Liam Kelly’s Trip Of A Lifetime: Rome Conquered

Continuing our look at the European adventures of The Celtic Star writers Liam Kelly and Matt Corr as we look back on both of their trips to Rome to see Celtic play Lazio in the Europa League. Let’s start with Liam…

Over the last few months I have documented a few of my misfortunes when travelling abroad to watch Celtic. There’s been robberies, lost wallets, hotel scams, missed buses and every time Celtic got beat. If you’ve read my tales of misfortune in Munich, from panic in Paris to agony in Athens and left in Leipzig then you’ll be well aware that invariably my trips to watch Celtic in Europe result in disaster on and off the pitch.

All that changed in November 2019 though, when finally a wonderful trip took place as we headed for Rome.

Once again, there was a change up in the travelling party. This time it was a very different type of experience as I headed over with my fellow Bournemouth born friend, Dan and his dad from Paisley. I invited my own Dad to join me so we could watch our first European away game together since he took me to Anfield in 2003. Dad said that he would need to get a pass from Mum to be able to go and the best way to go about this was to offer her a weekend in Rome. Subsequently, we had planned for Dan’s mum to come with us too, so that the women could do their own thing when we were at the football. She couldn’t make it, which we decided not to tell my mum until everything was booked!

Unlike my previous chaotic trips abroad with some mad friends, we didn’t book to stay in a disgusting cheap and dirty hostel, nor did we end up in a utility room. Instead, we found a deal on the British Airways website – £250 for flights and four nights accommodation in a 4 star hotel on the outskirts of the city! This was rare luxury.

Thanks to a huge allocation, tickets were easily sorted through friends and aside of my own, everyone needed to doctor theirs to reflect their own name and date of birth. At first we thought this wouldn’t be necessary as surely the Police couldn’t really check everyone’s ticket against their ID. However, more and more people began posting their experiences at the stadium on twitter and thus I took to Google and explored different methods of removing ink from paper, without leaving a trace.

Dabbing a baby wipe or wet baking powder were the methods of choice, so I practised on some old ticket stubs using a hairdryer to dry the paper. The outcome was a resounding success, until it came to the real thing and I left dreadful smudges all over the place. At that point it was game over, I foresaw a disaster on the horizon given the sort of thing that occurs on my away trips. However, the night before we left, I bought a tip-ex mouse and lightly went over the smudges. A neat trail of paper was left and I neatly wrote each person’s name and DOB. Disaster was averted at the last attempt.

Game week arrived and on the Tuesday evening we got a coach from Bournemouth up to Heathrow. We had a few drinks and some food at the airport hotel and an early night – the kind of low key evening with your parents that doesn’t normally accompany such a trip.

The next day, our early morning flight to Rome was packed full of Celtic fans; most enjoying a continental breakfast of vodka with croissants. On arrival in Italy, the sunshine struck our eyes along with a 20 odd degree warmth. We got a taxi to the hotel and made the most of the afternoon by walking down the Trevi Fountain and on to the Colosseum, via a pizza restaurant. With a bit of sightseeing done and photos taken, mum was happy and it was time for a pint in the Irish Bar.

The pub was an absolute sweatbox with no room to move, so after one pint we returned to the hotel before getting a taxi to an anti-fascist social club, where a gig was being held for Celtic fans. We arrived, after a 30 minute journey, in the middle of a strange looking estate. As we got out the car, we could hear Grace being belted out as Chris of Erin Go Bragh kicked things off. Following the noise, we reached a gateway to enter what looked like an old derelict school covered in graffiti. The gig was inside what I’d call the school hall, whilst there were four outdoor bars, serving cups full of cheap vodka with a splash of Red Bull. Pyro was also on sale for 3 euros.

My mum grew up going to Bournemouth games, so this was quite a culture shock for her. The mayhem, widespread drunkenness and electric atmosphere that goes with thousands of Celts abroad on a jolly, wasn’t something she experienced on the quiet slopes of Dean Court.

