So farewell then Kieran Tierney, the Bhoy who could have been King.
I'm going to clear up a few misconceptions anyone might draw before I start. I wish him well in his future career. He is a professional footballer and perfectly entitled to maximise his earnings over the 15 years or so he can expect to have at the top. He's perfectly entitled to want to test himself in a more difficult league. I'm glad Celtic will get a big fee for him. He lived his boyhood dream and now he wants to move on. All of that is absolutely fine.
But this is not about Kieran Tierney, it's about us. I've been told by so many people that we should be happy for him, that he's one of us. A big Celtic man. I've even heard that he leaves us as a Celtic great.
I'm not buying that. We can look back at Celtic's history and see some real Celtic men. Players who could have left the club for more money, but stayed at Celtic because of their emotional attachment to Celtic.
Most famous of them all must be Jimmy McGrory, whom Celtic desperately tried to sell to, ironically, Arsenal. He actually had to be tricked into even talking to them, being asked by Willie Maley to accompany him on a pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1928. This was a pretext for the pair to be met on the platform at Euston Station in London by Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman and chairman Samuel Hill Wood MP.
At this "chance" meeting, Maley suggested they go to a restaurant for dinner and halfway through, he and the Arsenal chairman made excuses and left, leaving McGrory with Chapman, who told him a deal had been agreed with Celtic and asked what he wanted to sign for Arsenal. McGrory asked him for £2,000 (an astronomical sum then, that he knew Arsenal would never agree to) and told him he was perfectly happy at Celtic.
When the other two returned, they were aghast to find out there was no deal and the Celtic pair continued their journey to Lourdes. On their return, they were met off the boat train by Chapman again, who this time offered Celtic £10,000 (a record transfer fee at the time) and a black cheque for McGrory. He again refused to sign.
John Cairney in his biography of McGrory, Heroes are Forever, writes:
They shook hands. At that, Willie Maley returned to the table, smiling, thinking a deal had been struck, but Chapman was quick to disabuse him.
'Mr Maley, if we offered this lad the Crown Jewels and next year's output of the Royal Mint, we'd still not get him. I think the deal's off.'
Maley looked at McGrory keenly. 'So you're staying? he said.
'Well if you're determined...'
'Well, that's it.'
Maley then turned to Chapman and offered his hand. 'I'm sorry Mr Chapman...' he began.
Chapman cut him off with a wave of his hand. 'And so am I, Mr Maley. Believe me, I am.'
They shook hands, then, turning to McGrory, the Arsenal manager patted him on the shoulder saying, 'Good luck to you, James,' and briskly left the room.
What Mr Chapman could never have understood, and perhaps even Mr Maley underestimated, was that Jimmy McGrory was as much a Celtic supporter as player. He had green genes from the start.
That's what a Celtic man looks like. A Celtic man looks like Jimmy McGrory. He looks like Billy McNeill, or Jimmy Johnstone, or Danny McGrain, or Paul McStay. Men who could have graced any team in the world at their peak but stayed at Celtic out of their love for Celtic.
Some people tell me it's different today. That the wages on offer in the EPL are so astronomical that no one could possibly turn them down. I don't agree. Kieran Tierney will reportedly treble his wages by signing for Arsenal, but would he be in the poor house if he stayed at Celtic? I doubt it very much. In fact, if he stayed at Celtic his entire career, he would be able to retire and never have to work again. That's how well-paid Celtic's top players are. But think about that again. Treble his wages.
Tommy Gemmell left Celtic in 1971. He didn't want to leave, he'd have happily spent his entire career at Celtic, but he'd fallen out of favour with Jock Stein and their relationship had broken down irreparably. When Stein accepted an offer from Nottingham Forest, Gemmell felt he had no option but to speak to them and if personal terms could be agreed, to go. In his autobiography Lion Heart, written with Graham McColl, he wrote:
It was certainly a backward step football-wise because Nottingham Forest were not one of the elite sides in the First Division of the English Football League. On the other hand, it was a huge leap forward financially. Overnight, I trebled my guaranteed weekly pay. At Forest, I received appearance money, League position money and pointage bonus money, and I got another bonus because I was an international footballer. With all those additions to my basic wage, I ended up with around £180 a week, whereas when I left Celtic the basic wage was £60.
Comparing then and now, it's clear any of the Lisbon Lions could have easily trebled their wages, just like Kieran Tierney will, by leaving Celtic. Gemmell was not even leaving for one of England's top sides. Billy McNeill or Jimmy Johnstone could have gone to a far bigger club than Nottingham Forest and earned far more money. The difference between then and now is that in the 1970's no footballer could retire at the end of their career and never have to work again, so there would have been even more incentive for players then to maximise their earnings while they could.
Kieran Tierney could one day have been spoken of in the same breath as Danny McGrain. He would have been guaranteed the captaincy when Scott Brown (a real Celtic man) retires and could have gone on to make a record number of appearances and win a record number of trophies with Celtic. Legendary status was his for the taking. But he has chosen to go play for Arsenal. Unlike Jimmy McGrory, he has decided that Tierney of Arsenal does sound as good as Tierney of Celtic.
We've lost better players than Kieran Tierney and survived. We will survive this. We all know Celtic's place in the football pecking order in the current financial circumstances. In recent years we've said goodbye to Victor Wanyama, Joe Ledley, Gary Hooper, Fraser Forster, Virgil van Dijk, Stuart Armstrong. All to the EPL, all for far higher wages and we've wished them all well as they left, as I do Kieran Tierney.
But we thought there was a difference between Kieran Tierney and those others. We thought that unlike them, Celtic was in his DNA and we thought that meant something. He kissed the badge. He left hospital to be at Hampden for the Scottish Cup presentation in 2017. He chanted into a megaphone in front of the Green Brigade and took selfies of himself celebrating in front of them He sat amongst the fans at Ibrox. Some of us let that fool us into thinking he was just like Jimmy McGrory, Billy McNeill, Jimmy Johnstone, Danny McGrain, Paul McStay, Scott Brown and maybe James Forrest.
But he's not. As we wish him well, let's not pretend that he is this big Celtic man, that he's one of us. He's no different to Wanyama, Forster, Ledley, Hooper, van Dijk, Armstrong. I don't doubt for a second he grew up a Celtic fan, but the depth of his love for Celtic was not great enough to stop him doing what all the other mercenaries have done this past decade, and go spend the peak of his career in the EPL chasing money rather than trophies. Even Celtic going for nine and then hopefully ten in a row was not enough to keep him at Celtic for even as little as two more years to achieve that magical milestone, which is surely all that matters to every Celtic fan for the next two years? Whatever love he feels for Celtic made no difference to him when Arsenal came calling. Saying he is a big Celtic man renders the phrase meaningless, because he acted no differently to all those other players who had no emotional connection to Celtic. Big Celtic men don't leave at the age of 22, especially with a place in history to be won, for the flash of an EPL skirt.
When we look back on Celtic's history, where should Kieran Tierney stand? Certainly not with McGrory, McNeill, Johnstone, McGrain, McStay and Brown. If we are looking for parallels in Celtic history with Kieran Tierney, they're not hard to find.
Nicholas, McClair, Johnston (pre-traitor years, overall, he's in a special circle of Hell all of his own), Collins, Maloney. The guys who burned brightly at Celtic for a few, hugely promising years, then as their peaks approached, took off for pastures greener and wage packets bigger.
So farewell then Kieran Tierney. I thank you for your service to the club and wish you every success in the future. But Celtic fans - don't try to tell me Kieran Tierney is one of our own. He's one of Arsenal's now.