A year or so after I’d attended my debut Celtic European game against Olympiakos they were drawn against German opposition for the first time.
This was to be the fallow decade that had followed 10 years of plenty when the Hoops were considered to be one of the top five sides in Europe.
Starting with that 1974-75 first-round defeat to the Greek champions Celtic only managed the last eight in European competition twice. It was at this stage they met Sachsenring Zwickau, who were that rare thing: a German team no-one had ever heard of, mainly due to them being from the unfashionable, Soviet-bloc East Germany.
The men in green and white had defeated Boavista fairly comfortably in the preceding round and really should have seen off Sachsenring. This was the season they were missing Jock Stein, who was still recovering from a life-threatening car accident, and the sense of gloom and drift was palpable.
A third-round Scottish Cup defeat by a Willie Pettigrew-inspired Motherwell at Fir Park when Celtic had been two goals ahead seemed to define the atmosphere at the time.
This was an ageing team who’d been starved of investment by a board of directors who’d lived high on the hog of the Lisbon Lions and then let it all slip away due to incompetence and crass stupidity. Still, the European Cup-Winners’ Cup that season offered a real chance of a second European trophy.
The cup would be won by a mediocre Anderlecht team, who defeated West Ham United in the final. How Celtic failed to defeat Sachsenring is unfathomable. Kenny Dalglish scored their only goal of the game, Bobby Lennox missed a penalty and they amassed 21 corners to Sachsenring’s one. They ought easily to have scored five before the Germans improbably equalised near the end.
The second leg was one of those afternoon kick-offs that Celtic fans of a particular vintage will recall. In Catholic secondary schools all over the west of Scotland, head teachers – most of them Celtic-daft themselves – became uncharacteristically charitable by cancelling the afternoon periods so that pupils could watch the game live on BBC Scotland. Live football was a very rare treat in those days.
Celtic lost 1-0, despite dominating large periods of the game and their best chance of a trophy that season disappeared. It was the club’s first barren season since 1964.
It also set a dismal pattern for the Hoops in matches against German opposition. To date, Celtic have defeated Bundesliga sides on only four occasions and prevailed over both legs twice: against Stuttgart in the Seville season and Cologne in 1992.
Their record against clubs in Europe’s top five leagues – England, Italy, Spain, Germany and France – is actually not too bad, especially against English and Italian sides, but the Germans have always had a hegemony against Celtic which I can’t quite explain.
Yes, of course, German clubs are rarely anything other than very good but the Hoops have taken care of better English and Italian clubs. They should have beaten Werder Bremen in 1988 and probably Borussia Dortmund a year earlier. Yet it was a 2003 Champions League game against mighty Bayern Munich which provided the biggest disappointment.
This was still, more or less, the Seville team but with the crucial addition of goalkeeper Magnus Hedman and centre-back Stanislav Varga. Let’s be frank here: if Celtic had a competent goalkeeper that night in Munich’s iconic Olympic stadium, they’d have won.
I’ve been to a fair few dozen Celtic European away games and the display in the first 70 minutes of that game was the best I’d ever seen them play, given the quality of the opposition. Bayern had lifted the European Cup two years previously and were among the favourites to do so again in 2003.
Yet Celtic absolutely murdered them with Alan Thompson’s goal capping an outstanding midfield display. Neil Lennon, Chris Sutton, Henrik Larsson, Stan Petrov and Jackie McNamara were also magnificent.
Obviously, you’re expecting that Bayern will exert heavy pressure in the last quarter of a game but there was little to suggest that Celtic couldn’t hold on… until first Varga with a pantomime headed clearance in 72 minutes and then Hedman with four minutes to go gifted them two goals.
It was still a memorable night, though. The old Olympic stadium, which hosted the 1974 World Cup final was an awesome cathedral of a place, one of those you’re glad you ever visited.
Upwards of 10,000 fans had made the journey and, at half-time, serenaded their appreciative hosts with a robust I will walk 500 miles (is there any other way to sing The Proclaimers anthem other than robustly?).
Munich in 2003 was, the scoreline apart, one of the most civilised and enjoyable of European aways. The Germans have always been brilliant hosts and, the following day, a group of us became part of a wedding reception which was being held in the same beer garden.
Following two uneasy performances, some Celtic supporters are eyeing the RB Leipzig game on Wednesday (5.45pm) through gaps in their fingers. I’m quite chilled going into this one.
Celtic’s performance against Motherwell was much better than the narrow score suggests. Take the bizarre own goal and another poor refereeing display out of the equation and it would have been business as usual.
And besides, the narrow 3-2 defeat last season against Bayer Leverkusen masked a brilliant attacking display by a team that was still knitting together and showing promise of what was to come.
In the mini three-match league against Shakhtar Donetsk and Leipzig, I’d consider Celtic to be favourites to emerge top over our four games against both of them home and away.