(Translation by @parneq)
This is how it feels to be Celtic
Champions again, as you know
Brendan RodgersNeill Lennon is here for ten in a row – ten in a row!
The worst thing about being a St. Pauli supporter is that FCSP’s European competitive matches will only start from 2030 onwards. But due to my own history (I started as a supporter of Werder Bremen), I am still quite keen for European cup matches and I am thus travelling a lot to watch the games of Celtic FC from Glasgow now, whenever the opportunity presents itself.
From a sportive perspective there’s no reason for this behaviour. After witnessing two wins in the first two games (a 4-0 win at Jeuness Esch in 2000 and a 3-1 win at Ajax’s during the champions league qualifiers a year later), I went to twelve further matches since then with only four more draws (against hsv, Rapid Vienna, Astra Giurgiu and Fenerbahce) as well as eight losses at great places such as Doneszk or Malmø. However the unifying aspect of all these trips (and quite similar to the away trips with St. Pauli) is that they are mostly fantastic, if you however ignore the football aspects in this regard.
The only disturbing aspect in this regard is that there has never been the chance for a trip to the Celtic Park itself. So, there was the urgent need to change that and the drawing for the European League Round of 32 supposed to offer this much needed possibility. Furthermore, due to related job-flexibility I was able to join both matches of the round. I wasn’t able to do such things, since Werder Bremen’s 1989 champions league quarter final against AC Milan.
So, after a hard worked for (and somehow lucky) second position in the table after the group stage, Celtic FC would face Valencia in the Round of 32 with the first of the two matches at Celtic Park in Glasgow.
After a short consultation of my most beloved travel mate the plan was fixed: We would only travel to Glasgow around noon on matchday and would return the next morning. For the second match in Spain, we would allow more time and would travel from Wednesday to Friday.
Celtic FC – Valencia CF
Well, as the potential of Celtic FC in away games is somehow limited (for reasons: see above), a solid foundation had to be built at home in order to being able to travel with some remaining hope to Spain. At best with a win and with one or two goals ahead, at least a draw – so that we could justify our trip to ourselves – this situation was however not impossible as Valencia didn’t either dominate La Liga in recent times.
However, beside the existing drawback of no real opponents to practice with in the Scottish league, plenty of injuries in Celtic’s squad added quite a challenge to the match.
After using a low cost carrier to get to Edinburgh, we took the bus (priced £12) to travel the last remaining 80kms to Glasgow from where we started to walk towards the stadium after also having fish & chips on the road. As time was already rushing, we behaved like real Celtic supporters and ordered a cab which took us to the Celtic Social Club at London Rd. The club is a hybrid of a pub and supporters club and conveniently offered to take care of our backpacks while we were watching the match.
So we rushed to the stadium and whenever “the Paradise” is shining in green lights during floodlit matches, this is already awesome to view from the outside.
As almost every time when we were visiting matches on the British isle, there were basically no security checks at the entrance beside a quick check of our pockets. However, due to CCTV-footage some people have been watched to smuggle and publicly drinking alcoholic beverages in the stadium and got retained and banned from the stadium afterwards. While alcohol is completely prohibited inside the stadium (not even alcohol-free beer will be served), however plenty of bookies are around.
Whoever watches the Bundesliga might have witnessed that some clubs such as FC Bayern and VFL Wolfsburg invested some money into a lighting system that allows fancy light effects during goal celebrations. Well, for some reasons Celtic FC did apparently the same and it was circulated that this system did costs around 4 million quid roughly. Well, I will already tell you that due to a lack of Celtic goals we were not able to testify the working of this system during goal celebrations later, however, there was a musical game introduction (serving the usual clichés), which was heavily supported by the light system. This somehow reminded us to ice hockey or basketball matches in Germany, which are however more fancy events nowadays than classic football experiences.
Anyway, to experience European cup matches at the Celtic Park is for sure something special. The feeling inside the stadium is awesome, plenty of chants are starting from various stands and if the green brigade is starting such a chant, the rest of the stands will follow asap, at least as long as there is hope to win the game. This wasn’t however the case for very long because in the 42nd minute, Denis Cherisev eventually scored for the visitors after Valencia had been the dominating team for quite some time. And the match did not further improve during the second half. Au contraire, the final score of 0-2 was rather flattering for Celtic, and our trip throughout Europe was already terminated rather obviously and leaving us devastated before it had even started.
Valencia was accompanied by some 150 supporters. Anyway, the decision will be made on the pitch and not on the stands.
After shortly visiting the Celtic Social Club again, we found some rest on a sofa (a warm thank you to J.) whose owner also took us to the airport at 5.30am the next morning.
From a sportive perspective, part 1 of our trip left us rather disenchanted. Nevertheless, for a reason the Celtic Park was on my bucket list of stadiums to visit for quite some time and I could tick it off from there now. However, I really hope that this hasn’t been my last visit there.
Valencia CF – Celtic FC
We arrived on Wednesday around noon in Valencia and directly checked-in at the Hulot B&B, a place to recommend clearly for the tourist on a budget! Perfectly located and only charging 42€ a night for a double-room this was really value for money. Close by there is the Brunch Corner, a perfect place for a yummy breakfast.
Valencia has a beautiful historical centre with various opportunities to take a rest in Tapas-Bars, cafés and restaurants. Furthermore, there is a huge market hall with various fresh groceries to buy. And of course, you’ll find a dish of paella everywhere.
The typical (and very sweet) drink of choice which you can’t afford to miss is called “Horchata de Chufa”. If you are more into craft-beer, I recommend “Tyris on Tap”, a great dessert is named “churros con chocolate”.
