A whole 20 years have passed, seemingly in a flash for those who flocked across the continent.

Martin O’Neill’s now-iconic side came within a whisker of delivering a first European trophy since 1967. In their way were Jose Mourinho’s Porto, a formidable team who proved one hurdle too far.

Suduva, Stuttgart, Blackburn Rovers, Liverpool and Boavista had been dispensed with, and it felt like everyone with a passing fondness for Celtic was somehow striving to be in Seville.

The result was the ultimate nearly moment in the club's history, but the event itself, and all it entailed, has aged into one of the most meaningful.

But why has it been so enduring?

Herald Sport spoke to three fans who were there, and uncovered tales of ‘borrowed’ credit cards, missed exams, treks across Europe, and marriage proposals.

Martin Melly, 36 – ‘I used my mum’s credit card and skipped an exam to be there’

A 16-year-old Martin Melly had recently discovered the wonders of the credit card, and the universe of possibilities it offered a teenage Celtic fan convinced there was nothing Martin O’Neill could not do. It was, therefore, a no-brainer to purchase two UEFA Cup final tickets the moment they went on sale.

There were issues, however. One, the credit card belonged to his unwitting mum. Two, Celtic had not yet reached said final. And, three, May 21 was the day of his fifth-year maths exam.

But Martin, as any self-respecting teenager taking liberties with his parents’ finances should, had a plan.

“I thought: ‘If Celtic get to the final, it’ll be good. If they don’t, it’s likely Liverpool will, and I can sell the tickets on eBay.’,” he explained. “I dunno what I was thinking, to be honest. When Celtic knocked out Liverpool, I thought: ‘Whoa, this could be happening’.

“The Boavista game, I’ve never been so nervous; just praying and praying, hoping Celtic got through.

“If they didn’t, I would somehow have to find my mum money for these tickets. Luckily, Celtic got through, but then I found out I had a maths exam that day - how was I going to get out of this?

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“I was struggling with maths, so told my teacher I felt I would have to repeat it next year and she agreed it was a good idea. If I said wasn’t turning up to go to the football, there’s no way she would’ve allowed it.

“Rumours got around the school that I was going. I remember one of my other teachers saying: ‘I hear you’re going to Seville…”

“I was just like: ‘Ehhh….’ But I somehow managed to work it in my favour.

“I put my pitch to my mum and dad, that I would do maths again next year, that this was once in a lifetime. I expected a ‘naw’, but my dad watched Celtic win the European Cup when he was 17, he knew what it meant.

“My mum was worried about my safety, but agreed I could go if it wasn’t for long. When I told my uncle, a Partick Thistle fan, he thought it was brilliant and gave me money towards flights.

“I had another ticket but couldn’t get any of my mates to go with me, so I sold it. Between that and my uncle’s money, that was me.”

From Prestwick to Jerez Airport, to the centre of Seville in a flash, a wide-eyed kid stepped off a bus and into another world. Think Alice in Wonderland, but with Celtic strips, pints and forty-degree heat.

“People,” Martin recalled. “Just people absolutely everywhere; a sea of green and white.

“I kept to myself. A wee guy with a ticket, I was worried somebody would take it off me, but everybody was so friendly, so joyous.

“Being at Celtic Park, you’re used to seeing the mass of green and white, but I’d never been on an away trip before, and was thinking ‘is this how it is?’

The Herald: 'It was wild, just watching people jumping around.''It was wild, just watching people jumping around.' (Image: SNS)

“It was wild, just watching people jumping around steaming. Mobile phones weren’t massive back then, but most people had them. I watched this guy talking on his, looking around the crowd for somebody. When they met, they were all jumping around and hugging. It was just people coming together.

“I walked across the bridge, saw an empty Buckfast bottle on the ground and thought ‘how did anybody get that over here?’”

Amid this joyful pandemonium, it was even possible to lose sight of the fact there was a European trophy about to be fought for. Seville had been transformed into a sun-drenched version of Glasgow; the Gallowgate picked up and dropped into mainland Europe for a week. There are as many lasting images of supporters lining the streets as there are of the 120 minutes that unfolded on the outskirts of the city. The game itself was only ever one element of this story.

