Villarreal Celtic's friends

Last night, in Parallel Universe 483, the 2011 Europa League Final was played to a conclusion between Villarreal and Glasgow Celtic, with the favourites, the classy Spanish side, emerging victors by 3 goals in 1 in a highly entertaining game full of positive attacking football from both teams. In the end class told, with Villarreal’s world class forward pairing of Rossi and Nilmar proving far superior to the Celtic firepower of Hooper and Samaras. The skilful Borja Valero and Cazorla, the other two members of Villarreal ‘s Cuatro Fantastico of Hollywood fame, laid on far more chances than did Celtic’s midfield, and by the middle of the second half Rossi with two well taken goals and Nilmar with a classic solo effort had put Villarreal into a commanding lead that was never going to be surrendered. Kris Common’s late effort put a more competitive gloss on the final score without threatening the inevitability of the outcome. Celtic fans were left to speculate on what might have happened if Samaras had converted a stonewall opportunity when Villarreal were caught cold in the 4th minute.

Capdevila Izaguirre's equal

The one area of the game where Celtic competed on equal terms throughout was in defensive midfield where the combative Celtic duo of Kayal and Scott Brown proved a match for Villarreal’s more vaunted pair of dual Spanish internationalists Marcos Senna and Bruno. And Izaguirre with yet  another  fine display showed himself to belong in the same league as Villarreal’s Tommy Gemmell clone Joan Capdevila, world cup medal and all.

The last time Celtic played in this Final, in 2003,  they had felt aggrieved at the outcome, feeling that they had been denied a deserved victory by the over physicality of Jose Mourinho’s Porto. Barcelona sympathisers may take a little satisfaction from remembering that negatively attempting to kick more skilled opponents out of their stride is not a new Mourinho ploy, but one that has been present throughout his career as a manager. However on this occasion, in Dublin’s fine new stadium, there was no such sense of aggravation. With their well known generosity of spirit and sense of fair play, Celtic fans were able to acknowledge that justice was done, class told and the better team won, fairly and on merit.

Amigos

However while the game in the Aviva Stadium was shown live in nearly 200 countries, and Villarreal received just praise for their deserved triumph that gave them their first ever trophy, the main story that captured the headlines and full media attention throughout the world was not so much the events on the park, but the incredible display of friendship enacted by both supporters on the streets of Dublin before and after the game. The history of friendship between Celtic and Villarreal supporters is of long standing, dating back to their first encounter in April 2004. The heart warming history of this friendship is featured in a book,   “Yellow Submarine –  the Miracle of Villarreal”.  about to be published by Ringwood Publishing.  The  book can be ordered online from Ringwood at www.ringwoodpublishing.com 

In a season which has seen far too much rancour both in Scotland and Spain the unalloyed camaraderie displayed between all of the 60, 000 Celtic fans and the 10,000 plus Villarreal supporters thronging Dublin’s streets offered an alternative role model. There were masses of vivid proofs  that even competitive football at the highest level can be celebrated by public displays of affection and respect. The two sets of supporters drank together, with the Scots winning; sang together, with the Scots winning; and laughed together, with a draw being the agreed result. Such was the universal exchange of tops, jerseys, scarves and other identifying clothing that sound rather than sight became the only way to tell Spaniards from Scots and Irish. This pattern of sartorial integration and confusion was accompanied by a phenomenon that caused the security forces apoplexy, the exchanging of tickets so that new found friends could sit together in the new Stadium. Yet the worry generated by this flagrant breaking of the conceived wisdom on the need for total segregation proved to be unnecessary. There was no trouble of the streets of Dublin and there was no trouble in the Stadium, as fans of both teams mingled together in a spirit of perfect harmony. The Dublin police confirmed after the game that there was no arrests at all in the ground despite the massive breaches of segregation. And despite the street drinking lasting almost 24 hours, from early Wednesday morning through all night celebrations on into the early hours of Thursday morning there were less than the usual Dublins numbers of arrests and none around football troubles.

All friends together

In 2004 what had totally converted the whole population of Villarreal into ardent admirers of Glasgow Celtic, was not the mass friendliness before the game, ( a UEFA Cup Quarter Final second leg), impressive and unprecedented as that was, but the magnanimity and generosity which Celtic supporters had displayed in defeat. The friendship and mutual admiration developed that magical April day has grown and developed ever since, with Villarreal supporters making annual excursions to Celtic Park and many Celtic supporters in turn making the pilgrimage to the Celtic Submari Penya(Supporters Club) in Vila-real where Celtic supporters are not allowed to pay for their drink. A fact which has helped Villarreal replace Barcelona as the favourite Spanish club of many Celtic supporters. So what happened in Dublin was no surprise to either set of supporters, it was just a further demonstration of a well- established relationship. One encapsulated in the Celtic Submari’s famous slogan devised by its President Ernesto Boixader  “Rivals for 90 minutes, Friends for Life”.

But to the rest of the world it was a demonstration of something unique and marvellous, proof that football can be  a positive force rather than a negative one. Proof that football does not need to generate only hatred and bitterness but can lead to public displays of friendship, affection and mutual respect on a grand scale. The game was a good advert for the kind of attractive football that can result when two teams totally wedded to positive attacking football play to their strengths rather than abandon their principles in pursuit of victory. But what happened on the streets of Dublin and in the seats of the Aviva stadium was an even more impressive demonstration that football can be a positive force for friendship, respect and even love, rather than a negative vehicle for the expression of hatred, bile and bitterness. The many images of Celtic and Villarreal supporters intermingling happily together were beamed around the world and made front page news in 100s of countries as well as the back pages, with editorial columns in many of these countries picking up and highlighting the basic message, ‘football can be a force for peace and understanding and friendship, even in  a complex competitive world in crisis’.