Thank you, Socceroos

The Bhoys in Green playing for their respective countries during the International Break.

International break is a challenging period of time in which I have to find a diversion or two (or three) to make up for the lack of Celtic games for the span of nearly two weeks. A daunting task, to be sure, but because I haven’t really paid attention to baseball all summer — shocking, I know — and because now that the Oakland Athletics are out of the playoff running, there’s really nothing to watch.

Maybe I’ll sign up for Netflix.

In the past, the International Break has involved watching a lot of YouTube videos of Celtic, like the ’67 European Cup Finals or Henrik Larsson’s Greatest Celtic Hits or All the Celtic Goals by Shunsuke Nakamura (and I never, never get tired of watching his first goal against Rangers where he made Allan McGregor look like an idiot). Now that I have Celtic TV, maybe I can dig around there for some uncovered gems.

Also, I can watch the Bhoys in Green playing for Scotland as well, which I will certainly do, though I understand that I should brace myself. Nevertheless, I trust Steve Clarke to do the best job at the helm, and I know Celts Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Ryan Christie, and Greg Taylor will be up to the task.

But more importantly — perhaps most importantly — I want to thank the Socceroos in Australia for only taking Daniel Arzani to play for the Aussies, and leaving Tom Rogic to continue his recovery so he can regain his prior form and be the force in the midfield that he has been in the past.

Tom Rogic, the Wizard of Oz.

I know that it could be a disappointment for Rogic not to make the national team, and I empathize with the Wizard of Oz. However, as history shows, Rogic always returns from international duty dinged up, to put it mildly, and hopefully his break from the rigors of international play will bode well for upcoming games for Celtic.

Meanwhile, Odsonne Edouard dons the jersey of “Les Bleus” and plays for France, and the Norwegians get the services of Mohammed Elyounoussi and Kris Ajer. Nir Bitton and Hatem Abd Elhamed suit up for the Israeli team, while Ireland’s U21s get the services of Lee O’Connor and Jonathan Afolabi. Northern Ireland’s U21s features Conor Hazard and Liam Hughes.

[62 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: High. Rolling blackouts imminent.]

‘So, this all seems horrible…’

Bruce Banner walks into the Celtic-Livingston game on Sunday.

Bruce Banner pretty much nailed it above when describing the game between Celtic and Livingston on Sunday. There were not a lot of positives for the Bhoys in Green to take away from the game. In fact, there were absolutely none, as far as I can tell.

Actually, you can let Sandman give you the rundown on The Celtic Star.

And sadly, in a game like this, you get your standard issue tsunami of opinions from keyboard managers and armchair coaches, who are ready to dump players and gaffers at a whim as if they were behind the screen of their PlayStations or XBox consoles.

Not engaging with them is the best course.

If you think this first loss of the season is Neil Lennon’s fault and he should be fired, or if you think we should be selling/trading/dropping anyone from the team — like Scott Brown, Callum McGregor or Ryan Christie — you need to sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.

Sadly, in the cesspool of Twitter, and in other forums, all of the aforementioned has been suggested, as if the season would somehow be over after a loss in October. It truly saddens me that Celtic has so called “fans” in its fanbase who are truly this moronic, and the voices of reason by the true Celtic faithful are shouted down by the panicked few.

Livingston will dine on this for months, and it will possibly be all they will talk about all season. It’s pretty much all they have, as they continue to strive to remain in the middle of the Premiership table and not fall into relegation.

Good for them, and I hope they enjoyed the game on Sunday.

But Celtic is better than this.

We have the trophies and the trebles to prove it.

We don’t play for only 86 minutes, and the table isn’t final in October.

And, of course, at the end of the season we will prevail.

Muhammad Ali was right: “Ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.”

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

5 Takeaways from the Cluj game

The Green Brigade’s display at Celtic Park was nothing short of awesome: The Muhammad Ali quote, “Ain’t northing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.”

Well, we’ve put the Transylvanians in their place, finally — a wooden stake through the heart of Cluj in a 2-0 victory at Celtic Park on Thursday. For a recap of the game from the one and only Sandman of Celtic Noise fame, go here.

So, let’s look at five items from the game on Thursday.

