Tuesday, 16 February 2021

The governing bodies have no authority to award Rangers* 55 titles

 We all knew the day would come when the club currently playing out of Ibrox, founded in 2012, would win the League. We all hoped it would take a lot longer than it has, but it looks an inevitability now and we could spend days arguing how it was allowed to happen, but there's nothing we can do about it.

Every cloud has a silver lining though, and the silver lining of this cloud is that it will once again bring to front stage the fact of Rangers Football Club's liquidation in 2012. It will come to the fore because we're going to be seeing the number "55" everywhere we look for the next year, but never will it appear without an interjection of "1." Every time they brag about the number of times they've won any competition, they will be corrected with a reminder that they are a new club formed in 2012.

A lot of appeals to authority will be made - "The SFA says were the same club, Timmy," "The SFA says we've been Champions 55 times," etc, but authority for this does not come from the SFA.

Years ago I taught Government & Politics to A Level students, and the very first lesson I taught in that subject has always stuck in my mind, because I learned something from that lesson too that I'd never thought about before. 

The first lesson on the syllabus was on the concepts of power and authority. They are often thought of as the same thing, but that first lesson was about the distinctions between them - Power is the ability to act, Authority is the right to act. Another distinction is that Power is top down, while Authority comes from the ruled to the people above them. Governments have their authority from the people they rule, and when they don't have that authority, they lack legitimacy and that's when the system begins to fall apart. 

What we have had in Scottish football since the events building up to Rangers' liquidation first became public knowledge, is a situation where the Scottish Football Association is losing its authority, because it is not longer acknowledged as an impartial arbiter by a growing number of Scottish football fans. The problem has subsided over the past few years as Rangers' recedes in the rearview mirror of the memory, but the Five Way Agreement is an indelible stain on the reputation of everyone party to it. 

When the SFA tell us that Rangers is the same club, frankly, only Rangers fans believe them, and they only believe them because they desperately want them to. I'd imagine it's an issue that matters little to fans of most other clubs other than Celtic's, but equally, I doubt if you'd find many who would agree that Rangers are the same club. They just find the argument itself tedious.

Well, now that "55" is going to become the Number of the Year, everyone will have to confront it again. Have Rangers been champions 5 times? "Yes!" say the Rangers* fans. "No!" say the Celtic fans. "No, but who cares?" Say the rest.  

Whether Rangers* have been Champions 55 times or not is not about the SFA. They have the power to say they have, but they don't have the authority. The first boxer to hold the Heavyweight title belt was John L. Sullivan, who was presented with the belt on 8th August 1887. It was emblazoned with the flags of the USA, Britain and Ireland and inscribed, "Presented to the Champion of Champions, John L. Sullivan, by the Citizens of the United States."

There had been men regarded as the Champion long before John L. Sullivan. It was a process of public acclamation. Going back to the early years of the 19th Century, men like Tom Cribb were regarded as the Champion of England and was challenged by a freed American slave, Tom Molyneux, for his title, which was the de facto world championship. 

Since Sullivan, regarded as the first official World Champion, several awarding bodies have emerged, and at any one time there can be four, or five men claiming to be World Champion, with a belt to prove it. But for the public, there is only ever one champion. Sometimes it is the linear champion - the man who beat the man who beat the man all the way back to Sullivan. At other times, the linear champion may be regarded as inferior to one of the other title holders, who will then be recognised by the public as the true champion. 

The point of this is that it is not the man the awarding bodies say is champion who is the champion. That status is bestowed on the champion by the public. Authority comes from below, not from above. 

So when Rangers* fans claim title number "55," and point to the governing bodies recognising them as the champions 55 times, it will mean nothing. The only authority who can recognise Rangers* as champions 55 times is the public, not the awarding bodies. The public, Rangers* fans apart, will never recognise them as champions 55 times. 

We can't do anything about Rangers* being recognised as champions this year. They've won it as fairly and squarely as the old club did in 2010. But never, ever, will Rangers celebrate an uncontested claim to any number of titles conferred pre-2012. Those claims quite simply will never be accepted or recognised by the only authority capable of bestowing them - the public.

Every time they claim 55 titles, they'll have liquidation thrown in their faces and be reminded that their old club is no more. No amount of appeals to the SFA or SPFL websites will change that truth.


