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.

'Yes.'

'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?

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Referees, like Caesar's wife, must be above suspicion


News has broken today that referee John Beaton has been on the receiving end of death threats following his performance in last week’s Glasgow derby at Ibrox. This is a shocking development if true, and the people making those death threats need to be found and prosecuted to the full force of the law. Nothing excuses behaviour like that (again I stress, if true).

It wouldn’t be the first time referees have reported death threats of course and these are always greeted with an outpouring of sympathy for the poor, honest official, his life threatened just for doing his job. It tends to obscure the very real concerns about the performance of his job, as hand-wringing pundits plead with the thuggish element behind the threats to get some perspective, because it is only a game after all, and we wouldn’t have a game at all if it wasn’t for honest, impartial, courageous referees like John Beaton.

What must be borne in mind is that the death threats (if real) and the performance of John Beaton last Saturday are two separate things. Let’s agree there can be no excusing any threats made against him but this story must not be allowed to derail the moves to hold Beaton accountable for his brazen favouring of Rangers* in last week’s match.

Pundits and commentators will now be told to tone down the rhetoric because it will allegedly only feed the alleged bloodlust against Beaton. What this means is, let’s accept Beaton is as honest as the day is long and move on.

But let’s not.

Beaton must still be held to account for the series of bizarre decisions he made in last week’s match, all of which implausibly favoured Rangers*. If anyone is to blame for the death threats (other than the people allegedly making them), I accuse the Rangers Protection Racket that is the Scottish Football Association.

The SFA, amongst many other uniquely bizarre practices, makes no effort to ensure impartiality in refereeing. They are aided in this by the faux-outrage amongst the Scottish football writers’ fraternity at the merest suggestion referees might be at all biased. Honest Mistakes is the name of the game and how dare we question the impartiality of the fine upstanding chaps who go on to make a living on the after-dinner speakers’ circuit telling assorted Rangers Supporters’ clubs, Freemasons and Orangemen about how they damn well made sure Celtic never won a match they refereed.

How dare we question the impartiality of referees who send sectarian emails about the Pope over the SFA computer system.

How dare we question the impartiality of former (and some say current) Rangers season ticket holders as they take charge of a Glasgow derby and make a series of bizarre decisions that somehow always favour Rangers*.

It is at least possible that these guys are capable of being impartial, but is it likely? I know if I was refereeing the match last weekend there would have been a very different outcome, no matter how poorly Celtic performed on the day. Rangers* would have been down to 10 men after 5 minutes, but the difference would be, no one would be able to see they didn’t deserve to be, because Morelos kicked Scott Brown in the balls.

The situation was reversed though. Morelos kicked Scott Brown in the balls and a Rangers*-supporting referee decided against even awarding a freekick to Celtic. That cannot be right.

There’s a story from Roman history of Julius Caesar and his wife Pompeia.

As well as being at different times a Consul of Rome and eventually dictator, quite early in his career Caesar was chosen to the lifetime position of Pontifex Maximus, or “Supreme Bridge Builder.” This was the High Priest of the Roman state religion.

In her position as wife of the Pontifex Maximus, in 62BC Pompeia hosted the festival of Bona Dea, or “the Good Goddess,” which was held in the official residence of the Pontifex Maximus on the Via Sacra in Rome. It was a female-only event, but a young Patrician, Publius Clodius Pulcher, disguised himself as a woman and gained entrance, supposedly to seduce Pompeia.

Publius was discovered and fled without ever coming face-to-face with Pompeia, but was caught and put on trial for the sacrilege of tricking his way into a female-only religious celebration.

Caesar gave no evidence against Publius at his trial and he was acquitted of the charge, but in the aftermath, Caesar divorced his wife. When asked why, he responded that, “My wife ought not to be even under suspicion.”

This has given rise to the proverb, “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.” There was no proof that Pompeia had ever had any improper relations with Publius. There was no proof she even wanted Publius to be in the building. But for Caesar, that was not good enough. The very fact that there was a whiff of suspicion surrounding Pompeia was enough for him to divorce her. His dignity demanded no less.

Referees are, or should be, in a similar position to Pompeia. They quite simply must be above suspicion.

