From Fortress Parkhead to easy pickings

The area surrounding Celtic Park has changed dramatically in the past few years after the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games brought in funding to completely regenerate the infrastructure.

There now stands a state-of-the art velodrome where once there was dilapidated housing. The slums have gone, the muddy parking areas have disappeared and the ‘Celtic Way’ – an impressive pathway leading up the stadium – has been created. It has been quite a transformation.

 

The transformation on the pitch has been similarly rapid.

Just over three years ago, Celtic turned over the mighty Barcelona in Glasgow’s East End, following an agonising last-gasp defeat in Spain. On other trips to Glasgow, a strong Benfica side drew 0-0 and CSKA Moscow were beaten 2-1, with Celtic advancing to the last 16 of the Champions League.

This week, Celtic exited the Europa League with a second home defeat on-the-trot, the more celebrated Ajax winning where Norwegian minnows Molde FK had also triumphed.

Over a period of 11 years had made their home turf a place for even the biggest teams to fear. Juventus, Manchester United, AC Milan, Shakthar Donetsk, Porto, Benfica (twice) and Barcelona all visited Celtic Park and suffered defeats.

In fact, in Celtic’s first six appearances in the Champions League, the only teams to win at Celtic Park were Barcelona (twice) and Juventus.

The only teams to escape with any points were Bayern Munich, Barca, AC Milan, Manchester United, Benfica and, yes, less impressively, Aalborg.

Unfortunately, the humbling 3-0 last-16 defeat to a clinical Juventus in 2013 seemed to spell the end of the ‘Fortress Parkhead’ era.

The following year, Barcelona made no mistake and won 1-0 against a battling Celtic side, reduced to 10 men. A limited Ajax side were defeated but a similarly limited AC Milan thumped the Scottish champions on their home turf 3-0 in a dispiriting display.

Still, home defeats to two of European football’s greats should be no great cause for shame. But the two years to follow have certainly provided much embarrassment.

In order to reach the group stage of the Champions League in 2014, the Bhoys needed a home win over Slovenia’s Maribor. A clueless display saw them slip to a 1-0 defeat but they parachuted into the Europa League.

Many started to feel that Celtic’s swift demise in the space of 18 months meant that Europe’s second competition would be more suitable but, again, they failed to shine.

They stumbled out of the group thanks to 1-0 home victories over Dinamo Zagreb and FC Astra but fell 3-1 to Red Bull Salzburg in Glasgow – a result that flattered Celtic.

The start of this season saw renewed hope after an impressive end to the 2014-15 campaign but the Champions League qualifier again proved insurmountable.

It had looked like Fortress Parkhead may be on its way back as the Hoops stormed into a 2-0 lead over Malmo after just 10 minutes. Celtic led 3-1 late in the game but vulnerable defending gave the Swedes hope with an injury-time strike and they finished the job back home with a 2-0 victory.

Cash-rich Fenerbahce arrived for a Europa League tie and were also put under the cosh early doors as the Celts raced into another 2-0 lead, only to be pegged back to 2-2 as a result of incompetent defending.

 

Defeats to Molde FK and Ajax have since left Celtic at their lowest ebb in Europe since the dreaded 1990s.

Fans are split between blaming manager Ronny Deila for the poor performance and blaming the board for a lack of investment.

Whatever the causes of Celtic’s swift fall from grace, urgent action is required to ensure that the club does not slip back to the mediocrity of the period that saw them fail to progress beyond Christmas in European competition between 1981 and 2001.

Celtic return to domestic action with a six-point lead over the nearest rivals in the Scottish Premier League. If only things were that simple in Europe.

Author Details

Paul Murphy
Paul Murphy

Paul Murphy is an independent football writer based in Bangkok. He was formerly a freelance sports sub-editor with UK newspapers, including the Sunday Express and Metro. He now writes regularly for ESPN's South East Asia blog about Thai football and writes a monthly column for Hat-Trick magazine in Thailand.

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