My First Celtic Game: A Special Gift From Father To Son

I am told that my affinity with Celtic Football Club really began at the age of four. I was totally besotted with football and the time for selecting my supporting path had come. In truth, there was no decision to be made as I was heavily drawn towards Celtic and Ireland throughout my short life. I had been dressed in a Hoops kit at birth and laid in the centre of an Irish tri-colour. Inevitably, I followed the green and white jersey that was so familiar to me.

Being born in 1996, my first notable memories of watching a full season of Celtic matches are from 2002/03. As a 6 year-old living just outside Bournemouth, I used to go to the house of my dear friend and neighbour, Pete Duffy, with my Dad to watch the games. Pete grew up in the Gorbals and stood on the old terracing of the Celtic End, having graduated from the Rangers End as a child. He attended most games from 1956 until his move down South in 1983. A fanatic, he became my tutor in all matters Celtic and I, his eager protege.

My first memory of the club is of the passion, the sea of green and white and the volume of supporters that followed Celtic around Europe during that 2002/03 season. My Dad never overly pushed it on me, but I was well aware that we supported Celtic because of the club’s Irish roots, as my Dad’s father had emigrated from Co Offaly in the mid 1950s. Despite this background and introduction to Celtic, my initial experience of what it truly means came to fruition on this day in 2003.

My uncle, who works in Liverpool had got my Dad and I two tickets in the Main Stand at Anfield for the UEFA Cup quarter final clash between Liverpool and Celtic. I rushed into school the next day with a letter to notify the teacher that I wouldn’t be coming in on 19, 20 or 21 March due to ‘a one off opportunity’.

I counted down the days until our six hour journey up to my Uncle’s house on the 19th. I remember the sleepless night thanks to the excitement of being able to see Henrik Larsson, but not a lot else springs to mind until the match, aside from driving through the tunnel from the Wirral into Liverpool.

Dad and I, the night before Celtic played Liverpool at Anfield

Anfield seemed strange to me. The only other football match I had attended was a Bournemouth v Tottenham friendly at Dean Court, where the stadium is surrounded by playing fields and is away from any roads. Anfield was in the middle of a housing estate, but it didn’t matter as long as Celtic were there.

I remember standing on my seat as You’ll Never Walk Alone got played, holding my scarf aloft with the other couple of hundred Celtic fans sat in the Liverpool end around me. Thereafter my recollections are a bit patchy. I can’t recall John Hartson hitting the crossbar in the opening stages, which I have since seen back on the highlights; but I do vividly remember Larsson volleying a cross to Hartson just infront of me, as well as Rab Douglas saving a shot from Steven Gerrard early on.

I can clearly see in my mind’s eye, the moment Alan Thompson stood over a free kick in the first half. Thommo struck the ball low beneath the wall and into the corner of the net. The Celtic end erupted, green and white shirts were bouncing up and down all over the stadium and my Dad lifted me up in a respectfully subdued celebration.  One Liverpool fan said to my Dad at half time “You didn’t celebrate that goal much earlier.” We made up for it second time around.

The ball was brought down by Hartson in the second half, Dad had picked me up so I could see the action over the Liverpool supporters standing around me. Hartson laid it off to Larsson and got the return. My Dad said “Hit it John, go on…. YESSSSSS!” This time there was no muting the celebrations as I was wrapped in a tri-colour, bearing the words Poole CSC and launched into the air. Liverpool 0-2 Celtic, we knew we were through.

The full-time whistle went and the Liverpool fans around us congratulated me, before wishing us a safe trip back to “Glasgow or Ireland”, until we told them that we were actually going home to Dorset in the morning.

As the stand emptied, hundreds of Celtic fans, one wearing the yellow away shirt from that season with a tri-colour wig and hooped sunglasses, walked up towards the Celtic end to join in with the singing. The scene of the Celtic support belting out Over & Over stays with me, along with We Shall Not Be Moved.

We spent a good 20 minutes soaking it all in before Dad asked if I wanted to stay. I was scared of being locked in the stadium so asked to leave and when we walked out there was joy all around the ground with Celtic fans high fiving me and telling my Dad he should bring me up to Scotland for a match next time.

Highlights of the tie can be seen below (beating Liverpool is not for eveyone, lurkers).

As a 6 year old I expected to win. I was too young to grasp the magnitude of defeating Liverpool at Anfield and reaching a European semi final. For that reason I wish I was a bit older, but it’s a great memory to have shared with my father. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone at the Bournemouth Shamrock CSC about it at the weekend, then it was back to Pete’s house for the Boavista semi final first leg.

Dad and I at Celtic Park, the day after my first book launch in 2015

I caught the bug for real that day. I became mad about Celtic, my Irish heritage and the history of both. I’ve since gone on to write several Celtic books, Our Stories & Our Songs: The Celtic Support and Take Me To Your Paradise: A history of Celtic-related incidents & events. The latter is stocked in Celtic stores, something which gives me great pride.

Over the years I have attended countless games on my own or with friends, have done a few more games with my Dad and Pete and have had a season ticket since 2015. Since Liverpool, I had been to Munich, Athens and Leipzig for European away defeats, with the company of pals.

However, history would repeat itself in Rome in November 2019, as I asked my Dad to travel over with me and my friends. Though he has attended many games since 20 March 2003, this was his first European away match since that night in Liverpool.

Being 16 years older than our last European away game together, we were able to have a drink or thirty over the trip and instead of Hartson it was Ntcham who gave us another unforgettable moment. This time we were in the away end and rather than Over & Over, the sound ringing in our ears was Papa Francesco Ale during the hold back after the game.

The gift of Celtic started 19 years ago and it continues to keep giving today.

Joining Mum and Dad to celebrate at full time in Rome after being among the mayhem at the front fence with pals for most the game

Liam Kelly

Liam is currently working on his next book which will cover Celtic in WW2, perhaps the least documented era in all of Celtic’s history.

About Author

Hailing from an Irish background, I grew up on the English south coast with the good fortune to begin watching Celtic during the Martin O'Neill era. I have written four Celtic books since the age of 19: Our Stories & Our Songs: The Celtic Support, Take Me To Your Paradise: A History Of Celtic-Related Incidents & Events, Walfrid & The Bould Bhoys: Celtic's Founding Fathers, First Season & Early Stars, and The Holy Grounds of Glasgow Celtic: A Guide To Celtic Landmarks & Sites Of Interest. These were previously sold in Waterstones and official Celtic FC stores, and are now available on Amazon.

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