IN SPORT, the word “surreal” has become a cliche. At the London Olympics, the competitors used it daily to describe the sensation of winning, or performing in front of their biggest-ever crowd – or both.
We should expect to hear it a few times more in Glasgow over the next few days – but come on, do they really mean surreal? It’s not as if they were stuck inside a Salvador Dali painting, being timed by melted, dripping stopwatches.
I’ll tell you what’s surreal. Surreal is rugby posts at Ibrox. They’ve been hoisted for the Commonwealth Games but alas 11 years too late to serve any purpose for Lorenzo Amoruso and his extraordinarily wayward pots at goal. And surreal is Celtic playing a home game in Edinburgh, at Murrayfield, having been displaced by Rod Stewart and Susan Boyle, and required to overcome summer apathy as well as fan disorientation and – whisper it – the sleekit superworm of EH12.
Actually the notorious Murrayfield pitch was positively sparkling. The stadium was about two-thirds full. And a man with a guitar pre-kickoff sang the one rhyming “Kerry” with “Derry” and then the one rhyming “Paul McStay” with “Johnstone, Tully, Murdoch, Auld and Hay” to reassure everyone they were in the right place. The completists, the quirk-hunters and the plain old faithful were always coming anyway, but the sunshine seemed to bring a few more. These temporary evictees from Glasgow’s East End pitched up in Edinburgh’s West End and set up base camp at Ryrie’s pub next to Haymarket station. Soon the hordes were ten-deep on the pavement and commuters who’d fancied a drink before the journey home had to head disgruntledly for their trains. Farther along it was just as busy at the Roseburn, a hostelry well-known to Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths. At the Murrayfield Hotel, fans sipped Buckfast al fresco. A new tipple for these parts, for sure, though if you’d asked them possibly the response would have been: “One has brung one’s own.” Just as incongruously, vendors of “Cellic” scarves and bawbees were set up on the corners of swish, tree-lined crescents but they seemed too self-conscious to shout out the prices as is the custom back on London Road.
There was nothing self-conscious about Virgil Van Dijk who scored with two early headers. This pleased the support still able to soak up the sun’s rays although they must have wondered for how much longer they’ll be able to count on the big Dutchman’s services. The big Englishman, Fraser Forster – reported earlier in the day to be seriously interesting Southampton – was a virtual spectator. Would there be a rugby score at Murrayfield? There was a moment when this seemed likely, but the best chances fell to Teemu Pukki who seemed reluctant to avail himself of a first-half hat-trick.
During the interval, from the stall back on ground level, the support could avail themselves of “well-hung Angus beef”. There were few takers, but this wasn’t a night for a pie and Bovril either. The Glasgow invaders were in any case well-acclimatised now, all the more so when soon after the resumption Pukki finally grabbed his second. They did the Poznan – another first for Murrayfield. By that point another near-novelty was assured – a victory in this ground by a Scottish team in a competitive match.
The last time Euro football nights came to Murrayfield they involved Hearts, from just along the road. Despite that, the Jambos struggled. The grass, for one thing, was too long. The club were possibly going to play all their football for the forseeable at the home of Scottish rugby and this preyed on the minds of the fans. The opposition were tougher as well. Celtic on this evidence, are finding Murrayfield very much to their liking. As the qualifiers progress, their opposition will get tougher too, but last night they did what they had to do. Ronny Delia stressed beforehand the importance of maintaining the higest possible standards. “If we go through but have played bad I will get angry because we haven’t used the day in a good way,” he said. His team used the day pretty well. Their fans did the same. “Thank you for turning Edinburgh green,” barked the announcer at the end. They should know, though: Edinburgh doesn’t always guarantee sunshine.