IT IS nine years since Craig Gordon’s first attempt to reach the group stage of the Champions League turned into a Greek tragedy.
Gordon was a member of the Hearts side which lost out in the final qualifying round in 2006, beaten 5-1 on aggregate by AEK Athens in painful and controversial circumstances.
The goalkeeper admits he began to wonder if the chance of playing in Europe’s elite club competition had passed him by as his career progressed.
His move to Celtic and successful recovery from a career-threatening knee injury has revived those ambitions, however, and after missing out in the play-off round against Maribor last season the 32-year-old is desperate to get it right with Ronny Deila’s side this year.
“The Champions League is a massive goal for me,” said Gordon ahead of tonight’s second qualifying round return fixture against Stjarnan in Iceland.
“It’s something I want to experience and it will take a massive effort over the next few weeks to get there.
“It’s a difficult competition. It’s hard to even reach the group stages nowadays as there are so many games.
“I don’t assume it will happen. You can never assume anything in this game. To get to the group stages, you have to go through a lot of games against quality teams.
“We are certainly more prepared this time around. We know what the manager expects of us and in that respect, we have no excuses. But it’s still going to be very hard against a lot of quality opposition.
“When I was at Hearts, I used to envy Celtic and Rangers when they were playing in the Champions League group stage fairly regularly. You want to play on that stage and test yourself at that level. I don’t think there’s a better competition in club football.
“It’s something I desperately want to try and do before the end of my career. I still have a while to do it but I’d like it to happen as soon as possible and I have a good chance this season.
“I remember the AEK Athens tie with Hearts clearly. We lost the first leg at Murrayfield 2-1 to two very late goals, then in the second leg over there we had both Julien Brellier and Neil McCann sent off.
“One of Julien’s yellow cards was for wearing an earring. It was just never going to happen for us and we lost three late goals in the game.
“I probably thought then that there would be more chances to reach the Champions League, but the longer your career goes, the more you think it might pass you by.”