Friday, 17 April 2020

"The Coronavirus Season" Will Become a New Rangers* Myth

Rangers* sits atop a huge pile of myths they have created over the years - "Celtic introduced sectarianism to Scottish football," "Celtic include their wartime titles while Rangers don't," "The SPL refused to extend the season to help Rangers win the UEFA Cup in 2008," "Barry Ferguson was a great footballer," etc. 

They are about to add a new one - "Celtic used a global pandemic to win nine in a row."  

With the SPFL clubs this week voting to approve the board's resolution to call the lower leagues as they stand, and give the board the power to do the same for the Premiership should it not be possible to complete the season, a storm is heading Scottish football's way from the usual suspects in the tabloids, social media and the radio phone-ins.

The narrative will soon be twisted out of all recognisable shape as Rangers* people attempt to paint themselves as the victims and for years to come we will be told that in the spring of 2020, Rangers wanted to complete the season, while Celtic exploited a global pandemic and bribed, bullied and blackmailed the rest of the league into declaring them Champions. As the dogs in the streets know, the purpose of this is to delegitimise Celtic's second nine-in-a-row.

In much the same way as they still complain about the SPL not granting them a season extension in 2008, when the season was... er... extended till after the UEFA Cup Final, they will insist that Rangers wanted to complete the season, while Celtic wanted it declared. But a cursory examination of the facts shows that this grossly misrepresents the situation.

Neil Lennon and Scott Brown have both gone on record to say that *if* the season cannot be completed, Celtic should be declared champions. Now this is a perfectly reasonable position, even if you don't agree with it. We are almost 80% of the way through the season and Celtic currently sit 13 points clear of Rangers*, albeit having played one game more. Celtic's goal difference is 25 better than Rangers*'. Recent form is also instructive. Celtic have dropped only two points since the winter break, while Rangers* have collapsed. In the weeks before the shut-down, they failed to take even a single point from the two bottom clubs, Hearts and Hamilton. They have won just two of their last five games. 

They may argue that mathematically they can still overtake Celtic, but it is extremely unlikely. If they won their game in hand (not exactly guaranteed because they couldn't beat two teams well below St Johnstone in the table) and beat Celtic twice (even more unlikely), they would still be four points behind Celtic with even fewer games to go. The likelihood of Celtic dropping enough points in so few matches to enable Rangers* to take the title is fanciful in the extreme. 

All this is beside the point though. The only thing that is beyond dispute is that no football will be played in the medium term and season 2019/20 has come to an end. It is finished. The only question that remains is, what happens next?

What Celtic want is clear. Each statement the club has made on the subject has stressed Celtic's desire to complete the season, but in the event that the season cannot be completed, the club has stated it is a matter for the SPFL what happens next. Of course lobbying will be going on behind the scenes; it would be astonishing if it was not. But if Celtic were saying one thing publicly and the opposite in private, you can be sure someone would be only too keen to spill the beans. Celtic clearly want the title to be declared as it stands *if* the season cannot be completed. Anyone is free to say, "well they would say that," but the same is true if Rangers* people want the season voided. They *would* say that too, wouldn't they? It's okay for clubs to want what's best for them, but at least be honest about it. The only thing that Rangers* care about, because they are too stupid to care about anything else, is stopping Celtic winning a second nine, and then ten-in-a-row. They're like a jealous homeowner devoting all their time and resources to stopping their neighbour being given planning permission for a fancy new extension, while their own house is on the verge of collapsing with dry rot. 

What Rangers want is also clear, although not from what they say, but what they *do*. Right from the beginning of the crisis, Rangers* have been insistent that the championship cannot be declared until all the matches have been completed. They have further been insistent that they will not play any matches behind closed doors. Last week, they ripped up their pitch. What are we supposed to think Rangers* want then, other than being absolutely set on forcing a voiding of the season? Everything they have said and done suggests they do not intend to play another match this season, even if it is possible.

Celtic want to complete the season, Rangers* do not. If Rangers wanted to complete the season they would not have ripped up their pitch. In a sense, it doesn't matter that they have ripped their pitch up, because no more games are going to be played anyway. And that again is the salient point - the season is over. Finished. Done. 