The FA in England take this view. Referees need to declare which team they support and they are never allowed to referee games affecting those teams. By doing this, the FA are not saying they don’t trust those referees to be impartial, they are protecting the integrity of the game by placing referees above suspicion.

Referees still make mistakes, but in England at least, we can accept that these are honest. I was at the Manchester City v Crystal Palace match a couple of weeks ago and at one point in the first half a Palace defender headed the ball past his own goal and the referee awarded a goal kick, to howls of outrage from the City fans.

A few minutes later, he awarded City a corner kick, to be met with ironic cheers by the City fans. From the corner, the ball was again headed out by a Palace defender and more ironic cheers greeted the corner award. This time, the referee theatrically took a bow to the City fans. Laughter greeted this and the incorrect goal kick award was forgotten about. The bow came across as an acknowledgement from the referee that he’d made a mistake and the fans accepted it.

It’s inconceivable to me that a similar thing could happen in Scotland; certainly not in a match involving Rangers*.

The SFA insist on appointing referees to Celtic and Rangers* matches who have more than a whiff of suspicion about them. They must take a share of the responsibility when fans perceive referees’ decisions to be blatantly, and game-changingly in favour of the team they support.

The usual objection to bringing in the rule that referees must declare which team they support is that it wouldn’t be possible to have referees who don’t support either Celtic or Rangers* in Scotland.

That to me, in this day and age, is no objection at all. It would be the easiest thing in the world to bring referees up from England or Wales for the day. They could fly in from London, Cardiff, Birmingham or Manchester in less than an hour, and be back home before tea-time.

The reason the SFA won’t do it is that it would be an admission of their own long-term failure to ensure that not only are match officials in Scotland impartial, they can also be seen to be impartial.

Referees must be above suspicion and referees in Scotland are most certainly not above suspicion. The blame for that lies squarely with the Scottish Football Association.

Friday, 4 January 2019

The SFA on Trial


Football in Scotland is descending into farce once again and once again, the need to protect and promote Rangers* is at the heart of it. This time though, it is ever more serious. Over the past six years the administrative side of the game was affected. Now it is affecting the Laws of the Game (as applied in Scotland) itself.

In one sense, the decision of the Compliance Officer yesterday was perfectly reasonable. The rules state that if the referee saw an incident, then the Compliance Officer cannot intervene. On this occasion, the party at fault is referee John Beaton and he must be dealt with, but the situation is the culmination of a series of events in which the SFA is squarely at fault.

Beaton’s handling of last week’s Glasgow derby was by any standards a disgrace. We have to state the usual caveats of course, that Rangers* deserved to win etc, but that is missing the point. Rangers* were the better side and much of that was down to their performance and approach to the game, but equally there is no doubt Beaton’s handling of the match contributed to Rangers’* ability to dominate the match.

Every time Beaton allowed fouls by Rangers* to go unpunished, he helped keep them on the front foot. Every time he stopped play to award a freekick to Rangers* he relieved the pressure from them and allowed them to build an attack. Each time he allowed Morelos to assault a Celtic player, he saved Rangers* from having to play with 10 men (some might say 13).

Let’s take just one example – the build up to Morelos’ stamp on Anthony Ralston.

Just before the stamp, Ryan Christie was fouled on the touchline, about 10-15 yards inside Celtic’s half. He was challenged from behind and had his legs taken from under him. A clear foul.  A freekick to Celtic at that point would have resulted in Rangers* retreating into their own half, with Celtic having the opportunity to move forward. Instead, Beaton allowed Rangers* to play the ball down their left wing, putting Anthony Ralston under pressure as he ran to take possession, with Morelos chasing after him.

At this point, Morelos barged Ralston from behind, knocking him to the ground as he played the ball out. A freekick to Celtic at this point would have resulted in Rangers* retreating to the halfway line, giving Celtic the opportunity to build from the back or launch the ball long into Rangers*’ half. Instead, Beaton ignored the foul and awarded Rangers* a throw in in the final third, putting Celtic under pressure and giving Rangers* possession in a dangerous position.

As Ralston fell, Morelos then tried to catch him with his foot a couple of times before jumping over him and stamping on his back as he did so. A deserved red card for Rangers* would have left them a man short, instead Morelos was allowed to stay on the pitch.

