Ready? Steady? Draw!

On the shores of Brittany — OK, a little further inland, perhaps — the Bhoys in Green started the next chapter of their Europa League hunt with a draw at Stade Rennes. While the Celts played far above par and should have come away with the win (more on this later, of course), the 1-1 final proved that Christopher Jullien may be on to something: That Celtic has arrived in Europe with serious intent to go far.

That might sound funny coming as a result of a draw, but allow me to point out five things to state my case. And then I will gladly leave it to a jury of my peers to decide.

In no particular order . . .

1. Kristoffer Ajer, put on this dunce cap

Truth be told, my guess is that no one feels as bad about that, um, “tackle” in the box than Kristoffer Ajer does. Judging by the kind of player he is, I will grant him that, and my hope is that he doesn’t beat himself up too much over it.

But dude, really?

If we were back in my fifth grade classroom at Holy Family School in suburban Miami — with Sister Julianna wielding the mean ruler which, by this time, is surely encased in its own exhibit in the Nun Hall of Fame — she would probably sternly say, as only she could, “Kristoffer. Vassbakk. Ajer. Please. Stand. Up.” At which time, the mighty Viking, humbled, would stand up and be ushered to the “desk of doom” at the front of the class, where he would sit and complete his punishment. More than likely, it would be writing, “I will not grab an opponent’s jersey and drag him down in the box” 500 times, and then he’d be sent to confession at the church next door, where he’d probably get the standard penance of 10 Hail Marys from Msgr. Delaney.

But I’m sure he feels bad enough about it as it is, and I would spare him the Catholic school treatment. Suffice to say, though: Kris, you’re an ace in the defense — you don’t need to resort to that.

Lesson learned. Class dismissed.

2. Who are these guys in black?

I know, I know. Chapter and verse from Jock Stein: “If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter.” But I’d be willing to bet that somewhere in the ether of the afterlife, Big Jock was looking down on the game on Thursday and saying, “Damn! Are you kidding me?”

According to ESPN, and I don’t think these stats are official (though I’d be glad to post official stats if someone can give me a link), Celtic committed 23 fouls to Rennes’ 12, which only explains how the game was not so much a Europa League match for the hosts, but in reality a qualification for the French Olympic diving team.

An entirely Spanish referee squad, led by some dope named Jose Sanchez, would not be worthy of overseeing a under-13 tryout, let alone a UEFA Europa League match. The card-happy Sanchez went out of his way to lose control of the game, only to fall victim to an Oscar-winning performance by Rennes goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, whose face was nowhere near Bayo’s foot when the second yellow for Bayo was drawn out of Sanchez’s incompetent pocket.

[Chris Sutton even agrees with me on this one . . . .]

Seriously. Where do they get these guys?

3. Who are these guys in red and black?

First, this needs saying: As I understand it, Stade Rennes is France’s champion. We are Scotland’s. Yet, here we are, both of us in what is essentially the “consolation prize” round of continental football.

Be that as it may, to Celtic’s credit and despite a 52-48 percent ball possession advantage to Rennes, the home team spent a significant portion of its time on its heels. With a couple of remote exceptions, Rennes could not break through, and got a gift that keeps on giving — at least for 90+ minutes — from Ajer in their only real scoring opportunity.

Despite an earlier exit in that other tournament, the fact that we’re now firing on all cylinders, where once we weren’t, is a testament to how good Celtic has become at this Europe thing. True, it didn’t come earlier, and that’s unfortunate. But this is where we are now.

One more thing: Sorry, Rennes, but your kit looks like the joker on a deck of playing cards. Is that really the look you want to go with?

4. Jonny Hayes, take a bow

True story: On my free time (and because I don’t have much of a life outside watching Celtic and political organizing in local peace and social justice activities), I like to watch old clips of Celtic games on YouTube. A couple of days ago, I happened upon the 2017 Scottish Cup final (I think) where Jonny Hayes was tearing up the pitch for Aberdeen against the Bhoys. I kept thinking, “Thank God he’s playing for us now.”

