Monday, 21 March 2016

Supporting Celtic: It's Not About You

Seems the knives are still out for Ronny Deila following what was in the end a successful trip to Rugby Park on Saturday.

It was actually a very good weekend for Celtic, with Aberdeen dropping three points at Fir Park to leave us four points ahead with a game in hand and just eight games to go.

That hasn't stopped the SMSM and their carping though. Just as examples, the Scottish Daily Mail give a platform for Kilmarnock's "former Real Madrid midfielder" Julian Faubert to say how unimpressed he is by Celtic.

We're supposed to respect his opinion you see, because he used to play for Real Madrid.

Yes, that's right, he used to play for Real Madrid. He had a loan spell there in 2009, during which time he played a grand total of TWO matches, both as a substitute. His spell in Madrid included being disciplined for missing training one Sunday because he thought it was a day off, and being photographed asleep on the bench during a match against Villareal. At the end of his loan spell Real wisely decided not to take up their option of making the loan permanent.

But hey, Julian Faubert isn't impressed by Celtic! And he used to play for Real Madrid!

Over at The Herald, Faubert is allowed more space to express his disbelief over how Kilmarnock didn't win as Matthew Lindsay cries over his keyboard while telling us all that Celtic were dead jammy at the weekend and they're nowhere near good enough.

This remember, is a team sitting four points ahead with a game in hand and a vastly superior goal difference which is effectively as good as another point.

But you know what? I don't care about the SMSM. We expect no different from them and I don't buy papers anyway. I can ignore them and if more of us did the same, maybe they'd go away or at least re-examine their business model.

Far worse are the usual suspects on the Timternet, who while Celtic are involved in a serious title race are whinging and whining from the sidelines about how poor we are.

Not for them a circling of the wagons. Not for them a public show of solidarity with the manager and the team. Not for them a keep it inhouse attitude.

You see for them, it's all about them.

They want to be entertained. They want Celtic to be 30 points ahead of Aberdeen so they can relax and enjoy the title procession.

They want to see the mythical open, entertaining, attacking football that it is (apparently) the birthright of every Celtic supporter to see.

Well, so would I. I'd love it if we were sweeping all before us. I'd love it if we were even 15 points ahead and I didn't need to check the Aberdeen score every week to see how far ahead we are. My blood pressure would certainly benefit from that if nothing else.

But if I found one thing out early in life, it is that you can't always get what you want.

We're not sweeping all before us and we are in a title dogfight. So what can I do about it? I can sit on my keyboard whinging about how that's not good enough for Celtic. I can create an air of relentless negativity everywhere I go and achieve nothing other than venting my frustration and enable the SMSM to put pressure on the manager and the club by pointing at how Celtic fans like me are saying just the same things.

Or, I can grow up and realise it's not all about me. Supporting Celtic does not come with a guarantee you're going to be entertained every week, regardless of what the song says. It doesn't come with a guarantee we are going to win every week or watch world class players in the Hoops and for the majority of our history that is not what Celtic supporters were treated to.

And no, I'm not happy with performances this season. I'm not happy to see us struggle to the finishing line against opponents with a fraction of our resources. But so what if I'm not happy? What do I matter here?

This is about Celtic. Generations of Celtic fans lived and died watching Celtic stumble and stutter from one on-field disaster to another with silverware few and far between.

My grandfather was born in 1922. By the time Jock Stein became manager, we'd won the league just SIX times in his 44 years. He wouldn't even have been able to remember the first of those, as he was only a few months old at the time.

By the time Stein's Celtic won the first of Nine in a Row in 1966, to be old enough to remember Celtic's previous ten league title wins, you would have to have been born around 1910.

Now that doesn't mean you have to be happy with the current situation and it doesn't mean I am either but it does mean that supporting Celtic is no rose garden.

When you sign up to supporting Celtic, you don't do it because you like watching your team win things all the time. It means you sign up to going through all the trials and tribulations that are never far away with the manager and the team, whoever they may be. That's the way it has been for huge chunks of Celtic's history.

What we have at the moment are generations of fans who have been utterly spoiled by success.

We've got older guys who don't remember the 40's and 50's, but grew up watching the Lisbon Lions and think it should always be that way.

