The television cameras panned on to Ryan Christie’s mum Sharon wiping a tear from her eye as she celebrated with the Celtic midfielder’s dad Charlie their son’s first-half added time strike that turned out to be the Betfred Cup final matchwinner yesterday.
And the Hampden man of the match conceded he struggled to stop his own eyes welling up as he trained them on his proud parents the instant the contest against an Aberdeen side with which he had spent 18 months on loan was brought to a close.
“It was amazing for my mum and dad to come down and see me,” said Christie. “When the final whistle went, I looked up and managed to catch eyes with them. I got a bit emotional myself when that happened because it has been a long road. I’ll be honest, it was pretty overwhelming for me. It was always going to be a strange day in any case coming up against Aberdeen and it shows that football can work in funny ways sometimes. Seeing them brought that overwhelming feeling of happiness and I was delighted for them to be able to see that.”
Christie, whose past two months in the game have been nothing short of footballing Cinderella story, admitted that he never fellt that he had reached the end of that long road at Celtic despite never appearing likely to be anything more than a rarely witnessed squad player until his recent extraordinary turnaround.
“I wouldn’t say I had given up on it, but there was a lot of talk in the summer and I didn’t really know where my future was,” said the 23-year-old who, all-of-a-sudden appears an integral performer for both club and country. “But the manager has been so amazing for me ever since I signed for Celtic. He sat me down and told me I still had a fighting chance at Celtic, so it was up to me to take that chance. From there it’s been about working hard and making sure that I took the chance when it came along. I need to kick on and try and make a proper impact.”
Rodgers joked after the final that Christie’s turnaround has been made complete through having flipped perceptions. Ahead of the past two months, he said the player was known as the son of Charlie, on the books at Celtic in the 1980s before having to rebuild his career at home in Inverness, from where his son started out. Now, the Celtic manager said, Charlie Christie will be known as the father of Ryan. “He was joking with me about it,” said the Celtic midfielder. “If you get a chance, say that to my dad...He has helped me so much in my career and it was nice to almost pay him back here. It’s been a great spell. I have been wanting to do things like this ever since I signed for Celtic. Obviously, it’s been a very long road to get here, but it’s nice to not just play but make an impact of games. That’s my job as an attacking midfielder to score goals and chip in with assists. When it comes in a cup final, that makes it even better.”
Days in football haven’t come better for Scott Bain either, the keeper given the nod for Celtic’s cup games this season over Craig Gordon, who had kept a clean sheet as a crucial Europa League encounter was won in Rosenborg on Thursday.
The favour accorded Bain by Brendan Rodgers for the final ensured he had his own rags-to-riches story after joining the Scottish champions in January. The Scotland international did so just as he appeared to have been packed off on loan to Hibernian by then Dundee manager Neil McCann, who had banished him from the Dens Park senior side amid a welter of acrimony.
“If you’d told me that I would be playing in this final 12 months ago, I’d have said you were mad,” Bain said. “But since January when I signed, I have worked as hard as I can. It’s been great working with the manager and Stevie Woods, and training with Craig Gordon. I am with the best players in the league every day and it’s just a case of keeping going.
“It was the biggest game of my career so far and it’s always great when you win. It’s been a good week for us and the boys put so much into the last few days. We got what we deserved in the final.”