A-League fans not heralding from Scotland (particularly its green-half) could be forgiven for shrugging their shoulders and muttering ‘so what?’ at the news that SPL club Celtic are touring Down Under this July. They may have a point. Celtic ply their trade in a two-horse league where the days of non-Glasgow sides posing any sustained threat are long gone.
Furthermore, the current Celtic squad is a pale imitation of Hoops sides from yesteryear such as Jock Stein’s legendary Lisbon Lions, a side made up solely of players born within a 30-mile radius of Celtic Park which romped to nine domestic league titles in-a-row and in 1967 became the first Northern European team to win the European Cup. Or even Martin O-Neil’s squad from last decade which boasted a certain Henrik Larsson and reached the UEFA Cup final.
However, upon deeper examination, this Celtic tour is the most exciting we’ve hosted since AC Milan and Manchester United came to town. That’s because Celtic are a special club with a unique history. It was founded in 1888 by an Irish priest to raise money to feed Glasgow’s poor and now has one of the largest fan-bases in the world largely due to the Scots/Irish diaspora. We saw a glimpse of this fervent following in Brisbane two years ago when they took on the Roar in front of over 31,000 fans and Celtic’s chief executive Peter Lawell has since said that, North America aside, Australia represents his club’s biggest market. With this in mind, the tour promises to be bigger, better and far more atmospheric than the damp squibs we’ve seen when Premiership sides have visited our shores in recent years (see Everton, Fulham, Blackburn and Wolves).
On the pitch, too, Celtic are an improving force. Manager Neil Lennon might have fallen short of lifting the domestic title in his first season in charge but he is slowly building a young side to be reckoned with. Ki-Sung Yueng, Cha Du-Ri (South Korea), Georgios Samaras (Greece), Efrain Juarez (Mexico) and Emilio Izaguirre (Honduras) all starred for their countries at last year’s World Cup while recently midfielders Scott Brown and Beram Kayal, along with Scottish Player of the Year Izaguirre, have been linked with big-money moves to England.
Then there’s the never-ending debate about whether the Old Firm should join the English Premier League. The current Celtic team is good but would struggle. However, with 60,000 home crowds and a huge global reach, if Celtic were to make the move south and receive a slice of their astronomical TV and sponsorship deals it could then fund a substantial transfer budget enabling the club to challenge for top honours within a few short years.
With the SPL starting on July 23 Celtic has arrived with its strongest 23-man squad. This promises to give Central Coast, Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory a thorough work-out as their own pre-seasons get up and running. But the biggest benefit may well be to the A-League fans in the stands. With predictions for 30,000+ crowd in Sydney, a sell-out in Perth and a record crowd at Melbourne’s AAMI Park, it will give supporters of our own fledgling competition a first-hand glimpse at how one of the biggest clubs in the world like to do things.
Paul J. Laverty is a Melbourne-based writer. His work can be found at www.immovablefeast.com.au.