By the time that most Celtic supporters’ club buses had started the journey up the A9 to Dingwall for the lunchtime kick-off against Ross County, I was in a small cafe finalising my travel plans for the day ahead. Over the next 14 hours or so I would be immersed in the footballing-obsessed city of Madrid, thankfully I had my wife and son as company for the journey.
The crisp, cold morning that met many Glaswegians as they opened their doors on Sunday morning was in stark contrast to the soaked avenues and cobbled lanes of Madrid, but no amount of rain would dampen our spirits as we set off on the first leg of the journey and the Santiago Bernabéu.
For me, every trip to a stadium tour has to have a link to Celtic, so I was delighted to be in the venue where our greatest ever player lit up the Madrid sky back in 1967. Real Madrid had arranged to play a testimonial match for the legendary player Di Stéfano and ‘Los Blancos’ looked at this as an opportunity to topple the newly-crowned kings of Europe.Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind
Celtic arrived in Lisbon fresh from our victory at the Estadio Nacional in Lisbon and put on a performance that even had the Real Madrid fans cheering “Olé” whenever Jinky had the ball. Celtic won the match 1-0 thanks to a goal from Bobby Lennox, and ensured that the magnificent Madrid trophy cabinet would always be short of one piece of history. Overall, the stadium tour was excellent, but I can only imagine it being much more of a challenge during the summer months when there are plenty more tourists in the city.
From the end of the tour, conveniently placed next to the Real Madrid club shop, we had a 10-minute walk to our next venue – Paddys Irish Bar, and a catch-up with Madrid Emerald Celtic Supporters Club for the Celtic and Ross County match.
The downstairs bar had been converted into a shrine for all things Celtic by the time I picked my seat to watch the match. Around 30 fans all crowded round the telly gave it a proper big match feel, with accents from Glasgow, Ireland and even a couple of local Spaniards who had caught the bug for Celtic. Most of the fans there had made the journey through the Madrid Metro to keep in touch with the Hoops.
Our hosts shared details of their annual Christmas appeal where they are raising money to buy up products to be donated to food banks in the city to help those less fortunate. Once again, that charitable arm of Celtic and its supporters shone even in the most miserable of Madrid weather. By full-time we had watched a convincing Celtic victory, had a good sing-song, picked up a Madrid Emerald CSC scarf and received an invite back to join the club members to a Rayo Vallecano match. Now we were ready for the last part of our Super Sunday football feast.
Making our way to the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium for the Atlético Madrid v Barcelona match saw us snake through the city metro system, crossing from one side of the city to the other. In amongst the red and white stripes of the Atlético colours, the green and white of our newly-acquired Celtic scarf stood out brilliantly as commuters looked to check our badge of honour.
As the stadium filled up, it was easy to sense that the Atlético fans, and particularly the ultras, were using this match to remind the Barcelona players and travelling fans that Catalonia was still very much under control of Madrid. Orchestrated banners and Spanish flags were waved throughout the match. In the end, a moment of genius from the 2019 Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi secured the three points and silenced the hostile Madrid crowd.
The metro journey home was a quiet one, with much frustration amongst the Madrid faithful. As the carriages began to empty, the green and white Celtic scarf became more noticeable. One Madrid fan approached us saying, “Celtic – it’s a historic club,” and shook our hands. Our walk back to the hotel was peppered with shouts of “Celtic – Glasgow”.
As far as football-mad cities go, Madrid is high on the list and it’s good to know that Celtic and our fans are still recognised in the madness.
Martin DonaldsonWatch Professor Willy Maley with A Celtic State of Mind