1. Best. Transfer. Window. Ever.

Remember several weeks ago when some people were standing at the top of tall buildings, looking down and contemplating a swan dive over the fact that Celtic hadn’t signed anyone? Remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth by some of the so-called Celtic faithful who repeatedly dumped on the club because we hadn’t yet signed Messi? Well, you can see the results of Celtic’s very, very, very successful transfer window in this game: Hatem Elhamed is a beast in the Celtic backfield, Boli Bolingoli has gotten his centering passes down (or up, in the case of the one to Odsonne Edouard on Eddy’s header for 1-0 bhoys), and Christopher Jullien will get those headers to go in sooner or later, hopefully sooner moreso than later.

Mohammed Elyounoussi scored in the second half to put the game away for Celtic on Thursday.

But Mohammed Elyounoussi . . . wow. Mo played a hell of a game against Cluj and finally got the ball in the back of the net. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t textbook — in fact it glanced off a Cluj player. But that’s irrelevant, as it’s point scored and game on. Just as Jullien, Elhamed and Bolingoli have all started to click, the Cluj game was Elyounoussi’s coming-out party and hopefully he’ll be contributing to Celtic’s ongoing success.

2. Scott Brown, the enforcer

First things first: From kickoff, Scott Brown was taking no shit, period, full-stop. It was pretty clear that if there was a Cluj face to be in, Broony was in it. Hell, if there was a referee’s face to be in, Broony was in it, too! And more power to him; clearly, opponents are going to try to exploit the players who are — how can we put this tactfully? — a little long in the tooth, and SFA refs being what they are, I adds, with my voice trailing off and my shoulders in shrug mode . . . . Brown showed why he is truly the Captain/Leader/Legend we know him to be.

Something I always think about when Scott Brown comes up in conversation, or while watching him play, is that he was born and raised in Dunfermline. My grandfather, too, was born and raised in Dunfermline, and while my grandfather’s midfielding skills probably left a lot to be desired, a happy demeanor atop a tough personality, that he and Broony share, is not lost on me.

3. Ryan Christie, the machine

To be honest, I hated to see Neil Lennon take Ryan Christie out of Thursday’s game. For all he did, I really wanted to see Christie score. But I certainly understand. Christie has been a force of nature — in a good way — ever since the start of the season, and Thursday was no exception. Check that, Thursday WAS an exception, since Number 17 just did not stop. For me, so far, he’s the player of the year for Celtic if he keeps up this pace. He is definitely going to be a headache for opposing defenses as the season continues, and that can only be good news for us.

4. Hail Hail to the Green Brigade

Muhammad Ali is a hero for the ages; a man who stood on principle despite losing everything when he defied the U.S. government when drafted to fight the war in Vietnam in the 1960s, and gained it all back through his talent in the ring. So when the Green Brigade quoted Ali in their display on Thursday, it almost brought me to tears. Great job and hail hail, Green Brigade — one of the best displays ever.

5. We should all be this kid

This kid — according to YouTube, his name is Joshua Adams — posted highlights from an earlier game, Partick Thistle I think — but he also posted highlights from the Cluj game. And starting with his a capella version of “Celtic Symphony,” he broadcasts nearly 10 minutes of highlights from Thursday’s game. The great thing about the video is we can hear him cheer and sing along during the game. We should all have the same enthusiasm for Celtic as Joshua. Give him a follow on YouTube, too.

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

When Jinky played for San Jose

Jimmy Johnstone’s post-Celtic career included a short cup of coffee with the San Jose Earthquakes of the North American Soccer League.

There would be only a handful of reasons for me to blog outside my usual Tuesday/Thursday/gameday schedule, but this is definitely one of them: Happy Birthday to the Celtic legend of legends, Jimmy Johnstone.

But before you continue here, I would strongly urge you to read this celebration of Jinky’s life on The Celtic Star by Matt Corr before I tell you a tale of our favorite Lisbon Lion and a tiger — I will gladly wait.

Thanks for coming back.

Jinky knew the way to San Jose, but his introduction to the North American Soccer League (NASL) came with a little controversy. According to an Associated Press wire report in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on June 18, 1975: “Jimmy Johnstone, Scotland’s ‘Flying Flea’ of soccer, signed a one-year contract with the San Jose Earthquakes . . . despite protests from two other teams.” So Johnstone was in demand at the time, being wooed by three NASL teams — the Rochester Lancers in New York and the San Antonio Thunder in Texas (incidentally, San Antonio would also have the services of Harry Hood, and we’ll touch on that in an upcoming post in the near future) — but he chose to sign with San Jose.

