EXCLUSIVE Interview with Bobby Petta Pt1: Celtic, Old Firm & Martin O’Neill


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Having started his career at Feyenoord in the Dutch Eredivisie, he made the move to play for George Burley’s Ipswich Town side spending three years with the Anglia side. In June 1999, Petta swapped life at Ipswich Town for life at Celtic Park.

His Ipswich captain at the time, Tony Mowbray, tried to give Petta some insight into playing at Celtic Park.

Petta said: “I had a chat with Tony Mowbray and Mogga said to me, Bobby you have no idea. I could tell you how big it is, but you only know how big it is until you’re there.”

Once he was at Celtic Park, Petta admitted that it was totally different from life with the Town to the intensity of the Glasgow goldfish bowl, he said: “When I first came, I didn’t really realise that, you don’t think. But it takes a while to kind of get used to the life here too, as Ipswich was not as intense. This is one of the few places in the world where it’s really that intense.”

August 28th 2000, is a date that will live in the memory of most Celtic fans, as the Parkhead side demolished rivals Rangers 6-2. Henrik Larsson and Chris Sutton scored two goals each, and while they took all the plaudits alongside Lubo Moravcik, Bobby Petta’s superb performance was overshadowed somewhat, in what was his very first Old Firm derby.

For Petta, it was a massive turn around in fortunes on the park. The previous season he had been booed by the Celtic fans, in a season where the Celtic faithful had to watch a John Barnes-led side fall flat on their face against Inverness Caley Thistle in the Scottish Cup, a game that Petta watched on from the sidelines rooted to the bench.

One player who would still be having nightmares of that 6-2 game would have been fellow Dutchman Fernando Ricksen. For the 22 minutes that he was on the park for, Petta terrorised his fellow countryman.

Petta said: “I was ready for it, I was fully focused and full of confidence. I couldn’t wait and get the ball and get passed him [Ricksen]. I was a bit surprised that they [Rangers] didn’t put anyone else there as support. When the board came up, he was surprised [to be substituted]and I was kind of a bit surprised also.”

The 6-2 game was also Martin O’Neill’s first derby as Celtic manager. On the change of management Petta added: “He came in after a really horrible, horrible season, not only for myself and the players but for the club too. The fans weren’t happy, there was a lot of expectations, but then he comes in, and you see it on TV now with Sunderland, there is something about Martin O’Neill where he is so good in motivating you, he makes you believe that you can do anything and man management is what it’s all about at that level.

“That’s what Martin O’Neill is good at and he came at the right time, there was a lot of expectations and we needed something new to do and obviously he came in there and before he started getting people in, he looked at what he had to deal with and that’s what he did.

“I thought that, ‘well it’s a new manager, a new start and I will get my head down, work hard and that’s what happened he changed it around, and turned it around for myself and obviously you had Chris Sutton there who had a bit of a bad time at Chelsea. Martin O’Neill was just great at picking the players, putting them together and getting the best out of them.

Playing in an Old Firm derby, with the level of abuse that players get at times as well as the expectations to win, Petta continued: “It can be quite daunting at times; you’ve got to be really strong and thick-skinned and try not to let things get to you.

“When you play in an Old Firm game you don’t need extra motivation. Obviously playing at home, Parkhead, you’ve got the crowd as like a 12th man on the pitch.

“But there is no hiding here; there is a lot of expectations. You can have a bad game, but it’s not a problem as long as you show heart and show that you want to work, want to fight for that jersey. If you don’t, they [the fans]will get on your case and rightly so.”

With the style of play that Petta was used to playing with Feyenoord and to a certain extent with Ipswich; he admitted that he had to add to his game when he moved to Celtic Park.

He said: “There were certain things that I had to get put into my arsenal, I’ve got to do the sliding tackle, I’ve got to get dirty. It might not be pretty but I have to do it to help the team.

“There is nothing better in an Old Firm game and have the fans right behind you and your full of confidence and playing well, there is nothing better than that honestly.”

In Season 2002-2003, Martin O’Neill, led the club to the UEFA Cup Final in Seville against Jose Mourinho’s Porto side. Watching on from the sidelines for any player would have been frustrating and for Petta it was just that.

He admitted: “Obviously I was happy that Celtic were there, but as a player you want to play. You want to be involved and I wasn’t involved, so I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t involved in the game at all.

“You want to be a part of it [UEFA Cup Final] and I wasn’t. I had a difficult season, I did everything I could possibly do to get on that team sheet. I knew I wasn’t going to start, but I thought I done enough to be on that bench, but it wasn’t to be.

“It was tough to watch them play, I wished them all the best of course, but you’ve got to be honest here and say ‘look you want to be there, you want to be involved and you would be disappointed if you don’t’.”

Celtic lost the final 3-2 after extra time, despite club legend Henrik Larsson scoring twice for the Bhoys.

On the defeat to Porto in the final, Petta said: “It’s a kind of anti-climax, you go there and you want to win. We played against Porto a couple of times in friendlies and we know what we were up against.”

However there was a sour note in terms of the way that Porto under Mourinho went about the match, in regards to their on the field antics and simulation. Petta added: “To lose the way we lost and Mourinho for me, he does anything to win, anything, if it means cheating or whatever we call it, he does that.

“It’s a bit sour, the dressing rooms were right next to each other and it wasn’t really pleasant to hear them celebrating. Its part and parcel of the game, but it’s not something that’s really nice. Faking an injury, rolling about and time-wasting, all that kind of stuff.”

Season 2002-2003 was the beginning of the end for Petta’s Celtic career as he played just five games that season and sat out on arguably the biggest game for the club in decades. The following season he played one game for Celtic in the Champions League against Hungarian side MTK, before being loaned out to Fulham.

Although at this stage, Petta did not think it would be the end of his stay at Celtic Park, but was looking for regular first team football. He admitted: “To be honest no, I didn’t think it [Celtic career] was over, I was just happy to be playing again.”

“I was told to be more creative, and I did it. I did it in reserve games, but I never got a game. I went out on loan to Fulham in December and I was happy to be there, because I needed it, I needed to get playing. I was just happy to be out there and start playing again and being involved.”

In February 2005, Petta left Celtic permanently, but it took him three months to find a club and Petta is suspicious about his failure to find a club after leaving Parkhead.

He said: “See after leaving Celtic, it took me three months. I couldn’t find a club; you tell me how you cannot get a club when you leave Celtic? So somebody’s had it out for me, I’ve got to be honest; somebody was out there saying bad things about me.”

Petta finally found a club and signed for Darlington FC, in the North East of England. On the current plight to befall the Quakers, Petta said: “It’s just a shame, it really is a shame. I stayed there for five months, but I really had a good time with the players etc and a nice wee place too. It’s hard really hard to take, but that’s today’s climate it’s tough for clubs.”

Petta went on to play for Bradford and then made the move to play in the A-League down under, before finally hanging up his boots.

This summer, reports in the press stated that Petta could once more pull on his boots again playing for Paul Hartley’s Alloa Athletic. On that speculation he admitted: “I got a phone call from Mark Guidi and he said ‘can I pass on your number to Paul Hartley, because he got word of the fact that I was thinking about coming out and playing football again. Obviously he [Hartley] was a new manager and he wanted to get players in there to help him. I was interested but at the same time it never got to the next stage. I was busy with my business and we couldn’t get to an agreement.”

Keep your eyes peeled to Scotzine in the coming days, as Bobby Petta continues to talk about the game in Scotland.

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About Author


Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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