The first game of the Champions League group stage pits Real Madrid against a side who became synonymous with the old European Cup: Glasgow Celtic. A unique club in in the Scottish city that draws on a massive fanbase in Ireland with the club boasting proud Irish origins. Celtic were founded in 1887 by a Marist brother who hailed from County Sligo. ‘Brother Walfrid’ started the club to raise funds to help Irish emigrants in Glasgow after the potato famine some years earlier caused over a million deaths and forced a further million people to emigrate. For every home game, roughly 6,000 Irish Celtic fans cross the Irish Sea, by ferry from Larne or by plane from Dublin to attend games in Glasgow.
‘The Hoops’ became the first side from the north of the continent to win the European Cup, beating Inter Milan in the 1967 Lisbon final. The team drew attention for iconic green hoops and the fact that the shirts had no player numbers with the numbers emblazoned on the playing shorts. ‘Jinky’ Jimmy Johnstone was a constant threat for the ‘Celts’ against the much fancied Italian side with the player famed for his mazy runs and flame red hair. There was even talk of the Glasgow club trying to sign Di Stéfano when he was released by Real Madrid in 1964 but the Argentine opted to stay in Spain moving to Espanyol. Celtic were Real Madrid’s opponents at the quarter-final stage of the European Cup in 1980 and despite a 2-0 win for the ‘Hoops’ in Glasgow, Madrid (de los García) dug deep in the second leg to advance 3-2 on aggregate.
Changing face of football
Modern football has changed over the years and despite battling domestically for local supremacy against city rivals Rangers (who they overcame 4-0 at the weekend), on the European stage, they are just another contender with a rich heritage..similar to the likes of Benfica and Ajax. The Celtic players are no longer all Scottish as was the case with the ‘Lisbon Lions’ and their manager, Jock Stein. Local talents now compose roughly a third of the squad with players hailing from Japan, Greece, Portugal, the US... all coached by a Greek-Australian (Ange Postecoglou) who was trained by Puskas in Melbourne. The name alone of Glasgow Celtic evokes romance with the classic green and white hooped shirts evoking memories not only for Madridistas but also for older Atlético fans after the ‘Colchoneros’ faced Celtic in 1974 in a match that has been hailed by many as one of the ‘dirtiest games in football’ in a tie that saw Atleti finish the game with just 8 players.