A Madeleine moment stretched over the next eleven seconds in Oporto

Marcel Proust, born 17 years before Celtic FC, wrote over 3,000 pages in his masterpiece novel, “Remembrance of Things Past”, which is, incidentally, the new title of the latest The Rangers Annual. It should be more accurately translated as “In search of Lost Time” and with just over 17 years having passed since our Seville run, it is perhaps time to revisit what is for me the abiding memory in all those matches.

The central point of Proust’s 7 volume work is the ability of memory to be invoked involuntarily when it had been previously blocked. In the case of Proust’s narrator, a sensitive would-be writer (Proust didn’t stretch himself in characterisation), has his memory invoked on partaking of a Madeleine. Now lots of novelists and lyricists are obsessed with describing women, whether it be “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “Forty shades of Green” or even the one particular shade of orange sported by many women in these parts, but Marcel’s fancies went in a different direction.

He was more fond of cake than women. In fact, his French fancy was a French not-so-Fancy, as a madeleine is, in fact, a rather plain sponge cake. Now I don’t want to meddle with any middle-aged maudlin obsession with a Madeleine but, in the SFTB house, it is a maddening waste to obsess about anything other than the mad mentalness surrounding Celtic and its pursuit of medallions.

So my Madeleine moment concerns 11 seconds in Oporto and the memory it encapsulates and invokes for me of our Seville run. But first we must set the scene
We are in the Estadio Do Besso on 24 April, 2003. We are far into the 78th minute of the 2nd leg of a UEFA Cup Semi-Final. The first leg in Glasgow, a fortnight earlier had seen Celtic obtain a 1:1 draw with Boavista, a relative minnow in Portuguese terms who had won their first ever top league title in season 2000/01, having only been 2nd on 2 previous occasions in their history.

Their European achievements were similarly modest having been in European competition on 18 previous occasions. They usually managed to get knocked out of the Uefa Cup or Cup-Winners Cup at 1st or 2nd round stages. However they made the quarter final stages of the UEFA Cup in 1994, the 3rd round in 96/97, and in 2001/2 finished 2nd in their Champions league Group, behind Liverpool but ahead of Dortmund and Kiev. The top 2 teams qualified that year for a second group stage where Boavista finished their Euro run in 3rd place, behind Manchester United and Bayern but ahead of Nantes.

They lost 3 of their matches but beat Nantes and drew with Bayern at home and drew in France too. Obviously, these were minnows-that-used-to-be and only a parochial Scottish Press would fail to spot that they could no longer be dismissed as a Pub team. Celtic had, in fact played them previously in the CWC in 75/76 when we won 3:1 at Parkhead following a goalless away leg before we exited Europe yet again to an East German Pub team with an unpronounceable name.

Boavista were the outsiders from the group of 4 remaining teams: Boavista, Celtic, Lazio and Porto. To get to this semi-final stage they had beaten Maccabi Tel Aviv (4:2 on aggregate), Anorthosis Famagusta (3:1on aggregate), PSG (2:2 on away goals), Hertha Berlin (3:3 on away goals), and Malaga (1:1 on pens). They were also motivated strongly by the prospect of staging a Porto Derby as the final of the UEFA Cup as their city rivals were taking a home lead of 4:1 into the 2nd leg of their tie with Lazio in Rome that same night.

In the first leg, Boavista had opened the scoring at Celtic Park after 48 minutes when Joos Valgaeren had slotted an o.g. past Rab Douglas. Even though Henrik had equalised a minute later, he missed a penalty 15 minutes from the end, the 3rd good penalty shout we had that night. Boavista’s away goal in a 1:1 draw meant that a win or goalless draw would see them through whilst Celtic needed to win or score more than once in a draw to ensure victory without a penalty shoot out on an away pitch.

