PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland
Steve Johnson paid a visit to Celtic Park for the game against Thistle in order to review the stadium for his website.
Celtic Park was a ground that had always caught my eye on television - not just because it looked a magnificent stadium, but because of the passion and fervour of the fans who flock there in their thousands every fortnight. In particular, the televised UEFA Cup match between Celtic and Blackburn Rovers (a couple of weeks prior to my visit) revealed what a stunning atmosphere the Celtic fans were capable of creating. I'd been pondering a trip to a Scottish ground for a while and after witnessing the Blackburn match at Celtic Park on TV, I decided to make the long trip to see the stadium "in the flesh".
Due to their European commitments, Celtic's home clash with Partick was switched to a Sunday afternoon. I booked my ticket six days in advance of the game and was really looking forward to what promised to be a special day out.
I left home bright and early at 9am on the Sunday morning, making excellent time on a quiet M6 and M74. A cooked breakfast at Gretna and 3 hours of travel later, Celtic Park came into view around 12:40pm, straight ahead as I drove along the London Road, from the A74. There was plenty of parking to be had, both in car parks and on the street. I picked a spot that looked as if it would help provide a quick getaway after the game and continued the journey along London Road towards the ground by foot.
The area around the ground seemed like quite a deprived and run-down area; the smart, impressive stadium was almost out of place with its surroundings. I'd expected Celtic Park to dominate the skyline, but it was dwarfed somewhat by three tower blocks in the close vicinity.
Although there were still over 2 hours until kick-off, there were already plenty of fans outside the stadium, along with countless people selling Celtic scarfs, badges and various other memorabilia.
As I reached Celtic Park, the difference in height between the Main Stand and the rest of the ground was instantly apparent. From the outside, the Main Stand looked only half the height of the rest of the stadium. It was hardly a small structure though and I was impressed by the towering structure of the rest of the ground. A couple of police entrances that were open allowed the opportunity for a view of the inside of Celtic Park and what I saw served only to whet my appetite further for the afternoon ahead.
A fair number of supporters were gathered by the players' entrance and the Celtic players and Martin O'Neill received a hero's welcome when the team coach arrived at the ground. The ticket office and shop were in separate buildings set back from the stadium itself and I was greatly impressed by the wide range of items in Celtic's club store. Open space and car parks surrounded three sides of Celtic's home - the room for further expansion in contrast to the lack of space behind the giant North Stand.
Around 1:50pm the turnstiles opened and I made my way inside Celtic Park. The toilets were okay and there was a decent selection of reasonably priced food. The Scotch pie was a first for me and I would certainly recommend it.
As I took my seat, I was every bit as impressed with Celtic Park as I had imagined. My ticket was for the South West corner of the ground and afforded a good perspective on the whole of the stadium. I was about 12 rows back in the lower tier, where the leg room and difference in height between the rows of seats meant that it was possible to watch the match in comfort and with a clear view.
Two features of the stadium were very distinctive - the huge lower tier that ran continously around the three large stands in Celtic Park and the unusual perspex roof that made the smaller Main Stand even more recognisable. Three sides of the ground were as impressive a sight as I had seen on my travels; comprising a huge lower tier and fair sized upper tier, the Jock Stein, North and Lisbon Lions Stands were truly magnificent. The Main Stand, to my right hand side, was level in height with the top of the lower tier of the other sides of the stadium. The fact that this stand was a considerable size itself shows just how big the lower tiers of the other sections were! There is certainly space around the ground for this stand to be redeveloped in the future to complete a truly breathtaking arena. The corners of the stadium were all filled, making the stadium totally enclosed. The bright green seating provided a welcome break from the normal colours, whilst the Celtic lettering on the North Stand seats and roof also added to the ground's appearance.
I'd taken a few pictures outside the ground and once I'd taken in the beautiful, inspiring setting around me, I ensured that the inside of Celtic Park was also captured on film. A big screen in the Lisbon Lions Stand showed highlights of recent Celtic matches for about 20 minutes shortly after 2:00. It was good to see that adverts were kept to a minimum, in marked contrast to the big screens at grounds in England. A popular feature was "You're on Celtic TV", where live pictures of people in the stadium were displayed on the giant screen. It was amusing to see the mixed expressions of surprise and delight on children's faces as they realised they were on the screen.
In the forty minutes before kick-off, a number of Celtic songs were played over the PA system, most of which were quite impressive, apart from a rather dodgy version of "Hey Baby", that appeared to be a personalised tribute to Henrik Larsson! The Celtic songs certainly added to the pre-match experience, capturing the passion and love for the club from its supporters. A rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" around 2:50 was the prequel to the emergence of the teams to a thunderous reception a few minutes later.
The whole ground seemed packed to capacity, with just a few empty seats in the visitors section to my right hand side in the South East corner. As the game got underway, however, I was shocked at the silence that fell around Celtic Park. The only noise at first came from the visiting fans and it wasn't until Celtic scored that the first loud chant of "We shall not be moved" came from the home supporters. For most of the game the atmosphere was pretty patchy but when the crowd did come to life the noise generated around the stadium was very impressive. All parts of the ground seemed to both start and join in different chants and the acoustics of Celtic Park appeared to be superb.
At half time, a guest (presumably a former player or manager) got a tremendous ovation as he came onto the pitch to make a draw. Fans all round the ground were waving fanatically, making quite a spectacle. Also entertaining the crowd at half-time was Scotland's keepie-uppie champion, who made his way around the pitch showing off his skills. Celtic's dog mascot also deserves a mention - definitely one of the more entertaining mascots I've seen on my travels.
The difference in class between the two teams was all too apparent and perhaps went some way to explaining why the atmosphere wasn't quite as electric as I'd anticipated. Certainly, I'd imagine the fans would whip up the noise level much more if a Liverpool or Manchester United were the visitors, and the reason for the club wanting to join the English league is obvious. Partick barely mustered a shot in the whole match and it was a comfortable victory for Celtic, who played some lovely football at times.
As the final whistle dawned, I headed back to my car and made the journey back home in excellent time. The game and overall football experience had certainly whetted my appetite for more Scottish football - with many grounds closer to home than Celtic Park, I now have a whole host of other football venues to add to my "to do" list.
Whilst the trip to Celtic Park was very enjoyable, I know I didn't see the ground at its best. I'd love to return in the future for a big European tie or maybe even an Old Firm match if I could get a ticket!
The ground oozes character, class and looks simply breathtaking. If the Main Stand ever gets redeveloped to mirror the remainder of the ground, then Celtic Park will undoubtedly be the best club ground in Britain. For a big match, I'm certain that the atmospheric and inspiring home of Celtic will offer the complete football experience.
Grounds Tour Rating: 97
For more stadium reviews check out the Groundstour website at www.groundstour.freeserve.co.uk
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