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Estadio Nacional - My pilgrimage to Paradise
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My Pilgrimage to LisbonDifficult to know where to start with this article. I assume that there is little need at present to explain the emotional
aspect of knowing that I was about to embark on a journey to Lisbon. Few other clubs (if any!) have as an emotional
attachment to a foreign field as Celtic have with the Estadio Nacional (the ground where we won the European Cup).
That said, if we had won the European Cup in 1970, then things could have been different, but as things stand, Lisbon
1967 is the greatest moment in our club’s roller-coaster history.
As soon as the Champion’s League draw for 2006-07 had been done, the fixture away against Benfica stood out for
me as the one to die for. Potentially, the one match that could determine our final outcome in the group was the main
reason BUT the chance to go to Lisbon and see the Estadio Nacional with a mass of Celtic fans was an opportunity
I’d never be able to come across again possibly. So there was no way I could pass this one up.
After arriving in Lisbon, the next morning two tubes and one train ride later, I’d arrived close to the ground. As you get
ever closer, it is actually quite easy to forget that you are about to actually see the Estadio Nacional (as its imprinted
in our minds from grainy black and white photos from the 1960s). Portugal is a beautiful country, and the short train
journey passes along a beautiful coastline.
A climb up hill is all that separates you from the second paradise, and you know you are close as you can see the
floodlights towering over the trees as you cross the road from the rail station, an increasingly rare sight of which I
tend to miss on my football journeys in the current day.
In some ways, the first impression when you finally see the place is that it is from a distant past as it is a
world away from modern stadia, but that doesn’t take away from the still alluring beauty of the whole place.
The place seems to be caught in a time trap, carefully preserved from its earlier heyday. The walk into the
stadium is like entering a giant public garden, and the main stand is just magnificent, no two ways about it. Its
platforms are what stand out the most, where the dignitaries sat and the trophies handed out, give it a very
majestic look like something from the ancient Roman days. Its almost as if it was all built to centre on that and
not the pitch itself, like as if it was designed for the winning picture in mind of the victorious captain to hold
their trophies aloft there.
When you look at the pitch your mind will start imagining the Lisbon Lion days, and next you will start arguing
with your pals over which set of goals was the one all the three goals in that game were scored into! Anyhow,
standing on that pitch gives you a sense of pride as you mock play about the goal area like a child imitating
his heroes on the pitch. I had to be Jinky (not tall enough to be any of the others!), but a few minutes of running
about later made me wish I was the Papa in the goals instead.
All of us there had free rule of the place. Passing by the dugouts sitting beside the trackside, and then climbing
up the stairs is a little challenge worth doing in order to reach the platforms, where when you get to stand up
there, looking down it doesn’t half make you feel king of the world, a fitting stage for our own “Caesar” (Billy McNeil).
The modern method of being presented the trophy on a mock platform in the middle of the pitch just doesn’t
compare when you experience this. From the platform, you tower over everything, the fans, the pitch, the track,
the stadium and can see as far out to the buildings on the hills far off. Only when you are standing there do you
really get a feeling of just what a high Caesar must have felt as he lifted the trophy high above his head. It’s a
little funny side-note to Lisbon 1967 that this pivotal moment was actually not seen by any of Caesar’s team mates
who actually were all celebrating and recovering in the dressing room.
One comical moment is seeing what was the old commentary box, which sits in the middle of the stands and
resembles an old beach side war bunker. How they were able to watch the game from that little concrete hut
I’ll never know, a real contrast to the over pampered facilities they now enjoy.
Going behind the main stand at the top, and thenwalking around looking around the whole stadium from that
height, you get to feel the pride that there must have been in designing the original ground, with fine stone work
and an intriguing picture of the area round the Estadio Nacional.
If you get to go there ever, I would strongly recommend to walk around the whole stadium along the top of the
stand, as you will then get to see the entire place (and Lisbon itself) in all its real splendour. A sight to behold!
As with anything though, all things must end, and you will have to tear yourself away from it, but the moment you
leave and you start to descend down the hill back to the station, you will kind of feel whole as the whole experience
starts to sink in. A lifetime of memories and conversation from only a short visit. One more of your life’s ambitions
have been fulfilled.
The stadium has though seen better days, and appears to be more a side show now, used for athletics and the
odd match of sorts, but it will always have a meaning to us. Its refreshing to visit a sporting monument in this day
and age also which is free of any commercialism. No advertisements or any silly sponshorship. I get the feeling that
this will not be the last I will see this stadium, and maybe (just maybe) my kids and future family (if that happens!)
will get to hopefully see it to.
My genuine thanks to the staff at the place for being so welcoming to allow us all to wander as we wished around
the place so freely to soak in the atmosphere. Apologies to them for the behaviour of small sections of the support
who were making the place look like an old pub ashtray. They don't represent the majority of us, and
the true deep respect the Celtic Support truly has for the place and the work the staff do to keep the place going.
(JoeBloggsCity, trip overview from my visit on 1st Nov 2006)
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