The approach of the Boavista Coach, Jaime Pacheco, already inclined to emphasise defensive aspects of the game, seemed to have been further hardened in this approach by the first leg score. They were cautiously defensive hoping to benefit from Celtic being forced on to a gung ho attack style to allow them breakaway opportunities, such as they had benefited from in the first leg.

Celtic, under Martin O’Neill’s instructions had resisted such temptation and the coolness and experience of senior players such as Sutton (a 34th minute sub off the bench for Paul Lambert), Hartson, Larsson, Petrov, Lennon and Thompson allowed them to avoid panicky football up to this point.

However Celtic had shown few signs of penetration with an 8th minute header, two foot wide, from Henrik as close as we had come. Boavista were no better and their only chance had come in the 58th minute when Rab Douglas paid homage to Packie Bonner by sailing out to punch the ball to an opposition player. However Elpidio Silva’s resultant header was deflected wide by Johan Mjallby.

However, as we now enter the 78th minute of the second leg, it is not long before such cool control will be pressurised by the gnawing awareness that the team is less than 10 minutes away from missing out on a chance of our first European final for 33 years and an opportunity for redemption for a club starved of any level of European success between 1980 when we just fell short of beating Real Madrid in the European Cup Quarter final and 2001/02 when we regained European credibility in gaining 9 points at Champions League Group stage before exiting the Uefa Cup to Valencia on penalties at the 3rd round stage.

So the 78th minute had been entered and a rare Boavista excursion upfield breaks down harmlessly and a yellow shirted Celt brings the ball out of our defensive third. This was when time started to slow down for ould Setting Free The Bears, his senses became heightened, time was being distilled and the football equivalent of a Madeleine moment stretched over the next 11 seconds.

77 mins. 48 secs.

Johan Mjallby, erstwhile stunt double for Dolph Lundgren, former Swedish tennis prospect, and the hardest man in Christendom, is driving out of the Celtic half towards the half way line. A group of Boavista players wearing their checked tablecloth strip, which has replaced their founding club’s All-Black outfit, retreat in orderly fashion to form a stronger banked defensive line in front of the rampaging Norseman.

Johan is not immediately pressed on the ball and starts to see visions of a Gary Caldwell moment (he can see the future; it is a Norse trait) with a game winning imaginative pass. However the reality strikes him as he looks up and sees all the Celtic forward players are closely man marked, often by more than one player. Johan calculates the odds faster than Raymond Babbitt.

77 mins. 49 secs.

His mind made up by the marking and the lack of pressure on the ball, Johan drives on to cross the half way line. We are now in the usual mundane territory where 90% of the “action” of this game has taken place. There is still no evident danger and Boavista players are either tightly marking their man or retreating to their coached positions like a training ground drill for defending against an unthreatening defender.

The nearest Boavista defender is almost 10 yards away. It’s almost as if their coach and players have forgotten about Johann’s midfield experience in playing for AIK, Sweden and for Celtic, occasionally, under Venglos and Barnes, until Martin O’Neill determined he was invaluable as a Centre Back.

77 mins. 50 secs.

Johan is almost 40 yards from goal. He has still not been pressed. One Boavista midfielder has detached from the retreating group of 3 but he is more interested in placing himself ahead of and inside of Johan to force him up the wing and deny him a direct charge into the penalty box. Johan’s initiative seems to be about to be thwarted but two intelligent Celts, Larsson and Sutton both decide that maybe the giant Swede needs a little assistance.

Henrik is first to act, breaking backwards from goal towards Johan and dragging two defenders with him. He creates a 3 yard gap – enough to receive a pass without the defender immediately tackling, fouling or bumping him and, as he is now 5 yards from Johan, he breaks off his retreat and turns towards goal in a position to be influential.

Chris, also, has started to head towards the right hand side of the penalty box to complement the movement. He too drags his defender with him but, since he is not as nippy as Henrik, he has not created a gap and is still tightly marked. Nonetheless, what Chris lacks in speed of movement is more than made up by his speed of thought, strength and all-round streetwise nature in how to ride a challenge.

