Another One Off the Bucket List
Celtic Park or Parkhead. Call it what you will, this is one of the iconic stadiums, not just in Scottish football, but football… period!
This was most certainly a checkmark on life’s bucket list for me!
I’ve been looking forward to visiting here ever since I managed to secure two tickets, a couple of weeks ago, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Celtic – Journey and Pre-Game
We set off from home around 07:00 to catch the bus to Newcastle and arrived in Toon fifty minutes later. A ten-minute walk to the train station was followed by a wait for the 08:49 train to Edinburgh.
The train duly arrived on time and after boarding and settling into our seats we were on our way north of the border once more.
We arrived at Edinburgh Waverley at 10:25 and made our way to our connecting train’s platform. Another train on time! This is going suspiciously smoothly! The train set off for Glasgow Queen Street at 10:45 and we pulled into the station at 11:40.
This was where we would typically find a nice pub to eat lunch but I was very aware that Celtic Park and the surrounding area on a matchday is a hectic place. For this reason, we brought some sandwiches and ate them on the train. This freed us up to just take our time without stressing about where to grab lunch.
We caught the 255 bus from Ingram Street, which is just on the other side of George Square from Queen Street. This took us to within a short walk of the stadium. We got our first glimpse of Celtic Park and my first impression was that it was similar to Hampden Park. A big, bowl-shaped stadium that looks pretty similar most of the way around its exterior and a brick facade in front of the main stand entrance.
Already, there were people milling around and coaches full of Celtic supporters from towns all over Scotland were parking up and releasing the green and white hooped hordes. There were also stallholders setting up their merchandise in the streets surrounding the stadium.
Again, reminiscent of Hampden.
They were doing a brisk trade but we ignored them in favour of the club shop. The Celtic FC Superstore is a separate building on the slope away from the stadium. It features Alton Towers style queuing barriers which suggested that getting here early might have been prudent!
We had a stroll around and eventually bought the obligatory pin badge and programme, with Mrs Hopper adding a pair of shorts to her burgeoning football wardrobe.
Just off to the right of the club shop is the first of four statues that have pride of place in front of the main stand. As team captain, a jubilant Billy McNeill is portrayed lifting the (then) European Cup aloft after the Hoops had triumphed over Inter Milan in Lisbon, Portugal. This 1967 victory made them the first British team to lift the most prestigious club trophy in Europe.
One year later, Manchester United became the first English club to achieve the honour.
The team that made this wonderful achievement happen will forever be known as the Lisbon Lions and they live on in various forms around the stadium, including one of the stands that carry that nickname. There are further statues located in front of the main stand that depicts the manager, Jock Stein and talismanic winger, Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone.
Celtic – Stadium Exterior Gallery
Having taken a few photographs around the stadium’s exterior, we decided to head off to sample the matchday atmosphere at one of the pubs in the area, the Tavern Bar. This was a ten-minute walk from Celtic Park and along the way, we passed another bar that has been closed down and is now looking a sorry sight – the Paradise Bar.
A quick Google search told me this establishment has been closed down and is due to be bulldozed to make way for flats. Meanwhile, it adds to the general feeling that Celtic Park is the luxury epicentre of a rather run-down and deprived area of the city.
We reached the Tavern Bar and I’m glad we got there when we did because pretty soon it was full of Celtic fans. When we arrived, most of the tables and seats were taken in the bar but we realised there was a second room where the bar extended and plenty of places to sit. We ordered a Guinness and a Tennents for the relatively cheap cost of £7.20.
We sat and enjoyed the atmosphere for about an hour, listening to the Celtic music and the patter of the locals. Another round of drinks (this time I swapped the Guinness for a Jack Daniels) were downed before we headed off back to Celtic Park for the build-up to the match.
On the walk back to the ground, I couldn’t help but notice how many youngsters were walking around wearing Japanese bandanas around their heads, and on the scarves and flags they were carrying were pictures of Kyogo. There are three prominent Japanese national team players at the club (Daizen Maeda, Kyogo Furuhashi and Reo Hatate) and it’s very clear that they are popular with the Hoops fan base.
Outside the stadium, there were four police horses receiving lots of attention from fans both young and old. Lots of stroking and fuss which they were taking in their stride and Mrs Hopper and I were happy to join in and give these magnificent creatures a bit of love.
