The fans came in their thousands again

Celtic fans

WHEN the final whistle blew in The Estadio Nacional on the 25th of May 1967 there were immediate scenes of bedlam and unhindered joy amongst the fans of Celtic Football Club. Their team had just become the kings of Europe and while the fans streamed on to the pitch, totally ignoring armed soldiers and a moat that surrounds the playing surface, the victorious Celtic players struggled to leave the field of play with their shirts still on their backs.

After quite a few minutes, Billy McNeill, as team captain, would mount a rostrum high up in the stadium and collect the big cup. The resultant image of Billy raising the trophy aloft with chest puffed out has become an iconic Celtic image over the years and the scene is one which is repeated by way of the magnificent bronze statue that sits at the entrance to the Celtic Way outside Parkhead.

However, few who were caught up in those joyous moments could have imagined that 50 years on those same moments would once again be celebrated in the Portuguese capital by some of those same fans and their children.

Celtic pilgrimage

Some 3000 Celtic fans made their way to Lisbon in or around the May 25, 2017, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Celtic winning the European Cup. Many came in memory of fathers and brothers who were in Lisbon 50 years ago and others came just as part of what even the locals now as ‘the Celtic pilgrimage to Lisbon.’

On May 23, there was a celebration dinner attended by more than 360 fans with a live band and a host of communal singing. Many other fans were to be found in the Irish bars around the town centre prompting one taxi driver to smilingly comment: “Celtic fans are crazy! They are here in their thousands, singing, dancing and having great fun and there isn’t even a match to go to!”
Local government, the Portuguese press, the tourist board, and local shops and businesses were all aware that a large amount of Celtic fans were coming to mark the anniversary and for the hotels and restaurants business was booming.

Most poignantly, on the morning of May 25 Monsignor Charlie Cavanagh celebrated Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Martyrs in Lisbon with the Mass being dedicated to the memory of all those who played in and attended the game, whether they supported Inter or Celtic.

When delivering his sermon to a packed church, Mgr Cavanagh stressed the history and importance of Irish immigration to Scotland and the positive impact such immigration had made to Scottish society, citing St Columba and Brother Walfrid, Celtic’s founding father, as outstanding examples. The monsignor particularly emphasised how astonished Sligo-born Walfrid would be to learn that the football club he started had become European champions and that he would have been further astounded to learn that thousands of fans would travel to Lisbon to celebrate the event 50 years later.

After the Mass, fans were invited to go to the famous stadium where Celtic sealed their victory for a specially organised visit and were greeted with the stadium speakers belting out The Celtic Song and You’ll Never Walk alone.

The Road to Lisbon cyclists—who had cycled from Celtic Park all the way to Lisbon—were allowed to do a lap of honour within the stadium and received a huge round of applause for their efforts which has raised almost £55,000 for charity.

Paul Muldoon, who led the cyclists, said that entering the stadium was ‘magical’ and that sentiment was echoed by many others who were present.

Another Celtic fan, from Cumbernauld, was allowed to scatter his father’s ashes at the side of the pitch in a very personal and emotional moment.

Later at night, Celtic fans enjoyed a street party where they all gathered to eat drink and sing, much to the amusement of the local Lisbonese.

One on duty policewoman was encouraged by her colleagues to join in the celebrations, as she was the sister of former Celtic striker Jorge Cadete and he later posted video footage taken by police officers on Twitter.

An event to remember

Describing those few days in Lisbon the views of many fans were summed up by Hugh Clark from Wishaw who was there with his brother John who had travelled from Canada.

“I will never forget these few days—they have been amongst the best of my life,” he said. “There was a great atmosphere among the Celtic fans and the people of Lisbon. It was a joy just to be here.”

Paul Higgins from Lanarkshire was amongst a group of fans who stayed on in Lisbon over the following weekend and found himself watching the Scottish Cup Final between Celtic and Aberdeen in the Lisbon hotel owned by Cristiano Ronaldo (above).

“There were maybe 25 of us in the CR7 hotel and we were all singing and dancing at the end of the match. The staff took a photo or a video of us mixing with locals and even other football fans who were also in Ronaldo’s sports bar and they sent a picture of this to Ronaldo. The next thing we knew was that there were a round of drinks on the house for all of us with a personal message from Cristiano Ronaldo himself saying “Come on the Bhoys!”

It seems that everyone in Lisbon was a Celtic fan.