Today, that thought was especially at the forefront, as he came in for Boli Bolingoli and took control. Hayes is truly an unsung hero for the Celts, and I hope he has a chance to get some playing time with Boli now injured. Of course, Greg Taylor may have something to say about that, but as far as an all around utility player and pretty much a godsend to Celtic, Hayes is second to none.

And that tackle in the second half on Hamari Traore? That was outstanding; it was Simunovic-on-Miller caliber. Though Traore does not exactly join Miller in orbit, it was one of those tackles they should show in clinics worldwide about how tackles should be executed.

5. Keep talking, Christopher Jullien

Earlier in the week, Christopher Jullien said that the Celts will go far in the UEFA Europa League competition. Many thought it was just locker room rah-rah enthusiasm, possibly aimed at lifting his teammates for the immediate task at hand on Thursday. Some may have thought he made an overconfident boast. Others still may have thought he was just plain nuts.

Regardless, he was right. Under Neil Lennon’s steady hand and with a group of phenomenal players who are beginning to gel under his leadership, Celtic is starting to show its true colors — sorry, colours — as we head into both the SPFL season and whatever continental tournaments are part and parcel to this year’s schedule.

In conclusion, despite all the aforementioned adversity in Thursday’s game, the Bhoys came away with a solid game and a draw that, arguably, should have been a win, but could have gone wrong very easily, through no fault of their own.

I’ll take it.

Your Honor — sorry, My Lord — I rest my case.

[71 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: High]

Random thoughts, cheap shots, bon mots

After Saturday’s win at Hamilton — the pitch where one end is painted with fans sitting behind advertising (and, as I understand it, behind that facade is a practice ground) — I thought it would be good to take a moment to just reflect on a few observations at the outset of this season, which incidentally appears to be starting well.

Like . . .

We’ll win the Europa League, according to Christopher Jullien: You’ve got to love the big guy, even when he’s not goofing off with teammate Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo. He’s settled in to a defense that has been stellar in the past few games, and now he makes what can arguably be described as a huge boast.

Can the Bhoys bring home the Europa hardware? “We will take it game by game and see what it is but if you were to go into our locker room now and ask each of them what their goal was they would tell you it is to bring that trophy home – and I’m just following them,” Jullien has been quoted as saying in the mainstream press.

Whether he is serious or if it’s just a ploy to get his teammates psyched up for the game against French Cup holders Stade Rennes on Thursday, it’s good to see a confident mindset as the default mode for the club.

Odsonne Edouard scores yet again.

I Wanna, I Wanna, I Wanna Be Ladbrokes Premiership Player of the Month for August: A tip of the chapeau to Odsonne Edouard and congratulations to the Celtic forward for winning the Labrokes Premiership Player of the Month for his play last month. On top of an outstanding display as a sub for France’s U21 team scoring four goals during the international break, Eddy has been phenomenal for the Hoops in the start of the 2019/20 season.

Edouard’s press conference, posted on YouTube and it helps immensely if you speak French (despite the presence of a translator, who does an excellent job), Eddy says at around the 9:30 mark that he’s happy to be a Celt and he doesn’t foresee going anywhere, contrary to rumors that have been floating around. Which is good, because we’d like to have you around as long as possible, Eddy!

Lights, Camera, Action: Remember photo day at school? Well, the bhoys went through that exercise recently and had their annual team photoshoot. Of course, as shown here, getting the lads all on the same page and not photobombing each other was no small feat. Watch to the end to see a typical Broony move (and I mean that in the best possible way).

Jozo out, Wizard in: Unfortunately, one of my favorite Celts — and expert Kenny Miller launcher — Jozo Simunovic goes in for arthroscopic surgery on his knee, and it looks like he’s out for about two months. But while he’s healing up, on Saturday we saw the return of the Wizard of Oz, Tom Rogic. While Rogic wasn’t a factor in the game on Saturday, it’s great to see him taking to the pitch and I hope we will see more of him. As for Jozo, get well soon, big guy!

‘Hamburg is Brown and White’ as FC St. Pauli wins the Hamburg Derby 2-0 over Hamburger SV.

