A month to the day since a full Celtic Park saw all three domestic trophies paraded before settling down to enjoy Henrik’s Heroes v Lubo’s Legends, a game that came twenty four hours after clinching the third of those trophies in dramatic fashion, Celtic kick of the 2017/18 tonight with a friendly against Blau-Weiss Linz in Austria.
As with all pre-season friendlies, this game is about nothing more than blowing away the cobwebs. It might only have been a month, but you’d be amazed at how quickly even an athletic body can get out of shape when you’re not training in the same way you have been. It’s certainly beneficial to get a rest, but we need to get ready for the first big challenge that awaits.
We might be kicking off our pre-season tour tonight, but there’s no doubt we’ll have one eye on the action in Belfast to see how Linfield get on against FC Fiorita in the first qualifying round of the Champions League. We take on the winner of that tie in a little over or a little under a fortnight depending on who triumphs.
Much has been said about the issues around the tie, from how we managed to get paired with a club who couldn’t handle the fixture in the first place, to bending over backwards to accommodate the needs of a certain culture over there, to finally doing that and then still not taking tickets for the travelling support anyway. Personally, I’d happily not give a penny to Linfield, but I was never going to travel anyway. Plenty of others would have done, and I fully endorse the statement from the Green Brigade and the Celtic Trust asking Celtic to rethink their stance or at the very least for Linfield to sell directly to Celtic supporters.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. While it seems unlikely there’ll be any other outcome, there’s still a chance we’ll have to go to San Marino for the first time in our history! Fingers crossed on that one.
Back in Austria, our run of four friendlies starts against a team who finished seventh in the second tier of Austrian football. I’d say they’re roughly the equivalent of St Mirren, but given they were one of our harder opposition last season that’s maybe doing the Buddies a disservice. Besides, the Buddies have more history.
BW Linz were founded in 1997, a decade after St Mirren won the Scottish Cup, to replace FC Linz who dissolved after financial difficulties. BW Linz have adopted the traditions of FC Linz and so are considered the direct replacement for the defunct club.
Yeah, you know this story by now. It applies to every single club in the world except one apparently. Those friends of Linfield who thumped them 7-0 last season in a friendly but who lost 5-1 to us on two separate occasions.
The friendlies come thick and fast over the next couple of weeks, with Rapid Vienna coming up on Saturday. Now there’s a name forever linked with our history, and certainly not for good reason. The events in our UEFA Cup tie back in 1984 are well documented, but needless to say they cheated their way past us with the help of a spineless UEFA. Of course, we played them under Tony Mowbray as well back in 2009/10, where a 1-1 home draw was followed by a 3-3 draw in Vienna.
What was impressive about that 3-3 draw was the fact we were 3-0 down in the first 20 minutes! Most recently though, Rapid finished 5th in the top flight in Austria last season.
After that, it’s off to Prague in the Czech Republic to face a team always connected with Celtic’s earliest history. Slavia Prague may have been founded in 1892, but it was in 1905 when former Celt John Madden took charge that their fortunes changed. And when I say former Celt, I mean someone who played in the very first Celtic team in 1888 and a member of the very first Celtic Scottish Cup winning team in 1892. Madden managed Slavia for 25 years, became a legend known as “the father of Czech football” and stayed in Prague until his dying day in 1948. I have no doubt that next week’s friendly is as a direct result of a few of the Celtic Graves representatives going over for a memorial a few months ago.
There’s a good relationship being built between the two clubs now, and it’s one that we’ll hopefully see nurtured over time. And we might need that too. Slavia are the reigning Czech champions, having beaten Viktoria Plzen to the title by just two points. They come in to the Champions League qualifying at the third round and will be unseeded, so there’s actually a chance we could face them again very soon if we get past either Linfield of La Fiorita.
After Prague, it’s time to come home. In what could be the first of two games in Ireland, Celtic face fellow green and white hoops Shamrock Rovers. The Dublin hoops finished fourth in last season’s league and as such face one of our recent opponents Stjarnan in the first qualifying round of the Europa League tomorrow night. That tie will be over by the time we face them at Tallaght, and they’ll no doubt be hoping that they’ve qualified to face Mladá Boleslav of the Czech Republic in the second qualifying round.
Of the four teams we face in this run of pre-season friendlies, Shamrock Rovers are the only team who aren’t in pre-season. With the Irish league playing through the summer months, they are mid-season and are again sitting in fourth spot. It’s a pretty consistent run from them in recent seasons, never quite challenging for the title but always in there qualifying for Europe.
The results of these games mean absolutely nothing in the end, all we will find out is whether or not the team are ready for the challenge that awaits. Much has been made about how we progress this season, especially in Europe. Unfortunately, to even progress we first have to navigate the three rounds of the qualifying to reach the group stages. That task should not be underestimated. Lincoln Red Imps caught us cold last season, while Astana were minutes from taking us to extra time before conceding a stupid penalty. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I could cope with another 90 minutes like we had away to Hapoel Be’er Sheva!
Although, give me the end result again and I’m sure I’ll find a way.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)