What Rangers insisted they wanted above all was for the prize money to be paid out in advance in the form of loans, "for the good of all the struggling clubs," (not them obviously, they're A-OK thanks very much and are just thinking about the good of the game in Scotland). Well, the passing of the SPFL board's resolution this week has paid out to all those struggling lower-league clubs that Rangers* were so, so concerned about. It also declares the lower leagues and gives the board the power to do the same for the Premiership, if the season cannot be completed

So Rangers* have thrown their rattle out of the pram over something that has not yet happened in the Premiership. The SPFL will not declare the Premiership champions until they are satisfied that the season cannot be completed at a later date.

When this happens, voiding the title is not an option. It's not even on the table. The only option then will be to declare the placings as they stand. There is no other option. Rangers* can scream into the abyss all they like in the weeks and months ahead, but it will make no difference and their empty threats as not for the SPFL board's consumption anyway. They are doing it strictly for the benefit of their fans. They cannot be seen to be acquiescing in Celtic being declared champions if they want to sell 50,000 season tickets for next season, whenever that might be. 

For Rangers*, it's now all about the noise. They know nine in a row is coming and all they can do now is try to delegitimise it and the only way they can do that is to begin the re-write of history as soon as possible. You'll see it everywhere and very soon - Rangers* wanted the season completed, Celtic used a global pandemic to have it declared without winning it on the park.

But never let them forget the real story - the season cannot possibly be completed and football could still be many months away from returning. Celtic wanted it completed if possible, Rangers ripped up their pitch and it is they who are shamelessly exploiting a global pandemic in a futile attempt to have it voided. 

Monday, 16 December 2019

Rod Stewart or the Green Brigade? Rod. Every. Time.

With their banner yesterday the Green Brigade showed us their true colours, and they’re not green. 

Rod Stewart has been a Celtic supporter for over 40 years and never misses an opportunity to promote the club at home and abroad. He has supported Celtic through thick and thin and while that doesn’t put him above criticism, it should afford him the respect from Celtic fans not to have that message on a banner from the Green Brigade. He and his children should he able to come into Celtic Park without being greeted with a banner telling him to f*** off.

Rod’s thoughtcrime was to post a message congratulating Boris Johnson on winning the election and the student Union politicians of the Green Brigade saw their favourite colour - red - and swung into action.

I couldn’t care less what the Green Brigade’s politics are. They can support any political cause they like as far as I’m concerned, but my problem with them is that they not only use Celtic as a platform for those views, they also insist that they are being “real” Celtic fans by doing so. That they are being true to the ethos of Celtic by behaving like late 1940’s Soviet commissars purging Eastern Europe of “fascism.” And everyone must agree with them, or they’re “not welcome” at the club either.

In actual fact, Celtic’s ethos has never been political. Celtic was founded by devout Catholics for charitable purposes. The Green Brigade and their comrades like to tell us that means our founders were socialists like them. That the founding of Celtic was a political act. Which is ahistorical nonsense.

To read the first circular released by Celtic in January 1888 is to see it was a profoundly Catholic initiative. Founded by the laymen of three Catholic missions; first patron the Archbishop of Glasgow and the clergy of the missions. Founded to raise money for the Poor Children’s Dinner Table and the St Vincent de Paul Society.
It places great stress on the need to provide sports facilities for “our Catholic young men.” Indeed, the word “Irish,” is mentioned nowhere. 

The Celtic Football & Athletic Club was founded for purely charitable purposes and had no political aims at all. Our founders were a mixed bag - the Marist Brothers Walfrid and Dorotheus, the Liberal John Glass, the Fenian Pat Welsh, and the Tory monarchist Willie Maley who allowed the British Army to recruit at Celtic Park during WWI. Individually they had political beliefs of course, but the only thing that united them was their Catholic faith. Institutionally, Celtic was neither Republican nor socialist. It was charitable.

Which brings us to the entryists of the Green Brigade, who are to Celtic what Momentum is to the Labour Party. Take a look at their self-aggrandising website http://www.greenbrigade.co.uk/history/

They saved Celtic Park don’t you know? We were in decline. The atmosphere was rotten, till these “ultras,” came along and Made Celtic Park Great Again. But they’re not simply a crowd of boys who want to bring a bit of atmosphere with non-stop singing and dancing. It’s their stated intent to politicise the Celtic support and they’re distorting our history to claim they’re living the ethos of the club. 