Meanwhile, in Hamburg: Yesterday, in the Hamburg Derby at the Millerntor between home club FC St. Pauli and Hamburger SV, the Boys in Brown played a phenomenal game and came away with a 2-0 win. Judging by some of the tweets by Celtic fans I follow, the derby there rivals the one in Glasgow. The Diamond — Dimitrios Diamantakos — scored one for the Boys in Brown and an own goal sealed it. Sankt Pauli looked very sharp yesterday, and hopefully they can carry this momentum forward to upcoming games.

Going out on a limb: There seems to be some trepidation about the game on Thursday against Stade Rennes, especially with some on one of my favorite online hangouts, Celtic Noise. Well, I have absolutely nothing to base this on other than faith in the club, but I think we come away from France with a 2-1 win before returning to Paradise to meet the squirrels of Kilmarnock on Saturday.

[69 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: Moderate]

A window closes, a door opens

The bewitching hour for the so-called transfer window came and went, and with a flurry of activity — as Cinderella ran from the ball, leaving behind her glass slipper — Celtic roped in a few more players before the window slammed shut, opening the door to 9 and 10 in a row.

Rest easy, Celtic supporters — especially those of you who only functioned in full-panic mode over the last several weeks (and you know who you are).

We did well.

Arguably Celtic had done well over the course of the window prior to the 24 hours before its closing. Though scouting may be an Achilles’ Heel to be remedied (and quickly), the club didn’t panic and, in retrospect, went about its transfer window business in calculating style.

New bhoys on the block — From left to right, top to bottom: Christopher Jullien, Luca Connell, Boli Bolongoli-Mbombo, Hatem Abd Elhamed, Jonathan Afolabi, Fraser Forster, Moritz Bauer, Mohamed Elyounoussi, Greg Taylor, Jeremie Frimpong, and Lee O’Connor.

Early signings Christopher Jullien, Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo, and Hatem Abd Elhamed have fit into the club nicely and have been contributing over the last several games, and it bodes well for latecomers like Moritz Bauer, who was baptized into the Hoops at Ibrox and showed his massive throw-in talent while proving to be Sevco kryptonite against a now out-for-the-season Jordan Jones.

Additionally wearing the Hoops this season are Fraser Forster — returning to Celtic from Southampton and putting in a solid game between the sticks for a clean sheet against Sevco — Luca Connell, Jonathan Afolabi, Mohamed Elyounoussi, Lee O’Connor, Jeremie Frimpong, and former Killie defender Greg Taylor — bet he’s thankful he doesn’t have to play half his games this season on the rug at Rugby Park any longer — bringing his Scottish League experience to the Celtic backfield.

What’s also notable about this transfer window is seeing who stayed, most notably Olivier Ntcham. At one point, Ntcham seemed to be on the way out, but for now he may be putting on a showcase for potential clubs in the event he wants to move on. I sincerely hope he doesn’t, but if that’s his wish and he wants to play top-notch football to attract suitors, who am I to stop him?

And that glass slipper left at the ball? We’ll have to see whether it fits a championship-caliber player when the next window opens. As of now, after a great start to the season, Celtic looks like it’s in great shape for the season.

[69 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: Moderate]

Goodbye, Kieran Tierney

I read the news today, oh boy.
About a lucky man who made the grade …

For all intents and purposes, I honestly thought that Kieran Tierney would stay at Celtic. I would have bet a large sums on him staying, under the possibly now old-fashioned and noble notion that some things are bigger than a hefty payday.

Things like dedication and devotion to a club, for starters. Getting the club past the historic milestone of 10 in a row — and maybe beyond — before seeking fame and fortune elsewhere.

Things like that.

Besides, to channel Celtic legend James McGrory for a moment, I think “Tierney of Arsenal just never sounded as good as Tierney of Celtic.”

And I still do.

But I was wrong. And so Kieran leaves the only club he has known since he was 7 and heads south to ply his trade with Arsenal. Yes, that Arsenal; a team which has supporters as diverse as Jeremy Corbyn and Piers Morgan (and, in my opinion, there’s no better reason to completely hate Arsenal than Piers Morgan), and a team with a blog — Arseblog — with quite possibly the world’s biggest laughingstock as a name.

