Celtic’s victory over Barcelona in the Champions League was arguably their most memorable victory in Europe since they won the competition in 1967. When Celtic defeated Inter Milan in Lisbon they became the first British team to lift the European Cup. The Lisbon Lions as they became known were all born within a 30-mile radius of Glasgow. Could you imagine this today, Eleven Scots triumphing in European football’s biggest club competition against a club like Inter Milan?
Last night Celtic Park celebrated winning a home game in the Champions League group phase, in which they only had 24% possession, like it was 1967 and Lisbon all over again. For Barcelona, the defeat against Celtic should serve as nothing more than a minor blemish on their season, as they hope to continue this great period in their history post Pep Guardiola. This current Barcelona team is considered the latest genuine great side, a team made up of local boys playing under the guidance of one of their own. They have conquered Europe playing football revered across the continent; this should sound familiar to the older generation of Celtic supporters. Jock Stein’s men were the first Scots to win Europe’s biggest prize. They were certainly not the last.
In 1980 Nottingham Forrest won the European Cup with four Scots in their starting line-up. Brian Clough also brought on John O’Hare for Forrest. Three Scots started for Liverpool in their 1978, 1981 and 1984 triumphs. When Liverpool looked to retain the European cup in the final in 1985 against Juventus they had five Scots playing. The number of representatives from all the home nation in England’s top division has of course declined in the wake of the influx of foreign imports. English players still reach the top clubs however and the national team continues to regularly qualify for the major international tournaments. Scotland haven’t reached a finals since France 98 and look further away than ever. With the Euros being expanded to twenty-four teams in 2018 Scotland at least have a small chance of being in France again for a major tournament after what will be a twenty-year absence.
Once upon a time Scotland being on the periphery of the international stage was unthinkable. Scotland qualified for all but one World Cup between 1974 and 1998 when they failed to make USA 94. For some unknown reason the conveyor belt of talent that had produced such great players as Jim Baxter, Dave McKay, Ian St.John, Denis Law, Billy Bremner, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Alan Hanson, Gary McAllister and Colin Hendry to name a few simply dried up. Foreign influx or not, the players mentioned would have reached the top of the English game in any era. In 2012 only about ten Scots apply their trade in the Premier League and only Darren Fletcher plays for a top club with any sort of regularity.
This was a memorable night for Celtic, a fantastic show of spirit; it was a result against all odds. For their clubs just to be involved at the top-level is seen as something to treasure for Scottish football these days. It’s the only chance fans north of the border get to see top players anymore. Not only does Scotland currently fail to produce really top class players anymore; they don’t attract them either. It’s not that long ago the old firm clubs attracted players such as Paul Gascoigne, Henrik Larsson, Brian Laudrup, Andrei Kanchelskis, Gennaro Gattuso and Chris Sutton.
Celtic’s victory is a bright moment for Scottish football in a season that looked set to be remembered mostly for Rangers having to reform in the third division. Ranger’s plight seemed to sum up Scottish football, a long and proud history, and now a bit of an embarrassment. Tony Watt at 18 years old came on and scored what proved to be the winner on his Champions League debut on Wednesday. I know little about Watt, but let’s hope for Scotland’s sake the cogs of the conveyor belt are turning once again and the lad from Airdrie is the first of many that can help elevate Scottish football to its former status.