“With a few early meetings in Glasgow pubs discussing the dire state of the Celtic support, Ultra culture and influence, the role of politics within football and how all are or could be linked with supporting Celtic the Green Brigade was founded.”

Do you get that? The Celtic support was “dire” till these arrogant neds came along to save us. And there’s that intent to politicise supporting Celtic.

It can’t be denied the Green Brigade contribute a great deal to the colour and noise at Celtic Park, but they are rapidly becoming, if they are not already, more bother than they are worth. With their repeated, persistent refusal to follow the same rules the rest of us are expected to; with their political displays and pyros that would see any other Celtic supporter banned for life from the stadium and are costing Celtic hundreds of thousands of pounds in UEFA times, they need reining in by the club and if that means dispersing them around the stadium, so be it. If they don’t like it, they know where the door is.

Not only are they costing the club financial and reputational damage, they bring nothing good that is irreplaceable to the party. No doubt their apologists will point to the annual food bank collections and the charidee money they raise for Palestinian causes. But like everything else they do, they do it for themselves. Anyone can donate to a food bank; you don’t need to give it to the Green Brigade to hand it over. But every time they are criticised they’ll put out a pathetic statement refusing to acknowledge any fault and pointing to the charidee work and food bank collections they do. Al Capone ran soup kitchens for the homeless in 1930’s Chicago - does that mean despite all the racketeering, extortion and murder he was actually a great guy really?

Football is only of secondary importance at best to the Green Brigade. They have hijacked Celtic to amplify their political posturing and their politics is way more important to them than their support for Celtic. They proved that by their pathetic banner attacking Rod Stewart. Doesn’t matter that Rod is a Celtic fan. All that matters to them is that he is a thought criminal who apparently likes the Tories.

It’s not even enough for the Green Brigade to use our stadium as a giant soapbox, they viciously attack anyone who doesn’t share their politics and that should concern us all. Rod Stewart will be alright in the directors’ box with his minders. What about the ordinary Celtic fan who is guilty of thoughtcrimes against socialism? Who’s going to protect him if word gets out he votes the wrong way?

The Green Brigade are bringing trouble and division to the Celtic support with their petty, self-indulgent posturing. They are repeatedly costing the club money in UEFA fines which will eventually lead to stand closures and have no intention of stopping. Now they are turning on a high-profile and long-standing Celtic fan who has done more for Celtic than they ever will. 

They’re not walking in the footsteps of the founders of Celtic. They’re not living out the ethos of our club. Brother Walfrid, John Glass, Willie Maley, Jimmy McGrory, Jock Stein - they would all have been appalled by that banner on Sunday and by the very idea a section of self-proclaimed uber-fans are are politicising the Celtic experience, treating the club as their support act rather than the main show and abusing anyone who doesn’t meet with their approval.

If this is to become a battle for the heart and soul of Celtic, I know whose side I’m on. And it’s not the Green Brigade’s. 

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Farewell then Kieran Tierney

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...'

'I am.'

'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.

Friday, 31 May 2019

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

It’s nothing new for football coverage in Scotland to accentuate the negatives for Celtic and the positives for Rangers*. If you’re old enough to remember the mid-1990’s you’ll be familiar with Celtic transfer negotiations breaking down because of, “Penny-pinching Fergus,” while David Murray, “refused to be held to ransom,” when clubs asked for more than he was willing to pay.

This season, it has reached ridiculous proportions, with Celtic winning not just the Treble, but a third successive Treble, yet the feel-good factor surrounds the club who finished nine points behind and were knocked out of both cup competitions before the finals, while Celtic are supposedly in the midst of a crisis.

We have not just sports hacks, but respected voices in Celtic cyber-space, casting doubt on the destination of next year’s title based on the events of this season when, lest we forget, Rangers* finished nine points behind Celtic and were knocked out of both cup competitions by Aberdeen. So, let’s take a hopefully dispassionate look at how this situation developed, starting with Celtic.

It was, by our own standards, not a vintage season and I wouldn’t deny that for a second. The football has been turgid for most of the past 10 months. It is just wrong to say that it began with Neil Lennon’s arrival in February. There were quite a few reasons why it was so poor and they all began, and came to a head, because of one man – Brendan Rodgers.

