Over the last decade or so Celtic Park on a European night has earned a reputation as one of the most intimidating, passion fuelled atmospheric arenas that there is. Up against the likes of Man Utd, Barcelona or Milan the fans have found an extra decibel in the vociferous support which usually transgressed through to the players giving that supposedly mythical 'extra 10%'.
I was therefore delighted when we picked our visit to Parkhead to coincide with the return of Rapid Vienna for a Europa League game. Celtic supporters felt their team had a score to settle with the Austrian side after an infamous game in 1984 when Vienna won through after a highly disputable replay game. It had all the makings of a fiery classic. What we got instead was an insipid Celtic performance played out in front of a disappointing turnout of supporters who were out sung all night by a raucous and buoyant troupe of 3000 travelling fans.
3 guests, Nicola, Jimmy and Scrawn joined us for this leg of our journey (still no Sean although he is promising to return later in the season) and we ended up getting a taxi to the ground after missing our train so it was a bit of a mad dash into the stadium with just moments to spare. We entered to the always impressive sight of 40,000 or so green and white scarves held aloft to the sound of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' and took our seats as the teams emerged. In truth the Celtic side never mentally emerged for the first 15 minutes as Rapid immediately attacked with vigour and purpose. Just 3 minutes in, McManus attempted to pass through a player (never seen that work), Rapid broke quickly, leaving the Scot floundering badly, and Jelavic drilled the ball past Boruc. The home side struggled to get any kind of foothold in the game but were handed a lifeline when Andreas Dober attempted the same trick as McManus, this time leaving McDonald to race through and finish similarly to tie the game.
Kieran, Nicola and I endured a long queue at half time for a pie and Bovril and had to watch on the monitors as Celtic came racing out of the traps in the 2nd half when Maloney's shot was parried and McDonalds rebound effort cleared off the line. If that was disappointing then to be told there were no pies left as we finally reached the top of the queue was just plain annoying. The rest of the 2nd half was a frustrating affair, Celtic all huff and puff with very little quality in the final 3rd. Jelavic was denied a penalty as Rapid threatened on the break and he came close with a header that flashed wide. The final chance of the game fell to Caldwell with a free header at the back post but in keeping with his early season form his effort drifted high over the bar.
A draw was a fair score on the night, Celtic not creating enough against a well organised Rapid side. The home fans had began to drift away before the final whistle, by which point the boisterous de-shirted Rapid supporters party was in full swing. They even produced a couple of humorous banners mocking the events from 25 years ago (which was a far better response than Celtic fans 'liars and cheats' banner which frankly made them look rather petty). As a Celtic supporter it had been a frustrating night and one which didn't do justice to the many great European matches I had witnessed in previous years. As Kieran pointed out to me: 'You guys just seem to go from one extreme to the other - utter depression to unbridled joy' I guess that's the wonder that is supporting Celtic.
Journey - 3/10
Ground - 9/10
Game - 6/10
Pie - 0/10
Bovril - 8/10