Much of the San Jose season that year, where they finished fifth in the Pacific Division, was inauspicious, and unfortunately Jinky did not play a factor — as much as anyone can play a factor in a fifth-place finish.

But Jinky did have his admirers. During the San Jose-New York Cosmos game that year, according to Celtic Wiki, lining up for New York was none other than Pele. The Brazilian star reportedly ran the length of the field to shake hands with Jinky and give him a pat on the back. According to the post, this delighted Jimmy and he turned in his best show for the Earthquakes.

And there was that one game — his first as a Quake in 1975 — where the Lisbon Lion met a tiger on the sideline.

The weekend following Johnstone’s signing with San Jose, Jinky played against the Portland Timbers. According to an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel previewing the game, “Bombay, a tiger from Marine World Africa USA, will serve as the security guard for the Portland bench.” (Not only that, the Associated Press had a picture of Jinky with the tiger, however it was unreproduceable from the microfilm).

The “security,” as it turned out, stemmed from a confrontation during the previous Quakes-Timbers game, and if Portland was bringing their tiger, it was only fair that San Jose had its “lion.”

Johnstone’s foray into the NASL, a forerunner to the current Major League Soccer in the U.S., was a common theme in 1970s American soccer. The fledgling league tried to get a foothold in the American sports fans’ consciousness by bringing top, albeit past-their-prime, players to American teams. Jinky was part of the wave that saw stars like Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer and Pele dominate for Cosmos, while other stars like Harry Hood played for San Antonio and Gordon Banks kept goal quite adequately for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, the club I followed growing up in South Florida.

And Jinky clocked in briefly for San Jose.

Decades later, it seems that those trailblazers have left a solid legacy on the American version of the game on these shores. So for that, thank you for your contribution, and happy heavenly birthday, Jinky!

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

Hibs-Celtic: Three takeaways

Sunshine on Leith: The Celtic end of Easter Road during the Hibernian-Celtic game on Saturday.

Normally, I would have five takeaways from Saturday’s game at Easter Road. However, since it was a draw, we’re going to knock out a couple and just end up with three today, on a lackluster performance — with a little help from abysmal officiating (which we will most definitely get to later) –against the other team in green and white, Hibernian.

[An excellent post-game review is always given by the Sandman at the Celtic Noise forum, which of course is the always cleaned up and appears on The Celtic Star here.]

1. So, about the offside rule . . .

OK, so there IS an offside rule, right? And as long as I have been following football — and this goes back to the ’70s to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the North American Soccer League, and then off-and-on during various World Cups until I started following Celtic last year — the offside rule has been a mystery to me. To be honest, the rule seems almost arbitrary, like, oh I don’t know, how it was applied (or actually NOT applied) on the Hibs’ Christian Doidge, who bounced the ball off Kris Ajer and into the net for the home team’s only goal. From my vantage point, thanks to Celtic TV (best $18 a month I have ever spent), the Hibs forward was offside, yet there was no call. Which, of course, was only one small part of a wide range of poor officiating at this game — we’re still waiting for two penalties (at least) — and Kevin Clancy and both linesmen really need to turn in his referee card.

2. Pity goals aren’t 20 feet high

Celtic took several shots which were . . . let’s just say . . . just a bit high. No, let’s correct that. They were astronomical. If this were American football and the ball goes over the crossbar between the posts, that would be 3 points each and Celtic would have won handily. However, it’s not, so we still have a draw. However, a silver lining in this cloud — where you can find some of the Celtic shots, even now — is that the ball movement in the Hibs game was still on the mark. We just couldn’t convert those passes into goals.

3. You’ve been tossed, but you really haven’t . . .

Hibs gaffer Paul Nothingbottom — sorry, Paul Heckingbottom — got tossed from the game, but went up to the stands and stayed in touch with the sideline from the improved vantage point of the stadium. In most American sports, once you’re tossed, you’re stuck in the locker room or out at the local pub and nowhere near the stadium, unless you’re crafty like former New York Mets baseball manager Bobby Valentine, who returned to the dugout wearing a disguise after being ejected. The idea, at least on these shores, is that removing the manager is a sort of punishment, however if the manager is still able to control things, it sort of defeats the purpose.

