Celtic's 2-1 upset win over Barcelona on Wednesday prompted some to describe it as the "second greatest night in the history of the club" after -- presumably -- that night in 1967 when 11 men born within a few miles of Parkhead went out and became champions of Europe.
That generated some interesting discussion, as you would expect from a club that celebrated its 125th anniversary on Tuesday. Does beating Barcelona in a group stage match make it a "greater night" than, say, winning nine league titles in a row? Or that epic night in 1970 when Celtic overcame mighty Leeds United in front of a reported 136,505 people?
I threw it out there on Twitter and got a range of responses, the vast majority of them thoughtful.
Some argued that this was a one-off and isn't so remarkable because upsets happen with a certain regularity (heck, Belarus' BATE Borisov beat mighty Bayern Munich a few weeks ago, and we all know how far Cyprus' APOEL Nicosia got last season). Since Pep Guardiola arrived in 2008, Barcelona lost -- among others -- to the likes of Hercules, Getafe, Real Sociedad, Osasuna (twice), Numancia, Rubin Kazan (at home!) and Mallorca.
In short, the Blaugrana has suffered its fair share of upsets, but more to the point: Surely Celtic doesn't belong in a conversation with those clubs? Plus, past Celtic teams' achievements were much greater because they were much better sides who proved it over time. But, of course, the game doesn’t have the sense of history it once did.
Others made the point that, for this Celtic side -- with a limited budget in what is now a limited league -- to defeat a team like Barcelona (off to their statistically greatest-ever start in La Liga, according to the stats) was, emotionally, a greater achievement, perhaps precisely because it was so unexpected.
I came to the conclusion that it comes down to what is more memorable to you, which is a matter of personal taste. Is it during times when your club is strong and obtains victories against major opposition? Or is it when your team is relatively weak, overachieves and pulls off an improbable upset?
What struck me, though -- and left me with a degree of melancholy -- is that Celtic's win was a reminder of how times have changed. A bit like Ajax's home win over Manchester City or Benfica's draw at Old Trafford last year.
These are big teams with huge fan bases. Clubs that have won the European Cup, seven times between them, in fact, more than the Premier League's four representatives combined. Clubs that average more than 40,000 a game.
Yet because geography has relegated them to small television markets in small countries, they simply can't compete the way they once did. They don't get as much TV revenue from their national leagues, and because nearly half the Champions League money is distributed based on the size of the domestic broadcaster’s deal with UEFA (the rest is prize money), they get far less than a Premier League or Serie A side would get.
That goes a long way toward explaining why we were all left open-mouthed when Jose Mourinho’s Porto won the Champions League in 2004. Also why it's highly unlikely that anyone outside the big five European leagues will win it any time soon.
The disadvantage to historically big clubs in second-tier leagues is staggering. And, sadly, it's increasing. That's why I'm an advocate for a rethink, something like the old Atlantic League idea whereby the top sides from Belgium, Holland, Portugal and Scotland would form their own competition. That's a column for another time, but it's interesting to note that UEFA set an important precedent recently by allowing Holland and Belgium to run a combined top division in the women's league.
In the meantime, fans of these clubs are -- evidently -- modulating their expectations. Over time, the glorious past becomes a bit faded and you become more realistic. You take joy in smaller things. You don't love your club any less. It's what being a fan is all about.
Yet as a neutral and as someone who grew up watching the old European Cup contested with a far more level playing field, there's more than a twinge of sadness. And I hope that someday these clubs -- not just the ones I mentioned, but also ones like Anderlecht, PSV Eindhoven, Rangers, Porto, Sporting, Feyenoord, etc. -- will no longer have to play David to someone else's Goliath.