As Chris finished his set, we went for a drink outside and some fresh air… right as a sing song began:

Glasnevin were up next as the atmosphere ramped up a notch with a Celtic Symphony/Belter medley…

The Irish Brigade were last onto the stage, at which point smoke bombs interrupted their set, half the crowd their shirts off, the sinks were full of urine and general carnage took place… much the bemusement of a lady-like woman such as my mum, who thought that a Take That concert at the O2 was mental.

The gig ended with order mildly restored and a farewell rendition of Beautiful Sunday. As we stumbled out onto the street in search of a taxi, I walked about with my hands stuck to my knees. I had intended to drink whilst keeping my wits about me due to the threats from Lazio Ultras, but that all went out the window as everyone else knew it would. It was up to everyone else to flag down a taxi, whilst I took a snooze against the wall. My friends bundled me into the back and I knelt on the seat with my head out the window, before vomiting all down the door… cue laughter from my pals, a tut from Dad and a combination of disgust and embarrassment from my mum.

I remember nothing of the evening thereafter, but what an atmosphere and laugh, up until those dreadful moments in the taxi. The sun pierced the curtains the next morning, I rolled out of bed and found slices of pizza across the room with no idea how they got there. I felt surprisingly fresh so reached for my phone to see what everyone else was up to, when I saw a text from a friend back home to say that two Celtic fans had been stabbed outside an Irish bar overnight. I hadn’t taken colours out with me, but many did and we didn’t see a hint of trouble, so the news gave me a bit of a jolt to keep the head, especially with mum being with us.

We all met at a nearby cafe for a Piadina breakfast, and then bought a few cans of lager en route to the Piazza Del Canestre, where fans had began to gather. It was a beautiful day with the sun shining, ideal for enjoying a few drinks with friends and family, before the pre-match atmosphere intensified as the crowds got bigger. We were surrounded by armoured police vehicles and police vans all day. Many people were herded onto buses that had been set up to take fans to the ground, but it was so early that we preferred to wait and enjoy the atmosphere rather than be stuck in a stadium paying over the odds for a warm pint in a plastic cup.

Eventually we did board the bus, packed in like sardines. It was a superb journey, absolutely bouncing the whole way. None of us had told my mum about any of the trouble with Lazio, so she turned to me and said “This is great, I feel like a celebrity,” when the convoy of Celtic buses went past all the road closures and police motorbikes rode alongside us. When the bus pulled into the stadium car park, I Wanna Be Edouard started at the back. The driver barely pulled up the handbrake as the bus shook side to side with everyone jumping “I wanna, I wanna, I wanna be Edouard, du, du, du, du.” It just took things up a notch with all the other buses joining in, what a noise.

It was all serious now as about half the away support seemed to have dodgy tickets and all of my group, except myself, were the same. I picked our turnstyle and went ahead. There was an initial check from the steward matching ID to the name on the ticket. Everyone got through. Next up was a police ran, full body search/pat down, even checking hoods. Everyone got through again. Thirdly, there was another turnstyle, whereby you have to scan your ticket to open the barrier, before a final check with stewards matching the details on the ticket to that of your ID. I turned around to see my friends and parents all get through, which was a great relief.

Almost as great a relief was the fact that the stadium had a bar selling paninis and pints, and not the alcohol free ones which so often deceive fans. There was still about 90 minutes until kick off so that was a great relief before we took to our seats. The stadium was nice for athletics, but doesn’t belong in football. We were up the back and could vaguely make out the goal in the background.

Just before kick off, myself and Dan went down the front where the Green Brigade were stood. We wanted to be in the thick of it. The flares went up as the teams came out and aside of a few songs, the Celtic end was a little bit quiet to begin with. This was because the team was nervous and started terribly. That poor start was then compounded when Lazio took an early lead after Immobile was left unmarked at the far post. Zombie Nation was played over the tannoy and thus the Celtic end erupted with the arms out having great fun, to the shock of the fascist Ultras across from us in the side stand.

