Willo Flood said he was close to tears when he took to the field for his Celtic debut in the Old Firm derby. The Dublin-born midfielder was already buzzing after being told he was starting Sunday’s Scottish Premier League clash with Rangers, and he was almost overcome when he eventually ran out at Parkhead.
“Before Sunday, I had only ever watched the Glasgow derby at home on television,” said boyhood Celtic fan Flood, who signed from Cardiff last month after 18 months on loan at Dundee United. “It was my first ever experience of the game, so to get the nod to start against Rangers was a dream come true for me, it really was.
“To just run out for the warm-up as a Celtic player was almost enough to bring a tear to my eye. The atmosphere was unbelievable. I knew it would be good but I didn’t expect the level of noise at the start. The place was absolutely bouncing for the first 20 minutes.
“I remember watching the game on television back home and thinking how good it would be to get the chance to play for Celtic against Rangers. I can’t believe I’ve now achieved it. If someone had said to me all those years ago, when I was watching [Henrik] Larsson and the rest of the Celtic team face Rangers, that I would have been there one day, I’d have just laughed at them. I’d have said, ‘Listen, I’m not Paul Daniels. I can’t just make things happen by magic’. But it’s all happened for real now and it was an absolute dream for me. It’s an experience I’ll treasure for the rest of my life and hopefully there is more to come.”
Flood played just over an hour of Sunday’s goalless draw, which maintained Celtic’s two-point lead at the top of the SPL. The former Manchester City trainee was only told he was starting a couple of hours before kick-off.
He said: “It was a big shock for me because I didn’t really know where I stood in the manager’s plans. I’ve been at Celtic for a few weeks now but I wasn’t able to be involved in the last few games. To be honest, I was just hoping to be in the squad. I’d have been happy to be on the bench, so when the manager gave me the nod, I was really chuffed. I didn’t even have time to tell anybody but, looking back, that was probably for the best. The manager just pulled me aside and told me I was starting on the right side of midfield. He has shown great faith in me and it’s good to know that he believes in what I can do.”
Although Sunday was Flood’s first taste of an Old Firm game, it was not his first big city derby. The 23-year-old played in its Manchester equivalent just over four years ago but insists it cannot compete with what he experienced at the weekend. He told Celtic View: “For me, it was four or five times better than the Manchester derby. I think the Glasgow derby is more intense than the Manchester one. It seems as if there is a lot more at stake.”
The Rangers midfielder Steven Davis claims the Old Firm derby draw backs up his belief that the title race will remain close for the second straight season. Sunday’s tie left Celtic two points clear of their arch-rivals at the top of the table. Rangers will climb into pole position for the first time since November if they beat Kilmarnock on Saturday, but whatever happens between now and May Northern Ireland star Davis can only see a repeat of the kind of drama that saw Celtic snatch the title on the final day of last season.
“I’ve been saying for a few weeks now that I think the league race will go right to the wire,” he said. “After what we saw between the teams on Sunday, I’ve got no reason to believe any differently. Last year was hard for us all and there haven’t been too many additions to the squad since then, so most of us went through the disappointment back then. But the team are performing well this season after having to deal with losing the league and then going out of Europe a few weeks later.
“The championship is still in our hands. If we win every game between now and the end of the season, we’ll have done enough to win the title.
“We’ve got a good situation in the league just now. Both us and Celtic have dropped points to teams further down the league so nothing is settled yet.”
The number of times Old Firm derby matches that have ended in a draw.