Seville 21 May, 2003 – Running on Empty, Coatbridge Erupted…

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The Bhoys may have been the first British side to win the European Cup – a fact often forgotten by Manchester United fans and anyone south of Gretna – but Rangers had taken the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972, a cup lifted in 1983 by Aberdeen, steered there by Alex (now Sir) Ferguson. Celtic were a team in need of a good long drink after too long in the desert.

Boavista gave them a passport to a Spanish oasis. The second the whistle blew on Boavista at Parkhead, The Faithful knew something remarkable was happening. They had thought they were onto something the previous year when they made it into the Champions’ League, only to watch their side get thoroughly humped every time they played away. This time, they’d beaten some low-quality little Lithuanian side called Suduva before winning against Celta Vigo, Blackburn Rovers, VBU Stuttgart and, in the Battle of Britain, Liverpool before putting Porto’s groundsharers to the sword, courtesy of vital away goals.

Now they were on the verge of glory. And they had the ‘V’ factor. Someone in a green anorak had spotted that the letter ‘V’ had featured in each of Celtic’s European opponents’ names. What’s more the final was in SeVille. Destiny perhaps? Except there’s no ‘V’ in Porto.

There was no way the team was going on their own. No way.

Jock Stein manager Celtic FC arm around Bill Shankly Liverpool FC at Billy McNeill testimonial game, August 1974.

It’s not just about football, you see. As Bill Shankly famously said, football’s not a matter of life and death. It’s more important than that. For the Celts nothing could be more important.

It was almost forgotten that four days after tackling Porto, Celtic faced Kilmarnock away at exactly the same time as Rangers entertained Dunfermline in the showdown for the Scottish Premiership. There was not a point in it. In the tightest finish to a league in years, Rangers were ahead by virtue of the fact that they had scored a single goal more than Celtic with a fortnight to go.

And the Bhoys? Beating Rangers to the League paled into insignificance, given the prospect of a European trophy.

Two weeks before the showdown in Seville, the Jungle Jims travelled to Ibrox in what was then thought to be a potential Premiership decider. The match was delayed as hundreds of The Faithful bombarded the pitch with Li-Los, beachballs, straw donkeys and sombreros. “Tape The Bill, We’ll be in Seville” was the banner.

Not content with mercilessly taunting the Forces of Darkness at Castle Greyskull, The Faithful waited until the Monday morning before hitting the Ibrox switchboard with calls to report lost property. “I think I’ve lost my beachball,” ran the line.

Ever courteous, the Ibrox customer-care staff fielded each call professionally. All 3,000 of them. “What colour did you say your Li-Lo was?”

Winding up the Teddy Berrs was only part of the sheer joy, the delight in pinning your hopes of glory onto a bunch of guys paid fortunes to wear a historic football shirt. When Celtic won the European Cup in 1967 every player was born within 50 miles of Parkhead.

Earlier in the 2002/3 season, when The Old Firm clashed, there was a single Scotsman on the park, Rab Douglas, Celtic’s ‘keeper. Mjalby, Balde, Petrov, Valgaeren, Agathe and Larsson all had their names on the team sheet as Boavista bowed out. Hartson, Celtic’s Boavista hero a Welshman was out with a back problem.

Continued on the next page…

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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

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