Ten years after Celtic had lifted the European Cup in Lisbon in 1967, I watched Liverpool win the trophy for the first time in Rome.

To have been there on that occasion was to relive the passion and joyous turbulence of what we had experienced in Portugal a decade earlier. My companion and co-commentator was Billy McNeill, who was in his element among a crowd which reminded him so much of the same joyful anarchic spirit of people whose love of a club had taken them to an environment that only football could have led them to. That great sense of liberation, of being in a new world that would have been beyond their wildest dreams, but for the skill of men with a ball at their feet, was something that infected all of us there. We didn’t exactly join them wading in the Trevi Fountain, or help them bedeck traffic policemen in red and white colours, or accompany them singing their songs in the ruins of the Forum, where they obviously hoped they would do to Borussia Monchengladbach what Brutus did to Caesar in that very place. But we gave the roistering crowds an approval born of the sense of occasion that befitted the sometimes harrowing paths they had to follow to get there.

For it was a true cup competition then. There were no second chances, unlike in both European competitions now. We suffered vicariously, game by game, as if on the edge of a precipice, forcing you to realise now of how history could have been rewritten if certain moments had panned out the wrong way. I still don’t relive these events without some heavy breathing. If Billy McNeill had missed with that header in the last seconds against Vojvadina, Lisbon would now be a forgotten city – if in the European Cup Winners Cup wee Willie Henderson had not scored that third away goal in Lisbon against Sporting that meant they were through on the brand new away goal ruling, Rangers would never have reached Barcelona – if John Hewitt had not been in the right place minutes from the end of the Bayern Munich game at Pittodrie to score the third goal Fergie might not even have been elevated to Old Trafford. We knew that through all these stages the games carried enormous implications for our clubs but with it came that bonding of nervous anxiety and ultimate relief. There is nothing quite like that experience in any sport.

But now it has gone. Of course, it couldn’t last. UEFA and the major clubs around Europe saw the financial sense of longevity, of establishing soft landings in both tournaments. And, admittedly, I have seen games of stirring quality in the qualifying group stages. But too many are meaningless though. And I sense we all wait patiently until the knock-out stages to have our emotions stretched, as in Liverpool’s momentous fight back against Barcelona. The quality has not diminished but the nature of attainment has, as witness this Madrid game which ought to be named, the ‘Runners-Up Final’ . For attaching the name ‘Champions’ to it is as inappropriate as using the word ‘clarity’ in the Brexit debate.

What all this has done is formalise elitism. Not content with the change they made in 1992 some want even more division. Is that so surprising? This is being turbo-charged by one particular individual, Andrea Agnelli of Juventus, who never has to worry where his next meal is coming from. He wants UEFA to adopt a new format with four groups of eight teams and with promotion and relegation involved. This is the elitism borrowed from the Sultan of Brunei. Relegation would be inevitable for those who won’t be able to buy their way out of trouble. Paradoxically, the Premier League has baulked at this not because they have gone all philanthropic but because they don’t need to pan for gold anywhere else. Who on the planet has not heard over the past few days the almost obscene boast that the Aston Villa-Derby County game was the ‘richest’ game in the world, worth £160 million to the winner? So whether Agnelli gets his way or not, do you imagine he has given a thought to the footballing health of countries like Scotland? There is as much chance of that as him lending Ronaldo to Stenhousemuir for a season.

I admit that all this is probably irreversible no matter how much we have lost from the spirit and challenge of the original competition. But what is it turning us all into in Scotland? Indeed, I sense we are all now turning into voyeurs looking in on the rich at play when we watch the likes of the Manchester City’s millionaires hoovering up everything. Although Celtic have come out well in a recent assessment of the overall worth of clubs in Europe they simply cannot compete with the financial muscle of many around the continent.

Our ideas of achievement will have to be constrained. The odds against us of repeating such feats of valour in Europe are huge. The club which won the trophy against all the odds in 1967 is forced to face play-offs which themselves are much more problematic than mere irritants. But this season Ajax’s name echoed around the continent by those entranced not just by their success but by the feeling that the logic of the superiority of the purse could be reversed. A great name was back. It really should be a source of inspiration at Parkhead and remind us all of those palpitating times when the European Cup was exactly what it said it was.