The arrogance of the English press and fans of English clubs, is such that every time Celtic play one of their teams, a battle of Britain style of event can always be expected. In past seasons, English fans have suggested to me that Celtic were a Championship level side. As recently as the home tie v Man City, interviews with Man City fans pre-game suggested that Celtic would have done well to survive in the Premier League. What happened in that game will surely have made them feel a little silly.
In Europe Celtic have played against English teams on 19 occasions. They have been victorious on seven occasions, drawn six and lost six, giving Celtic a 37% win ratio over English teams, which doesn’t compare very favourably to their 46% win ratio in general in European competition. Celtic’s record in the pre-Europe days was actually extremely impressive.
Celtic have been drawn against Liverpool three times, who were the first English team that Celtic ever faced in European competition in 1965/6. Celtic’s biggest ever attendance for a game came against Leeds United in the semi-final of the European Cup in 1970, a fixture that has never been revisited competitively since, the official gate on that evening in Hampden was in excess of 136,000, with many saying there were even more present. The hype from the English press about what an admittedly great Leeds side would do to Celtic convinced many that when Celtic won they had won the final before the actual final. Cue a depressing night in Milan where Wim Jansen and his Feyenoord team-mates shocked the Hoops.
Celtic did not come up against English side until the 1980’s when they met Nottingham Forest in 1983. Forest were an absolute titan of the English and European game having been promoted to the top division in 1976 and sensationally winning the first division less than twelve months later.They then went on to be the first British team to retain the European Cup. Brian Clough was more than complimentary about the Glasgow side and their fans after a hard fought home leg in which a Davy Provan-less Celtic lost 1-2.
Since the inception of the Champions League, Celtic have been drawn against three different English sides, Manchester United in 2006 and 2008, Arsenal in 2009 and Manchester City this season.
In 2006 the home game against Manchester United was particularly exciting. The match is well remembered for two pieces of brilliance, a quite phenomenal free kick from Shunsuke Nakamura on 81 minutes as well as great penalty save from the Holy Goalie Artur Boruc against Louis Saha a few minutes later. Justice was served as the decision to grant the penalty was harsh to say the least.
Two years later Celtic were again drawn against a Man Utd side that were to go all the way to the final. After a convincing 3-0 drubbing at Old Trafford, a Celtic side without the in form Aiden McGeady managed a 1-1 draw at home featuring an exquisite chip from Scott McDonald. Unfortunately Celtic like this season went on to finish bottom of their group with just 5 points.
Against Arsenal, there was unfortunately little to shout about as the Bhoys under Tony Mowbray struggled immensely. Celtic lost both legs, losing 1-5 on aggregate and fell down into the Europa League group stage, where unfortunately they also faltered.
Celtic’s game against Man City earlier on this year was totally indicative of the phenomenal energy that playing teams from down south seems to bring to both Celtic players and fans. The three each draw was stunning, to say that at the end of the game you were slightly disappointed having led on three occasions, spoke volumes of the Celtic performance. Domestically in their own league, Pep’s side after the midweek game went from being seemingly indestructible to losing for the first time this season to Tottenham. Celtic seemingly showed others how to get the better of Guardiola’s side.
In the Uefa Cup 1st Round Celtic played against Liverpool in 1997. Michael Owen’s fifth minute opener was overturned by goals from Jackie McNamara and Simon Donnelly, who scored from the spot. It looked like Celtic may be able to hold on for a fantastic win. It wasn’t to be as a fantastic Steve McManaman solo goal in the dying embers of the first leg at Celtic Park proved to be the all important away goal needed to take Liverpool through at Celtic’s expense as the second leg at Anfield produced a no score draw. Five and bit years later though Celtic were to have their revenge as Larsson and Heskey, both who had been injury doubts for the game scored in a 1-1 draw in Parkhead. Few teams in the world went to Anfield and won, so the achievement of Celtic to get a 2-0 victory at the Kop was quite incredible. A Thompson thunderbolt of a free kick at the end of the first half and great strike on the turn from Hartson saw Celtic reach their first European semi-final since Atletico Madrid in 1984.
Earlier on in that run Celtic had also been drawn against Blackburn Rovers, defeating Graeme Souness’ side 3-0 on aggregate, the highlight of which was Sutton’s fantastic glancing header against the team for whom alongside some bloke called Shearer he had won the Premier League in 1996. “It was men against boys” said Mr Souness,and do you know what? He was dead right.
In the days before Celtic were involved in European competition Celtic played against what were the cream of the English league at the time in all British mini tournaments such as the Coronation Cup and Empire Exhibition Trophy (1938) and the Coronation Cup. Contrary to what you make think nowadays both of these competitions were highly regarded by British teams and supporters alike at the time.
In 1938 Celtic played Sunderland in the Quarter Finals beating the Wearside club 3-0 after extra time and beat a very talented Everton side 1-0 in the Final again in extra time.
In 1953 Celtic defeated Arsenal 1-0 in the quarter final and went on to meet Rangers’ conquerors Man Utd in the semis whom Celtic dispatched in turn 2-1. The final was an all Scottish affair with Celtic defeating Hibs 2-0.
An enviable pre-European football 100% record shows that Celtic have nothing to fear against the so-called English “giants”. Past victories and the first leg result against the Mancs show that with some Glasgow courage and the usual phenomenal support, Celtic can be more than a match for anybody. ‘Mon the Hoops!
Kevin Thomson (@KevinThomson67)