77 mins. 51 secs.

Johan decides it is time to pass the baton. Even a Norseman on a Berserker drive forward is cool enough to recognise that Henrik and Chris are better bets for unlocking a well organised defence but, as he makes his short 5 yard pass into Henrik’s path, but, either his adrenaline causes him to overhit it slightly beyond Henrik’s control, or he has overcome the normal restrictions of perspective in vision, to see that Chris has established a one yard gap between himself and his marker. Whichever is true, and I would not bet against the latter explanation, the ball rolls away from Henrik and the, by now, four Boavista defenders closing in on him.

It speeds towards Chris 5 yards outside the penalty box with a Boavista defender closing the gap to nothing as the ball arrives. Is time speeding up or slowing down? The action is frantic but the thought processes are ice cool and the breath of spectators is still and apprehensive.

77 mins. 52 secs.

Chris has been here before. He has carried out more than 10,000 hours in building his craft. He is in his 13th season as a pro footballer. A maverick character with an abrasive and acerbic side and a scathing sense of humour. He struggles to hide the resentment towards the ill-educated opinion that has wiped out his record of continuous achievement at Norwich, Blackburn and in European football with a Scottish club, and has filed him as a failure because of an ill starred year long spell at Chelsea who had paid £10 million for him and got 4 goals in return, two of them in a single European qualifying tie. He failed to add to his one England cap earned as a Blackburn player because of this ignorance and snobbishness.

As the ball arrives, Chris is aware that his man marker has closed the gap and is intent on fouling him or molesting him sufficiently to disrupt any accuracy in control or lay off. Chris has already calculated this approach and is working like a Martial Arts Ninja to turn his opponents attack to his advantage.

He wants to achieve two things. Firstly, if he can, to turn the ball into the path of the onrushing Larsson, whose spin and turn has earned him a half yard gap on the inside of the markers to his left who should be guarding the precious area towards the centre of the penalty area and, secondly, to make sure that the ref sees the foul that Chris is sure is coming and, if unsuccessful in the pass, will award a foul around 30 yards out towards the right hand side of the penalty box, giving Alan Thompson or Henrik a direct shot at goal or allow for an opportunity to provide Bobo, Johan, BBJ or himself with a chance to inflict aerial damage and a nervy conclusion to the match.

Chris angles his body, stiffens his sinews and prepares to lean back and stick a foot forward to lay off the ball to his right into Henrik’s path. As the ball arrives, he is immediately fouled by a cynical defender who has belatedly recognised the danger and wants to give Chris no opportunity to continue this move. Chris crumples to the ground and looks to the ref who is in a perfect position to witness this foul play.

It seems that, even Chris has not expected the pass to be made, but, as he looks up to petition the ref he also sees the ball has popped out exactly where he has intended, sitting up and begging for Hendrik 5 yards away, chased by 4 Boavista players with 3 Celts behind them. Henrik is able to continue the move and the Russian referee, Mr. Ivanov, is cool enough to allow this advantage to develop and he keeps his mouth dry on the whistle.

77 mins. 53 secs.

Henrik advances in no time to take clean possession of the ball. One of the two Centre backs who were previously marking Hartson has sensed the danger and split to the right side of the D to form a barrier to a long range Henrik shot. There is still a chance for Henrik to attempt a first time shot from 30 yards with a 4 yard gap to this defender but Henrik is in no mood for a Hail Mary effort and knows there are more misses than happy endings with such efforts.

As a professional he is much cooler than the watching spectators, some of whom are uttering their 200th profanity of the night at this unwillingness to be speculative.

Henrik is faced with one direct defensive opponent and two more to his immediate right, cutting off the chance to enter the box on the right hand side. he must go towards the centre where both Boavista defenders and the goalkeeper lie ahead.