“I can’t remember really thinking about the game before kick-off,” Martin said. “But when it started, I realised: ‘Celtic will actually either win or lose this here.’

“I was in a ‘neutral’ section, but there were so many Celtic fans it was basically a Celtic end. There was a big glass partition to the right, then the Porto fans stretching all the way round.

“You could feel the sheer heat. As a ginger-haired guy, I was just worried about how Neil Lennon would get on.

“I always worried about things with Celtic, but O’Neill and that team changed everything. I felt we could beat anybody, and with Henrik Larsson we could always score.

“That first goal is my favourite header ever, I still don’t know how he did it. When Celtic scored it was this really Scottish-sounding cheer, a ‘YAAAASS’, but when they scored it was so different. I remember that ‘Ooohh’ sound right next to me, so vividly.

“When it went 2-2, I was convinced Celtic would win it. But Bobo Balde getting sent off changed everything, and when the third goal went in, I knew that was it. It was a great Celtic team, but not a great Celtic squad, and Porto freshened things up better.

“I was in tears at the final whistle, devastated. But there was still so much pride, too.

“Jose Mourinho walked over to the Porto fans in the neutral section and I’m sure he threw his medal into the crowd. I remember thinking: ‘That guy’s broken my heart’. But seeing him over the years and the character he was, you respected him because of what he went on to achieve.”

The Herald: Mourinho would win the Champions League with Porto the following yearMourinho would win the Champions League with Porto the following year (Image: Getty Images)

I asked everyone who contributed why, aside from the obvious, memories of Seville had been enduring, why those scenes are still talked about two decades later despite the result.

“Celtic had been poor all my supporting life,” Martin said. “I’d seen one league win in 1998, then Rangers won it again the year after. It left me wondering if this was ever going to change, until Martin O’Neill.

“His Celtic could give anyone a game. I watched all the games in that European run, except the final, with my dad, so there’s that side of it too. Watching the games was our thing.

“It was great to live in an era where Celtic could beat those teams. The Lisbon Lions taught a generation that Celtic could beat anyone, then Martin O’Neill’s team showed another generation – that’s the legacy.

“After that, it felt like the Sky money kicked off and changed things so much. You had the likes of Roman Abramovich coming in and suddenly midtable English teams like Chelsea were buying genuine superstars.

“I remember thinking: ‘This is Chelsea! It wasn’t so long ago they had Gavin Peacock and Michael Duberry.’

“I just don’t see the likes of Celtic and Rangers being able to sustain European runs. We’ve been left behind.”

Martin Melly is a contributor to the 20 Minute Tims podcast.

Stephen Coakley, 49 – ‘I proposed to my wife of 20 years before the game’

Something’s burning a hole in Stephen Coakley’s pocket, but it’s not the Seville sun.

His better half, Kerry, thinks the permanently worried expression he’s wearing is a symptom of the very particular anxiety that accompanies your team being in a European final.

She couldn’t be more wrong.

“Kerry kept saying to me that I was awful quiet for being on the trip of a lifetime,” Stephen laughed. “It was nerves because I had the engagement ring on me, and I knew what I was planning – she thought it was nerves about the game.

“She almost fell out with me, actually: ‘Why are you so quiet? We’re in Seville and your face is tripping you!’

“My face wasn’t tripping me, by the way, but I didn’t want to fall out when I was just about to propose.”

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For a man who, over the preceding year, had been unable to pick his moment, he certainly landed on a big one. A trip to Paris had come and gone, but question remained un-popped.

It’s not that he felt the proposal was a gamble, the opportune time just continually failed to present itself. What was certainly a gamble was buying two tickets to the UEFA Cup final when Celtic were still a long way from Seville.

“I was s******g myself at the Boavista game,” Stephen said, a pained chuckle suggesting he never fully recovered from those 90 minutes. “We booked a holiday to Fuengirola and then three days in Seville. Could you imagine if Boavista had won that night? I’d have been sitting there with an engagement ring and a holiday I didn’t want to go on.

“I’m 50 this year and I’ve never celebrated a goal like I did Larsson’s that night, never. Not even against Rangers, nothing comes close.”

