This season has already seen some fans take umbrage with the atmosphere at various stadiums; West Ham have found it particularly difficult to navigate the transition to the London Stadium, in particular. Stamford Bridge is often criticised for being quiet, as has The Emirates, and in the past, Anfield was brought up as an example of this during home games against lesser opposition. Roy Keane was famously vocal about his displeasure when it came to the “Prawn Sandwich Brigade” at Old Trafford, during his time at Manchester United.
On Wednesday night, I witnessed something special at Celtic Park — a ground that, to be fair, has a reputation for having a terrific atmosphere during big European games. In the recent history of the Champions League, Celtic have beaten Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax at home, to name only a few. The atmosphere created by the fans is second to none in European football on these big nights. The noise throughout the ninety or so minutes was deafening. Manchester City players have played in big games in the past, but I’ve no doubt in my mind that the noise would’ve intimidated them to the point where it affected their performance — Raheem Sterling looked nervous early on in the game as did a few others.
The atmosphere seemed to get the Celtic players to a different level of performance on this night, though. After getting destroyed in the Camp Nou two weeks ago, it was vital that Celtic players put in a performance against Manchester City on Wednesday night; the fans recognised this and knew the part that they had to play, too. Some football fans don’t know how important their roll is for their team. I’m not going to suggest that Celtic got a point from their game on Wednesday night purely because of the fans, but it would also be remiss of people to underestimate how big a part they played. The difference in terms of budget between the two clubs is massive, and this translates to the pitch with the quality of player that they can bring in at the start of the season. Celtic spent a measly €5 million on transfers this Summer, compared to the massive €213 million that Man City parted with. Add to that, City appointed the much more attractive Guardiola in charge in the off-season, while Celtic got Brendan Rodgers on a one year deal in May after being sacked by Liverpool last October after a run of poor results.
So with this in mind, it should’ve been a pretty easy night for Manchester City, right? Wrong. Celtic played with an energy level that far exceeded the level that they will need for their own domestic league. The fans singing throughout the game will help with the work rate, that’s a given, but as the noise became louder and louder, everyone in the ground could sense that these two teams were on a more even keel than most thought prior to a ball being kicked. Celtic grew in confidence as the game went on and may even feel that they left a momentous win behind them. Brendan Rodgers made some pretty brave decisions during the game such as bringing on Griffiths and Roberts late on to try and get the three points, when any other manager would’ve been happy with the draw. In the end, a draw was possibly the right result in what was a pulsating ninety minutes of football.
There have been many instances of teams getting unexpected victories in big games: Ireland at home to Holland in 2001, Liverpool in the Ataturk Stadium in 2005, Wales at the European Championships this year in France. On those occasions, the victors were most definitely spurred on by their raucous fan base. While Celtic didn’t manage the victory on Wednesday night, the performance of players and fans will be remembered for a long time to come. This is the new benchmark for future fan performances to be measured up against.