It’s 2003. Celtic are camped in a hotel in Porto. It’s the night before arguably one of the biggest games for the club since Lisbon.

Boavista are all that stand between Martin O’Neill’s Celtic and a place in the UEFA Cup final, what would be the club’s first European final since 1970. John Robertson, who knows a thing or two about these nights, is quizmaster in an event that incorporates sport, film, literature, music and culture. Alan Thompson and Neil Lennon combine to make up a team of two.

After one particularly testing round as self-assessed results are shouted out, O’Neill takes issue with the scores that come back from the duo. His irritation as they exaggerate their return is palpable. Murmurs of “trust issues” and muttered threats of expulsion from the fun hover in the air. The reality was that both players were among a group O’Neill could firmly hang his hat on.

“He would fall out with me and Lenny but I am sure that a lot of the things he used to say to us – and about us – were terms of endearment!” said Thompson. “I still have a strong bond with the manager and a lot of the players and it is one of the things in my career that I am incredibly proud of.

“We were tight as a squad. We were close to all the staff, the medical staff, the backroom staff, absolutely everyone.

“I hear people say that Martin took a back seat but we spent a lot of time on the road and in hotels and people didn’t see that side of it. We used to often sit and talk with him and John Robertson and have a coffee and just talk football.

"You can’t imagine the stories that you would hear from him and Robbo about Forest and the players they played with and their careers. It was brilliant for us to sit and listen to that. It definitely reflected on us as a team.”

Time frames so much with a different hue. It blunts the sharp edges, can romanticise chapters. But Thompson bristles at the myths that have built up around the O’Neill era, there is nothing hazy about the reality of his recollections.

As decades have gone by there has been a growing tendency among some observers to offer a critique of the playing style under O’Neill, writing it off as little more than an unsophisticated lump up the pitch. If it seems like a disservice to the quality and personnel who were there at a time when Celtic restored their European credibility, returned as a dominant domestic force and delivered the club’s first treble in 32 years, Thompson was quick to point it out.

“I am not having that,” said Thompson. “A long ball team? Really? People like Neil Lennon, Stiliyan Petrov, Paul Lambert and Didier Agathe? Didier couldn’t kick the ball more than 15 yards. Neil Lennon never played a pass longer than 10 yards.

“It is one thing to see a long pass that knocks a couple of opposition players out and another to hoof it up the park and hope blindly that someone gets on the end of it. It is nonsense. There was an incredible amount of talent in that squad – and a fair bit of craft in how we played.

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“We knew how to play and more importantly we knew how to win. We could battle but we could play a bit as well, that’s for sure. You are not telling me that you go to Anfield and play Liverpool off the park in a UEFA Cup quarter-final by being a long-ball team. You hear things like that and you know it is people talking who understand so little about the game. It is lazy but it’s also complete nonsense. Anyone properly analysing those games would know that.”

The foundations of those years were well constructed. Celtic’s capitulation last season as the title was lost by a whopping 25 points was the first time since season 1999-2000 that the title had been conceded by anything more than a couple of points. Those did more, though, than just require a need for polish in the trophy cabinet. The success on the pitch insisted players that could deliver with a certain mentality required to cope with the demands. Even in lean times when trophies have been few and far between at Celtic – the grim days of the 90s, the dry period from the mid-50s right up until the 1965 Scottish Cup win – there has always been a gladiatorial element to the Celtic crowd.

The thumbs up level of approval offers the chance to bask in the glory of an adoring support but the converse is almost as difficult a call to reverse as it was in ancient Rome. There are few who find a reprieve in such circumstances.

Thompson’s Celtic were universally appreciated in their own colosseum. They came within a whisker of winning the UEFA Cup with Porto – who would go on to Champions League success the following season - denying them the mantle of champions. The financial disparity that was already significantly at play at the beginning of the millennium has widened further but the feeling now would be that Celtic are a Europa League level team. The club have not participated in Europe’s premier tournament since 2017 and recent exposures to the group stages has been sobering; a 7-1 cuffing from PSG, a 7-0 hiding in the Nou Camp.

