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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
The Observer

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Notre Dame Stadium to host Chelsea-Celtic friendly in July

Bevacqua: “It’s a great coming-together of winning cultures.”

Add another coveted game to the storied history of Notre Dame Stadium.

Pete Bevacqua, the special assistant to the president for athletics, announced Monday that the 93-year-old venue will host an international friendly match between England’s Chelsea Football Club and Scotland’s Celtic Football Club on Saturday, July 27. The 77,622-seat stadium previously hosted a similar match between Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool in July 2019.

This year’s match will continue an impressive run of international endeavors from Notre Dame athletics. Back in August, Notre Dame football opened its 2023 season by returning to Dublin, Ireland, for a game against Navy. Two months later, the Irish men’s and women’s golf teams competed at the Old Course at St. Andrew’s in Scotland. Then, in November, Notre Dame and South Carolina kicked off the women’s college basketball season with a game in Paris, France.

Bevacqua, who will take over as director of athletics at Notre Dame on March 25, cited the University’s international presence as a driving factor behind landing the Chelsea-Celtic match.

“We certainly think of Notre Dame as not just a great national university but really an international university. That’s so important to who we are — that’s one of our strategic priorities,” Bevacqua said. “And we’ve had the ability to take our great teams abroad, but now it’s such an honor and such a pleasure to bring a wonderful international event here to Notre Dame and to the South Bend community.”

Bevacqua also recognized the importance of bringing such a high-profile match to American soil. Through his time serving as the chairman of NBC Sports, he has taken note of how international leagues — such as Chelsea’s Premier League in England — have rapidly gained attention in the United States. He also noted the rise of America’s professional leagues, Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League, as significant. And with the World Cup set to don the Stars and Stripes in 2026, Bevacqua perceived this summer as the perfect one for another match in South Bend.

“This is a great moment for soccer in this country, so I think the timing of this in July of this summer is ideal because there’s a fever for soccer right now in the United States,” he said. “We certainly see it here on campus with our men’s team and our women’s team — we had such a wonderful season with our men’s team going to the National Championship … I think it continues this growth and this evolution of soccer in this country that I’ve never been more bullish about than I am right now.”

For Bevacqua, settling on Chelsea and Celtic boiled down to the clubs’ respective pedigrees and histories. Chelsea dates back to 1905 at Stamford Bridge and West London, currently checking in as the world’s eighth most valuable soccer franchise according to Forbes Magazine. The Blues own two Champions League and six English Premier League titles, capturing seven of those eight championships since 2004.

Meanwhile, Celtic began play in 1887, the same year in which Notre Dame football competed in its inaugural game. Brother Walfrid, an Irish Marist Brother, founded the club for the purpose of alleviating poverty in Glasgow’s East End, an area of the city known for its Irish population. Celtic has won 53 Scottish league championships and currently sits atop the Scottish Premier League table with a record of 22-5-3.

With so much tradition and excellence in play, people like Bevacqua couldn’t help but notice the parallels between Chelsea, Celtic and Notre Dame.

“There’s an expectation when you talk about Chelsea Football Club and Celtic Football Club — that history of success, that history of championships,” Bevacqua said. “Nothing less than championships is expected, and that’s what we have here at Notre Dame for all of our sports. Certainly, every time we go into that stadium and play another school on the football field, we want to win. That’s the Notre Dame way … I think it’s a great coming-together of these winning cultures.”

Representatives for both clubs attended Monday’s match announcement at Notre Dame Stadium. Roberto Di Matteo, a former midfielder who scored several memorable FA Cup goals for Chelsea in the late 1990s, marveled at the athletic offerings on campus. 

“We were fortunate enough to have a tour of the facilities, the University and especially the stadium, and it was quite impressive,” Di Matteo said. “I think the facilities here are incredibly good. Every pro team in Europe could only wish to have such facilities that you have here at the University, so I think the athletes here are very fortunate.”

Having played, managed and spectated in countless European cathedrals for soccer, Di Matteo expressed optimism for the fan environment at Notre Dame. In 2019, 40,361 fans attended the match between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund. Bevacqua expects the crowd to push much closer to 70,000 for this year’s friendly.

“What struck me was how big [Notre Dame Stadium] is, but also the sort of atmosphere that you could generate in a stadium like that — because it’s like a bowl, and you’re close to the action,” Di Matteo said. “I have no doubt that it’s going to be a great spectacle for everybody that’s going to be there.”

On the Celtic side, Roy Aitken took part in Monday’s proclamation. As a player, he made 484 league appearances for Celtic between 1975 and 1990, also competing internationally for Scotland. 

When asked about memories from his days on the pitch, Aitken described the importance of high-energy settings like Notre Dame Stadium from a player’s perspective.

“There’s nothing better for a player [than] to be involved in a game like that — to play in front of so many fans … Celtic Park in Glasgow is a very similar type of covered stadium. 60,000 [fans] every week our boys play in front of,” Aitken recalled. “They’re walking down the tunnel, entering the field of play to huge support. There’s no better feeling for a player — the hairs on the arms are standing up, the heart’s pumping … I know our boys at Celtic will really look forward to come over here and play in such a fantastic stadium.”

In the case of both clubs, this year’s match will allow a unique opportunity for supporters around North America to see their favorite players and teams in live action. Just as Notre Dame football fans flooded into Dublin for the Navy game, so will Chelsea and Celtic diehards into South Bend. 

“Pete mentioned Notre Dame being international — Celtic’s very much a team like that,” Aitken said. “We have the national identity in Scotland, but we’re such an international football club. We have supporters all over the world and no more than in North America, and we’re so delighted to be able to come and play in front of hopefully 75 [or] 70 thousand fans.”

Those fans will witness just the second all-time match between Chelsea and Celtic. The two sides previously met in 2004 when the Blues took a 4-2 victory in Seattle, Washington.

With marquee college football games, Garth Brooks concerts, ice hockey battles and rugby matches behind it, Notre Dame Stadium and South Bend as a whole are well-equipped to handle everything this summer’s big event will throw their way.

“Iconic venues such as Notre Dame Stadium are a great fit to host iconic teams like Celtic and Chelsea,” senior vice president of Unified Events Molly Pendleton said. “And while the summer window is great for fans to be able to come and see their teams play, it’s also a unique opportunity for communities like South Bend and Notre Dame to really showcase everything they have to offer to a new audience. So we are very excited — [we] couldn’t be more thrilled to bring together the rich history and culture of Celtic and Chelsea and Notre Dame for the match this summer.”