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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 May, 2003, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Seville warms to Celtic fans
Alasdair Lamont
BBC Sport in Seville

Celtic fans enjoy the Spanish sunshine
Celtic fans have flocked to the cathedral district of Seville
Imagine living in a city where the sun shone more often than it rained, where the architecture and culture dated back to the 7th century and beyond and life was lived at a serene pace where no-one was ever in too much of a hurry.

Hold that thought and then imagine it suddenly being invaded by a foreign army. Not just any army, but an army of pasty-faced, beer-drinking, football-loving men and women who had come to take over the city, if only for a few days.

That place is Seville and the conquering army is an ever-growing band of Celtic supporters.

I have fond memories of this beautiful Andalucian city from a trip three years ago. It is a far more "Spanish" city than Barcelona or even Madrid, despite the obvious Moorish influence, in that it is relatively untarnished by the effects of tourism and a cosmopolitan population.

So how, I wondered, would it look draped in green, white and gold?

Well, not too bad as it turns out. The 15th century cathedral has become a focal point for the followers of Martin O'Neill's men- or, rather, the Irish pub Flaherty's across the road has become the focal point and the cathedral provides an interesting backdrop.

On arriving on Monday night, more than 48 hours before kick-off, there were already a couple of thousand Celtic fans drinking and partying in this particular "zona" with many more ensconced in other Irish bars elsewhere in the city.

By Tuesday morning, the same was still true. Many, it seemed, had not been to bed. But they had, only their bed was the concrete steps of the cathedral.

For this Celtic band are a hardy bunch. Alright, so sleeping rough in Seville may not be the hardship that a similar experience in the pouring rain of Glasgow would provide, but it still gets cold at night and many of these guys had no more than their short-sleeved Celtic jerseys to keep them warm.

One family I spoke to had spent the night sleeping outside the railway station. Not only that, but they have no tickets for the game, which surely makes that penance all the greater.

The Murphys, from Fife, were still trying desperately to get a hold of tickets for Wednesday night's game.

"I was offered a ticket for 700 Euros," said Brendan. "But you've got to be wary of forgeries."

Nonetheless, they were not complaining and, like many others, they were here not only for the festivities but to sample the local culture as well.

"We tried to get into the cathedral to say a prayer when we arrived, but it was closed, so we're going in when it opens this morning," said Thomas.

"It's some place and the locals have been great."

The Murphys' mother is joining her family in Seville on Wednesday. "She broke her hip a few weeks ago, so she's coming out with her stick. Nothing would keep her away," said daughter Agnes.

Celtic fan Gemma McGinlay flies the flag in Seville
Celtic fans are enjoying themselves even if they have no tickets
But many are going to extraordinary lengths to be part of this wonderful occasion in the club's history.

The Murphys told me of a young man they had encountered sleeping at the train station - an Israeli Celtic fan over for the game.

Gerry O'Neill had just arrived from Sydney and told me of a number of others he knew were coming from Australia.

He was one of the lucky ones who had managed to get a ticket, but it is estimated that around 20,000 will arrive here without one.

The heady mixture of sun, beer and freedom can sometimes be a recipe for disaster, but Pili, the owner of a souvenir shop next to Flaherty's, is not concerned.

"They are happy, they don't seem violent, they're just having a good time," she said.

"Obviously it could change because they've started drinking very early (it was 11am), but I don't think there will be trouble."

One local, Cristobal Sanchez, said he had only seen scenes like these once before in the city, when Barcelona played Steau Bucharest in a previous Uefa Cup final.

But, with most Celtic fans yet to arrive, he admitted that even that occasion would be dwarved.

So Celtic fans have embraced Seville and the city seems to quite like them too. Long may that continue.





CELTIC

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