Still, though, the expectations of the support are that the club train their sights on the prestige of the Champions League and the riches it offers on and off the park. As Celtic pick up the pieces of last season and look towards those kind of ambitions it is not just players who possess a certain level of ability but who also have the mentality to cope with the day to day pressures of the club.

Celtic Way:

“It is an environment that can make or break people,” said Thompson. “Only the mentally tough are successful. If you can’t handle it then you won’t be in a successful team. You have got to be a certain ilk to handle the pressure and everything that comes with it.

“You need talent to play at Celtic. You will never get by just by being able to run through brick walls, you still need to have something to offer and there is no question you need a thick skin. Second is nothing in Glasgow and the demand to win never eases. It is relentless and you need to be ready for that, if you can. If you don’t quite know what you are letting yourself in for, you’ll know pretty quickly, that’s for sure.

“The new manager looks to be getting his stamp on the team but there is always an appetite for a quick turnaround.

“I wasn’t quite an outsider because I had played with other guys who were Celtic born and bred and I have family who are Irish so I knew what it was about but it still takes you aback when you realise the enormity of the club.

“You are judged against Rangers [Thompson scored seven goals against the Ibrox side and collected three red cards in the fixture] and in the European environment. I had a few moments, shall we say, in the derby games but I think I had more good days than bad days. I knew about the fanbase and a fair bit about the club but I don’t think you realise just how big it is until you are actually in amongst it.”

Thompson’s introduction was particularly memorable. As he ended a dispiriting spell at Aston Villa, he watched Celtic beat Rangers 6-2 knowing that he was on his way up to sign for the club he would go on to play for 227 times, scoring 51 goals. There were four titles, three Scottish Cups and two League Cups. Thompson also holds the distinction of being the first player to be capped for England as a Celtic player. His association stretched beyond the pitch as he moved into the dug-out in Neil Lennon’s first managerial stint. That ended on a sour note - now mended - but there are few regrets.

“The day before I signed for Celtic was the 6-2 game,” he said. “I was watching it at home on the TV and was just thinking to myself, ‘wow!’. It was incredible.

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“It gave me a real appetite for it. I knew I was going up to Glasgow on the Monday for talks and I couldn’t wait to get up. It was a lively when I got up there. It was a bit different to other dressing rooms I had been in and there were a lot of big characters.

“I enjoyed my career everywhere I was and I wouldn’t change it but it would rank up there with the best years in terms of success and loving my football. It is definitely the best times in my playing career.

“If you speak to anyone who played for Celtic or Rangers they wouldn’t swap it for the world. I know players that I have come across in my time who have told me that the chance to go to Celtic and didn’t take it and have then regretted it. For me, if anyone gets the chance to go to Celtic you take it.

“I have no regrets at all about my time. There were moments when I had to accept responsibility for letting people down. I can do nothing about that now but I look back at times and do think that I let a lot of people down – supporters, teammates, the manager. You never get sent off on purpose or then go on and make mistakes deliberately.

“Once you have been a part of it I don’t think it leaves you. I was lucky to be part of one of the best teams in Celtic’s history. The Lions are obviously what everyone looks to but it was a privilege to be part of a playing side at Celtic that brought the team to the brink of a European trophy.”

It is perhaps reflective of that team that so many progressed into coaching and management. There were leaders all over the pitch, something that Thompson believes sustains a team.

“You have got to stay together,” he said. “You need camaraderie and you all need to be on the same page. It is not a club where you can afford to carry passengers. Losing Scott Brown was a big one because he was a big influence in the dressing room but I think James McCarthy might help in that respect. I think he is the kind of lad who will be a strong voice and that is what you need. You need people who are prepared to say what they think but crucially, at Celtic, you can’t just talk the talk you have to walk the walk as well.

“On the pitch, Celtic need figureheads and people who know the demands of a top club and I think it can really help when you have got that. You need people to be demanding and vocal on the pitch.”

Alan Thompson’s book ‘A Geordie Bhoy’ will be released early autumn.