A club like no other
There was a point in the Celtic v Manchester City game where the teams were tied at 3-3 and Celtic were being forced into energy sapping defending as they fought desperately to keep City out. The huge Celtic support which had backed the team in the usual raucous manner sensed that the players needed a lift to see them over the line and built up a tremendous roar which reverberated around the stadium and put new energy into tired legs. Their heroes responded and matched the superstars of Manchester to hold on for a famous and deserved point.
I’ve often written about incredible backing Celtic fans give the team in these huge games under the lights. This latest example of a team and their supporters united to fight in a common cause proved again that Celtic supporters are unrivalled in these islands and have few peers in world football. The team gave every ounce of effort they had to match a side built at huge cost and the green clad fans created a racket so intense that it drowned out the Champions League anthem. This was football in the raw played in front of proper fans who see it as their duty to their club to offer the sort of support the sanitised English Premiership rarely sees. One English newspaper was quick to point out that the atmosphere at Celtic Park was one of the weapons Celtic used to hussle City out of their stride. A side which had never gone behind in a ten match winning run went behind 3 times to Celtic in an incredible encounter…
‘Make no mistake, the incredible atmosphere inside Celtic Park inspired Rodgers’ players and drove them on for ninety minutes on Wednesday night. They were a raucous twelfth man, but while they made Celtic’s players grow taller, they also unnerved Guardiola’s team. The Etihad Stadium is repeatedly cited as an arena lacking in noise and passion, particularly on a European night, but City’s home ground is not alone in providing a sterile atmosphere in the Premier League. Guardiola’s players have not encountered such hostility and backing for the home team on their travels this season, but Celtic’s supporters showed what a difference it can make when the volume is pumped up in the stands. If more Premier League stadiums can become bear-pits like Celtic Park, it will make it much more difficult for visiting teams.’
Manchester City ran into a wall of noise and eleven men in green and white who simply would not be beaten. Celtic chased down every ball, rapidly closed the space and generally made life very uncomfortable for their opponents. City couldn’t build from the back as they normally do and few who watched the game unfold grudged Celtic their point. One reporter used a memorable metaphor to describe the Celtic midfield’s constant badgering of City’s Brazilian star Fernandinho…
‘Scott Brown and Tom Rogic pulled Fernandinho out of position, forced him to make mistakes in possession and pretty much buzzed around him to the point of distraction. It was like watching two hyenas torment a lion and the hyenas won.’
Brendan Rodgers is proving that his tactics and motivational skills are once again making Celtic difficult opponents in Europe. A year ago Celtic were squandering a 2-0 lead against Fenerbahce with suicidal defending and a seeming inability to change the game or their approach to meet unfolding circumstances. Against City Celtic had a manager on top of the situation and barking out orders from the side lines. Few expected Rogic to be replaced by Griffiths and it is a measure of the Manager that he is prepared to make changes which are bold and aggressive.
The game with Manchester City was widely reported in Europe and the compliments heaped onto the Celtic support are a slap in the face for those who argue that teams like Celtic have no place in the Champions League. Few stadiums anywhere will provide such an atmosphere and football must be above all a spectacle. A few among our indigenous press pack were quick to say Celtic were out of their depth after events in Barcelona. One wonders if they have the grace to say they were wrong? I somehow doubt it.
Celtic face the German outfit Borussia Monchengladbach on the 19th of October and it will be another mammoth undertaking for Rodgers’ young side. The Germans ran Barcelona close in their 2-1 defeat and are a big, physical and well organised side. However if Celtic can somehow get a result from that game then they would be in a great position in the group. This was possibly the hardest group Celtic could have been put into and few gave them a chance of making any impression, especially after the tame capitulation in Catalonia. The Manchester City game has changed the mind-set and has renewed confidence which will now be surging through the team. Celtic now have pace, genuine goal threat and a coach who is getting the best out of the players. They also have the backing of the most vociferous and noisy supporters around and they drive the team to new heights.
Celtic are learning about the demands of football at the top level and it was incredible to see the work rate, tenacity and yes, skill the players showed against Manchester City. When it was called for they put their bodies on the line and threw themselves into tackles and blocks when they were out on their feet. The crowd knew they were giving their all and gave their all in return. The deafening sound which swirled around Celtic Park like the autumn rain was the sound of pride and the sound of hope.
Well done Celtic and well done to every one of you who backed the team with such passion. Truly a club like no other.