Celtic claimed an eighth consecutive league title in 2019 and are now dominating the Scottish game in a way that hasn’t been seen since the legendary campaign that famously brought the European Cup to Glasgow. The iconic year of 1967 will always stand out but the ease with which Brendan Rodgers’ men won the league 50 years later, with a 30-point margin of victory, hints at unbroken title silverware for many years to come.
Rodgers, who replaced Ronny Deila in 2016 only to lose to Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar in his first game, then earned his place in the pantheon of great Celtic managers – but his departure for Leicester halfway through 2018-19 lost him no few friends at Celtic Park.
Occasional heroic performances in Europe – beating Barcelona, the draw with Manchester City, defeat of Zenit St Petersburg – hint at progress being made on the international stage but too often, Celtic are pitted against clubs with five times more financial clout.
Celtic were formed in November 1887 by Brother Walfrid of the Marist Order to raise money for the poor of Glasgow’s East End. This was the time of mass Irish emigration to Scotland – Celtic represent Glasgow’s Catholic community. Their first game with eternal rivals Rangers came in 1888, the date embroidered on the Celtic badge today worn by millions. Few other clubs in the world enjoy such global reverence.
Neither they nor Rangers set out with polarised aims but over the course of time, given the political struggle over the Irish Sea, each have witnessed controversy and infrequent violence. Rangers’ fans wave Union Jacks, Celtic’s the Irish tricolour.
On the pitch, ‘The Bhoys’ notched up 19 title wins before the war. Yet Celtic’s story really starts with the arrival of John ‘Jock’ Stein, as a player in 1951 (captaining the title side of 1954), and as a manager in 1965. Stein’s team, later dubbed the ‘Lisbon Lions’ after the seminal European Cup win of 1967, won every trophy they played for that year.
Facing Helenio Herrera’s cynical Internazionale that day at the Estádio Nacional were flame-haired winger Jimmy Johnstone, canny inside-forward Bertie Auld and statuesque centre-half Billy McNeill. A late Steve Chalmers goal made history for the Hoops, the first British team to lift Europe’s premier trophy. The players had walked out onto the pitch bellowing, as one, ‘It’s a grand old team to play for, a grand old team bedad!’, putting the wind up Inter even before kick-off. All the team that day came from within a 30-mile radius of Celtic Park.
The side went on to win a record nine consecutive titles but met with brutality in a fateful World Club Championship, and disappointment in the 1970 European Cup Final. The Hoops had already come through a bruising semi-final with Don Revie’s Leeds. The home leg at Hampden attracted a crowd of 136,505, a record for UEFA competitions.
Striker Kenny Dalglish helped keep silverware coming but after Stein’s car crash in 1975 and Dalglish’s transfer to Liverpool, Celtic hit a low.
While Rangers were spending big and winning back-to-back championships, Celtic nearly went out of business in 1994. Coach Wim Jansen stopped the rot and Rangers’ title run by taking the championship in 1998.
On the pitch, the goalscoring prowess of Swede Henrik Larsson gave him hero status; off it, chaos ruled. It took the arrival of Martin O’Neill as coach for the Hoops to up their game, two consecutive title wins prefacing a memorable day in Seville. Some 80,000 fans thronged the city for the trouble-free 2003 UEFA Cup Final with Porto, a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat.
Later success, and Champions League football, came under Gordon Strachan, while ex-player Neil Lennon led the Hoops to three consecutive league crowns. The sale of striker Gary Hooper to Norwich did little to affect form in 2013-14 – partly thanks to the development of goalkeeper Fraser Forster, goals of Kris Commons and Lennon’s experienced stewardship.
Arguably the high point of Lennon’s reign came in 2012, and the memorable 2-1 victory over Messi’s Barcelona in the Champions League. The late goal from teenage European debutee Tony Watt will live long in the memory.
Many were surprised by Lennon’s departure in 2014 – but perhaps even more surprised by his replacement, little-known Norwegian Ronny Deila. Despite success in the league, Deila was unable to forge ahead in Europe. Three days after defeat to Rangers on penalties in the Scottish Cup semi-final in April 2016, Deila announced his departure.
His replacement, Brendan Rodgers of Swansea and Liverpool fame, at last saw a big name in the managerial seat at Celtic Park – although this name counted for nothing when he lost his first game in charge, a shock 1-0 defeat to Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar.
Two comprehensive title wins duly followed, with a third lined up when Rodgers quit for Leicester City in February 2019. Neil Lennon returned to keep Celtic ahead of Rangers and win a 50th Scottish title – the third of three trebles won since 2017.
With a capacity of nearly 61,000, Celtic Park is the biggest football stadium in Scotland. Right in the Celtic heartland of Glasgow’s East End, the other side of the Barras market from the city centre, this is where Celtic played their first match in 1888. As a classic, turn-of-the-century football ground, it was conceived by stadium supremo Archibald Leitch, also responsible for Hampden and Ibrox.
Modern-day improvements came with the Stein era, floodlights and roofed stands, notably over the home West Side and the so-called ‘Jungle’ of the North Terrace. Further modernisations came with the club’s centenary in 1988: the ‘Jungle’ was effectively dismantled and seats installed, before being demolished completely in 1994.
This was part of a complete, £40 million redevelopment scheme through the 1990s that transformed Celtic Park.The four stands comprise main South and facing North along the sidelines; and, behind the goals, the Jock Stein West and Lisbon Lions East, where away fans are gathered in the south-east corner.
Take bus Nos.61, 62, 64, 255 or 240 from central Glasgow to the Tollcross Road – alight at Parkhead Forge Shopping Centre and it’s a short walk to Celtic Park. From Glasgow Central station, a train to Dalmarnock or Bridgeton Stations should also leave you close to the ground.
The ticket office (Mon-Fri 9.30am-5pm, match days from 9/9.30am) at Celtic Park and club shops at 154 Argyle Street and 215 Sauchiehall Street distribute tickets.
At the main Celtic Superstore (Mon-Wed 9am-5.30pm, Thur-Sat 9am-6pm, Sun 10am-5pm) at Celtic Park, you can buy your own personalised brick (£75) on Celtic Way, seat plaques (£20) and a staggering range of accessories and trinkets. There are three other outlets at 154 Argyle Street, 215 Sauchiehall Street and in Glasgow Airport.
Tour & Museum
Tours take place daily at 11am, noon, 1.45pm and 2.30pm except on match days, when they are scheduled half-hourly 9.30am-11am. Admission is £8/£5.50. Contact email@example.com to book.
The building of the Forge retail centre and re-landscaping of this section of Gallowgate saw the end of a couple of long-established pre-match pubs. The nearest are now The Drover Bar at No.447, with TV football and a pool table and, on a facing corner, the partisan Wee Man’s Bar at No.429.
Nearer town at Gallowgate 374, the traditional Hielan Jessie gets busy pre-match while at Gallowgate 209, the Saracen’s Head (‘Sarry Hied’) is another Celtic madhouse in the build-up to kick-off – as is the nearby Bar 67.
At the stadium itself, the Kerrydale Bar offers live music and big-screen football to home fans, pre- and post-match.