The Season Book Years – 2003/04
Continuing the season book years series, remember that the one rule I set myself here was that I could only pick a game that was on the season book that I actually went to. As such, they’re all home league games. I might mention other games from that season to put it into the context of the season, but the main focus will be on that one home league game. So, with that in mind…
Celtic 2-1 Dundee United, 16th May 2004.
Larsson 81, 84. Wilson (pen) 87.
Of all the seasons I’ve had a season book, indeed of all the seasons I can remember supporting Celtic, 2003/04 is by far and away my favourite.
Shameless plug, read “From Seville to Sevilla” if you haven’t already. I literally wrote the book on this season! See the bookmarks section on the right for links!
After an agonisingly close to legendary season the previous year, there was a feeling of needing to go out and prove not only that Celtic were the best team in Scotland, but they were one of the best in Europe too. Seville was no fluke, we had earned the right to play there. This time though, we’d play with the big boys in the Champions League. We skooshed qualification, only to narrowly miss out on qualifying from our group due to a debatable hand ball decision in Lyon where Bobo Balde’s hand was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m sure Steven McLean would have missed it… (aye right)
Never mind though, it meant we got to knock Barcelona out of the UEFA Cup instead.
That night in the Camp Nou is one I will cherish forever. Especially since that’s how long it felt like it lasted – forever!
Back home, we went on a 25 game winning run in the league, that was part of a longer run where we went completely unbeaten until after the league title was clinched at Rugby Park. Oh yes, and then there was the whitewash of Rangers where the record books read played five, won five, scored nine, conceded one. We even ironically cheered the one, on the same day we chucked beachballs onto the Ibrox pitch. The previous year we’d also brought beachballs to Ibrox but they had mainly stayed in the stand.
But the home game I’ll remember from that league season more than any is the final one. The trophy was already presented against Dunfermline several weeks previous, so the Dundee United match had it’s own purpose.
Say farewell to Henrik.
After seven years, Larsson was moving on. It was a gloriously sunny day, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one who was glad he could keep his sunglasses on all day! Either that or I’d have been telling people there was something in my eye a lot.
Nah, scrap that. I had tears in my eyes that day and I’ve no shame in admitting that. Henrik Larsson was a truly world class player, and you can’t say that about Celtic players all that often. That guy brought me more joyful days supporting Celtic than any other Celtic player before or after, so to see those days coming to an end was a truly sad moment.
So yes it was an emotional day for everyone, and those emotions included frustration as the game entered the final ten minutes with the scoreline still 0-0! Henrik seemed to be misfiring and the fairy tale ending looked to be slipping away. But this was Larsson, and everyone in the stadium knew it wasn’t over until the full time whistle. Sure enough, Henrik found the net not once, but twice in those final ten minutes. The second of which saw even him burst into tears as he celebrated.
Future Celt Mark Wilson managed to put away a consolation penalty after Stan Varga had needlessly conceded a foul in the area, but Celtic won 2-1 thanks to Henrik’s goals. Not for the first time he had been the difference, and it wasn’t even for the last time either.
A week later, we went along to Hampden to see Celtic come from a goal down to Dunfermline to win 3-1 and complete the double. The scorer of the two turnaround goals that day? Larsson of course.
Of course, Henrik came back with his new team a few months later. Not only that, but he came off the bench and turned the game in their favour so 1-1 became 1-3 – with Henrik scoring the third himself. It wouldn’t be the last time he’d turn a game in Barcelona’s favour either, as he once again came off the bench to turn a 1-0 Arsenal scoreline into a 2-1 Barcelona scoreline as he set up both goals in none other than the Champions League final itself.
I doubt I’ll ever be happier to see someone get their hands on the European Cup than I was when Henrik did. Unless a Celtic captain does it of course!