This morning I was greeted by an old friend; scrolling through my Twitter feed it came to light that ‘On this Day’ in 1995, Henrik Larsson (my hero) signed for Celtic football club and the rest, they say, is history.
Yet again he captured my imagination, I remembered with utter dread the feeling I felt that day on 16th May 2004 when he departed the Hoops and left to join FC Barcelona; a move he thoroughly deserved and one that he could, and should, have made many years previously.
I can never forget the goals he scored in the UEFA Cup final, his first equaliser truly was one of the great European cup final goals; scored from a near impossible angle with the glance of a head. Nor will I forget the goal he scored against Boavista in the semi-final which sent six daft Celts in my Auntie Eleanor’s front room into a tizzy and left Boavista goalkeeper Ricardo in tears as he sent the Bhoys in green to their first European Final since 1970. His chip over Stefan Klos, his touch, his brilliance and class is etched in my memory.
The greatest ever Celt; he understood what it meant to wear those colours, he knew the importance of stopping THEM getting ten in a row and more, he was the one who stopped it with a sweet, curling finish from 20 yards; the crowd going mad. This was just the beginning for The King of Kings.
“CHEERIO, 10 IN A ROW”, cried 50,000 Celts.
The day he cut his dreads made front page news. On our way to the UEFA Cup Final he silenced Souness who declared the first-leg, “men against boys”. Men against the King more like!
Men nil Bhoys two.
The Kings parting words certainly rang true: “This will learn them a lesson, never talk until the game is finished.”
In season 1990-2000 Larsson was gunning to be Scotland’s top scorer with 8 league goals in 9 games. Things were going oh so well until his leg-break against Lyon in the UEFA Cup 1999. Broke in two places, career over? No chance.
The King Returned, and had what was arguably his best season under new manager Martin O’Neill. He formed a formidable partnership with the brilliant Chris Sutton, and over the season Larsson bagged 35 goals in 38 games. That year he was presented with the European Golden Boot and was crowned the SPFL top scorer. Not to mention that Celtic won their first domestic treble since Jock Stein’s Lions in 1967 that same year.
Over 60,000 men, women and children wept as the greatest ever Celt played his final game in Paradise. The sun shone, his boy Jordan smiled on as Dad smashed two past Dundee United and then the legend himself cried as he walked onto the famous turf and said goodbye to his beloved Celtic support. I was there, and I buried my head in my Dad’s shoulder wishing it all away.
I was at Hampden Park a week later when Henrik scored a brace to help Celtic lift the Scottish Cup with a 3-1 victory over Dunfermline Athletic. It remains one of my favourite memories of Hampden to this day.
Purchased for £650,000, it was the best money the club has ever been spent.
In 7 years he made 313 appearances, scored 242 goals, won 4 Scottish Premier League titles, 2 Scottish Cups and 2 Scottish League Cups.
Beyond Celtic he has lifted silverware in England, Spain, Holland and Sweden.
After losing the Champions League final to Barcelona in 2006, Thierry Henry stated that one man made the difference and that man was substitute Henrik Larsson. The King came on in the 61st minute, Barcelona were trailing by a goal and within 4 minutes of play he assisted both the equalising goal and the eventual match winner. WORLD CLASS.
On the international stage, Henrik played his part in getting Sweden to the semi-final of the World Cup against Brazil in 1994. He featured in their third-place play-off against Bulgaria and scored a goal in a 4-0 victory for Sweden. This was Sweden’s best finish in a World Cup since finishing second place in 1958.
The King came out of international retirmenr for Euro 2004. He lead his country to the quarter-final of the tournament, scoring 3 goals in 4 matches. They were beaten in the quarters by the Netherlands in a penalty shoot out. We should note that the King won the best goal of the tournament for his diving header against Bulgaria.
In 16 years he scored 36 goals in 106 appearances for his country.
Henrik Larsson is the King of Kings, and don’t you bloody well forget it!