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Celtic Sean Graham

 

When I heard it was ten years since Celtic played Porto in the UEFA Cup final in Seville, I simply could not believe it!

I can remember it as if it was yesterday, something like that never leaves you, and it was quite an experience. I went with some friends from work, John, Kenny, Jim, Ewan and Maggie and it was a treat from start to finish.

I was only going to either stay in the house or go and watch the game with my Dad and uncle before I got the call to come off the subs bench to get ready for what was to be the trip of a lifetime for many Celtic fans and indeed some of the general football fans who made their way to the match by whichever way they could.

It seemed like half of Glasgow, the Green half, were all going to Seville judging by the number of Celtic fans who had made their way to Glasgow Airport, even former Rangers player and now manager, Ally McCoist was able to walk about freely without even a boo from the Celtic supporters, they were having far too much fun to notice.

From the moment we reached the airport, everyone was in such high spirits and I don’t mean just the drink!

I remember we had to travel to Seville via London the day before the game but even the time spent in the airport was such good fun, with some of the fans having a cardboard cut-out to run up and down with as other fans cheered.

The flight itself didn’t seem to take too long and two things stuck out in my mind.

It was late at night and everyone was really tired but I just heard this voice saying, “Attention everyone, this is your captain speaking before hearing Hail, Hail, the Celts are here “belting out over the intercom on the plane, much to everyone’s delight, it was of course one of the Celtic fans who had grabbed a hold of the microphone.

The fans had now started to waken up again and some had started to sing a few songs but then the real captain said,” Welcome to Seville!” to which a loud roar went up, almost as loud as the plane taking off itself .

As soon as we got off the plane, I could feel how hot it was even so late at night; the most important thing at that time was finding our hotel and getting a cold beer before trying to get to sleep.

On the morning of the game, everyone woke up really early and went to Flaherty’s pub as there were a huge number of Celtic supporters there and the BBC had a radio programme from there also.

We knew it was too early to go to the stadium, so we walked around the beautiful sights and took in every bit of the atmosphere as we could because days like these don’t come around too often.

I seem to recall going for lunch and seeing Jackie Bird getting ready for the BBC news as they had taken a team to Seville to present the programme from there and also there was loads of BBC Sport people as the match was being beamed back live to the thousands of fans who could not make it to the game and for the Rangers fans too who in good humour turned some of their pubs into Sun Hill, the famous Police station in the programme, The Bill as the Celtic fans sang, “You’ll be watching the Bill when we are in Seville ! “, typical Glasgow humour and the Rangers supporters even turned up in Police hats and uniforms for the day and their next match, you can’t beat good banter like that !

The majority of supporters in Seville were Celtic fans, it was rumoured that 80,000 had made the trip to see their team play in this European final but I know one or two genuine football fans, not Celtic fans, made that trip also and enjoyed every minute of it.

As the hours to the game counted down to minutes now, the heat was most certainly on!

When the match kicked off, it showed 100 degrees in the stadium and that was no joke the heat was amazing and I am just surprised that none of the programmes melted that I bought.

The Celtic fans walking up to the stadium were in great heart and great voice, I had to draw breath as I walked in to see the stadium for the first time, the colours of both clubs looked amazing.

I knew that this was going to be no easy task.

Porto had a guy called Mourinho in charge and one or two of his players could play a bit too.

Up front they had the Brazilian hit man Derlei and in midfield they had the little Portuguese

Maestro Deco and I knew that they could cause Celtic problems.

But Celtic had a gem of their own in their ranks, the magical Swede Henrik Larsson.

Martin O’Neill and his Celtic side knew this was their chance to be legends, just like the Lisbon Lions 36 years before them but this was never going to be easy.

The supporters did their bit by creating a wall of noise all through the match for their favourites and now it was up to the players.

They had been on this roller-coaster run all the way through this competition seeing off the likes of Blackburn and Liverpool on route to this fantastic occasion.

Straight from the off Porto were a constant threat to the Celtic defence, especially with the influential Deco in their side and he was to cause Joos Valgaeren problems as he went into a tackle which earned him a booking.

He then forced Rab Douglas into a fine save before being involved in the opening goal as he found Alenitchev unmarked and even though Douglas saved his shot the ball rolled to Derlei and he blasted the ball home to give Porto the lead.