Stephen’s proposal jitters were absolutely not helped by an inauspicious start to their three days in Seville.

“We arrived at our hotel to be told the floor we booked had been flooded,” he recalled. “We were kicking up a stink about it, and the woman at reception said: ‘Listen, just go and look at this other hotel, and if it’s not good enough you can come back and see us.’

“I think she knew we wouldn’t be back. Lo and behold, we went to the hotel and it was where the Porto players were staying – it’s safe to say we were majorly upgraded! We even met Roy Keane and Billy McNeill in the foyer.”

With the small matter of the game itself edging ever closer, Stephen was running out of time. Morning broke still without a proposal, and it was now or never. The chance for a low-key moment had come and gone, the only remaining option was to go all or nothing in amongst tens of thousands of fellow Celtic fans. The cup final nerves among O’Neill’s players must have been fleeting in comparison.

“We were out the night before in this big park and I took the ring with me,” said Stephen. I was going to do it, but again I just had the feeling it wasn’t right.

“It was maybe about lunchtime on the day of the game – I can’t even remember now! But there I was, a bag of nerves.

“To be honest, I knew she would say yes - we’d bought houses together – but sometimes the nerves just get the better of you, you know?

“I end up down on one knee in the main square where all the Celtic fans were, sombrero on my back and the place is jumping. There’s this look of shock on Kerry’s face – but thankfully it was a yes.

The Herald: Stephen pops the question to KerryStephen pops the question to Kerry (Image: Stephen Coakley)

“You can see my best man Alan in the picture jumping up in the background. It was a shock to quite a few folk, I had only told a small band of people because I didn’t want anybody to burst the bubble.

“One of my pals came up to me afterwards and said: ‘Can you imagine she’d said no, ya wee a***hole?’

“I felt like I’d scored a goal myself, and off we popped to the game. It was actually a bit of a relief to get it out the way, because I’d been carrying it on my shoulders for a while.

“But it was fantastic. We got married a year later and I’ve got the framed pictures from Seville up in our house to this day. It’s a story I still tell!

“It ended up in a book years ago, and it was sold in the Celtic shop. I was in one day and the two girls who were working started pointing at me like I was some sort of celebrity.

“Then they started shouting: ‘It’s you! You’re the guy from the book!’”

After so many years, it’s surely a blessing to have a yearly reminder that such a meaningful moment is coming round again?

“You’d think so,” Stephen said. “I mentioned to Kerry the other day: ‘Do you know it’s 20 years this weekend since I proposed to you? Why don’t I take you out for dinner?’

“I thought we could maybe head out somewhere nice, but she just goes: ‘Aye, right, I take it you saw the Seville anniversary on the news, then?’”

Brian Gilmour, 52 - ‘For 30 years, I was told I would never see Celtic in a European final’

For as long as Brian Gilmour could remember, it was always about what Celtic couldn’t do.

He was born in that calendarial no man’s land that narrowly missed the Lisbon Lions’ success, and was too late to recall its hard-luck sequel even vaguely in 1970. For three decades following, Celtic in Europe were, to use his words, ‘rubbish’. Little wonder then, that as he stood in Estadio Olimpico’s blazing heat 20 years ago this evening, Brian turned his eyes skyward.

“God, I’m here,” he beckoned to the heavens. “Please just give me a goal to celebrate in a European final, and that’ll be me.”

A month earlier he’d had another religious experience in his spare room. On that occasion it was Henrik Larsson, not the Almighty – however interchangeable they may be in the eyes of Celtic fans – that stirred the emotions. His goal against Boavista was possibly the ugliest he ever scored, but did any of his more artistic efforts provoke so many tears?

“I was almost crying,” Brian said. “In 30 years of being a Celtic fan, I had been told by the Scottish press that the ship had sailed for my generation ever seeing Celtic in a European final. For it to then happen was amazing. There was no doubt I was going, the challenge became how to get there for a reasonable price!

“There was me, my brother, his mate and my dad, who would’ve been 60. Getting there was planes, trains and automobiles, while incorporating the fact the rest of us were prepared to rough it more than my dad.

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“It had to involve a hotel, one that didn’t cost thousands, not sleeping in the car. The irony was we planned this journey with hotel stays, then my dad took not well and couldn’t go!”

