30 Day Challenges… Day 14
“A Team That No One Would Expect You To Love”
There isn’t one. The closest I can think of would be Villarreal, but even then some would expect that. They’re a small provincial Spanish team who, over the last few years, have risen to fame. They still have a relatively small fan base when compared with other teams in the top division in Spain but they’re a cracking bunch. When Celtic faced them in the UEFA Cup in 2004 – after we’d dumped Barcelona out in the previous round – we lost out to them 3-1 on aggregate. It was disappointing at the time, but we had got on so well and impressed the locals so much that a friendship was born. I’m told there was a guard of honour waiting for the Celtic support as they left the stadium that night and headed for home.
The friendship has strengthened over the years. We’ve played them again the Champions League since 2004 and there is a “Celtic Submari” supporters club based in Villarreal. They come over once a year to see Celtic and I even attended a game between a Huddleboard Celtic XI and the Villarreal fans that was played at Celtic training ground at the time in Barrowfield.
Does every team that visits Villarreal get this treatment? Well, no. Rangers went there a couple of years after us and the memory of their visit is that of a smashed up bus. But yeah, we’re the same as them…
You can still see the evidence of our friendship if you watch Villarreal playing at home on Sky Sports. There’s invariably a banner behind one of the goals about the Celtic Submari with a big Celtic badge on it. No mistaking them. They also appear to have quite a fan base in Finland as well as there are a number of banners from there dotted around the stadium.
It’s not just about the friendship though. The football Villarreal play is one of the best products you’ll find in Spain. When they play Barcelona you’re pretty much guaranteed a terrific football match as both teams love to play attacking football. While they’re unlikely to be as big as Barcelona, they certainly give as good as they get. I’ve seen them taking points off Barca a few times in the last few years.
They’re currently fourth in La Liga and heading for the Champions League. They’ll have to qualify if they finish there – which is likely – but they do pretty well in Europe. They were one penalty away from the Champions League final in 2006, and even today they are the only non-Portuguese team left in the Europa League. I would be delighted if they went on and won it. And I’d be delighted if next season they were playing Celtic in the Champions League once more too.