Celtic almost fell two behind, only Jullien’s goal line clearance preventing disaster. Yet, the team soon relaxed and started to play a lot better. This made for much better viewing and the fans responded with all 9000 in good voice. I remember seeing Elyounoussi pass the ball to Forrest just before half time. The action was so far away from us at the other end, that I had no idea how close to the goal he was. I just saw him take aim and then the net bulge at the far corner. Cups of beer went flying along with the bodies down the rows as most people were stood on top of their seats. The celebrations were superb and so caught up in the excitement was the crowd that there was just a constant buzz of noise and celebration until half time, rather than any song particularly catching on.

The goal lifted Celtic and the team started the second half magnificently. It was a real joy to watch us play that way against such opposition. Often European away trips can become a jolly where the drink and singing takes centre stage and people lose interest in the game with us performing badly. This was totally different, everyone was fixed on the play.

The atmopshere was terrific throughout the second half, then suddenly the ground fell silent as Odsonne Edouard burst through one on one with the goalkeeper. He curled his effort towards the far post and beers went flying in the air once more. “Yeeee-ohhh!” Unbelievably, the ball went the wrong side of the post. I felt that was our big chance to win the game and recall turning to Dan for the next five minutes moaning at the fact he had missed.

Lazio came back into it as the half wore on and had a few very good chances which Forster saved excellently. “I’d love a last minute winner here,” Dan said. “Could you imagine?” I replied. We both smirked, hoping for the best. Celtic got a corner near the end of the game and held the ball by the flag. All around us people were applauding, settling for the draw… not me. “Get it in the box man, c’mon we can do them.”

Time was all but up. Lazio had possession in their own half and there was no danger. Then it happened. A terrible pass allowed Edouard to break at the defence, if I remember correctly a player was trying to get outside him to the left, but he passed right to Ntcham. His first touch was poor, leaving a tight angle and I can still see it in my mind’s eye as he chipped the keeper. Where we were so back from the goal, we couldn’t see the goal line behind the advertising boards, so I wasn’t sure if it had gone in or not when the defender slid across. Then a roar to end all roars went up, Dan turned and gave me a hug, a woman behind me starting screaming and jumping, then bodies went flying into a mass bundle all around. The greatest celebrations I’ve been part of and certainly the loudest reaction to any goal

The noise was electrifying and then the full time whistle was blown prompting an eruption. I wanted to enjoy the moment with my Dad so we ran up to their seats at the back. The players came over to do the Ninetoes celebration, then the Bhoys group got the drums going and led the entire 9000 strong Celtic contingent in an utterly spine tingling rendition of Papa Francesco Ale for about half an hour. With seal clapping, jumping and maximum participation, it is undoubtedly the best moment in my time supporting Celtic.

We streamed out the stadium after an hour, when my Dad commented on the fact his only two European away games were victories over Liverpool and now Lazio. To be away with your mates and my family and witness history with a crowd like that was just phenomenal. Easily one of the top few nights of my life.

When back at the hotel, we went out to a local for pizza and a few drinks until the early hours. We met four Celtic fans doing the same, two from Glasgow and two from Belfast. They were decked out in the hoops and had walked back from the stadium. One joked that they grew up in the Troubles, yet the most scared they’ve ever been was walking through the Vatican! On their journey back, they had heard a loud bang and seen people running. We later found out this was a bus that had broken down, being petrol bombed. Then as fans fled, Lazio Ultras appeared with machetes, before police moved in.

I didn’t want the night to end. I was on such a high, but eventually we did sleep.

The next morning, we did a sightseeing trip, taking in the Vatican, Spanish Steps and Pantheon etc. There were chants of Papa Francesco Ale all around the city as Celtic fans continued their celebrations throughout their stay.

Liam Kelly

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

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