I’ve always wanted to visit Amsterdam.
It’s a city with real history, architecture and culture.
It’s a city that’s always had its seedy side, but then any city can say the same.
Glasgow doesn’t put its own negative traits in the tourist brochures, so it seems unfair to tar the Dutch capital with that brush.
It is, of course, the home of Ajax, which is reason enough to want to see the place.
Ajax are one of those teams I used to think we aspired to be like.
For all their reputation as a selling club, when they’ve bedded in on occasion and decided to develop and grow their talent they’ve been truly something to see.
Total Football didn’t emerge there – contrary to popular opinion, the historical fact is that the first club to play that style in European competition was us, the 67 team – but when people talk about it, this is the place, this is the side, they mean.
Now that the Europa League draw fixtures have been published, we know that Amsterdam will host our first match of the Groups.
There has been little talk of appreciating the beauty of the home team’s football in the aftermath of that announcement.
Instead, our media are already hyping this up like it’s a high risk fixture.
Indeed, they’ve had a rare old time the last twice we visited Ajax on competitive business.
When we met them in the Champions League a couple of years ago, in November 2013, the event was marred by the incident in the city centre where Dutch police attacked a group of Celtic fans who had to fight for their saftey on the day and then later for their innocence in court.
The media had a field day with that, and were quick to blame our supporters.
Anyone who actually watched the footage could see clearly what happened; a group of guys in civilian clothes charging into groups of Celtic fans.
A fortnight before, their supporters had caused trouble in Glasgow following our 2-1 victory.
On that day, in the Dam, how were our travelling fans to know the difference between yob followers of a football club and the yob members of the Dutch police?
When met with such an unprovoked assault, in a foreign land, what in God’s name were those fans caught in the Square supposed to do?
Cower on the ground and let the beatings commence?
No, of course not.
They did what they had to.
They defended themselves.
When I read the initial press reports, describing the events, I viewed them with a certain suspicion because I know full well what the media occasionally gets up to.
I remember talking to my old man on the telephone from Blackburn, shortly after Chick Young had told a Radio Scotland audience that he was witnessing “a riot”, a “pitched battle” in that city … and being told that it wasn’t so much an exaggeration as it was a sheer work of fiction.
So when I read that drunken Celtic fans had gone on the rampage in Holland and attacked the police I was sceptical.
In the days afterwards, when the British Consulate was going radio rental, when the UK police, who’d been on the scene, were describing some of the most heavy handed policing they’d seen in years and when Celtic itself was threatening to support legal action against Amsterdam’s Finest and paying the court fees of fans who’d been charged you’d have thought we might have received an apology over that, and corrective coverage.
Not a bit of it.
Even today, The Daily Record talks of those events as “clashes between fans”, bearing no relation to what actually took place over there.
Even when the whole world knows what actually happened, they can’t help themselves from gilding the lily.
Of course, it’s reminiscent of the trip before that and the way it was covered in the media at the time, the match in the Champions League qualifiers where Martin O’Neill’s team showed its stuff and secured a very fine 3-1 win.
The club returned home to screaming headlines not about the match but that a Celtic fan had been shot in a “sleaze bar” in the city.
The fan in question was a reputed gangster, and the shooting itself a gangland execution gone awry.
But that didn’t matter to the papers.
They managed to overshadow a wonderful result and a performance that had many in Europe talking, shoehorning the words Celtic and sleaze into a headline about a violent act.
Their editors must have been well pleased.
Sandwiched in between these two matches, of course, was a little noted pre-season friendly where the only thing of note that happened to sour the experience for fans (off the park at least) was that one Celtic supporters club had their specially made banner nicked by the fans of the home team after it was left in a convenient place after a drunken night out!
(Sorry lads haha.)
Said banner then turned up, displayed like a trophy, on all manner of Ajax fan Facebook pages!
Banter of the funniest kind (although not for the fans being mocked!).
Not something to get in a twist about.
In short, Celtic fans have a good reputation abroad, and good relationships with rivals fans.
Neither has been marred by either of these two events, as much as the media might want to suggest otherwise.
Amsterdam is not a no-go city for our supporters, although if our fans choose to boycott the place after the behaviour of its constabulary last time around I would not be surprised. It was hardly the red carpet treatment our excellent reputation deserves.
High risk games are usually to be found when you get two sets of fans who don’t particularly like each other.
High jinks aside, I don’t think we’re exactly in the Ajax supporters gun sights and our own fans don’t go abroad to cause problems and we never have.
The same applies to our impending trip to Turkey, where Fenerbahce fans have a reputation for being aggressive … but clubs visit their ground every year without a problem.
Some say they don’t like “British fans.”
They should have no problem with us then, because our own travelling support is predominantly Scottish and certainly never travels under the Union Flag.
The Fenerbahce supporters on Twitter and Facebook know the difference.
They’ve already promised the Celtic supporters hospitality and a good time, and although the stadium atmosphere on the night can only be imagined and will be hairs on the back of the neck stuff I expect anyone who goes to the game to have a rare old time before and after it.
Molde don’t have any such reputation and that is going to be the very definition of a trouble free fixture.
The troops can enjoy that one without reservation.
In truth, we’ll enjoy them all.
But the media will be watching everything we do.
The Troops in the Hoops are aware of that and will behave accordingly.
Let’s just hope that the Amsterdam cops can do the same.