Perspective, though, has a healing quality about it that cannot be understated. Thankfully, here in Felton, I have a redwood forest within walking distance, where a stroll among the majestic trees — some of which predate the Magna Carta — can be good for the soul. Especially a soul gutted by the departure of a beloved player.

So I entered the forest with a heavy heart for a Celtic legend-in-the-making who sadly will never see his place in the pantheon of Hoops greats, and after considerable reflection, came out with a better understanding of the situation as a whole. As much as I hate to see him go, and as much as I hate to think any semblance of dedication and devotion to one club goes with him, I understand his decision and I wish him well.

This is a player who has given his all for Celtic, for essentially two-thirds of his life. He has left the field to have emergency dental surgery before returning for the same game and, as of late, he had played with a hernia part of last season before being forced off for a double hernia operation; an operation from which he is still recovering.

Let’s say that the reality is these injuries, borne of abuse at the hands of far lesser Scottish players and gratuitously dealt to him as referees consistently turned a blind eye, are severely limiting the time of his playing career. It would be foolish of him not to take the king’s ransom offered by Arsenal.

No matter where he plays, to me Tierney will always be a Celt. While I hope he makes Arsenal a much better team and that his skills are recognized on a larger stage, he will always be the goofy kid with the megaphone, the left back sliding up the sidelines to make things happen, and the player who scored that goal against Aberdeen and raced the length of the pitch to celebrate with Celtic fans.

So long, Kieran Tierney, and thanks. YNWA.

Though he’s wearing another kit, Kieran Tierney still can’t see the Rangers coming . . . .

[78 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: Very High]

Magnificent 7

Talk about announcing your presence with authority . . .

Celtic took to the pitch on Saturday to start the season and showed no mercy to St. Johnstone, taking a 7-0 victory from the Saints and establishing the tone for the season. The Celtic scoring tells only part of the story:

Mikey Johnston 9; Ryan Christie 26, 30, 68; Olivier Ntcham 73; Odsonne Edouard 80; Leigh Griffiths 87.

By now, no doubt, you’ve all read the reports about the game. I won’t repeat that here. But I did want to put out a few observations about the game.

Crisp passing contributed greatly to the Celts phenomenal 75 percent possession rate during the course of the game. Ball-handling during the last several games has been nearly flawless, and Saturday you had essentially a clinic on possession.

It looks like the new guys — Boli Bolingoli and Hatem Abd Elhamed, specifically — are getting in sync with the rest of the club, though Elhamed’s injury may be cause for concern. Johnston especially is playing his way into a starting position, and should be utilized in tandem with Edouard and Griffiths as a new trio of scoring threats.

Griffiths is back. Nitcham is back, and looks like he has something to prove, if he only wants to make Celtic a stop on his way to another club (and who are we to stop him if he wants to play out-of-this-world football?).

But the man of the match, and the player announcing his presence with authority so far over the last few weeks, is Christie. After a season-ending injury against Aberdeen toward the end of last season, Christie’s play so far this season, in the UEFA qualifiers and now in the first game of the regular season, has been flawless. If anyone were to tell you last year that Christie would come out of the starting blocks with feet blazing, you might have doubled over in laughter.

No one is laughing now. But you can definitely see the smiles returning to the faces of the Celtic faithful.

Finally, as we head into the new season, with 37 games to go in the Premier League schedule, clearly Neil Lennon has brought back the thunder. As we head to 9 in a row, it looks like we’re in for a great ride.

Buckle up.

[73 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: High]

Redemption

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s the case, here is your thousand-word blog today. Earlier this week, Leigh Griffiths nailed a belter of a free kick shortly before halftime against Kalju to make the score 3-0 as the Bhoys in Green cruised to a 5-0 victory.

Welcome back, Super Leigh!

