Celtic v Real Madrid: Remembering the last time the two giants did battle in the European Cup

In May 1993, I was present with around 12 others on the infamous evening Oasis were signed to Creation at King Tuts in Glasgow. Oasis, like Real Madrid, will always have a warmth, love and connection to Glasgow. For Real Madrid, it’s their 7-3 win in 1960 with Puskás and Di Stefano sharing the seven at Hampden in front of 127,000. Then at the same ground, we had Zidane’s glorious left-foot volley in the 2002 final.

Oasis will forever be defined by that magical moment in Glasgow and bulldozing through the 1990s music scene. Some years later, I penned a Brit Pop Memoir based around this night. Publishers were keen but during research, everyone told me a different story. It went a bit ‘Rashomon Effect’ – a term derived from Akira Kurosawa’s movie Rashomon about the unreliability of multiple witnesses. The same happened when I asked about the 1980 game against Real Madrid – each account was contradictory.

Memory is precious and fragile. Ahead of the two sides meeting in Glasgow in the Champions League on Tuesday, it was with trepidation I found a quiet place and wrote down as many things I could remember about Celtic v Real Madrid in 1980.

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It was 42 years ago, society, life and football have changed beyond recognition. John Lennon was still alive. So were two of the game’s stars, Laurie Cunningham and Johnny Doyle. Real Madrid wore blue. Celtic’s Alan Sneddon played like a world-beating full-back in the second half. Vicente del Bosque bossed the middle, a mix of Pirlo and Souness.

The game kicked off at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £2 and the programme 25p. It wasn’t shown live on TV. I was lifted over the turnstiles, getting in for free – as I did for Cruyff’s visit with Ajax in 1982. And the pipers! Vujadin Boskov’s Real Madrid were piped into their hotel and applauded by staff in Glasgow in 1980.

I was aged 13 on 5 March 1980 when the Spanish champions came to town. Celtic met Madrid after defeating Partizan Tirana and Dundalk. When I asked why Cunningham was booed when he got the ball, I was told it was because he was English. When I asked why Celtic’s English goalkeeper Peter Latchford was not being booed, I was told to shut up and watch the game. I convinced myself it was because Cunningham was Madrid’s best player, along with Uli Stielike, their superstar foreign import. When he did anything entertaining – and he did most of the night, I remember being fearful when I applauded him.

Real Madrid were not wearing their iconic white and ran out in what looked like the blue of Chelsea. Celtic had black numbers on their shirt – they normally only had numbers on their shorts. We always assumed it was to protect the sanctity of the hoops but for the then-board, parsimonious was not an adjective but a noun and their patron saint. Even in his iconic fresco, St Parsimonious clutches a biscuit tin.

Celtic were without Tommy Burns, Dom Sullivan and Mike Conroy and had a young side with George McCluskey, Roy Aitken, Murdo MacLeod and Davie Provan. Only captain Danny McGrain and Lisbon Lion, Bobby Lennox had any real European game time. They were joined by experienced club players like Johnny Doyle, Alan Sneddon, Tam Mc Adam and Roddie MacDonald.

In the first half, Real Madrid were all over Celtic. But in the second half, it was a different story. According to blogger St Anthony of the Celtic Underground, the improvement was down to Billy McNeill changing it.

“Inspired by the noise from the huge crowd, Celtic came out fighting in the second half,” McNeill writes. “Players who had looked unsure in the first half now began to make their mark.” He continues, “Billy McNeill had tweaked his side at half-time. Davie Provan had been tightly marked by the Madrid defenders so McNeill made him cut inside to allow space for Alan Sneddon to attack down the right flank.”

It worked. Both goals came from Sneddon’s work on the right.

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Madrid passed long and accurately. A young del Bosque, his hair like Ron Jeremy playing the role of a Colombian drug lord, stretched Celtic with his precision. One pass reached Santillana who chested perfectly and struck on the volley, bringing out an excellent save from Latchford.

Sneddon found space down the right in the 52nd minute, cut inside and instead of crossing hit a low left-foot shot which Madrid keeper García Remón parried and Celtic’s George McCluskey tucked away.

Immediately on going 1-0 up the scourge of Scottish football set in; over-optimism. The Celtic support began singing the immortal words “and now you’re going to believe us, we’re going to win the cup”. Many believed it too. The older, long-suffering supporters knew they would’ve been as well, singing a lyric – still a few years off, from Band Aid – about the clanging chimes of doom.

When the late Johnny Doyle scored the second after 74 minutes, with a powerful header from an Alan Sneddon cross, Celtic Park erupted. The official attendance was a suspiciously neat 67,000. We always laughed at the old board – the crowd was rarely anything remotely close to the truth. I’ve never seen or felt the stadium so full and agree with estimates closer to 80,000.

Other major talking points: McCluskey had a goal chalked off. Madrid missed some big chances, in particular, a García Hernández header which would’ve brought them back into it. Madrid always looked like a side who could find another gear. Cunningham played like Eusébio at times, running directly at the Celtic defence. Playing in Spain had fine-tuned the former West Brom star and improved his game. He was fantastic, almost scoring twice, one with great build-up play with Hernández which he curved around the post. Late on he brought out another great save from Latchford.

Celtic had a two-goal lead going into the second leg on 19 March 1980. Real Madrid’s Bernabéu housed 110,000 – the game was not broadcast live in Scotland and could only be listened to on the radio. That was probably for the best. An early McCluskey opportunity is always offered up as the moment the tie turned but, in truth, even in the first leg Real Madrid looked dangerous. Santillana scored before half-time and second-half goals from Stielike and Juanito made it 3-2 – and Celtic were out. Nottingham Forest won the trophy in the final, held at the Bernabéu, beating Kevin Keegan’s Hamburg 1-0 with a John Robertson goal.

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Since the quarter-final against Real Madrid in 1980, Celtic have fluctuated somewhere between unbelievable highs and an existential crisis. There was the league win at Love Street in 1986, then the double in the centenary season of 1988. Then fans endured the desperate Liam Brady and Lou Macari years. In March 1994, the lights were almost switched off on the club for good. Then there was Fergus McCann, the rebuild, Wim Jansen stopping 10-in-a-row, Martin O’Neill and Seville and the treble-treble. Then capitulation in 2020/21 and the loss of the 10th title.

There is a feeling Ange Postecoglou is the real deal and with players like Kyogo and Jota, is genuinely building something special. He is one of the first coaches at Celtic Park in decades who has the football intelligence, leadership and presence of Jock Stein.

The Australian has continued to adhere to the football traditions and values of the club but has added something else. His sides are moulded into his vision and are turbo-boosted for attacking, passing and continual movement. His game is a mix of Cruyff at Barcelona, Guardiola at Man City and Klopp at Liverpool (only cheaper).

He’s introduced a mantra, quickly branded by the club of ‘We Never Stop.’ And his side don’t. Corners, free-kicks and throw-ins are taken quickly, goals often come from catching opponents on the back foot. Postecoglou has redefined the club’s identity. The fact he is up against serial Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti, will not faze him. The result against the Champions League holders and 14-time winners (EC and CL combined) and the first British side to win the trophy, in some way is a free hit for Celtic. Postecoglou will want his side to play his way, to learn and improve, obviously he would love to win but for him it’s about performance and continual improvement.

The bagpipes have been replaced by disco lights, and you can’t jump the turnstiles. But honestly – Laurie Cunningham, what a player.

Celtic v Real Madrid: Remembering the last time the two giants did battle in the European Cup
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