We've got younger guys who grew up watching O'Neill's Celtic and Seville and thinking it should always be that way.

I was born in the early 70's so I missed Lisbon and I'm too young to remember our Nine in a Row years. I do remember Celtic having to scrap with Aberdeen and Dundee United for the league in the early 80's. I remember when winning the league two years in a row was a great achievement and going without league titles for the same amount of time was to be expected.

I remember nine long seasons when we were lucky to finish as high as third from 1988-97.

We are currently enjoying the third Golden Age in our history. They have been 1888-1926 (17 titles in 34 years, 1965-88 (15 titles in 22 years) and 2000-present (10 titles in 15 years).

So you're not happy with performances under Ronny Deila? Neither am I, but you know what? POOR US!

A short period of time from 1966-74 apart, we've never had it so good.

If you think supporting Celtic is hard right now, you've no idea what it means to be a Celtic supporter.

You can go to every single game and spend as much money as you like on following Celtic. You still have no idea what it means to be a Celtic supporter if you think whinging about Ronny Deila on social media is more important than getting behind him and his team as they try to win our fifth title in a row.

If they do manage it, it'll be five in a row for just the third time in our 129 year history. And you're crying because you haven't been entertained along the way!

What happened on Saturday should, and I think will, become a moment of Celtic folklore. Game petering out to a 0-0 draw, giving Aberdeen the opportunity to leapfrog us at the top of the league later that day, until Tom Rogic produces a moment of absolute magic to score a last minute winner and send the travelling support into raptures.

Imagine the scene 20 years from now: "What was it like that day, Daddy?"

Will you say, "Oh I went absolutely mental! Brilliant day!"

Or will you be saying, "I took to social media to have a rant about Ronny Deila for playing Colin Kazim-Richards up front instead of Leigh Griffiths?"

If your answer is more like the second, you've no idea what supporting Celtic is all about.

It's not all about you. It's about Celtic. It's about playing your part, no matter how small it may be, in carrying this team over the finishing line.

It's about SUPPORTING the team through thick and thin. Yes, being utterly crushed by every defeat, but picking yourself up again and being there to cheer them on the very next game. It's about loving every minute of their success and celebrating like there's no tomorrow on those frequent occasions when we snatch that all-important goal just when it's needed most.

It's about being the 12th man. Not the greeting faced old sod at the back sucking the life out of the club with your constant negativity and self-indulgent moaning.

United we stand, divided we fall. Which is it to be?

Friday, 18 March 2016

Champions League: It should be clubs from the smaller associations breaking away

There seems to be something in the air recently regarding the future of European football, with big clubs making noises about their dissatisfaction with the Champions League, specifically the fact they (poor things) could theoretically be eliminated before the business end of the competition. Which would be just awful, wouldn't it?

There is talk of further seeding in the knock-out rounds, or even a closed-shop breakaway, invite-only Super League where "the big clubs" can play against each other to their hearts' content, without having to worry about any wee diddy clubs interrupting them.

I'm sure like me, the prospect of Real Madrid or Bayern Munich not making the quarter-finals of the Champions League would ruin the whole competition for you. In fact, you'd refuse to watch any of the remaining games on principle just because they were knocked out. Same goes for Barcelona, Manchester United,  AC Milan, Juventus. You just couldn't live without them in the Champions League, right?

Same goes for probably 80% of the most important people in the Champions League - the TV viewers. Right?

What do you mean, you'd rather see YOUR team in the last 8 than Real Madrid? Are you crazy? Where's the excitement if YOUR team gets to the last 8, or even the semi-final? Who wants to watch that?

The threat of breakaway leagues and greater seeding has always been perceived as a massive threat by clubs in smaller countries, or even by supporters of smaller clubs in the big countries. But I would say to UEFA, "let them go."

How many of these "big clubs," are there really? I'd hazard a guess we're talking about a select group of clubs from the English, Spanish, French, German and Italian leagues. I'd go with:

Manchester United
Paris St Germain
Real Madrid
Bayern Munich
Borussia Dortmund
AC Milan
Inter Milan

Apart from nouveau riche PSG, at least one of these clubs has appeared in every final (except 2004) since the inception of the Champions League format in 1992.

Think about that. In a quarter of a century, there have been two blips. In 1995 one of the teams in this list lost the final to a team not on the list, and in 2004 neither finalist came from that list.