Photo credit: Celtic FC

[78 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: High]

5 Celts I Wish I Had Seen

Leave it to a couple of threads in Celtic Noise to give the inspiration for today’s blog item. First, credit the Celtic Noise contributor Winter who originally posted a thread about the top five players you’ve seen wearing the Hoops. Further credit goes to Celtic Noise contributor Bridie Bhoy for starting a related thread, Celtic player you wish you’d seen wearing the Hoops, which I was actually able to answer.

While I couldn’t answer Winter’s thread — technically I haven’t seen any Celtic players at an actual game because I haven’t been to one . . . yet (though I’ve seen nearly the entire 2018-19 season via broadcast) — I was able to answer Bridie Bhoy’s post, though choosing only one player was a chore.

So merging the two threads here, we’re going to take Winter’s “five” and Bridie Bhoy’s “players you wish you had seen” and put them together to make a list of the five Celtic players I wish I had seen. We’ll do this David Letterman-style and go from five down to one:

James McGrory (Credit: Wikipedia CC-SA-3.0)

5. James McGrory

You all know the song about William Maley: “And he gave us James McGrory and Paul McStay . . . “. One of Maley’s many gifts to Celtic was a goal-scoring machine who, for decades, defined Celtic excellence. Even at 5’6” his headers were lethal, earning him the nickname the “Human Torpedo.” With 485 goals over the span of his career, McGrory would have been great to watch. In addition, there’s the tale of McGrory staying at Celtic in the face of a then-stunning 10,000-pound offer that Arsenal bid to Celtic for a transfer of McGrory (are you taking notes, Kieran Tierney?). “McGrory of Arsenal just never sounded as good as McGrory of Celtic,” he was reported to have said.

Artur Boruc (Credit: Новикова Юлия [CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL])

4. Artur Boruc

The Holy Goalie. It’s unclear to me whether the nickname stems from the miraculous saves that Artur Boruc made, or whether it was because, as the story goes, he wore a T-shirt with the Pope’s likeness on it after a Rangers game in 2007. Or even because he had the audacity to make the sign of the cross at Ibrox at his first Rangers match the year before. But never mind: Boruc was a phenomenal, albeit tempermental, goalkeeper and his throttling Huns would be a constant highlight reel here. Thanks to the modern miracle of YouTube, you can see some of the greatness in this former Celt, who retired from Bournemouth in 2017.

Shunsuke Nakamura (Credit: Csansbury at English Wikipedia CC-SA-3.0)

3. Shunsuke Nakamura

Truth be told, I had seen Shunsuke Nakamura play once, but I didn’t realize it. When I was living in Japan in the late ’90s, a group of my English students took me to a Yokohama Marinos J-League game. Not being a football fan at the time, I only remember the Marinos running circles around their opponent that day. However I don’t remember seeing him specifically, though earlier this year, I contacted one of my students to ask if Nakamura played in that game, and he confirmed that he did. I couldn’t tell you the score or the opponent that day, but I can tell you the food selection at the stadium was pretty good. Fast forward to a few months ago and I’m bored out of my skull during the international break, and I start watching old videos of Celtic games and Celtic players. Nakamura stands out so much with his play that there’s one clip I keep just to watch when I’m feeling down: A goal against Rangers — not only is this a fantastic goal, it makes Allan McGregor look like a complete idiot, which is always a plus. To say nothing of these penalties against Manchester United. どうもありがとうございました、中村俊輔.

Henrik Larsson (Credit: Adam4267 [CC BY-SA 3.0])

2. Henrik Larsson

I can hear some of the more, um, “critical” Celtic fans — those, of course, are small in number but loud in volume — after Henrik Larsson’s inauspicious start of his brilliant Celtic career: An errant pass against the Hibs goes for a goal in a 2-1 loss. Followed later, of course, by an own-goal (which meant nothing in a 6-3 victory) in his first European game, and the cries for “put him on the bus” were probably heard in chorus by the more fickle fans. Good thing the club consistently turns a deaf ear to them, because by any and every metric, Larsson turned out to be one of the greatest players ever to put on the Hoops. Again, during the course of this year’s international hiatus, I had a chance to go back to watching a variety of clips of Larsson and there is no question why he is considered the king of kings.

