Celtic's seismic victory over Barcelona was born out of chaos
23:30 GMT, 8 November 2012
Glasgow: there is something special about the way football weaves like a parallel river Clyde through this city, something tangible about the manic significance of the game in everyday life. It is a force of identity, one that has coated generations of Glaswegians.
Celtic: there is something special, too, about this club formed in 1888, about a reach that extends from Glasgow’s East End into wider Scotland, across to Ireland and beyond many other shores. The roots are Irish-Scottish, but this is a global club.
It is one housed in a stadium which still has a grand, old-fashioned feel. Celtic Park is an authentic football arena that has been around in different frames almost as long as the club itself.
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If you know your history, as they sing, you can feel it alive here. Even some Rangers fans, who know about Glasgow, football and history, respect Celtic and Parkhead.
And on Wednesday night, it breathed and roared again. One day after the club honoured the 125th anniversary of its founding, the ancient and modern collided.
The final score in a Champions League Group G game — Celtic 2 Barcelona 1 — was added to club folklore. Often a defeat is called ‘seismic’. This was a seismic victory that registered throughout Britain.
The famous ground bounced, all sides of it. Unprompted, in the course of a post-match press conference in which he was asked about signing ‘taller players’, Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova mentioned ‘Celtic fans who have been amazing tonight’.
Dream moment: Tony Watt celebrates scoring against Barca
Gerard Pique, one of three World Cup winners on the Barcelona bench, said there were ‘no words to describe the atmosphere at Celtic Park’. These are men who have been places, and who had just lost.
The Celtic goalscorers — Victor Wanyama, a 21-year-old, 900,000 Kenyan, and Tony Watt, an 18-year-old local boy signed for 50,000 from Airdrie — represent the new face of Jock Stein’s club. Celtic’s cute scouting network, headed by John Park, has proved itself.
The club’s record transfer remains the 6million paid to Chelsea for Chris Sutton 12 years ago. Barcelona’s defence in Glasgow contained Dani Alves (31m), Javier Mascherano (17.6m) and Jordi Alba (12.3m).
The contrasts were as vivid as green and white hoops, and they abounded. There was a full-page advert for coal in Wednesday’s match programme. Turn the page and there was a picture of Xavi. Climate change was among many comparisons on a day that made Scottish football think.
The 12th man: Celtic's fans hold a banner with their take on the lyrics from Sally Cinnamon by The Stone Roses
For Celtic, 07/11/12 became all about glory; across in Edinburgh, meanwhile, at Hearts it was getting ever more gory. Heart of Midlothian are another ancient Scottish presence. Formed 14 years before Celtic, Hearts have been at Tynecastle since 1886. It is another ground reeking sweetly of history, but Hearts are in peril.
A few hours before Neil Lennon (below) named a Celtic team missing Scott Brown, Emilio Izaguirre and Gary Hooper — captain, most coveted defender and main striker respectively — Hearts were dealing with omissions of their own. They were issued with a winding-up order by HMRC over 449,692.04 of unpaid tax and National Insurance.
Hearts asked their fans to stump up — again — 110 each in a one-off share issue.
Some people are on the pitch: Neil Lennon celebrates Celtic's second goal
‘Without the support of fans there is a real risk Heart of Midlothian Football Club could possibly play its last game next Saturday, 17 November against St Mirren,’ stated the club, adding: ‘This isn’t a bluff, this isn’t scaremongering, this is reality.’
Understandably, supporters feel cornered. As with many other fanbases, Hearts followers now have to consider whether they want to save their club (yes) or the regime that runs their club (probably no).
There is a doomsday scenario which sees Hearts bypass administration and go straight into liquidation. Having lost Rangers in 2012, the SPL could not afford to lose Hearts as well.
Plenty have gloated about Ran-gers’ demise, while the ‘Armageddon’ warning made in July by SFA chief Stewart Regan looks alarmist every time Celtic do well in the Champions League.
Heading for victory: Victor Wanyama puts Celtic ahead
But Regan also said in July, as Rangers were demoted from the Scottish Premier League to the Third Division: ‘Clubs may be able to survive for a short period but it’s unsustainable. There would be a slow, lingering death for the game in Scotland. There are no winners, there are only losers in this.’
There are question marks against Hearts now. Kilmarnock are thought to have debts of 8m. Dunfermline yesterday denied they are on the brink of administration. There was another game in Scotland on Wednesday night: Motherwell v Dundee United in the SPL. The attendance was under 4,000.
At some stage — six, 12, 18 or 36 months from now — this will surely affect Celtic, whose European successes are unrepresentative of domestic Saturdays. It is a mishmash. Symbolic of a surreal Scottish year is that Lennon, an Irishman who has had his life threatened ostensibly for being Celtic’s manager, should become national spokesman.
Crowded out: Charlie Mulgrew and Victor Wanyama challenge Andres Iniesta
‘This is a great footballing country with a great history, whether it be club-wise or nationally,’ Lennon said on Wednesday. ‘It has produced some of the greatest ever players.
‘It’s in a bit of a lull but we’ve got a great club here. When we came into this competition we wanted to gain respect for the players, the club itself and the game here. I hope this has given the game here a huge boost.’
Lennon’s maturity as man and manager is notable. The 41-year-old was on the rocks a year ago. Now he has overseen a victory of which Kenny Dalglish, no less, said: ‘Only Lisbon beats it.’
That was a reference to the European Cup final of 1967, of course. And it is to Lisbon that Celtic go next. They go there as a team ready to reach the Champions League last 16, but from a country worried about the state of its game.
They go, as Loretta Lynn sang, like a diamond in the coal.