Last summer, Rodger destabilised the entire club by his open desire to take off for China. Everyone knew he wanted away because he tried to take Moussa Dembele with him and it’s hardly surprising we got off to a poor start to the season and failed to qualify for the Champions League with a manager who didn’t want to be there and a squad of players who knew it. In the circumstances, the board were right to refuse to throw more money at Rodgers, especially after they’d gone out on a limb to secure Odsonne Edouard before he threw his toys out of the pram.

Mr Wantaway was also responsible for the decision to refuse Dedryk Boyata the move he wanted. From everything we know about Celtic’s business model these past ten years, Boyata should have been sold. He was bought for a relative pittance and was now in the final year of his contract after having a good World Cup for Belgium. A big bid was on the table, the club could make a tidy profit from the fee and with all the stars aligned, by rights he should have been allowed to go with grateful thanks for his service and the transfer fee. The club though backed Rodgers, who didn’t want to sell and the player was understandably put out that a man who didn’t want to be there was stopping *him* from moving on. You can’t condone Boyata’s downing of tools before Athens, but it is at least understandable and Rodgers was at fault.

Then came the Dembele fiasco with Rodgers again trying to stop the move, when again, it was exactly Celtic’s business model to sell. The result of this was a very public falling out and Dembele being allowed to leave at the last minute with no chance of a replacement being signed before the close of the transfer window.

It was a very unhappy ship that embarked on season 2018/19 and it took some time for things to improve after a poor start. When the improvement did come, it was more by accident than design. A midfield injury crisis in the League Cup semi-final at Murrayfield against Hearts forced Rodgers to pair Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie in the deep-lying midfield roles and, hallelujah, it worked! The two were at the heart of a mini-renaissance for the next couple of months with a team suddenly firing on all cylinders and banging in the goals as they hit top spot at last. Then it all went wrong again with more injuries leading to the fiasco at Ibrox just before the new year.

Many people have held up defeat in a meaningless match at Ibrox as a reason why Neil Lennon should not have been made permanent manager, but December was worse. It was actually an important match, which allowed Rangers* to draw level on points with us (albeit having played a game more) at a vital moment in the season. It happened with Rodgers playing Callum McGregor, our best midfielder, at left back, and teenager Mikey Johnston on his own up front. That defeat, for me, was far more significant than losing a meaningless match at Ibrox after the championship was already secured.

In the January transfer window, the board were again, quite rightly, unwilling to spend big for a manager they knew would be gone by the end of the season, but good loan signings were made and the new year opened with Celtic again performing well as a gap was opened up over Rangers before Rodgers did a midnight flit to Leicester before our two biggest games of the season.

Here’s where Neil Lennon comes in, and think about the magnitude of his job from the outset. Rodgers hadn’t just gone himself, he’d taken almost the entire backroom staff with him, This was a club in disarray, players and fans alike shell-shocked by Rodgers’ departure, 24 hours ahead of a visit to Tynecastle where we’d lost two of our last three visits, and a few days ahead of a Scottish Cup match at Easter Road, where we had not won since Rodgers had been at the club. In normal circumstances they would have been daunting matches, yet Neil Lennon guided the team to two wins. It wasn’t pretty, Tynecastle was perilously close to the loss of two points against ten men, but we got there and that deserves to be recognised as an achievement regardless of the nature of the wins.

Things didn’t get better, and here’s where Neil Lennon might be open to some criticism. He maintained Rodgers’ playing system, reasoning if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. I’d say actually it was broken. It wasn’t working brilliantly when Rodgers was here, so I don’t see how it could improve with him gone. For me, Neil Lennon should have had the team playing his way, at least after the matches against Hearts and Hibs were done, but then again, I’m not a football manager so it’s not a massive criticism.

We then limped on to the end of the season, somehow, despite not playing well, keeping on winning the matches that mattered. There were a couple of very frustrating draws along the way, and the second Ibrox fiasco of the season, but by then it didn’t matter. Neil Lennon deserves immense credit for not only securing the title, which was the minimum expected, but winning the Scottish Cup, which was eminently losable. Anything can happen in a one-off match, there’s no room for error, and Neil Lennon got us there too.

I completely understand those who are unhappy with Neil Lennon’s appointment as permanent manager – I’m one of them. I think we should have gone for a European coach who could bring some much-needed new ideas to the club. Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho were always pipe-dreams, but there are thousands of coaches out there, and surely there is one who could have fit the bill for us. It’s disappointing that that doesn’t seem to have happened.

