How Fate Ties Celtic Cult Hero Rudi Vata to Ireland

The remarkable Rudi Vata, a Celtic cult hero and how fate ties him to Ireland…

Back in late March 1991, France took on Albania in a European championship qualifier at the Parc De Princes. France ran out expected winners thumping the Albanians 5-0. A game which is now confined to the history books and isn’t gIven much of a thought by football historians.

It remains a poignant memory to one man in particular though. That man was Rudi Vata. In what was only his second international cap, the twenty one year old feigned injury to leave the field of play. He then slowly trooped off the pitch and disappeared up the tunnel of the famous French stadium before exiting onto the streets of Paris and handing himself into a local police station to seek political asylum.

James Forrest watches  a young Rocco Vata’s doing some tricks

One minute he was facing Eric Cantona and Jean Pierre Papin and the next he was sitting in a local police station facing up to the prospect of being exiled from his friends and family back in his home nation. Six of his teammates would join him in doing the same thing.

It’s a decision they didn’t take lightly, but Albanian back then was ruled under a dictatorship that made North Korea look appealing.

Rudi stayed in France and continued his footballing career with Le Mans FC and Tours FC, before returning to previous club Dinamo Tirana back home in Albania a year later when the brutal dictatorship regime was toppled.

Thus allowing proud patriot Rudi a return to international duty with the national side, his next outing was against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin in May 1992. This would prove to be the start of a life changing experience for Rudi and would shape the rest of his life and career and the start of an affinity with the Emerald Isle.

Rudi Vata Glasgow Celtic FC 11 September 1995 Photo: Mary Evans Allstar

Then Celtic manager Liam Brady watched the defender put in a man of the match performance against the Republic and decided to sign him for Celtic. He signed that summer and became the first Albanian to sign for a British club, and as fate would have it he made his debut in a friendly in Ireland against Sligo Rovers.

It would be fair to say Rudi wasn’t a spectacular success at Celtic, but he was something of a cult hero making 60 appearances and scoring 4 goals. His goal against Rangers in 1995 and winning the Scottish Cup in the same year his most memorable moments.

Rudi Vata Glasgow Celtic FC 11 January 1996. Photo Mary Evans Allstar

He would go on to play in Cyprus and Germany before another two stints in his native Albania sandwiched in between a spell in Japan and a short spell back in Scotland with St Johnstone.

When he retired he became a sports agent and settled back in Scotland where he married Anne Frances who resided in Wishaw. They settled in Hamilton and had two boys one of whom would sign for Celtic at the early age of seven.

28th December 2022 Easter Road, Scottish Premiership  Hibernian versus Celtic Debut Bhoy Rocco Vata on the ball Photo Vagelis Georgariou

He has represented the Republic of Ireland from under 15 to 19 level and is highly regarded and could soon make his full debut. He’s eligible to play for a number of nations like Montenegro and of course Albania and Scotland, but he choose the Republic thanks to his mother who has a grandmother who hails from Eire.

That is of course Rocco Vata, who followed in his father’s footsteps by playing for the Hoops when he made his competitive debut at the tender age of 17 a few months back when he appeared from the bench in a 4-0 win against Hibs at Easter Road. He’s since made four appearances in total although he’s yet to start a game, although that is very likely to change in the not to distant future as he held in very high regard by Ange Postecoglou.

Rocco Vata of Celtic FC competes for the ball with Isaac Price of Everton FC during the Sydney Super Cup match between Celtic and Everton at Accor Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

Rudi Vata, although not the most successful players to play at Celtic, was certainly something of a cult hero with the Celtic support and his is a very special and moving story.

JustAnOrdinaryBhoy – follow on Twitter @ordinarybhoy

16.11.1994 : imago/Sven Simon – Lothar Matthäus (Deutschland, re.) und Rudi Vata (Albanien) – Abgang; quer, Fairplay, fair play, Fairness EM Qualifikation 1994, Nationalmannschaft, Nationaltrikot, Albanien – Deutschland 1:2, Vdia Tirana Harmonie, Kameradschaft, Fußball Länderspiel Herren Mannschaft Gruppenbild optimistisch Randmotiv Personen

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About Author

An ordinary everyday Celtic supporters hailing and still residing in Govan in the shadows of the enemy. I’m a season ticket holder. I Witnessed my first Celtic game in 1988 and have attended when I can ever since. Growing up in the 90s I witnessed Celtic at their lowest, and now appreciate the historic success we enjoy today. I enjoy writing about this wonderful football club and hopefully will continue to do so. I’ve always been a keen writer and initially started this a hobby. My ambition is to one day become as good an author as my fellow Celtic Star colleagues.

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