Celtic – The Stadium
With the exterior of the stadium already explored, it was time to check out the inside of the ground.
We purchased our tickets in advance via the Celtic online ticketing system at a cost of £32.00 each, plus £3.00 postage. Having walked past the horses and under the back of the North Stand, we came to turnstiles 1-5.
Having verified our tickets in the QR scanner, we entered the stadium.
Our seats were on the very last row of the upper tier and while this meant we had a superb view of the stadium, it meant a long climb up the stairs. The walls and railings were painted in Celtic green and white with flashes of yellow on the steps.
I also noticed a Feyenoord sticker on the underside of the steps. I’m not sure if Feyenoord and Celtic fans have a connection, or if this was a cheeky plant from a Dutch fan while nobody was looking.
Once up the concourse steps, we faced another climb up to our seats on the top row. A word of warning… if you suffer from vertigo, you probably need to buy tickets on the lower tier if you plan on visiting Parkhead.
The seating is steep and there are very few handrails to hold onto as you make the climb. As someone who used to suffer badly from a fear of heights, I did get an occasional flutter of nerves but my days of debilitation from this phobia are pretty much gone now, thankfully.
A final warning, there is very little legroom. As you will see from the following photograph, foot space was at a premium and it gets a little hairy when people want to come past you to visit the toilets or to go and get a snack. My knees weren’t too happy by the end of the game either. (Yes, I’m getting old!)
I’m not sure if the whole ground is like this, or if it was specific to this area of the ground. Maybe you can drop a comment if your experience of the stadium is different.
In my opinion, inside the stadium is vaguely similar to St. James’ Park, Newcastle. The main difference between the two stadiums is that Celtic Park has a third stand built up into a towering second tier, as opposed to two at Newcastle.
Celtic Park has a capacity of 60,411.
We were located in the Jock Stein Stand in the northwest corner of the ground and the two-tiered nature of the stadium began off to our right where the western end of the Main Stand ends and the Jock Stein Stand begins. This continues all the way around the North Stand and the Lisbon Lions Stand, ending at the eastern end of the Main Stand.
The upper tier of the North Stand does contain some uprights connecting to the roof above, so these may impede the view for anyone sitting in the rows behind them.
The Main Stand itself houses the dugouts, a TV gantry and the players’ tunnel. Despite being much lower than the rest of the ground, it is also a two-tier stand and both tiers together come to the same height as the top of the lower tier around the rest of the ground.
This means that it still has an aesthetically pleasing design, despite sounding incomplete. Maybe Celtic plan to one day raise the capacity further by building the Main Stand to the height of the other three sides but if they don’t, it still looks great.
Ross County’s small band of followers were located in the southeast corner between the Lisbon Lions Stand and the Main Stand, directly opposite the North Curve (more on this section to follow).
Celtic – Stadium Interior Gallery
Pre-Game View of Celtic Park
The Green Brigade
In the corner between the North Stand and the Lisbon Lions Stand, is a section of safe standing. Nearly 3,000 rail seats were installed in the North Curve in 2016, making Celtic Park the first ground in the UK to have a safe standing area. This is the area where Celtic’s most vociferous fans congregate and they call themselves The Green Brigade.
A giant TV screen at each end of the stadium completes the layout and these show the team news and views of the game as it is being played.
As kick-off approached and the players entered the pitch, the Green brigade was conspicuous by its absence.
Celtic announced ahead of the game that they would be observing a minute’s silence before kick-off in recognition of British Army servicemen who had lost their lives. With the unavoidable conflict of opinions on this subject due to the Irish connections at the club, it was always likely to be a difficult moment. This is despite Scotland being home to many of the brave soldiers who have lost their lives over the years.
I am not here to judge one way or another on this subject, merely to report what I saw.
The Green Brigade had also announced that they wouldn’t be entering the stadium’s interior until after the minute’s silence was over. I have to say, this is far preferable to standing booing and jeering and they still got their message across to anyone who was paying attention.
Unfortunately, some of those in other sections of the crowd did feel the need to boo and whistle, although they were a minority. Most people stood silently and clapped when it was over.