One more thing: A hat tip to Celtic TV’s Paul Cuddihy, who squeezed in a variety of puns about the Proclaimers at the outset of the Celtic TV broadcast — good humour to wake up to when watching the Celtic game.

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

Oops: Apologies all around

Now I know how Wile E. Coyote feels, especially when one of his Acme products blows up in his face.

Earlier today on this blog, I had posted a reworking on Harry Belafonte’s “The Banana Boat Song,” changing the words to praise the play of Celtic forward Vakoun Issouf Bayo.

However, it was brought to my attention that “banana boat” could have a racial and/or a bigoted subtext in Scotland, the least of which is a saying akin to, “I didn’t just come up the Clyde on a banana boat.”

In addition, as far as bananas are concerned, I was also informed of a significantly shameful incident at Celtic Park during the ’80s where a Rangers player had bananas thrown at him by the home support.

So bananas are kind of out.

My apologies to all for this miscue on my part. Clearly this is a cultural nuance of which I was clearly unaware. Until today, I had no idea that there was racial overtones anywhere on the planet to a Jamaican calypso folk song which, in its most basic element, celebrates workers waiting to go home after a night on the docks. As if this needs saying, it was clearly not my intention to malign anyone or any group of people.

I blame Justin Trudeau, actually.

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

5 takeaways from Wednesday

Spending a hot Wednesday morning trying to stay cool here in Central California was made even more difficult — in the best possibly way, mind you — when Celtic turned up the heat on Wednesday evening in Glasgow, when the Bhoys in Green cruised to a 5-0 win over Partick Thistle at Paradise.

Bayo scored, Tom Rogic scored, Olivier Ntcham scored twice and Scott Sinclair came off the bench to score. In his first league game, Jeremie Frimpong gets the Man of the Match. You can read a recap of the game here (and for the legendary Sandman’s report, the PG version, click here), and you can continue to the next paragraph and beyond for five takeaways from Wednesday’s game, like . . .

1. The Wizard goes the distance

Tom Rogic came into the game on Sunday against Kilmarnock, seeing his first action after a long absence due to injury, and was not a factor. Some (not me) said that he looked lethargic, but all I remember from Sunday was gritting my teeth after he was taken down by a hard tackle late in the game.

Well, the Wizard came back for a full 90-minute shift against Partick Thistle and scored at the 46-minute mark. That’s fantastic news for Celtic supporters everywhere, giving Neal Lennon more options at midfield. Hopefully we see more of Rogic during the course of the season.

2. MOTM is not Olivier Ntcham?

Don’t get me wrong: I love this kid. Jeremie Frimpong had a storybook start to his professional career on Wednesday, starting his first game for Celtic and playing remarkably well. But with Olivier Ntcham scoring twice — the second goal a real scorcher, too — doesn’t he at least deserve honorable mention?

OK, I get it. Olivier Ntcham’s snub for MOTM on Wednesday could very well be his punishment for acting like a jerk earlier this season, when he was looking to play elsewhere. Fine. Lesson learned. Now that this is out of our system, we can only hope that he plays every game from here on in like he did on Wednesdsay, and racks up Man of the Match honors going forward.

3. More Hayes, more Sinclair, more subs

If having an overabundance of choices can create headaches for a gaffer, then someone please hand Neil Lennon this bottle of migraine tablets. With all the talent that Celtic has, it has got to be a chore to pick the right lineups and have them firing on all cylinders in every game, let alone knowing when to pull a player and replace him with another (and Lenny addresses this a bit in his post-game interview).

So thank God we’ve got such remarkable talent on the bench. Although Jonny Hayes started on Wednesday — and a successful argument can be made for starting him more often — he is usually a boost off the bench, as he showed against the Rangers at Ibrox a few weeks ago. Scott Sinclair, who lately has been keeping the pine warm (sorry, a baseball expression), showed his talent of games past after coming into the game on Wednesday, and there’s no reason why he can’t be a weapon off the bench, unless of course he finds his form from seasons past and breaks into the starting 11.

