In the coming weeks The Celtic Star has the genuine privilege of serialising the first book by the wonderful Celtic writer Matt Corr.
Regular visitors will know Matt from the many historical articles he has painstakingly researched and written for The Celtic Star. including my own personal favourites, the wonderful diaries of travelling abroad to watch Celtic.
Have a look at this one from the recent trip to Copenhagen or if you missed The Celtic Star’s Post of the Year from 2019 from Matt’s trip to Sarajevo then you really should take the time to read it. Both of these articles are superb and there are many others from a wonderful Celtic writer and man.
Matt also provides articles for each of the home League game programmes for Celtic and has done for the last couple of seasons. First up Matt wrote about the nineteen title-winning seasons Celtic fans have enjoyed since Billy McNeill became the boss at Parkhead in 1978, ‘We are the Champions’.
This season the feature is called ‘A League of Their Own’ and looks at the nineteen men who have made most Scottish League appearances for Celtic since its inception in 1890. Some incredible players have been covered, spanning every generation.
Now the inevitable has happened. Matt has just completed his first Celtic book, titled INVINCIBLE and it will be the first of several books he plans to complete over the next few years.
The Celtic Star will build up to the book’s pencilled in August release by bringing you a few snippets from it over the weeks ahead, starting today.
Here Matt looks at the first game of the Brendan Rodgers reign. That infamous trip to the rock of Gibraltar. Who would have guessed as the final whistle blew on one of the most painful results in Celtic’s European history that a team of Invincible Celtic legends would emerge…
EXTRACT FROM EXCLUSIVE FROM INVINCIBLE BY MATT CORR
It was a surreal setting for Champions League football, the tiny stadium, wide open at both ends, at the foot of the imposing Rock, whilst aeroplanes came and went on the adjacent runway. Celts wore all-black, which would turn out to be most appropriate, starting at pace on an artificial surface which included many markings over and above those we would expect to see.
The only two chances of note both fell to the new man, Moussa Dembele, first disappointed to see his headed goal chalked off for an infringement on the goalkeeper, Navas – a decision I felt harsh from the Swedish referee – then frustrated by the Spanish stopper, after an excellent turn and shot from the edge of the box.
The locals cheered wildly as the half-time whistle sounded, objective one achieved, stay in the game, whilst the small colourful band of around 300 Celts on the open far side were largely subdued. There would be better or worse to come, depending on your perspective.
Within three minutes of the restart, a long ball forward saw Casciaro and Ambrose challenge at the edge of the box. One flick of the foot took the Nigerian out of the equation, leaving the Gibraltar hitman clear to nudge it past Gordon and write another chapter in the local history books.
Whilst Celtic looked stunned, the hosts almost doubled that advantage shortly afterwards, Calderon seeking to repeat his first-round heroics and going agonisingly close to doing so, his curling shot clearing Gordon but only just the top corner.
As Celts regrouped, Forrest and Armstrong on for Rogic and Christie, it seemed only a matter of time before they would equalise. Possession reached 80% and twice Leigh Griffiths struck the crossbar, the first down to a miraculous block from defender Garcia, who then cleared the rebound from the striker’s second effort, a vicious free-kick which beat the goalkeeper all ends up, as Bitton waited to pounce.
The last big chance fell to Turkish substitute, Nadir Ciftci, on for the tiring Dembele. He met Kieran Tierney’s delicious swinging cross six yards in front of goal, to power a header downwards, only for that man, Navas, to come to the rescue once more, turning it around the post to safety.
Minutes later, it was all over, and we took a sharp intake of breath to then consider what we had just witnessed. This was not in the script. The euphoria of that May Monday and a thousand positive headlines since gone in an instant following such an abject performance.
As Liam Brady had suffered in Neuchatel and Gordon Strachan battered in Bratislava, this result would resonate around Europe, producing headlines which would be damaging for Brendan Rodgers and his ‘new project’ at Celtic. ‘Humiliation.’ ‘The Shock of Gibraltar.’ ‘Mission Imp-ossible.’ The proverbial dagger through the heart.
For me, this result trumped the others, as the worst in the club’s long history. We waited to hear the new manager’s reaction. What could he possibly say? He was asked if this result was humiliating and/or embarrassing, provoking a rather surprising response.
No. There is obvious disappointment. There is no embarrassment. It was a tough game in tough conditions. We didn’t take our chances, they took their chance. We dominated and created enough chances to score. Sometimes it can happen, obviously with the pitch, an awkward bounce and all of a sudden the player is in, it’s into the floor and goes in. We have seen enough to see that we can get through in the second leg. Of course you are disappointed to lose. It was difficult, of course. They set up 5-4-1. And it doesn’t matter the team, the level. Teams have good organisation, 11 players behind the ball. Throw the pitch into that, it’s very, very tough for the players. But we created enough chances, their keeper made fantastic saves. It gives us a bit of work to do in the second leg.
There was certainly plenty of embarrassment across all of my Celtic social circles, I can assure him. Was there a message for the fans?
‘Celtic fans expect us to get through into the group stages. It was disappointing but the players gave everything they had. The message to them is to stay calm. This is a good group of players, they are working hard and in a week’s time we will need them. I always thought this qualification phase would be based on the second leg at home, so we will need that support and hopefully get the job done next week. They were never in command. We were the team with dominance. What we lacked was the final touch, the final ball. I’m not really shocked. I’ve been around the game often enough, I know these results can happen. We stay calm. We need to put in a performance next week. The result here complicates it a bit for us. We move on to next week.’
Hopefully that has whetted your appetite for Matt’s account of Celtic’s Invincible season. While the wait for the book itself may seem a while off, chances are it will arrive before Celtic kick a ball in anger again.
To help you pass the time and take your mind off these turbulent times, we’ll be bringing you a few more samples of INVINCIBLE by the brilliant Matt Corr in the days and weeks ahead.
The Celtic Star’s American Blogger Larry Cafiero has also interviewed Matt and we’ll have an insight into the Celtic man behind the Celtic stories very soon. We’ll let you know more about INVINCIBLE over the next few weeks regarding when you can order a copy and so on. It’s not really that important at the moment.
In the meantime take good care of each other, keep an eye out for your neighbour and stay safe.
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