Two months, twelve days as it turns out.
It seemed like longer. Maybe it was the fact that last time I’d been in the stadium itself I’d been playing on the park, but sitting looking down on the lush new surface that had been worked on over that close season period I couldn’t help but feel like I had a new appreciation for the place.
Not that Celtic Park hasn’t always been a wonderful place to go of course.
I now know exactly how big the playing surface feels for a player. I now know exactly how high the stands look from down there. I even know what the sounds of a crowd is like. Okay, so it wasn’t 29,758… but then neither was Tuesday night. Damned if I know where the BBC got that figure from, but that had to be the fullest half full I’ve ever seen.
Being back in the stand just felt like I’d come home. I don’t belong down on that pitch, I’m simply not good enough. We’re all blessed with talents but football is not one of mine! Don’t get me wrong, I loved every second of it, but my place is in the stand supporting those that are good enough.
Of course, it wasn’t quite the home I remembered. For one thing there’s a new announcer in town. With both Hamiltons apparently moving on to other ventures – I only knew Tony had taken up the charity gig, didn’t know Michael had moved on too – the new guy seemed eager to put his stamp on things. I’m not sure I liked the idea of introducing the team out onto the park for the warm-up, that all seemed like something out of one of the later Rocky movies where Balboa spends more time doing photo calls than actual training before being pummelled by Mr T. I pity the fool who takes training lightly.
I definitely wasn’t a fan of the volume either. I’m sure he’ll iron things out in time, but his voice was easily the loudest noise of the night.
Including the bangers which have caused so much fall out in the days since the match.
From Uefa investigations, through blogs against pyrotechnics making highly questionable references, the usual Twitter debates and arguments, the club threatening to shut Section 111, to the Green Brigade’s anger at going public over the closed door discussions… it’s been another exhausting and often depressing week watching it all unfold. Which is all rather odd considering both Celtic and the Green Brigade agree they should stop.
Then Hooper left.
We knew it was coming, but still it seems like there’s a hole in the side now. He’s been our top scorer these last three seasons and having just watching the DVD from last season it was evident just how involved he was even when he wasn’t scoring. He’ll be difficult to replace, and that is just one of the many challenges that lay ahead for Neil Lennon in the coming weeks.
One challenge that he won’t be taking on though is that of Saturday’s visitors Borussia Mönchengladbach. While the German team are in town for our one and only home friendly this pre-season, the manager will be in Sweden looking over next week’s European opponents, Elfsborg. Can’t argue with his priorities, and I’m sure he’ll have left instructions on what we’ll do with this friendly.
The likes of Joe Ledley, Adam Matthews and Charlie Mulgrew have yet to feature due to injury, and all three may get a run out at some point. It might be another chance for the likes of Tony Watt and Amido Balde to try and stake a claim to a place in the starting line up ahead of a misfiring Anthony Stokes. Then again, it might be a chance for Stokes to prove his misfiring is all down to rustiness and put it behind him with a better performance and a goal or two.
So what about our opponents? Well aside from a long name that gives Inverness Caledonian Thistle a run for their money, and the fact we’re playing another German team who favour the colour green, this time we’re up against a top division side. Until now we’d only faced lower league Germans on our tour, so this should hopefully provide the step up in class we need to be ready for Elfsborg.
Last season’s 8th place finish in the Bundesliga wasn’t enough to get them into Europe this season, so Lucien Favre’s side are building up to the start of their domestic season on August 9th. Rather disappointing given they were in the Champions League qualifiers last season, even if they did lose out to Dynamo Kiev in the playoff round. Given how Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and even Schalke 04 got on last season, that’s actually somewhat surprising. Although they dropped into the Europa League and finished second in their group behind Fenerbahçe, they eventually bowed out to Lazio in the last 32.
There’s not much in the way of household names at the club. Dutch youngster Luuk de Jong, Germany youngster Peniel Mlapa and Swedish youngster Branimir Hrgota are the main strikers which should tell you that Mönchengladbach’s team policy is similar to our own – fill it with youngsters. Mind you, team captain Filip Daems is 34, so they’re not all quite as young as Celtic!
At the back, Alvaro Dominguez is another youngster, but with two caps for Spain you tend not to get picked for the World and European champions unless you’re good. Then of course there’s Raffael, the token Brazilian that every club in Europe seems to have these days. Lets hope he’s as good as another Brazilian Rafael we’ve all tried to forget.
Ultimately though, this is just another friendly match. The result doesn’t matter, the performance does. We want to show we can compete with Europe’s best and – with all due respect to Cliftonville – we haven’t come close to playing that yet. This is another step in the right direction and hopefully it will be another useful one not only for the team as a whole but also some individuals needing a boost.
You can follow Krys on Twitter @Krys1888 and @HHMParadiseRep