Anyway, Neil Lennon it is and that means we have no choice but to back him. I don’t share the view that he is a coaching dinosaur although there are on the face of it valid criticisms, mainly surrounding his attitude to player fitness, but it’s not a disastrous appointment by any means. Let’s remember he took Celtic to the last 16 of the Champions League, beating Barcelona along the way. His record in Europe is far better than Brendan Rodgers’.

Moving on to next season, we will have a manager who isn’t trying to work his ticket out of there, a more settled squad, fingers crossed not so many injuries, and then it’s down to the board to back the manager in the transfer market. Imagine we signed Virgil van Dijk, Victor Wanyama and Stuart Armstrong this summer. We’d be delighted. We also managed to buy them in the first place for a combined fee of about £5m, so we don’t need to be spending fortunes to rebuild.

I’m quite optimistic about next season. We won the Treble this season at our lowest ebb in many years. This was us at our worst. And we won the Treble. That alone gives me cause for optimism.

Turning to Rangers*, they are on the crest of a wave at the moment. They think Steven Gerrard has transformed their fortunes. They think Alfredo Morelos is a £20m striker. They think Ryan Jack is a footballer. They think they are serious title contenders next season. Let them think that!

At their absolute best in their entire seven year history, they finished nine points behind Celtic at their worst in that seven years. They might have beaten Celtic twice at Ibrox, but what happened to them the rest of the time? Two wins is a six point swing and they still finished nine points behind. Hearts can beat us on any given day. So can Hibernian. So can Kilmarnock. But no one is worried that any of them might overhaul us next season, because like Rangers*, they cannot sustain it over the course of the season. We need to stop thinking of Rangers* as the club that we faced for 125 years until 2012. They’re not and they never will be.

Rangers* have shown that on the day, with a fair wind at their backs and Celtic for whatever reason not at their best, they can beat us. But what they can’t do is sustain that for any length of time. They are in reality little better than they were under Caixinha and Murty. They just look better because Celtic’s standards dipped. They have a load of loan signings leaving this summer, they have a huge wage bill and are operating on fumes. They are as good as they are ever going to be.

Celtic on the other hand have been operating and playing well within themselves for about 18 months now and even with the much-maligned Neil Lennon in charge, they are still a considerable distance ahead of Rangers*. Time to stop panicking over The Rangers* coming, because they’ve been coming for years and they’re still no closer.  We need to ignore the media spin that has trophyless Rangers on a seven year high, and Treble Treble winning Celtic on a seven year low.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Overreacting to Defeat is a Bigger Problem Than Defeat Itself

This has been a terrible season. There’s no getting away from that. We started poorly, stumbled on a winning formula by accident only because of injuries to key players, lost the manager as the season entered the business end, a shell-shocked squad still suffering injuries to key players stumbled over the line under an interim boss, and now we’ve (horror of horrors!) lost a meaningless match to Sevco. Many fans are now approaching the Scottish Cup Final, when we have the opportunity to clinch an astonishing third consecutive Treble, with a sense of trepidation.

I didn’t see the match against Sevco today, and I won’t be watching it either, but from what I’ve heard, it sounds a familiar tale – poor, gutless performance and no protection for our players from thuggish assaults. I’m not going to worry about it. There’s no need to worry about it. All I hope for from today is that no one is injured ahead of the only game that matters since last weekend – the Cup Final.

But why has this season been so bad? I can’t believe I’m writing this, we’re on the verge of yet another Treble and fans are up in arms about how bad we are. It’s insane.

But yet, no one can claim it has been good to watch, or that it’s been entertaining, apart from a brief period in the autumn and the few weeks after the winter break before Rodgers left.

The question is why has it been so bad this year, and is there anything that can be done about it?

The first reason is one that recurs throughout the season and continues to reverberate today. Brendan Rodgers. If anyone is to blame for the situation we find ourselves in today, it is Brendan Rodgers. If we fail to win the Treble, the blame will lie with Brendan Rodgers. He sabotaged and undermined us from before the season began and continued to do so throughout the season.

First of all, he wanted away in the summer and did his best to get away. Not only that, he asked the best striker we’ve had in the past decade and a half to go with him. The upshot of that was one very unhappy striker and one (rightly) very unhappy squad. I claim no inside knowledge, but those players are not human if their morale was not badly affected by the knowledge their manager was looking to leave.