The realisation that something significant was happening dawned long before Brian’s party had even set foot on a plane.

“It seemed like every single person you knew who had any sort of liking for Celtic was going to Seville,” he said. “The company I worked for at the time, my boss was a starched collar type guy. Even he’s coming up to tell me he’s got everything sorted for him and his mates, it was completely out of character.

“There were people you didn’t even know were Celtic fans. In Seville, I got a call from a number I thought was somebody else, so I answered it with ‘Hola!’

“On the other end was the plumber who’d been fitting my bathroom, who I suspected wasn’t a Celtic fan – ‘Awrite Brian… take it you’re in Seville? It doesn’t matter, I’ll see if I can get your wife’. He wasn’t happy.

“My dad knew someone who had a ticket but died a week before the final. At the funeral, the discussion among a group of guys was ‘at what point would it no longer be insensitive to ask his wife what was happening with the ticket?’

“Driving to Manchester, it felt like every car from the M74 to the M6 was Celtic fans. You start to wonder how many people are taking the same route.

“Manchester Airport – Celtic fans. Frankfurt Airport – Celtic fans. Madrid – Celtic fans. Train to Cordoba – Celtic fans.

“Getting into the centre of Seville was like approaching a stadium; you’re on the edges and there are people around, but then suddenly you are aware of this wall of noise emanating from a few streets away.

The Herald: 'There was still so much pride at the final whistle''There was still so much pride at the final whistle' (Image: SNS)

“One of my abiding memories of heading to the game was lifting people who were so out their faces they were lying half on the pavement, half on the road.”

By virtue of having the stronger European attendance record, it was agreed Brian and his brother should take ownership of the only two tickets. Yet even being in possession of one was no cast-iron guarantee of entry.

“There was a Scots-American guy at our hotel selling tickets for 250 euros,” Brian explained. “I ran up the stairs to my brother’s mate, who hadn’t quite appreciated how many Celtic fans were going to be there.

“He thought there would be tickets goin for a decent price – but they were considerably more expensive! The guy probably wasn’t selling proper tickets anyway.

“When we’d gone to Blackburn with 52 on the bus, four people had real tickets and 48 had photocopies of those four. Only two on the bus didn’t get into the game, and they both had proper tickets! It was probably the same in Seville, they probably weren’t real.”

Back to Brian’s prayer, then.

The man upstairs’ inbox was likely flooded with such requests that night, and he hit ‘reply all’ in the form of that Larsson header.

The Herald: 'That header, I still don't know how he did it''That header, I still don't know how he did it' (Image: SNS)

“When we scored,” Brian recalled. “The first person to hug me wasn’t my brother, but a woman to my left. It was only two or three seconds, but in that moment, it felt like she wasn’t going to let go!

“It was like the way you’d hug your mum in an emotional moment, not a stranger.

“I can still see picture goals clearly, but not Porto’s. I do remember, after the third, Neil Lennon flopping to the ground. UEFA had trialled silver goal to replace golden goal, and the way Lennon went down was as if he thought ‘that’s it’.

“I was incredibly proud after the game. My team had done something all the sages of Scottish football said would never happen. They had laughed and mocked.

“After we’d drawn Boavista, somebody phoned Clyde One and said we were going to win this because every team we played had a ‘V’ in their name and the final was in Seville – it was destiny. Hugh Keevins thought it was ridiculous.”

For Brian, pride in defeat was rooted in the pain of what had become before; the dark days in the 1990s where Celtic fans of a certain vintage were forced to reckon with the prospect their club may disappear.

“I know this is a bit Celtic Da,” he admitted. “But it’s what we went through prior to that. Anybody criticising a Celtic Da doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Our club was finished, football had moved on. We had a s**t stadium, with a s**t board of directors.

“The Celtic Da’s of today, who are 50-60-plus, said: ‘We’re not going to let our club die, we’re not putting up with this.’

“We rallied round and saved the club with Fergus McCann. He put his hand in his pocket, and so did we, to build a stadium and a team. Seville was the culmination of that, that’s what made it so special.”

Brian Gilmour is a contributor on The Celtic Underground.