Celtic – The Game
There was plenty of glee in the stands prior to kick-off as people reflected on Rangers only getting a point at St. Mirren in the early match that day. Celtic are going to be heavy favourites for a back-to-back championship title once football returns after the World Cup in Qatar.
At the start of the day, Celtic had a seven-point advantage over their city rivals and now had the chance to make it nine points with a win over tenth-placed Ross County.
The hosts kicked off the game, with me fully expecting to see a comfortable home win.
Ross County had apparently not read the same script as me though and despite Celtic having much of the ball, they were limited to few chances in a scrappy first half.
Indeed, we were fifteen minutes into the game before Celtic had their first real chance. A good move down the left culminated in a cross by Sead Haksabanovic, fired towards the penalty spot where Kyogo was waiting. His header was a good one but unfortunately for him, it looped just over the bar and landed on top of the Ross County net.
The next action of note was all about Celtic’s captain, Cameron Carter-Vickers. He picked the ball up in his own half and took it, unchallenged, to about thirty yards out before firing his shot low towards goal. Ross Laidlaw did enough to keep the ball out but he had to rely on his defender, Alex Iacovitti, to clear before Kyogo could pounce on the rebound.
Kyogo was again involved five minutes later. A fast-paced move through the middle of the pitch saw him played through on goal by Matt O’Riley. As he outpaced the closing in defenders, Kyogo pulled his shot wide of the left-hand post from the right of the penalty area. He would probably like to have that chance back again!
In the 38th minute, Celtic defender Moritz Jenz had to leave the field due to injury. He was replaced by Carl Starfelt.
To be honest, that was pretty much it in the first half. Celtic had dominated possession but not created much in the way of clear-cut chances. Credit must also go to Malky MacKay’s team for the way they defended as a team in the first forty-five.
Half-time – Celtic 0 Ross County 0
It’s been a long time since we have seen a 0-0 game and I didn’t expect this one to be the first.
Meanwhile, Celtic would need to improve in the second half if they wanted to extend that lead at the top of the table.
The Second Half
The second half began with Ross kicking off and it was the visitors from Dingwall who amazingly made the breakthrough after four minutes. A controversial penalty was awarded after a handball was given by match referee David Munro. After consultation with VAR, the decision stood.
From where I was sitting at the opposite end of the pitch, it looked like the ball had clearly struck the arm of O’Riley. The questions were, could he have avoided it? Were his arms in an unnatural position? Was he even in the penalty area? None of those could be answered from my vantage point.
The people who make the decisions agreed with the referee and the Staggies had an amazing chance to snatch three points against the odds.
David Cancola stepped up to take the spot-kick and he coolly placed it past Joe Hart in the Celtic goal to put the visitors ahead against the run of play… and I mean, against the run of play! By the end of this match, Celtic had 75% possession of the ball and 22 shots at goal, compared to Ross County’s two.
0-1 Ross County!
Five minutes after County took the lead, Celtic were clearly upping the tempo and they came close to an equaliser. Haksabanovic received the ball in a crowded penalty area and played the ball to the edge of the box where David Turnbull unleashed a magnificent effort towards the top right corner. This brought an equally impressive save out of Laidlaw who stretched and pushed the ball away as far as Maeda.
The move continued when Maeda found O’Riley and he put a ball into the six-yard box. Callum Johnson could only head the ball straight up in the air and the ball bounced back up into the air once more before Johnson appeared to push Anthony Ralston before clearing the ball.
Was it a penalty?
I’ve definitely seen them given but he also went to the ground very easily and this may have influenced the referee in not giving a penalty. It would have been a harsh call but Celtic may feel they had been hard done by, too, with the previous penalty decision.
Ross County were twenty-eight minutes away from their first-ever Premier League victory at Celtic Park when the inevitable finally happened.
Some neat passing in and around the box saw the ball eventually land at the feet of Reo Hatate. He used some lovely footwork and ball skills to create a bit of space for himself on the left side of the box, took the ball to the byline and put in a ball that landed at the feet of David Turnbull. He controlled it with his right foot and dug it from under his feet with the left, rolling it through the legs of Laidlaw to bring Celtic level.