The board, rightly, were not willing to give Rodgers any serious money to spend, knowing he would be off first chance he got. They did however shell out serious money to secure Edouard before Rodgers started agitating for a move.

As the season kicked off, it was plain to see things were not right. We laboured to the early points and some of it was awful to watch. It only changed in the autumn with so many injuries, especially to Brown, Ntcham and Eboui, that Rodgers was forced to play McGregor and the hitherto out-in-the-cold Christie in the deep-lying midfield roles. Suddenly, things were happening. Fluidity was restored to the side and we were blowing teams away. Then Brown was able to play again (not fit, just able to play again) and he was restored, thus breaking up the McGregor-Christie partnership that inspired a great run of form through October-November and performances suffered again, culminating in defeat at Ibrox with McGregor playing at left-back and an academy player on his own up front. We were hopeless and were still just an offside call away from a point.

The board, rightly, were still not willing to buy big in the January transfer window, but did sanction several useful loan signings while Sevco spent crazy money on Defoe and Davis, leading to widespread panic, and it wasn’t just Charlie Nicholas. But those loan-signings sparked another mini-run of very good form from January-February before Rodgers finally bailed, just 24 hours before a trip to Tynecastle in midweek and Scottish Cup match at Easter Road that weekend.

He could not have picked two more difficult games to abandon us ahead of and I include Ibrox in that. Not only did he go, he took almost the entire backroom staff with him. If Neil Lennon did not take charge of an absolutely shell-shocked group of players that week, again they are not human. They beat Hearts and Hibernian on muscle-memory alone in the two most important matches of the season.

I’m not going to make a case for giving Neil Lennon the manager’s job permanently. I think we need fresh ideas from a top class foreign coach if we want to progress from here, but he cannot be anything but commended for the way the season has gone since he came in. He had an impossible job to do and has (so far) seen us to where we need to be.

When you look back at this season, the surprising thing is not that we have struggled over the line, the surprising thing is that we are on the verge of a third successive treble. When you think about it, we are actually at a low point. We haven’t been so low in years. And yet here we are sitting as Champions, with a Scottish Cup Final to come.

Think about it from Sevco’s point of view. They are on a seven year high. They think they have a top-class manager. They think they have a great team. Confidence in their camp is sky high. And yet against a stumbling, misfortune-ridden opponent they have still finished second. If ever they had a chance to end our run of league titles, this season was it. And they still fell well short. Beating Celtic today will give them even more hope for next season, but that’s because they are brainless and desperate. They will hold onto any tenuous hope for dear life and they’ll eat this shit up today. The thing about hope though is that it always, in the end, meets reality. And the two very often do not match up. If Sevco had a brain, they’d be dangerous. But they don’t and in their brainlessness think Celtic will be just as bad again next season.

Next season will be different. We will have a new manager in place, so it’s very unlikely we’ll be destabilised by a manager working his ticket out.

The board will back the new manager. I’m not expecting fortunes to be spent, but enough will be spent to address the problems in the playing squad. But the biggest problem in the playing squad is not the quality we have, it’s the lack of stability and leadership they’ve had to endure all season. In my opinion, Neil Lennon should have got those two matches against Hearts and Hibs out of the way and then imposed his philosophy on them. It was a mistake to try to keep Rodgers’ system ticking over because it hadn’t been working for long stretches of the season and he was gone. We know Lennon can do it, he won three titles in a row before he left and took us into the last 16 of the Champions League. He was Rodgers’ most difficult opponent in his time here. Anyway, next season we will have a permanent manager in place and the playing squad will be settled. Without signing a single player, we will be better next season.

The run of injuries suffered this season is also unlikely to be repeated (please!). So when we look ahead to next season, I cannot see things being as bad as they have been this season.

We are at our lowest ebb. Sevco are riding the crest of a self-created wave. In the circumstances, I’m not surprised they won today. The game itself was meaningless and will be very quickly forgotten about. Sevco gained nothing of any substance today and we lost nothing of any substance. They haven’t even won bragging rights – they’re trophyless yet again while we’re (in case you’ve forgotten) Champions and on the verge of another Treble!

