Celtic U19 2-3 Feyenoord U19 (UEFA Youth League Group Stages)
I’ve woke up on a single bed in a box room in Workington and my ankle’s giving me jip. It’s boiling as I don’t know how to turn the heating off. I’m hobbling over to the bathroom for a shower before hitting the road for Scotland. I’m heading for Carlisle before joining the M6 and A74(M) where I find a stunning service station set back, mountains in the distance, sat beautifully on a lake, Johnstonbridge is my new UK number one with a McDonalds, Costa, WH Smith and BP Garage with M&S, everything you need from a services but with looks to kill.
Off fuelled by a sausage and egg McMuffin I’m back in the car heading north at a snail’s pace with time on my side. The sun shines between cloudy spells midst magnificent views ahead of reaching Hamilton, where I nip into Next and Boots at a Retail Park to pick up some Xmas bits.
Finally arrived on the hills of Mount Florida, I’ve pulled up with Hampden in my rear-view mirror and parked on a side street before walking down to the prequel for the day’s main event.
It’s Celtic v Feyenoord in the UEFA Youth League and it’s being played at Lesser Hampden, these days known as the City Stadium for sponsorship purposes, a ground that sits side by the home of Scottish football.
I’m walking through the car park of the main arena as I notice the banners have gone up for Aberdeen v Rangers and the Scottish League Cup Final which will be played on Sunday. Pictures of Scotland greats including Denis Law, Alex Ferguson, Archie Gemmill, emblazon the exterior of ‘greater’ Hampden whilst down below, to the left, an idyllic looking renovated property that sits on the land of which has been home of Scotland’s oldest football club, Queens Park FC, since 1873.
These days it’s of modern nature but that doesn’t mean it’s not classy and distinct. A big turnstile entrance in the corner painted in black allows you through with a smart scan of your phone. A kiosk offers Scotch Pies of which I oblige with a tea. There’s a small but subtle sign on a brick wall, black with white writing with an arrow pointing next to the words ‘seating area’.
It’s only two sided, renovated between 2012 and 2015 the covered seated stand I’m in runs the length of the pitch and gives a cracking, comfortable, unobstructed view whilst being really close up to the play. Brick walls below the backdrop of tall houses and flats either end behind each goal, opposite a classic tall black painted pavilion with seating. The place ‘oozes’ football aristocracy, within the boundaries of these four walls it feels like it means something to play here, whilst outside, looking in, you see how the other half may live, peering through the windows of their two bed squats and their high rise homes onto the field of play, it feels like you have to play here if you’re any good at football in Scotland, and if you are, you get to eventually step inside next door’s huge impressive scaled up enclosed amphitheatre.
I’m sat with some Celtic scouts at the back row of the stand it’s all very comfy as the teams come out. Feyenoord Head Coach is Robin van Persie. His son is number nine. I can tell you which one he is instantly as he’s just perfectly crashed home a volley in the warmup. Sweet as his old man, a chip off the RVP block.
Despite the Feyenoord quality however I’m immediately impressed with Celtic who dominate possession and get an early goal when a neat move down the right is tapped home by Lewis Dobbie. The home team have been the aggressors, three at the back they have ‘inverted’ wing backs who like to get forward, they’re a technical team and one that press hard, work hard, play quickly, every goal kick is taken almost instantly from the ball going out of play. I feel it’s a Brendan Rogers philosophy to get his team playing in his style through the ages.
Celtic impress and double their advantage, same route of attack as a left wing low centre is finished by Daniel Kelly who looks a handful. He’s been earmarked for first team football aged still eighteen. Another player earmarked is one I really like, the big powerful composed defender Lenny Agbaire. I ask a scout ‘what’s the plan with him? He looks ready for first team football to me? Are you sending him out on loan?’ the reply is “he might be in the first team in January”.
Robin van Persie has seen enough. His side have been outplayed, 2-0 down they aren’t at the races and the former Manchester United and Arsenal striker wants to make a statement. 38 minutes gone he makes three subs. And with it, the momentum turns in the away teams favour.
Celtic do go in at the break with a two-goal cushion but Feyenoord look hungrier and improved. In the second half they press harder, higher up the pitch, and begin to dictate proceedings, a couple of chances go begging before Givairo Read stands one up for Aymen Sliti to nod home.
Celtic are clinging on and are left fuming when they want to make a double substitution as the Referee refuses and instead books goalkeeper Joe Morrison for time wasting. With a minute left Feyenoord level through Kraaijiveld before Celtic have a chance to win it late on. Vata races away through on goal but see’s his shot stopped and at the other end, Feyenoord attack, Nesto Groen unleashes and his twenty yard thunderbolt crashes into the roof of the net.
Scenes sparked are outrageous as the Dutch team go crazy, there’s people on the pitch, they think it’s all over? Het is nu!
Celtic impressed me more than Feyenoord did which is strange having lost the game but they were brilliant for long periods, wing-backs Quinn and Bonner effective, Carse in midfield was busy with Kelly and Vata good in attack. The stand out however was Agbaire in defence who reads the game well and is not just a big physical presence, he can play a bit too, in fact, they all can.
As for Feyenoord their fortunes changed when they made their substitutes. On the left, Rainey Breinburg got them instantly going, whilst on the right, Givairo Read was brilliant. His crossing on another level and everytime he got the ball I sensed danger for Celtic. A Dutch Trent Alexander-Arnold? He could land it on a guilder.
Whilst mini RVP wasn’t so ‘twinkle in his dad’s eye’ he was dragged after an hour which was another move by van Persie, I felt, to make a statement. The substitutes all doing better than the starting eleven which probably tells you more about the mindset on the day, than it does of star quality.
I was hugely impressed by the pace, power and technique of the Scottish side but was expecting more from Feyenoord, who got their rhythm eventually, they have good technical players and I’m sure they’ll be a few who go on to glittering careers, one or two might even play their part in first team football this season?
Celtic: Joe Morrison, Ronan Ferns, Lenny Agbaire, Magnus MacKenzie, Jude Bonnar (Justin Osagie 80), Mackenzie Carse, Kyle Ure (Corey Tomson 65), Ben Quinn (Tom Hatton 62), Rocco Vata, Daniel Kelly, Lewis Dobbie.
Feyenoord: Mannou Berger, Lugene Clarinda Arnaud (Givairo Read 38), Djomar Giersthove, Jan Plug (Mike Klein 38), Jayden Candelaria, Zino Sneijer (Rainey Breinburg 38), Ayoub Ouarghi, Nassim El Harmouz, Jaden Slory, Shaqueel van Persie (Nesto Groen 61), Aymen Sliti (Thijs Kraaijeveld 69).
2:00pm Kick Off. Wednesday 13th December 2023, Lesser Hampden, Glasgow (att 502).