Celtic 2 Barcelona 1, November 7, 2012
“This was one of the greatest nights in the club’s recent history. It is up there with anything I have done in my life.”
The words of Celtic manager Neil Lennon and, perhaps, the perfect summary of a remarkable occasion.
Of course, for as long as Celtic plays, there will never be a day to top May 25, 1967.
That sunny afternoon in Lisbon’s Estadio Nacional when Jock Stein’s men became the first British club to place their hands onto the European Cup and, at the same time, open the eyes of a continent to a swashbuckling style.
Inter Milan’s defensive and rugged Catenaccio approach was taken to its knees by an attacking team whose entire squad was born within a few miles of Celtic Park.
Goals from Tommy Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers to claim victory which saw Billy McNeill hold aloft the silverware. That achievement will ever be surpassed.
But there’s a romance about Celtic which makes other moments special. Occasions are often marked in style. For example, when the club celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1988, they won a Centenary Double with a goal in injury-time in the Scottish Cup Final against Dundee United to secure it.
And, when it came to their 125th birthday, the beating of Barcelona on November 7, 2012 in the group stages of the Champions League was heard in every corner of the globe.
Defeating the Catalan giants was not something that was unusual for the club. Just eight years earlier under the management of Martin O’Neill, they had also done so.
In the knockout phase of the UEFA Cup, a goal from Alan Thompson won the first leg of the tie and a glorious performance from young goalkeeper David Marshall in the return clash in the Nou Camp secured a 0-0 draw which earned aggregate progression.
Barcelona had quality in that team with the likes of Ronaldinho leading their line.
However, the Catalan side which arrived in Glasgow’s East End almost a decade later were on a different level from the Brazilian’s vintage.
Touted by many to this day as the greatest club side who have ever graced the game.
Real Madrid, Juvenrus, AC Milan and Manchester United have all perished at the home of Celtic in European competition throughout the years, yet this success carried even more weight due to the standards being set on a weekly basis by their opposition.
Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta. David Villa, Alexis Sanchez. Gerard Pique, Victor Valdes. Quality dripping from every position.
The Tika-Taka verve of play had captured the hearts of everyone who loved the game. They hadn’t lost a game in any competition before travelling to Glasgow and, strangely enough, Lennon did not even have a full team at his disposal.
Already without key men Gary Hooper, Emilio Izaguirre and James Forrest, Celtic suffered another shattering pre-match blow with the news that captain Scott Brown was out with a virus.
What happened next will live long in the memory and, in fairness to Lennon and his troops, they had already placed warning markers to Barcelona.
Just a fortnight beforehand, Celtic had led in the Nou Camp through a Georgios Samaras goal and victory was only assured for the illustrious hosts when Jordi Alba scored a winner at the back post in injury time.
It was a cruel blow and the Spaniards also scored in stoppage time at the end of the return game in Glasgow through Messi.
This time, though, it was too late for them to avoid a stunning loss. Goalkeeper Fraser Forster’s heroics earned him the tag of The Great Wall in Spain which lives until this day.
Down the other end, an opening goal in the first-half scored by a young Victor Wanyama with a back-post header from a Charlie Mulgrew corner kick.
The second, and eventual winner, coming from the right boot of an 18-year-old local teenager who was making his debut in the competition in the shape of Tony Watt.
Lennon captured the moment ideally when he explained: “Barcelona will feel very unlucky to have lost as they hit the bar and the post.
“But the difference is Tito [Vilanova, Barca’s manager] could bring on Cesc Fabregas and Villa as substitutes. I threw on Tony, an 18-year-old kid who cost £50,000 from Airdrie.
“As a player I won things, had a special 10 years under Martin and played in some great teams, beating Manchester United and getting to the last 16 of the Champions League. As a manager, I don’t know if I will top this.” He hasn’t, although that’s hardly a shock given the magnitude of the success.
Fairytales don’t happen like this with most clubs. But, when it comes to Celtic and the romantic moments which have constantly infiltrated their history, it should really have come as no surprise.
Nothing will top Lisbon. But for a different generation of supporters, the Barca win of 2012 will be their own iconic evening.
Of course, there are more in Europe. The wins over Zurich, Nantes, Vojvodina Novi Sad and Dukla Prague to reach Lisbon in 1967 are special.
A record crowd of 136,505 jammed into Hampden Park to see Celtic defeat Leeds United in the semi-finals to reach the 1970 European Cup Final.
In 1980, goals from George McCluskey and John Doyle provided the aforementioned Real Madrid win. Shunsuke Nakamura’s magnificent free-kick downed Manchester United in November 2006.
Less than a year after those heroics from the Japanese playmaker, European champions AC Milan were sunk 2-1 with Aussie striker Scott McDonald bagging a 90th minute winner.
Beforehand, away victories over Blackburn, Liverpool, Stuttgart and Boavista which drove Celtic towards an outing against Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the 2003 UEFA Cup Final in Seville stand out due to their combined significance.
Domestically, countless league successes including two runs to nine successive flags.
Scottish Cup memories are evoked from Frank McGarvey’s diving header to win the 100th Final of the competition over Dundee United at a packed Hampden in 1985 to the National Stadium being empty when Lennon’s team sealed an unprecedented Quadruple Treble by defeating Hearts on penalties in the Covid-delayed 2019-20 Final.
And, in the League Cup, there are still songs about “Hampden in the Sun” in reference to the club’s memorable and record-breaking 7-1 win over Rangers in the 1957 Final.
There’s bound to be loads we’ve missed out! What’s your favourite/most significant/memorable Celtic match?
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