Despite this setback, Celtic kept their heads and were soon back in the match after half-time as their main man Henrik Larsson rose to meet an Agathe cross to beat Baia in the Porto goal and bring Celtic level.

This was the magical Swede's 200th goal for the club and the Celtic fans loved it.

This game was opening up more and more now and the classy Deco made sure that Celtic would not be on level terms for long.

The little Deco played a fantastic pass to open up the Celtic defence again and allowed Alenitchev the chance to roll the ball past Douglas.

But Celtic came back at them again after an Alan Thompson's corner found the Swede again and goal number 201 in Celtic colours had the fans in full voice once again.

The tide was turning now but both sides had chances to win it in before the end of the 90 minutes, indeed the dangerous Aleitchev did have a chance to win it after a mistake by McNamara but he blasted his shot high and wide.

As the game went into extra-time, Celtic were dealt a blow as Bobo Balde was sent off after a rash challenge on Derlei.

In the heat playing in this heat with 11 men was bad enough so playing with ten would be that more harder.

As the first period of extra-time passed , it passed with not many chances for either side.

This was the "silver goal "decider time now or first team to score if you like and unfortunately for Celtic it would be Porto who would score.

With only five minutes left on the clock it would be Porto who would grab the winner and it was that man Derlei who managed to outfox the Celtic defenders before firing passed Rab Douglas, Celtic hearts were broken and they could do nothing to change that.

Celtic tried to push forward in the final minutes but they just could not make the breakthrough and even when Alan Thompson tried to set himself up to shoot, he was on the receiving end of a crude challenge by Nuno Valente, who received his marching orders

Even at ten a side, Celtic could not get the goal which would have taken the game to penalties, their European adventure had ended.

I stayed in the ground for a while just till all the players from both sides had left then I walked round the outside of the stadium on my own, where I met Porto fans and Charlie Nicholas the former Celtic forward but I remember walking around the second time, there was a Spanish TV crew and a load of Porto fans being interviewed.

I had a half and half scarf on and the girl who was interviewing the Porto fans, looked over and pointed at me but as she did, I heard someone shouting "Sean" at the top of their voice, it was my Dad's pal Alex who he had not seen for months!

The Spanish TV crew and the lady doing the interview asked me to come forward.

They asked would I mind being interviewed for TV, their English was better than my Spanish ! So we went for a wee interview in English and at the end I remember the girl thanking me and we gave each other a kiss on the cheek...but the camera was still rolling and I pulled back and said, "

I hope my wife was not watching that !" with a smile and a wink but like everything else on the trip it was only a friendly kiss, honest !

As we made our way back to the hotel, no one slept, everyone sat around the bar or on the floors, this had been an experience of a lifetime for me and anyone else who was in Seville in 2003 and it will never be forgotten.

Sean Graham

Follow on Twitter @FeaturesSean


"I am just a guy who has over 40 years of memories of watching various clubs and matches since my Dad took me round the grounds in Glasgow each week before we went to meet my Mum after work and we always went to the Berni Inn where I had scampi and chips !

From watching Aberdeen, Celtic, Rangers, Partick Thistle, Maryhill juniors and Scotland as well as watching Everton and Manchester United, I have plenty of memories to share for fans to hopefully enjoy and remember."

Teams:

Celtic: Douglas, Balde, Mjallby, Valgaeren (Laursen 64), Agathe, Lennon, Lambert (McNamara 76), Petrov (Maloney 104), Thompson, Sutton, Larsson.
Subs Not Used: Hedman, Sylla, Fernandez, Smith.

Sent Off: Balde (95).

Booked: Valgaeren, Lennon, Balde, Petrov.

FC Porto: Vitor Baia, Ferreira, Nuno Valente, Jorge Costa (Pedro Emanuel 71), Ricardo Carvalho, Costinha (Ricardo Costa 9), Alenichev, Maniche, Deco, Capucho (Marco Ferreira 98), Derlei.
Subs Not Used: Nuno, Cesar Peixoto, Clayton, Tiago.

Sent Off: Nuno Valente (120).

Booked: Nuno Valente, Derlei, Maniche, Marco Ferreira.

Attendance: 52,972

Referee: Lubos Michel (Slovakia)

 

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