Henrik, in contrast has only one ally ahead of him, Big John Hartson. Fortunately John is not just a lumbering presence and an aerial threat, he also understands football and knows that even the miracle worker, Henrik, needs help. John too has a football brain and decides that a run in behind Henrik’s immediate opponent will discomfit him and will drag his own marker away from the central space that Henrik will be free to attack. John gets the head down and sprints. Yes, I can call that nothing other than a sprint.

77 mins. 54 secs.

John has reached the half way point in the D on the 18 yard line. Henrik is only a yard to his right. The Centre back in direct opposition to Larsson has now closed to within a yard and is spreading himself to block or intercept the slip pass. Two other retreating Boavista midfielders have inserted themselves as barriers to Henke’s right but John is still ahead of them all being chase by one marker.

Henke feints inside with his body but his right foot releases a slip pass against this shown angle to by-pass three defenders and leave John in behind with one defender to face. Henrik’s pass is so delicate that his marking Centre back almost intercepts but the deceptive feint delayed his leg stretch long enough to make it fractionally late.

77 mins. 55 secs.

The ball is reaching John 15 yards from goal. He has a yard space ahead of his inside marker. Henrik thinks John will collect and attempt to return it to him so he continues his drive through the empty centre. Though John has made space ahead of his immediate defender, he is no match for one of the two retreating midfielder who, in matching Henrik’s run and defending the right side of the box have built up a greater speed than BBJ and reach the ball fractionally ahead of him.

Fortunately for Celtic, at that speed and wishing to avoid competing with BBJ for the ball, the defender cannot be cool and composed with his clearance. He reaches the ball a yard into the penalty area. He goes to ground to slide behind the ball and hook it out of the penalty area but he connects with the ball before his forward hook has time to take effect. The result is that the ball vectors to the side, in the opposite direction from his approach run and moves forward by less than a foot. And straight into the path of Henrik Larsson, 17 yards and dead centre from the goal.

This is a great goal scoring chance.

77 mins. 56 secs.

Henrik is free in perfect position, His body is open and his right foot drawn back ready to shoot. The goalkeeper Ricardo has been sleeping and has only managed to get a yard off his line. Big John’s move has taken 3 Boavista players away and left two of them on the ground. The nearest defenders to Henrik, 3 yards to his right and slightly behind, is the Centre back who missed the slip pass. The right back who has detached himself from marking Celtic’s number 39 is a good 4 yards to Henrik’s left, surely unable to influence matters.

The stage is set for an explosive shot from an elusive attacker who has outwitted a packed defence and is now favourite to score. But before I can visualise it, Henrik’s right foot has not propelled into a shot. Instead he has cushioned it awkwardly while pirouetting on both feet, and brought the ball even closer to goal.

In doing so he has managed to reach level with the penalty spot, 12 yards out but instead of a right foot shot with a drawn back foot, he now faces a left foot shot from a standing foot. The keeper has reached a yard from his 6 yard box, narrowing the angle, and, though Henrik has isolated the 4 defenders to his right by this action, the charging right back is now close enough to launch into a block before Henrik can draw his left foot back to add power to the shot.

Time has slowed through my anguish to allow me to double to the number of profanities aimed at this Celtic deity.

The clock still reads 77 minutes and 56 seconds as an awkward scooped powderpuff shot leaves Henrik’s left boot. The right back has reached there anticipating it would be 77 minutes and 57 seconds before he was needed.

77 mins. 57 secs.

The second hand advances before the ball reaches the keeper 4 yards away. The right back lies on his back in front of Henrik. In leaning back to scoop his shot Henke has fallen away to his left and is about to fall. Two other Boavista defenders are charging back to clear the ball if the keeper can stop it or slow it down. The odds are very much in the balance.

The keeper, seeing the ball go to Henrik’s left foot has automatically adjusted to expect a shot to go to his left hand side. However the scoop and the awkward stance seems to have sliced the ball to the right. It rises in a drunken parabola. Ricardo sees that, in adjusting to his left, his right hand will not now reach the ball on his right while it is in front of him. He springs backwards with a mighty leap attempting to paw the ball away from behind him.

