I don’t know exactly how many football matches I’ve attended since my very first visit to Celtic Park more than thirty years ago. It must be several hundreds, the vast majority of them at the ground we like to call Paradise.
But I do know that the luxury experience of corporate hospitality, which I had the pleasure of sampling today courtesy of Carling, adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the footballing experience.
For many years I watched football matches standing on the terracing, leaning against a barrier as the crowd swayed and rocked with the ups and downs of the game. It was a very different routine in those days: arriving early to get the favoured spot. Creating a pre-match atmosphere. Being a part of a mass of people, a collective entity that supported the team loudly and passionately.
All of that changed with the introduction of all seater stadia. There were good arguments for this of course, but in my view there has been a detrimental effect on the enjoyment of going to a game. There is no need to get to the ground early now that everyone has a designated seat and so no atmosphere until just after kick off when everyone finally takes their place. And I miss that feeling of togetherness that the terracing always brought.
Today’s experience though took watching a game of football to a different level.
Celtic played Hibs with a 12:15 kick off for television purposes. I arrived at the ground just before 11am and met the rest of the party before entering through the front door. We were shown to our lounge where the ever attentive staff served tea and coffee. And pints of Carling, of course.
First on the menu was a pre match breakfast. Now I don’t normally eat in the mornings, but when someone has gone to the trouble of making a full fry up it would simply have been rude not to partake, wouldn’t it? Very nice it was too, particularly the Cumberland sausage!
Every need was catered for. A programme sat at each place. The team line ups were brought in half an hour before kick off. Fancy a bet? No problem. The lady from Ladbrokes brought the coupons around and advised on the day’s prices. And the tea, coffee or beverages of choice were topped up frequently.
Shortly before kick off we took our seats. Our padded seats in the Directors’ Box. With a perfect view of the pitch from the half way line, just behind the home dug out. And in time for Celtic’s early goal too. All was going so well, until Hibs equalised shortly afterwards.
The game stayed at 1-1 until the break. Back into the lounge we went for more refreshments, a bowl of very tasty soup and of course the traditional half time pie. There were even cakes for those who hadn’t eaten enough already.
Back out to our luxury seats we went for the second half, this time to see Hibs go ahead with a very debatable penalty. Suddenly the afternoon didn’t seem quite so comfortable. But the bhoys got themselves onto level terms late in the game, setting up a fine finish. And in traditional Celtic style there was a late winner to cheer.
We were all in good spirits as we returned to the lounge for the post mortem. Well, all apart from the two Hibs fans, of course. More drinks, an opportunity to discuss the game with former captain Tom Boyd and then a very nice two course lunch followed. Don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much in such a short period of time!
The company was excellent, the many and varied discussions were lively and intelligent. And we were joined by such luminaries as Joe Craig and Lisbon Lion Bobby Lennox, men who always have plenty of stories to tell. Then to top things off, man of the match Aiden McGeady popped in to pick up his champagne and pose for photographs.
This is certainly the luxury way to watch football. It made a very nice change from my usual seat, I can tell you. And I could get used to it very easily. Now, if I win tonight’s lottery maybe I can do this every week!
My thanks to those I spent the afternoon with for their superb company. And my sincere gratitude to those who made it possible for me to become a fat cat – for a few hours at least!