Jimmy Johnstone

1. Jimmy Johnstone

Simply put, Jinky was a magician with the ball. If you watch the 1967 European Cup game against Inter Milan, Johnstone’s ball handling is astounding, to say nothing of his bravado in coming on to the field in Lisbon calling out his Italian opponents. I’ve watched the game three times, breaking it down and analyzing it ad nauseum, and aside from Tommy Gemmell’s and Steve Chalmers’ goals, the play by Johnstone is clearly the highlight of the match. While doing research on European players who crossed the Atlantic for a final payday in the U.S., I found out that Jinky played briefly for the North American Soccer League’s San Jose Earthquakes, which now plays in the MLS and is the closest team to me here in California. To be sure, I will be looking more into his career with the Quakes for a later blog item.

Mon the Hoops.

[72 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: Low]

They’re playing our song

Mornings in Felton are pretty much the same, especially in the summer. The drill is simple: Crows wake up the neighborhood, I stumble into the shower, shave, make coffee, see if there’s anything edible in the refrigerator, look at the newspaper, check the wildfire threat level (Moderate today, thanks to an overcast sky), and then go online to check, if anything, is worthy of attention.

After glancing at a plethora of news sites and checking my email to see who wants or needs me — Nobody? Great! — my next stop is usually Celtic news sites to pick up on what’s happening, and then finally to Celtic Noise, a forum of Celtic fans operating on various levels of sanity.

OK, I’m kidding about that — all good people, mostly, and all Celtic faithful with a deep love for the club.

Yesterday, while fighting with the text for yesterday’s blog post (honestly, I posted it yesterday, not in May of 2016), I was thinking about this video of FC St. Pauli fans singing “67 in the Heat of Lisbon,” which I originally found on the Facebook group Celtic FC to the Core.

To its credit, Celtic FC to the Core is one of the more solid fan pages on Facebook, providing significantly sound links to Celtic updates and commentary, unlike many of the fan pages which seem to be resigned to a tsunami of, “Can I get a ‘Hail Hail’ for my dog?” posts. Not that I have anything against dogs — in my opinion, all of them deserve a “Hail Hail” — but when I’m looking for Celtic news and commentary, let alone rational discussion with other Celtic supporters, many of the Facebook pages fail dramatically.

And don’t get me started on Twitter. Sheesh.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen the video, take a look. And if you’re not doing anything else on this Saturday morning, swing by Celtic Noise for some discussion.

See you there.

Mon the Hoops.

[62 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: Moderate]


Tap, tap, tap … is this thing on?

At the urging of several friends and one family member (thank you, darling daughter) — and whether or not it’s a conspiracy remains to be seen — I have been urged to write a blog about one of my current avocations: football (or what we call “soccer” here in the U.S.) in general, and my favorite club, Celtic FC, in particular.

So here we are: ’67 in the heat of Felton.

Of course, there’s really nothing that ties the great Celtic team that won the European Championship 52 years ago to this small town six miles northeast of Santa Cruz, California, at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains amid the redwoods. Other than, of course, me and my new found passion for the Hoops.

But amending the song title slightly to mention my current hometown in the blog’s title goes well with the song that, to this day, is still sung at Celtic games (or at punk rock venues by the Quadrofenians).

A team of Viennese specialists would have a field day with that, to be certain.

Regardless, May 25th is now a holiday on my calendar, and I wear green and white at every possible opportunity. I have acquired a new taste for jelly and ice cream. I have been known to break into the Broony when something good happens. After one season — an exceptional one, to be sure, with the Treble Treble — I am here for the long haul.

You can find me from time to time at the Celtic Noise forum — with a lack of creativity measured in sheer tonnage, my handle is simply lcafiero — and I welcome all Celtic supporters to join the discussion on Celtic and non-Celtic topics.

How I became a Celtic supporter is outlined in the My Back Pages/About Me page, if you’re interested. The TL:DR version is this: Given my political leanings, Celtic’s history was an inspiration and a natural club to offer my support.

The outlook for this season is fantastic, and I am looking forward to providing commentary on the season going forward.

Mon the hoops.

[59 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: Moderate]