Indeed, since 2004, only once (2014) has a team from outside that list even reached the final.

And these teams think the Champions League is not already slanted in their favour enough?

Let's compare that to the 25 years before the Champions League format. Winners included Celtic, Feyenoord, Ajax, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Hamburg, Steaua Bucharest, Porto, PSV Eindhoven and Red Star Belgrade. That's winners from Scotland, Netherlands, Romania, Portugal and the old Yugoslavia (now Serbia).

Beaten finalists included Benfica, Panathinaikos, Atletico Madrid, Leeds United, Saint-Etienne, Borussia Monchengladbach, Brugge, Malmo, Roma, Marseille and Sampdoria. That's runners-up from Portugal, France, Belgium, Sweden and France.

You can see then, that the Champions League is doing exactly what it was set up to do - ensure it is dominated by the big teams from the big five (or even four) leagues.

So what if the Big 12 did break away? Would the Champions League be devalued without them? Initially, yes. Undoubtedly.

Would the breakaway league be the glamour tournament that attracts mega-money TV deals? Initially, yes. Undoubtedly.

But what about the longer term? Would those twelve clubs and only those 12 clubs be able to sustain the interest of the maybe 80% of football fans who don't support one of those clubs? That figure is probably not accurate, but I'd imagine the great majority of European football fans are not supporters of one of those clubs.

Without promotion or relegation from that select group, why would it be of interest to most football fans? I know it wouldn't appeal to me. I would not give two hours of my life to watching Manchester United v Barcelona in those circumstances, no matter who was playing for them. Even in the Champions League, the fixture holds no more than limited interest for me as it occurs so frequently. Even Celtic have played Barcelona on a seemingly annual basis in the last few seasons. We were even calling it the Nou Firm match.

Let them go and refuse to have anything more to do with them. Make it clear they can go, but don't on any account think they can have their cake and eat it.

Ban them from national leagues. Ban their players from international matches. Let them play with each other and only with each other for the rest of time and let's see how they end up.

The thing about winning the Champions League is that it is the Champions League. It is open to teams from every association in Europe, albeit on an uneven basis and slanted firmly in favour of teams from the big leagues.

Realistically, how much value would there be in winning an invite-only, closed shop league of 12, no matter how big the names are?

The likelihood is that in such a competition, even with 12 massive clubs, two or three of them would come to dominate in the longer term, with the rest becoming also-rans, like the BPL on steroids.

I would argue that in the longer term, a meritocratic Champions League minus those so-called "big clubs" would be a more attractive, more valued competition than a breakaway league of 12. Eventually, I could see them clamouring to get back in.

Whether they would like to admit it or not, the "big 12" need the rest of us. They need us to give the Champions League any value. Without the rest of us, they don't have even a semblance of competition. They need the supporters of the rest of us to generate the TV deals. They need the involvement of the rest of us to make their meetings the big deal that they used to be, but no longer are.

The big clubs are like a child who wants his favourite meal every day. After a week or two, it's not so good any more. It has become boring.

Barcelona v Chelsea needs to be a fixture that happens rarely, otherwise it becomes run of the mill. The "big clubs" don't need more games against each other, they need less.

What needs to happen in the Champions League is that it should only be open to Champions and it should be unseeded in every round.

Big clubs want more games against each other? Why not in the group stages then? The best team will still win.

The idea that a tournament is rigged to ensure bigger clubs always win is an affront to sport. It shouldn't be the bigger clubs threatening to break away if the rules aren't changed to suit them even more, it should be the rest of us threatening to pull out if a level playing field is not restored to the competition.

We're expected to provide the cannon fodder to enable the "big clubs" to automatically enter and safely negotiate the group stages while pocketing millions of pounds every single year. Our role is to be ritually slaughtered before the last 8, before the "big clubs" get down to the serious  business of playing each other at the business end of the competition. If we ever do by some fluke beat one of those "big clubs" at any stage of the competition, it's guaranteed another one will stand in our way after that. And another after that too.

As long as we compete in this corrupt "competition" we validate it.

Every association outside the cash-laden "elite" should withdraw from UEFA competition until it is restored to a format that gives their teams a sporting chance to win it.