Douglas aims to be Celtic's lucky charm

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The Independent Football

Ronnie Simpson tossed a cloth cap into his goal containing his team-mates' false teeth before Celtic's European Cup triumph 36 years ago. If Rab Douglas throws a bag into the net as he runs out for the club's Uefa Cup final against Porto here tomorrow, it is liable to be full of rabbits' feet, four-leaf clovers and a hefty chunk of heavy metal.

Douglas, who will return as Martin O'Neill's No 1 in the Olympic Stadium after three weeks out with a groin injury, admitted yesterday to having "451 million superstitions". When he moved from Dundee to Celtic, his leaving present was a horseshoe. "I couldn't lift my kit bag," the towering 31-year-old said. "It must have been made at Ravenscraig."

Their goalkeeper's frivolity masked the steely resolve that has been forged within the Celtic squad, who continue to acclimatise to the heat at their base in nearby Jerez. Douglas repeatedly referred to their unity, saying: "It's a team game and that's how we've got this far." He cited Johan Mjallby's act of rescuing him after a handling error all but cost a goal at a crucial stage in the semi-final at Boavista.

"We've got a great spirit, but also world-class players," Douglas asserted. "It's not all about self-belief. We can play a bit too." Liverpool and Blackburn can testify to that, likewise VfB Stuttgart and Celta Vigo, with the Scotland custodian singling out the win at Anfield and the aplomb with which it was achieved as his highlight of Celtic's run.

However, Porto's superiority over Celtic in last season's Champions' League leaves nagging doubts that "world-class" might be over-egging it. "We had a good win [1-0] at home and went to Portugal full of good intentions," Douglas said. "It all fell to pieces in 15 minutes and we lost 3-0, but that was a one-off and it counts for nothing now."

Simpson, now 72, will be present with the other surviving Lisbon Lions. "I hope Rab has as little to do here as I had against Inter," he said. "I didn't expect it, but it turned out to be one of my quietest games ever. It was actually easy for me. I lost an early penalty but then we attacked almost non-stop and deserved our victory."

To be spoken of three decades hence with something approaching the reverence in which Billy McNeill, Simpson and company are held would be as precious as a winner's medal. While Douglas would cherish such status, he is aware that "nobody remembers the runners-up".

The veracity of his statement will be tested in the championship race next weekend, which Rangers are fractional favourites to win. But the prestige attached to winning a European trophy again means few of the thousands of Celtic fans already here are thinking beyond tomorrow and Porto.

Douglas will doubtless have a ritual ready to appease the gods of footballing fortune, though it will not involve planting a smacker on the shaven head of Bobo Baldé in the fashion made famous by Fabien Barthez and Laurent Blanc. "I kissed Bobo once," he said. "Never again."

* Lubos Michel, the 35-year-old Slovakian, will referee the Uefa Cup final.

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