Hoops & Dreams: Celtic diehards relive night they got to play alongside their heroes at Parkhead14/08/2011 10:00
ALL eyes were on the stars as football legends such as Henrik Larsson and Roy Keane played alongside Gerard Butler, Nicky Byrne and Tinchy Stryder.
But the widest smiles at the Celtic v Manchester United Legends charity match came from the unfamiliar faces who pulled on a jersey and played for their heroes live on TV and in front of a 55,000-strong crowd.
When the camera panned along the star-studded line-ups on Tuesday, viewers may have wondered who the ecstatic figures standing next to Westlife’s Nicky Byrne and John Hartson were.
But devoted Hoops fans Stephen Craig and Stephen Melville had the time of their lives and yesterday they admitted they are still on a high.
East Kilbride entrepreneur Melville, 45, won the right to be assistant manager at a charity auction and shared the honour with his 19-year-old son Alex.
Stephen said: “We’re all very much part of the Celtic family in my house, so it was a huge moment for us to walk out there with Martin O’Neill and all these players we’ve watched for years.
“I bid for the prize in an auction but I wanted my son to be part of it, so he did most of the tactical talks with Martin and organised all the subs with him, while I sat with them on the bench.
“It was an amazing experience, because while it was famous footballers and celebrities with us, they were all just Celtic fans, so everyone just chatted about the team like they were mates.”
The night was organised as a benefit for ex-Celtic and Scotland star John Kennedy, whose career was cut short by injury.
But the kind-hearted defender donated the proceeds to help the millions of people hit by the drought in east Africa.
Melville got a 15-minute run-out towards the end and was the first player to congratulate Larsson on completing his hat-trick.
He said: “With 15 minutes to go, it was Alex who told me I was to go on and replace Chris Sutton, and slot in at left-back because they wanted to push the rest of the team forward to get a winner while it was still two each.
“When I got into position I realised I was up against Roy Keane and on the other side of me was the boxer Nigel Benn, which was quite a sight, but they knew why I was playing and I think they knew to look after me.
“When I tried to tackle Keane, he saw it coming and managed to get out of the way and I was sent flying. I said to him, ‘So I’ve just been Keano’d and he laughed.
“I think I got about one touch of the ball the whole time but when Henrik scored his third, I made sure I was the first person to get there. I just about broke his back when I jumped on top of him.
“He kept saying, ‘We have to get another one to tie it up’ and definitely wanted to win the game.”
Kyle Falconer from The View and ex-boxer Steve Collins were in the Celtic side, while Angus Deayton, Tinchy Stryder, Ralf Little and Patrick Kielty played for the Manchester United select.
Billy Connolly helped host the event, which was live on ITV4.
Former managers Gordon Strachan and O’Neill were in charge of the teams, which also featured former stars such as Dwight Yorke and current Celtic boss Neil Lennon.
Melville said: “After the game, it was fantastic to then meet all the people like Steve Collins and Gerard Butler, who was really friendly, and all the Manchester United guys like Angus Deayton and Patrick Kielty were fantastic, they were all going on much fun they had.”
One of the other civilian superstars was Ayr-born Stephen Craig, 43, the chief executive of clothing firm All Saints.
He earned his spot in the Celtic Legends squad by making a donation to the Celtic Charity Fund’s appeal for the east African drought crisis.
Craig said: “I discussed making the donation a m while back when I heard the game was taking place but wasn’t that nervous until I got there and found out the stadium was going to be full and it was being shown live on national TV.
“We were taken in for a pre-match meal with the managers and players, and it was quite daunting but someone from the charity fund introduced me to Frank McAvennie and he was a great laugh.
“It was great to be hanging out with the players and the managers on the bench, and when I came on, Martin O’Neill asked me where I wanted to play.
“I said I wanted to be up front with Henrik, so they brought me on for Nicky Byrne.
“The first thing I did when I got on was play a one-two with Henrik, then I stopped and thought to myself, ‘Oh, my God, you’ve just played the ball to Henrik Larsson’.
“It was hard to concentrate to pass the ball to players like Lubo Moravcik and Henrik when you were also singing songs along with the crowd.”
He added: “Neil Lennon said he thought I had a good left foot, I got a good few touches of the ball and really enjoyed it.
“I had a big moment when Henrik set me up of the Man United blocked it on the line.
“And when he scored I just jumped on top of him.
“I accidentally took out Roy Keane with a tackle but I’m a huge fan of his and I was quick to apologise.
“It one of the best nights of my life, to get to play at Celtic Park for a real game, and it was an honour just to be a part of it.”
To donate to the east Africa fund, log on to donate.oxfam.org.uk/ eastafricalegends or call 0300 200 1999.
The Celtic and Manchester United Legends shirts are being auctioned for the east Africa appeal. To bid, visit www.celticcharityfund.org.uk