.
Lazio, who everyone fancied for Uefa glory, were humbled 4-1 in the first leg by a rampant Porto team inspired by this guy called Jose Mourinho and a wee nyaff called Deco. Lazio themselves descended into mid table obscurity and are now a solid Europa League team, who were very nearly relegated a few seasons back.
The aforementioned Porto? Well they’ve ended up the team who have done best since the good old days of 2003. We all know they won the Uefa Cup final v Celtic and then remarkably, despite literally no one liking them, knocked Man Utd out on their way to winning the Champions League. Jose, Deco and co all left, Jankauskas even ended up at Hearts for a season! They might not have reached the heights of winning the champions league again but they did manage another Europa League when a Falcao header sent them to glory in 2011. Title after title has followed since 2003 and they are now operating successfully financially. Buying players from South America then selling them to Spain for 5 10 15 20x the profit.
But then the question must be asked about our dear old Celtic. Are we any better than we were in 2003? I would suggest as a football club and business wise (not even with the troubles of our esteemed rivals) we have progressed since the days of paying our first 11 big money and everyone else getting little.
Well we never did reach another final, but a very credible quarter final appearance in the same competition followed the next year as Barcelona were knocked out along the way. A few ambitious flurries into the last 16 of the champions league followed shortly after. Some terrific European nights at Celtic Park followed the 03 season.
Ironically, ever since 2003, I’d argue that Celtic had punched above our weight in Europe, this is the 3rd time we’ve put a very good Benfica team out of the Champions League since 2003. But in 2003, after watching us in Europe and at home we weren’t punching about our weight. We were one of the best teams in Europe. We were a far better team than the Rangers team who won the treble that year. We did have our issues yes as does every team but we were more than a match for Porto in the final, but we came up short.
When I was doing my thinking before starting this blog I found myself arguing with myself over just how this Celtic team compares to that of 2003. I think that team with Larsson Sutton and Co would hammer us in a game tomorrow if both teams were at their fittest. But then I remembered this Celtic team have done something Larsson’s team couldn’t, win away from home in the champions league group stage.
It then took me to Anderlecht in October 2003 where we lost to ten men in what can only be described as an absolute shocker of a performance. Now that Anderlecht team were not very good, they had Arouna Dindane up front and that was about it sadly. Compare them to the Moscow team we defeated this season? I’d say Moscow would win that very comfortably.
So I find myself wondering, in ten years time, if I am lucky enough to still be blogging about Celtic, will I be able to talk of a European final we’ve been in? Only time will tell. But heres to you 2003, you were like a burd who’d let you walk her home before slamming the door in your face.