The only thing that bothers me about next season is the issue of morale. And that’s an issue for us fans. It’s created by our responses to triumph and disaster and as Kipling said, you need to treat those two imposters just the same.

Only we can stop the run to ten in a row and the first step to doing that is to overreact to a ridiculous degree to losing a meaningless post-season kickabout at Ibrox.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Ten is All I Want

Last night’s defeat was hard to take. We held our own for most of the first half without really threatening Valencia and lost a stupid goal just before half time. Another stupid goal just after half time and it was game over.

But for me, that’s it. Done. Let’s forget it and concentrate on the only thing that matters for the next two and a half seasons – ten in a row.

By the time Celtic won the last of their nine in a row titles in 1974, I was too young to be aware of it. It was our second proudest achievement and something we thought would never be matched. For me, it was an almost mythical achievement. Then I had to live through Rangers, fuelled by other people’s money and aided by a previously unimaginable implosion at Celtic, do it themselves.

I vividly remember driving along the M8 one afternoon in the summer of 1997 and seeing some graffiti sprayed on an overpass – “Nine in a row, one to go.”

And on that day, with Tommy Burns gone and Paolo di Canio and Jorge Cadete eager to follow Pierre van Hooijdonk out the door, it seemed an absolute certainty that that one to go was a formality.

If you are too young to remember the moment Harald Brattbakk slotted the ball into the St Johnstone net that glorious afternoon in May 1998, you can only imagine what it felt like to stop them doing ten in a row. You’ll never know or maybe even understand just what it meant to 60,000 of us in the stadium and hundreds of thousands more huddled nervously around radios or waiting for news on Grandstand. The only way that it could have possibly felt better would have been if it had happened twelve months earlier.

Well now it can feel better. We’re so close to ten we can almost reach out and touch it. We can’t take it for granted though, and this season is too close for comfort. Win the league this season, and we’re just one away from a second nine in a row and two away from the Holy Grail of Ten.

It’s probably not healthy. Fergus McCann wouldn’t care about it at all. For him, and most sensible people, it would be all about running the club as a sustainable business and sticking to the plan, regardless of bumps in the road.

But I’m not sensible about this. I want that Ten so badly.

One of the most important factors in the winning of leagues and cups is morale. Perception can become reality and if we let our heads go down over a Europa League defeat against a Champions League level team from the world’s strongest league, it helps no one but our rivals.

If we sink into recriminations over what we spend and don’t spend chasing the unattainable dream of “success” in Europe (however you define it), it helps no one but our rivals.

If we allow negativity to surround the club going into the next few domestic matches (and Kilmarnock away is giving me the heebie jeebies anyway), it helps no one but our rivals.

Last night hurt. We don’t get value for money in signings, we seem to be like rabbits in the headlights in Europe. Valencia’s wage bill might not be that much bigger than our own. Maybe we could do better (but I’d argue we can’t expect to be much better). But I’m not going to get bogged down in that. We’ve got more important challenges ahead and if we could get away with it, I’d play the Development Squad in the return leg because we shouldn’t be risking any injuries for the sake of a lost cause in the Europa League.

For the sake of all the great Celtic men no longer with us, who had to watch as the Kellys and Whites almost mismanaged the club out of existence in the early 90’s.

Who had to watch a long line of ridiculously expensive English and European imports arrive at Ibrox, paid for by the same bank who almost closed us down for the sake of £1m, while Wayne Biggins did a poor impression of a striker in a hooped shirt.

Who had to watch as the SFA fined Celtic a record sum for taking Tommy Burns away from Kilmarnock and later did nothing as Rangers induced Walter Smith to break his contract with them.

Who had to watch as the SFA extorted a fortune from us to play at Hampden for a season and wrote it into the contract that we could not fly the Irish flag there.

Who had to watch as Jim Farry deliberately obstructed our efforts to get Jorge Cadete on the pitch until he couldn’t do any damage to Rangers’ trophy aspirations.

Who had to watch our proud nine in a row achievement matched by a team aided and abetted by our sporting and financial institutions.

For the sake of all those great Celtic men no longer with us, and for the sake of everyone who lived through those times, I want that Ten and I don’t care if we get knocked out of Europe before Christmas next year and the year after.

It might be petty, parochial and inward looking. But I don’t care.

All I want is that Ten.

Who’s with me?