Many people have said Celtic just have to be better than them so that Beaton’s decisions don’t matter – an absolute nonsense.

Saying this means you don’t think Celtic deserve a level playing field. It’s okay for Celtic to be handicapped by poor/biased officiating. You’re collaborating with your own oppression.

Whether Rangers* were the better team or not is immaterial. It doesn’t mean it’s okay for the referee to favour them and it doesn’t mean Celtic don’t have a legitimate grievance.

Secondly, how is any team supposed to overcome refereeing like Beaton’s? When the other side can literally boot you in the balls with impunity, what chance have you got? You can be kicked, stamped, ball-grabbed, shirt-pulled, barged etc and the referee will wave play on. What on Earth are you supposed to do to overcome that?

Beaton’s antics absolutely did have a bearing on the result of the game. He ensured that Rangers* were constantly on the front foot and Celtic constantly under pressure and on the defensive. Yes Rangers* wanted it more and yes Rangers* played very well, but Celtic were never going to be allowed to compete on a level playing field and that absolutely did contribute to the result.

By telling the Compliance Officer that he saw all three Morelos incidents cited, and that he decided no action was required, Beaton has saved Rangers* from the consequences of Morelos’ actions yet again. Serious questions must be asked of John Beaton because any sane observer can see that all three incidents deserved a red card and if John Beaton could not see that, he has no business being on a football pitch.

The SFA must be made to make some kind of statement about this. Beaton is clearly not fit to referee at any level if he did not see the need to take any action. The question now is, what do the SFA think of that?

If the SFA disagree with Beaton’s decisions (which shouldn’t even be in doubt) then they must take steps to remove him from the Grade One list. To decide one of those incidents, in the heat of the moment, was not worthy of action, is at least plausible. To decide all three in the same match were not worthy of action is at best sheer incompetence.

But I would go further than that. *No one* is that incompetent. Taking his overall handling of the match together with deciding three blatant instances of violent conduct required no action, leaves you with only one conclusion – John Beaton is a cheat. John Beaton corrupted the match and did everything in his power to ensure a Rangers* win.

If the SFA cares anything for the game of football in Scotland, they will never allow John Beaton to referee another match. There’s no need for them even to open the can of worms that would result from calling out his cheating. There’s more than enough evidence to show Beaton is absolutely incompetent to referee in the SPFL and we can move on from there.

By doing this, the SFA can send out the message that incompetent refereeing will not be accepted. Referees will know they cannot favour one team and get away with it. Failure to deal with Beaton will be yet more proof that the SFA themselves are not fit to govern football in Scotland.

The SFA has presided over the descent of the game of football in Scotland into a violent farce. Morelos was sent off at Aberdeen in the first game of the season and the Compliance Officer on this occasion overturned the red card on the grounds that his kick on an Aberdeen player was “petulant” rather than “violent,” and that it did not constitute the “excessive force,” or “brutality,” necessary to warrant a red card.

Football in Scotland is now played to a different set of rules to the rest of the world. Morelos’ red card was overturned. Allan McGregor escaped censure for kicking Kristoffer Ajer even after a panel of former referees looked at it. John Beaton may be the immediate cause of the latest farce, but this is the result of previous decisions taken by the SFA and it should be the SFA themselves who are now on trial.

They corrupted the game in Scotland to achieve a Rangers-branded club in the SFL in 2012 after apocalyptic warnings of what would happen if this was not allowed.

They devised the infamous Five Way Agreement, including the previously unheard of “conditional membership,” to facilitate Rangers* participation in the Ramsdens Cup. They devised the previously unheard of transfer of membership to enable Rangers* to participate in the old Third Division.

They arranged for the LNS Commission to investigate Rangers for the use of EBT’s and the fielding of ineligible players for over a decade from 1998 – 2011, then subverted that process by cutting out the period from 1998-2001 and via one of their own officials (Sandy Bryson) concocted the previously unheard of “imperfectly registered but eligible,” to avoid stripping titles and trophies from Rangers’ historical record.

They imposed a registration ban on Rangers* but stood by as they subverted that by signing free-agents in the transfer window to register after it was closed, thereby ensuring the registration ban was meaningless.

