Ajax show Celtic there is no room for complacency

GGW Reporter Stephen  O’Donnell was in Amsterdam last weekend covering the Celtic game for GGW. This is his report

“It seemed like a good idea at the time. I was down in East Anglia for a wedding last week and I thought, why not stick around for a few days, take a short flight across the North Sea and combine it with the Celtic v Ajax game on the Saturday.   So I booked it on Expedia and the photographer and I were all set. Just a shame Celtic never bothered to turn up really.

That was actually a football cliché, the team did in fact turn up, but they got gubbed four nothing so I’m not sure it was worth the effort in the end.  On our first day we had taken a tour of the Amsterdam Arena and were shown round the stadium by a friendly tri-lingual chap called Daniel, who narrated the details of Ajax’s illustrious history and expounded the pros and cons of the retractable roof to his party of tourists in Dutch, English and Spanish. When I told him we were from Glasgow and we were in town for the game at the weekend, he smiled and said he was looking forward to a nice atmosphere. Then he asked me about Rangers. I managed to keep a straight face and tell him everyone in Scotland was shocked, and how strange it was that this big club, or the phoenix revival version, would now be playing in the fourth tier of Scottish football. But, I suggested, if they were cheating then it was right that they should be punished of course. Perhaps this would be the appropriate juncture to append a note to McCoist and co; the punishments haven’t even started yet, Ally, so spare us the ‘we’ve been punished enough’ routine, it’s pathetic, quite frankly.

The Amsterdam Arena?  Well, for marketing reasons, it’s actually known as the Amsterdam ArenA, and it’s a magnificent ground. But there’s something eerie and unreal about an indoor football stadium. It just doesn’t quite work for me and it’s not hard to see why the idea hasn’t fully caught on, even in windswept and rain-soaked countries like Scotland. Apart from the odd ambience it creates, Daniel explained to us that there is also considerable expense and effort required to ensure the grass receives enough water, wind and light. Giant machines parked round the stadium are continually in use to supply the turf with what nature would otherwise readily provide. The point of having a roof on the stadium was never really made clear.

Two days later and we made our way back to Bijlmer Arena station, this time on a train full of jostling and spirited Celtic and Ajax supporters.

GGW Reporter and Photographer enjoy a beer during the game

The first thing we did after collecting our tickets and finding our seats was to buy ourselves a beer. I managed to drink it, along with several others, over the course of the next ninety minutes or so, while at the same time curtailing my violent, drunken, football supporting Scottish instincts, and instead I watched and enjoyed the game peaceably in the company of my fellow supporters. Who’d have thunk it? The way it works, if there are police chiefs or football legislators reading, is, you buy a card, not unlike a top-up phone card, and you pay for your beers with that. If you run out of credit, and I did, you pay to top it up and more beers are available!

So to the football. I half hoped I might get away with not actually talking about the game itself? Alas, no. Celtic lost four nothing, 4 nil, vier nul. They were three nothing down after twenty seven minutes and looked all at sea defensively. Neil Lennon afterwards took the blame and said he wasn’t too dispirited because they were trying out a new system which they weren’t very used to. Well I distinctly seem to remember them playing three at the back a number of times towards the end of last season, but against these opponents they were simply outclassed. Rogne, Mulgrew and Wanyama were regularly caught out by the movement and passes of the Ajax players and after half an hour, three goals down, they switched to a flat back four. Izzaguire was hauled off at half time, looking a shadow of the man who won player of the year, Stokes looked lively but James Forrest never got the ball in his auxiliary striker role. A flexible 4-4-2 that can shift to 4-3-3, with Scott Brown tucking in against more sophisticed opponents would seem to be Celtic’s best formation. Three at the back went out with Franco Baresi, so I sincerely hope this result signals the end of that particular experiment.

The guy next to me informed me that Ajax had gained direct entry into the Champions League this season, which I knew already but I was just being chatty. Maybe they’ll meet Celtic in the Group Stages, I suggested. Maybe beer in football grounds should be banned after all. It looks a long way off, in the cold light of sober day, but if the Hoops can make it past Helsinki and the rest, and they find themselves in the money-spinning competition proper, then a trip to Amsterdam and the home of Ajax would be well worth a reprise visit. Hopefully Celtic will have their system sorted out by then or a similar, far more embarrassing result in a real fixture of consequence could well be resounding around Europe in a few months time.”

All literate Celtic fans should note that Stephen O’Donnell, a regular contributor to GGW, is shortly to have his first novel published. Paradise Road will be of great interest to Celtic supporters.

Paradise Road a must read for all literate Celtic supporters

Paradise Road is the story of Kevin McGarry a young man from the West of Scotland, who as a youngster was one of the most talented footballers of his generation in Scotland. Through a combination of injury and disillusionment, Kevin is forced to abandon any thoughts of playing the game he loves professionally. Instead he settles for following his favourite team, Glasgow Celtic, as a spectator, while at the same time resignedly and with a characteristically wry Scottish sense of humour, trying to eke out a living as a joiner.

It is a story of hopes and dreams, idealism and disillusionment, of growth in the face of adversity and disappointment. Paradise Road examines some of the major themes affecting football today, such as the power and role of the media, standards in the Scottish game and the sectarianism which pervades not only football in Glasgow but also the wider community. More than simply a novel about football or football fandom, the book offers a portrait of the character and experiences of a section of the Irish Catholic community of the West of Scotland, and considers the role of young working-class men in our modern, post-industrial society.

The road Kevin travels towards self discovery, fulfilment and maturity leads him to Prague, enabling a more detached view of the Scotland that formed him and the Europe that beckons him.

In the words of  an initial review

“Written in a thoughtful, provocative yet engaging style, Paradise Road is a book that will enthral, challenge and reward in equal measure. It will be a powerful addition to the growing debate on some of the key issues facing contemporary Scotland”

Paradise Road can be pre-ordered from the Ringwood Publishing website www.ringwoodpublishing.com  for £9.99 plus p&p