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March 2003
Celtic reach the semis of the UEFA Cup

Hampden reaches its centenary










Seville Thrill?

Martin O'Neill's phrase "astonishingly brilliant" first used in defeat, would be better applied to Celtic's UEFA Cup campaign. Victory over Liverpool means that this is the best European campaign by a Scottish club since Rangers came within one match of the European Cup Final ten years ago, the best in the UEFA Cup since Dundee United reached the Final in 1987 and the best by a Celtic team since reaching the last four of the European Cup in 1974.

Success at Anfield was achieved by virtue of an Alan Thompson free kick just before half-time and a superb strike from John Hartson, atoning for his penalty miss in the League Cup Final just days beforehand. Celtic have now played Premiership opposition four times in the UEFA Cup and have a record of three wins and a draw. Either the SPL is not as bad as we often think it is, or the English Premiership not quite as good as is often claimed.

The draw for the semi-finals gives Celtic an excellent chance of reaching the Final in Seville on May 21st. Italian giants Lazio and Portuguese league leaders Porto will clash in one game while Celtic take on Porto's 'second' team, Boavista, in the other. Boavista were founded by English textile company workers in 1903. This, their centenary year, is the best European run they have enjoyed.

While Porto are undoubtedly the 'big' club in the city, Boavista are clearly the second, being much better supported than the city's other team, Salgueiros. They play in the Estadio Do Bessa in the Bessa district of Porto where most of their support is based. The ground is in the process of being rebuilt for Euro 2004 and currently has a capacity of just 15,000 so unless the match is moved to Porto's Estadio Das Antas, tickets for Celtic supporters will be in short supply.

While our League is often described as a two-horse race, the field in Portugal is usually restricted to three - Benfica, Sporting and Porto. When Boavista took their first Portuguese title in 2001 it was the first championship by a club outside the big three since 1946. Last season they finished runners-up which entitled them to join the second round of the Champions League qualifiers.

Like Celtic they were eliminated in the third round and joined the UEFA Cup. But while their European form has, at times, been impressive, they are on the slide domestically. Currently they lie 8th in the League and have won just once away from home all season.

That poor away form has continued in Europe. In seven away ties they have won only one game, in Cyprus. They were even held to a draw in Malta. Yet in the last three rounds of the UEFA Cup they have come back from away defeats against Paris St Germain, Hertha Berlin and Malaga to win twice on away goals and once on penalties.

Celtic, meanwhile have played the first leg of all their European games this season at home. And after the shock of defeat in Basle have scored in every away match. So the pattern for the forthcoming tie seems clear. Celtic will look to take a two-goal lead, preferably without losing a goal, into the second leg. They are capable of doing so. The one word of caution is that for the first time since they played Lithuanian minnows Suduva, Celtic will go into a tie as favourites to win. They have handled underdog status well against Blackburn, Celta Vigo, Stuttgart and Liverpool. But no amount of obfuscation from Martin O'Neill can disguise the fact, that having got this far, Celtic supporters will expect to be booking tickets for the Final in the home of the orange.

And those with an orange tint of their own back in Scotland should be roaring them on. Every Celtic victory aids Scotland's UEFA co-efficient. Without going into the arcane world of how this is worked out, suffice to say that with reaching the semis and Turkey's Besiktas losing to Lazio, Scotland are guaranted 9th place for the 2004-05 season. This means that NEXT SEASON'S SPL champions will be GUARANTEED a direct entry into the Champions League for 2004-05.

A rich irony that, outside of Celtic supporters, those with most cause to be grateful for Celtic's triumph must be the cash-strapped Rangers board who must surely appreciate the benefits of guaranteed Champions League status in eighteen months time, should they win next season's title.

Next season we will be in 12th position which means that both Old Firm teams will enter the Champions League at the third round qualifying stage and both will be seeded. They will avoid being drawn against Spanish, English or Italian opposition but progress is by no means guaranteed. Celtic were the seeded team against Basle this year!

However, there will be NO increase in the number of Scottish clubs in Europe. And, as things stand at present it is unlikely that our other European entrants would be seeded beyond the Qualifying round of the UEFA Cup.

That may actually be for the best. At present our country co-efficient is worked out by dividing points gained by the number of teams entered and a fifth club would be certain to depress our overall tally.

Hampden’s A Hundred

Hampden Park is 100 years old this year. To commemorate the occasion two of Scottish football’s best-known historians – Forrest Robertson and David Ross - are teaming up to produce a new book all about the famous ground and the great matches that have been played there. And they’re offering YOU the chance to feature in the book.

They’re looking for Hampden memories. When was YOUR first visit to the national stadium? What do you remember about the occasion? Was it a Cup Final? International? Maybe it was a League match or a Junior Cup Final? Were there over 130,000 crammed into the ground? Or a few hundred souls looking swamped by the vast arena? Was it a glorious victory? Or perhaps a defeat that left you in tears?

Whatever it was, Forrest and David want to hear from you. Put ‘Hampden the first time’ in the subject line and e-mail webmaster@REMOVE ALL IN CAPITALS scottishleague.net with your Hampden memory. Remember, to say who you are and where you are from in the e-mail and please do not send any attachments.

Every e-mail received will be replied to.

Hampden in 1970

Forrest Robertson is the author of ‘The A-Z of Scottish Football’, and the statistical history of Queen’s Park. He has been BBC Scotland’s TV statistician for about 20 years, has also provided statistics for Panini and the Daily Record, is a regular contributor to the Scottish Football Historian and has contributed to many football histories over the past 30 years.

David Ross is the author of the books ‘Killie – the Official History’, ‘Simply The Best’, ’Everygame’, and the CD‘’Complete History of Scottish Football.’ He is the webmaster of www.scottishleague.net and has appeared successfully on the TV programmes ‘Mastermind’ and “The People Versus’ taking football as a specialised subject. He has contributed to many football publications over the past 20 years


Congratulations to Celtic on reaching the last eight of the UEFA Cup. They have now beaten teams from England, Spain and Germany this season. We don't want to appear over-confident but the Celts have as much chance of winning this tournament as any of the rest of the teams left in it. Certainly they will not be in awe of Liverpool in the quarter-finals.


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