IT would have been understandable at points last season if the Celtic players weren’t overly eager to have their fans back in the stands given some of the results that were served up, but for Stephen Welsh, their absence was a huge factor in the team’s struggles last term.

So, it goes without saying that the youngster is keen to have the backing of those supporters as soon as possible. But the defender is particularly looking forward to his own biggest fans being able to get behind him in person, with his mum and dad unable to attend games as he made his mark in the Celtic first team last season.

Given it was thanks in large part to their sacrifices that Welsh has made it to this point in his career, it was frustrating for both him and his parents not to be able to share those moments, but he is eager to make up for lost time as restrictions ease and stadiums across Scotland begin to open up at last.

“Dad is a massive Celtic fan,” Welsh said. “He has done everything for me since I was about seven or eight. He took me to training every night, having to leave work early, doing all the travelling with me. So over the last 14 years my mum and dad have done everything for me.

“I just want to pay them back and let them watch me play for Celtic which was his dream as well.

“If I have had a bad game he doesn’t really say anything. I think he knows that I know if I don’t play well.

“He saw my debut [a 4-1 win away to Hamilton in February 2020], he has been frustrated the full season having to watch us on TV.

“He says that’s been a nightmare - especially when I scored my first goal [against Motherwell]. He was obviously happy but he was raging he wasn’t there. Hopefully he can get back in next season to see me play.

“A full house at Celtic Park would be incredible. The fans here are like a 12th man for us. They have helped us win massive games before and hopefully they can do it again.

“You probably saw across all European leagues that the fans were missed massively. When they came back in you saw how much of a difference it made.

“The atmosphere at the Euros [has been] unbelievable. So we are really looking forward to getting everyone back in.”

Welsh is proud to follow his dad’s example, in most regards anyway. His disciplinary record as a footballer though apparently left something to be desired.

“He keeps me grounded,” he said. “He always tells me to come in and work hard, do the basics and I’ll be ok.

“He never played professional but football has been his life. It’s the same for the whole family. So it’s been a real privilege to play here and be part of it.

“Dad played junior, he was a midfielder, but he was sent off so often I never got to see him play much!

“Hopefully that’s not rubbed off on me!”

One player whose influence did rub off on a young Welsh was Erik Sviatchenko, with the centre-back a regular in the Celtic first-team when he was coming up through the youth ranks.

Given their similar physical stature, Welsh says that training with the Danish defender was a valuable lesson for him, though their friendship will be placed on hold when Sviatchenko’s Midtjylland side come to Glasgow next week on Champions League qualifying duty.

“I was training in the Invincible season and Erik was almost a mainstay in that team,” he said. “He was excellent.

“I’d watch him in training and then playing at the weekend. We are a similar height as well – he wasn’t the tallest – so I could see what he did and how he used his body.”

The Champions League qualifiers are generally being viewed as coming too soon for this Celtic side, with new manager Ange Postecoglou still trying to get his ideas across to a squad that could do with numerous reinforcements.

Despite the rather threadbare appearance of their squad though, Welsh says their ambitions to reach the group stages of the competition remain undimmed.

“Every player wants to play in the Champions League games,” he said.

“You’d be lying if you said you didn’t. It’s the highest level of club competition against the best players. That’s something we are all striving to play in.

“We’ll go into these games looking to win and with a lot of confidence. We’re looking forward.

“They are big games early on but Callum McGregor, James Forrest and the other experienced guys are used to that.

“They have that experience of going to play in tough countries against tough teams so that’s good for us.

“It’s been a tough pre-season so far but that’s what you expect. Everyone is just looking forward to the games coming up now.

“It’s been really good working the new manager. Very positive. I’m loving the training so far, so hopefully we can implement those drills into games.

“Every manager has their own ways of playing. But I’m really enjoying the gaffer’s training just now and it’s quite exciting the way he wants to play.”