The arrival of the King if Kings Henrik Larsson at Celtic Park came after a protracted wrangle over his contract with former club Feyenoord. New manager Wim Jansen was building a team that he hoped could wrestle the title away from our old rivals on the other side of the city.
Larsson was definitely worth the wait. Maybe not noticeable in the first couple of matches. But over the next seven years we witnessed the talents of a truly world class striker. At the peak of his footballing ability, easily making him the greatest modern day striker to have worn the hoops.
Henrik finished his spell at Celtic racking up 242 goals ranging from close range shots to sublimely wonderful headers, free kicks oh, & the occasional lob. With every goal he carved his name deeper in to the history of the club & in to the hearts of the fans who had the thrill of watching him. Everyone will have a favourite, but mine is a one off & was 33 years in the making.
Venue – Estádio do Bessa
Date – 24th April 2003
Match – Boavista 0 Celtic 1
When Celtic arrived in the Iberian peninsula for the 2nd leg of their UEFA Cup Semi-Final they knew they needed to keep it tight in defence & score at least one goal. A nervous 90 minutes at Celtic Park in the late spring sunshine meant Celtic had some work to do following a 1 each draw.
A missed penalty from Larsson in the 1st leg made this particular trip that little more daunting. However, this was a Celtic side who had already come through some difficult ties on visits to Spain, England & Germany.
In what was a match full of tension & nerves, the hosts seemed happy to hold on to their away goals advantage from the first leg. Half chances & snatched shots were traded as neither team could find a positive commanding rhythm. With time running out & desperation creeping into the prayers being offered by fans that magical moment arrived.
After some neat passing in midfield the ball was diverted into the path of our talismanic striker. Larsson, off balance, scooped the ball passed the despairing arms of goalkeeper Ricardo into the Boavista goal.
The goal wasn’t a classic, it wasn’t spectacular but in that instant a 33 year wait to reach a European final was coming to an end. The ball crossing the line in what felt like a slow motion replay is etched in Celtic fans minds in every corner of the world. The celebrations from the goal lasted for weeks as fans made their plans to travel to our first European final since 1970.
King of Kings Henrik Larsson scored goals that helped us win league titles, cups & trebles, but the magnitude of that moment for me was the most euphoric and one that I will never forget.
Martin Donaldson is a Glasgow East End Bhoy, He made my first trip to Celtic Park in 1983 for a 0-0 draw with Brechin City & thankfully that never put him off going back. He now sits perched high in section 409 of the North Stand with his 2 kids making memories along the Celtic Way.
He loves picking out those matches from yester-year to find out much more about the legendary names & faces that have graced the Celtic Jersey over the years. He is a keen fundraiser for The Celtic Foundation & The British Heart Foundation as they both strive to make a difference and to change peoples lives all over the world.
Vickers and Carl Startfelt.