(Yes, if you are waiting for some recommendations how to lose weight in Valencia, this is not going to happen here. Also, if you’re on a vegetarian diet, Spanish restaurants might also struggle a little bit…)
In Valencia, all sights are in walking distance, apart from the trip from the airport to the city centre, for which you should better use the metro. If you are more keen to ride a push-bike you can hire one at various places in the city.
Beside the historical centre, I highly recommend to visit the El Cabanyal quarter which is an ancient fishery village which was subjected to gentrification by the city’s government followed by various protests which resulted in a cancellation of such plans in 2009. As we were visiting the quarter around noon, when most of the shops and bars in Spain were closed anyway, there is not much I can report about. However, as the open sea is close by there is definitely the chance to visit the nearby sandy beach, also the “L’Oceanogràfic” is in walking distance. The L’Oceanogràfic is the biggest oceanarium of its type in Europe. Of course, we did not visit it.
An optical highlight of the city is the broad grass verge that’s developing throughout the whole city before it reaches the sea. This has been a former river but due to various and severe flooding it has been diverted around the city and directly into the sea in the 1950ies. There will for sure be some environmental experts around who could better evaluate if this was a rather positive or negative decision, however, there now is a huge green area available for leisure and sports activities. Beside some great running and bike-paths, the area also hosts two more football clubs.
We are traveling to Celtic matches around Europe for quite some time already and it is always stated beforehand that tickets in the visitor’s stands will hardly be available. Nevertheless, so far our contacts have always been of great benefit in order to get the desired tickets. This is why we also did not panic to get tickets this time either, especially not after the related first leg.
The Mestalla stadium is able to cater for 50.000 gatherers and even the earlier Champions league group stage matches against Manchester United and Young Boys Bern did not entirely sell out. Only the first leg against Juve (starring Ronaldo!) was almost packed.
On our arrival in Valencia on Wednesday, we already noticed that there were a lot of people wearing green and white colours around. And for the first time ever, we actually did not manage to get the desired tickets in the visitor’s stands! However the circulated number of 10.000 Celts are in my opinion a rather too big guess, but I am sure that there were around 5.000-6.000 Celtic supporters in the stadium with only 2.500 tickets on the visitor’s stands available.
However, of course the stadium was not sold out, nevertheless there were some quite bizarre things happening in front of the ticket counters at the stadium. These were already opening at 5pm on the day before the actual match and there was already a huge crowd of Celtic supporters gathering in front of the eight little glass holes through which the tickets were sold by then. If you waited in line for long enough, you were able to buy exactly one ticket per person, but only if you were also able to proof a non-British ID at the same time. For British citizens, it was simply impossible to buy any tickets. And this is exactly why we became everyone’s best buddies as soon as they spotted our German passports. We would have been able to line up over and over again until the counters would have closed at 11pm. The same was true for everyone else around with a non-UK passport (yepp, even an Irish passport would have done the trick…). As soon as we arrived, the first random person reported that he would line up for the fifth time already and that there have been previously five tickets issued under his name. And of course, on matchday no one checked the printed names on the tickets in the stadium.
A very funny scene occurred with a guy who was denied to buy a ticket with his UK passport but was provided with the Spanish passport of a passing pedestrian later. When he line up at the exact same counter again, the ticket seller refused to speak any English but insisted to speak Spanish with him due to his Spanish passport. The guy replied:
“I’M SPANISH NOW, GIVE ME THAT FUCKIN’ TICKET!”
Eventually, people managed to buy tickets after gluing their pictures into non-UK passports. We couldn’t find out, if this mess up around buying tickets was caused by regulations of the Valencia CF or the UEFA, however, the whole thing definitely remains idiotic. And even one day later, some Celts remained without a ticket even though the stadium was not sold out. Needless to say that there was no clear separation of supporters inside the stadium anymore, with green-white Celtic shirts almost everywhere.
Holy cow. I did hear a lot of great stuff about the stadium beforehand, but to be live and inside was a total game changer. Awesome stadium. And steep. And located in the middle of the town. Fantastic.
If you want to visit the stadium yourself, you’ll better be quick, as the “Nou Mestalla” is supposed to open in 2021.
(No one knows for sure, if this opening will really happen then because there is quite a similar history alike the Berlin Airport. But it appears that the club is somehow back on track now after sorting some devastating experiences with former lenders).
Mestalla stadium itself is immensely steep. To get into the middle and higher stands, you have to take some towers in the respective corners, in which you’ll be constantly lead up while running in circles. Something I have spotted earlier at Twickenham stadium only, which is the British national rugby stadium.
And actually, we bought some tickets for the highest stands (which was the cheapest to get with 40€each), although they were located on the wrong side. However, alike all the other Celtic supporters around we just hiked over to the other side to stand over there.
The match is quickly reviewed: Celtic was definitely playing much better than in the first leg while Valencia just did what was necessary. So, it would have been very likely that Celtic would have easily scored the 0-1, if Jeremy Toljan would have avoided to receive the second yellow card and to be sent off the pitch by Deniz Aytekin. After this happened, even the slightest hope disappeared.
Valencia did play a clever match and even scored the decisive 1-0 in the 70th minute of the match.
And that’s how Celtic playing Europe this season came to an abrupt end.
It’s worth to say that after being eliminated from the European league, Brendan Rodgers couldn’t stand the calls of the Premier League any longer and signed a contract with Leicester City. However, with Neil Lennon returning, he will be the one supposed to successfully finish the “Ten in a row” now.
Thanks to Michael, Scotty, Stefan and everyone else who I missed in this regard. //Maik