The SFA has a long history of finding loopholes to help promote and protect Rangers* and the history of the past six years alone shows that the SFA cannot be trusted to treat Rangers* the same as they do every other club. When they are prepared to break their own rules just to have a Rangers* in the game, how can they possibly be perceived as acting in good faith if they allow referees to ignore Rangers* players kicking and stamping on opponents?

John Beaton has stuck two fingers up at the fans of every football club in Scotland other than Rangers*. Now the SFA must decide where they stand. Will they join Beaton in sticking up two fingers at every football fan in Scotland, or will they do the right thing – deal with Beaton and ensure that football in Scotland is played to the same rules as every other country in the world, where kicking an opponent in the balls is violent conduct and deserving of a red card?


Thursday, 3 January 2019

Beaton On the Square


As I suspected would be the case, Alfredo Morelos is to face no action over three flashpoints in the recent Glasgow derby at Ibrox. I was right about that, but I was wrong about the grounds for no action to be taken.

My forecast was the “Aye, but…” defence would be used to avoid any action being taken against Morelos, but it turns out to be far more brazen than that. The Compliance Officer, Clare Whyte, has investigated the three incidents, but was informed by referee John Beaton that he saw all three, and deemed them unworthy of action. Therefore, according to the rules, there is no case to answer.


Let’s just pauses to consider these incidents for a moment. Incidents John Beaton by his own admission, saw and deemed unworthy of action.


The first saw Celtic’s Scott Brown jump to head the ball. Morelos, just behind him, kicked the Celtic captain up his backside while he was in mid-air.


In the second incident, Morelos barged Anthony Ralston, again from behind, as he took possession of a ball played down Rangers’* left wing. The barge resulted in Ralston falling to the ground and Morelos followed up by standing on his back, not once, but twice. Beaton awarded Rangers* a throw in.

The third incident saw Morelos on the ground, with play stopped, and he hit Ryan Christie between the legs. One photo actually shows him grabbing at Christie’s privates.

This begs the question, what does a player actually have to do before John Beaton deems his actions worthy of action?

Serious questions must now be asked of John Beaton’s suitability to be a Grade One referee if he thinks kicking, stamping, and groin grabbing do not constitute violent conduct and a straight red card. But this is kind to Beaton. It assumes he is simply incompetent.

No one is *that* incompetent. An incompetent referee might miss one obvious red card offence. To miss two stretches credibility. To miss three? There is only one conclusion to be drawn.

John Beaton is a cheat. An examination of his performance last weekend will show that every 50-50 decision went Rangers’* way. Any time opposing players came together in the middle of the park his decisions were consistent. If the ball ran kindly for Rangers*, play was allowed to continue. If the ball ran kindly for Celtic, it was a freekick to Rangers*. I will withdraw this statement if anyone can show me a single incident from the 90 minutes when a decision *might* have gone either way and went Celtic’s way.

We all knew this at the time, but with today’s admission that he saw all three incidents involving  Morelos and cited by the Compliance Officer, John Beaton is sticking up two fingers at every non-Rangers* fan in Scotland.

He is telling us he knew Morelos should have been red-carded, but he decided not to and he is now challenging us, “What you going to do about it?”

John Beaton knows Morelos should have been sent off on three separate occasions. John Beaton knows we know Morelos should have been sent off on three separate occasions. And John Beaton knows he will get away with it.

There are two options here. John Beaton is either incompetent or he is a cheat. Either way, Celtic must pursue this to the ends of the Earth. The first thing they should do is demand that the referee’s supervisor’s report from Saturday is made public.

John Beaton says he saw these incidents and no action was required. That’s an astonishing admission, one he feels comfortable making because he obviously thinks there will be no ramifications for him from it. What I want to know is, how do the SFA rate that performance? Did the referee supervisor observing his performance agree with his decisions? How was he rated?

If Beaton’s handling of the match was rated as even satisfactory, then we are in a whole world of trouble in this country. If his handling of the match was rated as less than satisfactory, then then by missing THREE obvious red card incidents he has made such an almighty mess of it that he should never be allowed to referee a Premiership match again.

Two options, Celtic. He is either a cheat or incompetent. I know which I think it is.