I have slowed down this moment hundreds of times and each time it looks like Ricardo is the favourite to reach the ball, but anyone diving backwards will find it difficult to retain height and reach as it is an action rarely performed, outwith a mosh pit, for good anatomical reasons.

Ricardo manages to lay a glove on the ball, and is criticised by an English co-commentator for his “chocolate wrists”, but the scoop and slice have created just enough upward and leftward movement, off Henke’s boot, to render his attempted stop ineffective. The English co-commentator attributes the blame rather than award the achievement to Henrik, who, of course, had not, according to this jingoistic Colonel Blimp, yet proved himself in the EPL.

Ricardo is still in mid air falling down to earth as the ball reaches the goal line and I am just about to emulate Ricardo in adopting some peculiar and unlikely aerial shape in my own living room. Though I am a few years away from turning 50 at this point, the expensive light fitting hanging above my sofa in the SFTB living room is in real danger of damage, as am I from it.

77 mins. 58 secs.

The ball hits the ground a yard behind the line. Ricardo is on his back hoping to see the ball has sliced enough to hit the post or go wide. Henrik is on all fours ready to sprint to the left hand corner flag in familiar celebration. The Boavista number 3 has his head in his hands, perhaps the most aware player of the import of the situation.

A small band of Celtic fans is going wild in the stadium. A decibel roar loud enough to short several power supplies is heard across Scotland and Ireland and in small pockets across the globe. There is an instinctive understanding of the importance of this goal but it is a visceral understanding. This is no time for rational appraisal. this is a time to go legitimately mad.

77 mins. 59 secs to Infinity.

Time has no meaning after a goal has been scored by your team. You enter the realms of celebration madness.

Henrik leads the charge to madness and the corner flag. He passes Celtic’s number 39 (cosmologically significant as this was Henrik’s 40th strike of that season), Jamie Smith, who has no compass bearings for such a moment and is unlikely ever to face them again unless Colorado Rapids benefits from a rich owner. This pair are joined by Chris Sutton in a hug celebration which, though joyous, seems understated when you see what the fans are doing.

On the sidelines, Martin O’Neill relives his GAA career by leaping even higher than his personal best. The sidelines are a shambling mix of aimless direction change and roaring. Boavista players hurriedly retrieve the ball from the net, Ricardo seems close to tears. He is far from the first or last keeper to have been or be Larssoned.

After Infinity.

The game lasts for a further 11 minutes plus 4 minutes and 22 seconds of injury time. It is frantic and fraught but just as undistinguished as the period before Henrik’s goal. In total, there were 94 minutes and 11 seconds of undistinguished action but it was illuminated, like a dog whose defecation conceals a minute Faberge egg, by a small amount of precious and timeless beauty.

Celtic marched on to Seville and a date with Boavista’s more glamorous and theatrical sister, Porto but that can wait. For now, there will be a lot more than 11 seconds of running, shouting, singing, partying, and maybe a few tears of remembrance of times past.

I think I just heard the sound of an article whose wheels have turned full circle. I’m away to dip a Jaffa cake in my tea.

Written by Setting Free the Bears and first published in Seville – The Celtic Movement, edited and published by yours truly!

INVINCIBLE by Matt Corr

The Celtic Star’s very own Matt Corr – who you may also know as a Tour Guide at Celtic Park – publishes his first Celtic book, titled INVINCIBLE – early next month. This beautiful hardback book will be the definitive story of Celtic’s magical2016-17 season – it truly is wonderful, a real joy to read, and brilliantly written by Matt.

If you have been reading Matt’s regular contributions on The Celtic Star or indeed in the Matchday Programme or in the Celtic View you will know just how talented a Celtic writer he is. The book is published by The Celtic Star and you can pre-order below.

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About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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