JAMES Milner’s experience of Celtic and Paradise has been formed by just three, frenetic hours on the pitch. But it has been framed by the almost incessant chirping of a team-mate.
The Liverpool midfielder, will bring a team to Celtic Park on September 8 for ‘A Match for Cancer’, sponsored by Dafabet (kick-off 2pm). The game will bring together the forces of The Stiliyan Petrov Foundation, The James Milner Foundation and Celtic FC Foundation.
And Milner is relishing the roars from a packed crowd. He has already heard the history from a certain Celtic fan.
“I have played twice at Celtic Park,” he said. “Once in a pre-season match when I was at Newcastle and once for England. But I feel I know Celtic well as Robbo never stops going on about them.”
He is, of course, referring to his team-mate, Andrew Robertson, who was once part of the Celtic Academy and who remains a massive Celtic fan.
“He never lets up about Celtic,” Milner said. “I thought I was bad going on about Leeds, who are my team, but it’s Celtic, Celtic, Celtic non-stop with him. I am well-drilled about Celtic, the club and its history. I try to wind him up but he just comes back with more.”
Milner who, at 32 has played top class football for Leeds, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Manchester City, Liverpool and England, intends to bring a stellar team to the match. Announcements will be made in the lead-up to the match but it will be a side made up of genuine legends.
“I have made a few calls and big names are delighted at the prospect of coming to Paradise, as Robbo insists I call it. Be assured. Top names are coming,” he said. “Obviously Stan and I played together at Aston Villa so I know very well his fight against leukemia.”
The James Milner Foundation, set up around the time of Stiliyan’s diagnosis, has Bloodwise, the charity that combats blood cancer, as one of its major beneficiaries.
“We were talking about Stan’s foundation and mine doing something together and the idea of a match came up,” said Milner. “The obvious choice was Celtic. Stan told me what a great club they are and how everything is organised to the highest level by Celtic FC Foundation.
“We also know how fanatical the fans are and how they support charity. I know what a big club it is – and not just because of Robbo – because I have talked down the years with people who have played for it.”
James Milner was also signed for Liverpool in 2015 by Brendan Rodgers and is looking forward to meeting the Celtic manager when he comes to Glasgow.
“I know from personal experience that the stadium is exciting with a fantastic atmosphere,” he said. “Everyone I have talked to is looking forward to playing in such a great stadium. There is a great passion among Celtic fans and it should be a great atmosphere.”
He has relished being involved in his foundation. A player in the top English league since the age of of just 16, he has been surrounded by the trappings of glamour for most of his life but he has a grasp of what really matters.
“Sport can makes such a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “It can help give people a purpose or give them an outlet when things seem hopeless. It is so important to get young people involved in sport and we do that with Leeds Rhinos, the rugby league team, Liverpool Football Club and others. Some children can’t afford to go to sports camps and we pay for them to do that. It makes a difference to them.
“I basically started the foundation because I wanted to use my profile as a footballer and do some good with it. I get immense satisfaction from it, though it can be hard work. But it’s not about me. It’s about how others can be helped. It is not about looking good. It is about the causes, the lives and how we manage to change things.
“You can see how much sport means to everyone. With children, if they are having a bad time at home or with the parents, with homework, with being bullied or whatever, being part of a team – whatever sport that might be – makes a difference. It can make a kid feel part of something.”
The force of sport, too, can galvanise support for charities, whether by creating awareness or raising cash. “That’s what we will all be doing at Celtic Park – fans and players,” he said.
Tickets are now on general sale, on a first come first served basis – maximum of 10 per person – priced at £14 for adults and £6 for concessions*.
Tickets are available to purchase online at www.celticfc.net, by calling 0871 226 1888** or by visiting the Celtic Ticket Office. The lower tier will be on sale in the first instance and Rail Seating does not apply to this match.
Premium tickets (£30) and corporate packages (£135) are also available by calling 0871 226 1888** (Option 4) or emailing [email protected]
Celtic FC Foundation will also be hosting a fundraising dinner – An Evening with Petrov and Milner – the night before the match, on Friday, September 7. This will take place in the Kerrydale Suite at Celtic Park.
Joining Stiliyan and James on the night will be a host of representatives from both charity match squads. Guests will enjoy an excellent three-course meal, auction, prize draw and after-dinner entertainment, in the company of a number of football and celebrity greats. The age limit is 18+.
Tickets are priced at £700 for a table of 10 or £70 per person and can booked via email [email protected] or telephone 0141 551 4321.
Mirroring the match, net proceeds of the dinner will be devoted to tackling cancer through Celtic FC Foundation (SC024648), The Stiliyan Petrov Foundation (1154131) and The James Milner Foundation (1146768).
* Concessions 65+/Under 16s.
** Calls cost 13p per minute, plus your phone company’s access charge. Booking fees apply online and via our sales line.