Turnbull may be the name on the scoresheet but make no mistake, this was all about Reo Hatate who put in a man-of-the-match performance for Celtic today. His silky skills set up Turnbull with a chance it would have been harder to miss. Hard to believe Hatate hasn’t been selected by Japan for the upcoming World Cup in Qatar! All I can say is, they must have a hell of a midfield…
1-1 Celtic equaliser!
Cue flashing stadium lights and a roar of relief around the stadium!
Now, could they go on and win this game in the last twenty-something minutes?
Just five minutes after the equaliser, Celtic were ahead. That man Hatate was once again involved as he exchanged passes with Sead Haksabanovic on the edge of the box. The Swedish winger-cum-striker then showed his eye for goal by curling a lovely shot just inside the far post.
Cue more flashing lights and music. This time we even got a little dance from Haksabanovic by the corner flag way down below us.
This felt like the start of more goals to come but although Celtic pushed hard for more, the score remained 2-1.
Giorgos Giakoumakis came closest to adding a third near the end of the game as he twisted and turned inside the area, wriggled free of his markers and took aim at the far post. Initially, I thought he had put his shot wide but it turned out Laidlaw had made a great save and deflected it wide for a corner.
Ultimately, it made no difference to the outcome though and Celtic had proved that they can win when they aren’t at their commanding best.
The sign of a good team, is that!
The match official brought the game to an end and Celtic Park celebrated with its heroes.
You can read a further Match Report here from The Herald.
Full-time – Celtic 2 Ross County 1
Attendance – 58,391
Entrance Fee – £32.00
Programme – £3.50
Celtic – Match Highlights
Current Premier League Table – 12/11/2022
Celtic – After the Game
Celtic Park is a magnificent stadium and has some magnificent support. Whatever your allegiances, you have to say that the fanbase is incredible. They come from all over Scotland, Ireland and England to watch their heroes and I’m sure from further afield too.
With Celtic now done, I look forward to seeing the other big side from the Blue side of the city!
Following the game we had plenty of time before our train was due to leave Queen Street at 18:45. We stayed and watched the players do a celebratory lap of the pitch, culminating with a dance in front of the Green Brigade in the corner.
With this done, we set off to catch our bus back to the station. We waited, and waited and… waited. Eventually, we decided it would be better to walk just in case no bus showed up. We walked for about ten minutes and just as we passed a bus stop, we saw a bus heading towards us. We crossed the road and got onto the packed bus that was sardine room only (not a typo.)
The bus pulled off into the heavy traffic and it soon became apparent why it hadn’t shown up on time, advancing at a snail’s pace. We kept monitoring Google Maps, the time and our progress towards the station, worrying that we might not make it in time. Eventually, we had to make a choice and we decided we would walk the rest of the way to make sure we caught the train.
We got to Glasgow Queen Street and were about to walk in when we noticed the bus just crawling past the station! Either way, we made it with five minutes to spare.
Our train was on the platform and we got on just in time to grab a couple of seats before that also became standing-room only. The train pulled off on time and we were on our way to Edinburgh Waverley. Mrs Hopper asked me what time our connection was, so I checked my phone and to my horror saw that our train had been cancelled. This was due to someone being hit by a train on the line between Edinburgh and Newcastle.
Rail replacement… a phrase that fills any train traveller with dread.
This usually means a slower alternative and usually, a bus. This meant that we would not be back in Newcastle in time to catch the last bus home if it was a four-hour bus journey.
We arrived in Edinburgh expecting the worst but were pleasantly surprised to see that taxis were being laid on instead of buses. We quickly made our way to Calton street before everyone else on our train read the board and we were in the slowly building queue about twelve taxis from the front. This queue soon started to grow exponentially as more confused passengers arrived.
We were directed to a taxi after about fifteen minutes of waiting around and we were joined in it by two young Chinese girls and an Indian doctor and his girlfriend. The Indian gentleman turned out to be a very colourful character and kept us amused on the journey back with his stories and opinions.
The upshot of all this is that the taxi driver did us proud and we arrived in Newcastle in time to catch the last bus home. In all, it took him just under two and a half hours to make the journey and we eventually walked through our front door just before midnight!
Hopefully, next week’s visit to Glasgow will be much smoother and get us home earlier.
Onto the next!