It is almost 20 years since the UEFA Cup draw threw together an intriguing Battle of Britain that is still fondly remembered by Celtic players and fans, less so by the opposition manager.
After being knocked out of the Champions League qualifier by Basel, Celtic had hammered Suduva in the first of what was to prove to be an epic run of Thursday night matches.
The second round draw didn’t require any introduction or hype, Graeme Souness and his overhyped EPL stars were to face Martin O’Neill’s side containing a number of players that had left the EPL for Celtic, drawn there by the manager and the promise to breathe fresh life into their careers.
Celtic fans were up for it, it had been 22 years since their side had got beyond Christmas in a European competition but the opposition manager and the smugness of the English media as they dismissed Chris Sutton, John Hartson and Alan Thompson certainly added to the tie.
Celtic won the first leg 1-0, Henrik Larsson scoring late on but it was a casual comment in the away dressing room that was relayed to the media that captured as many headlines. Men against Bhoys was the verdict of the Blackburn boss- Celtic had extra motivation for the return leg with one man the target in an epic 2-0 win to breeze through on a 3-0 aggregate.
Picking up on an interview with BT Sport, the Daily Record reports Sutton saying:
I don’t know whether Souness said that because of his Rangers connection. It was a throwaway line but what we do know is it was a really daft thing to say and he should have known better because he ended up with a massive dollop of egg on his face.
The tie wasn’t over and it was disrespectful. I am English but I always thought when we drew Blackburn and then had the games against Liverpool, they were really important for Celtic and for Scottish football.
You can’t get away from the way Scottish football is viewed from down south. A lot of people have Mickey Moused it off over the years. I had played for Blackburn, so (beating them) was a nice two fingers up.
You feel for Henrik (Larsson) because his performance and the goals he scored that day were absolutely phenomenal. He ended up having seven years at Celtic and giving so much to the club. It would have been really fitting.
Martin’s last words before leaving the dressing room were, ‘Don’t let the game pass you by’ and most of us would feel more than a tinge of (regret).
Twenty years on the win at Ewood Park is well remembered on its own merits but also as the launch for Celtic going all the way to the final in Seville.