A MIXTURE of football and showbiz, yesterday’s charity match at Parkhead brought together teams led by two of the true legends of Celtic and Manchester United, Paul McStay and Rio Ferdinand, to raise money for the latter’s Foundation and Celtic’s own charity.
Unicef and War Child will be among the beneficiaries, as will children across Scotland, in London, the Middle East and South Africa, from a match that featured footballing legends of the past and showbiz figures such as Louis Tomlinson of One Direction and actors James McAvoy and Martin Compston.
In the end, McStay’s Maestros beat Rio’s All-Stars 3-2 and McStay said afterwards: “It’s been a fantastic day and it’s all been worthwhile. This is what this club is all about.”
Ferdinand added: “The money will go to helping young kids, giving them a platform for life and to do positive things in the future.”
The stadium was less than half full, unlike the astonishing 60,000 turnout for Stilyan Petrov’s fund-raiser last year. Perhaps the Celtic support is suffering from compassion fatigue, but more likely there’s a lack of disposable income in Glasgow’s East End these days – Celtic still support their local food banks, 126 years after the club was founded to feed the children of Irish immigrants.
McStay, veteran of 677 appearances for Celtic, had flown from his home in Australia for the match, while goalkeeper Jonathan Gould had come even further from his current home in New Zealand.
The most pleasing sight for home fans was that of cancer victims John Hartson and Petrov together in Celtic shirts once again, the latter still not officially in full remission from his leukaemia, while Hartson has fought back from testicular cancer that had spread to his brain.
With many of the participants wearing their shirts outside their shorts – the universal tell-tale sign of advancing years and spreading middles – the sunlit match was always going to be a relaxed affair.
It began that way, the only excitement being the girlish squeals when One Direction’s Tomlinson got involved. He had fun, becoming both team captain and panto villain late on.
Andy Cole had the first real chance after six minutes but ballooned his shot from 12 yards high over Rab Douglas’s bar, while ex-Morton youth player Compston showed an acute football brain at the other end with a delightful chip from 20 yards that Tomasz Kuszcak grasped just under the bar.
Andy Cole gave Rio’s All-Stars the lead after 16 minutes, hitting home after adroit play by Paul Scholes and Dwight Yorke. Scholes looked as if he could still do some team a turn, it should be said, while Ferdinand himself strolled through the match and Gianfranco Zola, no less, showed lots of lovely touches.
Immediately after the goal, maestro McStay was replaced by his old friend Simon Donnelly. He returned to the pitch later for a unique occasion – he and his brothers Willie and Raymond played for the first time in Celtic shirts together at Parkhead.
Soon afterwards, Petrov and Hartson received a standing ovation when they left the field to be replaced by Bobby Petta and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. In fact every player who left the field got a warm ovation, and rightly so for their commitment to the charitable cause.
Compston got himself into good positions, but a rush of blood to the head caused him to mishit his 20th minute shot wide when scoring looked easier. He went off to be replaced by fellow tail-o’-the-bank actor Ross McCall – it was that kind of showbizzy day.
Vennegoor of Hesselink almost had the ball in the All-Stars’ net after half-an-hour but Kuszczak got down quickly to foil his chance.
Probably the biggest smile of the day was on the face of comedian Jack Whitehall when he came on for
Scholes, at the same time as Moravcik departed for Harald Brattbakk, who will always be welcome in these parts for scoring the goal that won the SPL title in 1998, finally foiling Rangers’ attempt to win ten-in-a-row.
Showbiz took over next, Jordan Stephens of the Rizzle Kicks coming on and scoring with his first touch of the ball in the 39th minute to put the All-Stars further ahead. The half closed with Vennegoor of Hesselink getting the Maestros’ best chance, shooting just wide from fully 25 yards.
Frank McAvennie was among those who came on at half-time, getting a special cheer. He got an even bigger one three minutes into the half when he pulled one back for the Maestros. What a goal it was, too, Mark Burchill’s cross deflecting up and the ball dropping from height onto McAvennie’s right foot for a sweet volley that gave Kuszczak no chance.
Rio Ferdinand took his leave after an hour, as players came and went from the dugout before Tomlinson brought down Moravcik inside the box. A soft penalty, but it was taken hard and high by McAvoy who will only be happier if he wins an Oscar.
Gould then had to use his legs to foil Stephens who was clean through on goal, before Moravick struck after 76 minutes, firing in a deep cross that looked to be sneaking in over Kuszczak’s head, only for the big Pole to knock the ball down to Hartson who made no mistake from four yards.
The final score was of no consequence really. What mattered most was that many children in need will have their lives improved thanks to the efforts of the people who gave their time and money willingly at Parkhead yesterday.
McStay’s Maestros: Rab Douglas; Jackie McNamara, Tom Boyd, Tommy Johnson, Tosh McKinlay; Martin Compston, Paul McStay, Stiliyan Petrov, James McAvoy; Lubo Moravcik; John Hartson. Subs: Jonathan Gould, Willie McStay, Peter Grant, Harald Brattbakk, Simon Donnelly, Frank McAvennie, Greg McHugh, Ross McCall, Raymond McStay, Mark Burchill, John McStay, David Farrell, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, Bobby Petta.
Rio’s All Stars: Tomasz Kuszczak; Louis Tomlinson, Rio Ferdinand, Phil Neville, Ralf Little; Joey Barton, Paul Scholes, Jody Morris; Gianfranco Zola; Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole. Subs: Jack Whitehall, Tom Cullen, Harley Alexander, Jordan Stephens, Dougie Freedman, Ibrahim Kanu, Ade Akande.