4. How about Bayo and Edouard up front?

Now that we’ve gotten a good look at Bayo on Wednesday, could I be the only one who finds the potential of both Bayo and Odsonne Edouard playing up front, at the same time, a source of sheer ecstacy? I mean, seriously — who in the Scottish Premiership could stop this dynamic duo? Oh, and one more thing . . .

5. It’s not ‘Patrick’ Thistle, you idiot!

Just hand me that pointy hat that says “DUNCE” on it and I’ll go ahead and make my way to that seat in the corner of the classroom. For the last few days, in social media and in correspondence, I have to confess that I have been writing “Patrick Thistle” instead of the club’s actual name, which is Partick Thistle. My apologies to the club, and I’ll do my best Emily Litella impersonation: “Never mind.”

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

Celtic’s California Kid

California bhoy Cameron Harper takes the ball downfield during a recent match in Scotland.

Reading today’s report on Celtic’s 4-2 victory over Morton in the Reserve Cup at Lennoxtown, you see the usual suspects getting accolades: New signing Jonathan Afolabi hits the mark at the 19th minute, Armstrong Oko-Flex successfully coverts a penalty kick at 37 minutes, and Karamoko Dembele comes on in the second half to add to the score late in the game.

What’s buried a few paragraphs down in the report is a goal at the 51-minute mark by winger Cameron Harper, the Sacramento-born, Southern California-raised 17-year-old who wears the Hoops for the Reserves.

According to the Celtic FC report, Harper took a pass from Liam Burt, took a touch, and then drove a shot that went in off the post (you can see the goal on the YouTube highlights starting around 1:48).

Or as it was relayed by the Celtic FC Academy Twitter:

51’ – HARPER!

💥

“Harper is traditional winger who is right-footed but comfortable with his left and doesn’t have a preference for a side of the field,” writes Brian Sciaretta in an article earlier this month in American Soccer Now. “He likes to play out wide, get into 1-on-1 situations against defenders, make runs, cut inside for shots, or stay out wide to hit crosses. Like many in his age-group, he is confident like those in recent cycles.”

Harper played for the celebrated Pateadores Soccer Club in Costa Mesa, California. His play at Pateadores drew the attention of the U-16 team, according to the ASN article.

“It was with the U-16 team at the 2016 IMG Cup where he drew the attention of a Celtic scout who arranged for a trial later in 2017,” the ASN article continues. “Celtic were impressed by Harper on trial and he eventually joined the club.”

While Harper has a bright future ahead as he laces them up for Celtic and the U.S. U-21 team, it makes this Californian proud to see a kid from the Golden State making headway at the club. Harper definitely needs to stay on everyone’s radar going forward.

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

Moritz Bauer’s Two Assists

Moritz Bauer, right, was not finished on Sunday merely feeding Odsonne Edouard a pass for Eddy to score early in the 2nd half — Bauer also assisted in the Man of the Match interview by translating for Edouard as well. (Screenshot via Celtic TV)

Celtic took to Paradise on a beautiful Sunday yesterday afternoon and, after an inauspicious start that saw (among other things) James Forrest display a unique talent for hitting goalposts during a barrage of shots by Celtic which were near misses in the first half, the Bhoys in Green came away with a 3-1 win over Kilmarnock.

A game report is here. A better analysis, given on The Celtic Noise by the celebrated Sandman is here (warning: strong language). You’re welcome to go ahead and read them. I’ll wait.

Odsonne Edouard, who everyone wants to be, had two of the goals, and Ryan Christie put in the third for Celtic. But the top highlight of the game for me was the pass from Moritz Bauer to Edouard for the 2nd goal. On that particular play, the ball movement — 14 passes starting from deep in the Celtic half to Moritz finding a running Edouard and feeding him perfectly before Eddy popped the ball past Branescu, keeping goal for Killie — was simply phenomenal.

That was Moritz’s first assist of the day.

The second came when Eddy was giving Man of the Match honors, and Bauer translated a question to French for Eddy, translating back to the interviewer Eddy’s response. This kind of talent on and off the field makes Bauer a great find for the club.

Nevertheless, it’s on to the next game, a Betfred Cup match against Patrick Thistle on Wednesday. Oh, and a few more things of note . . .

Give the Scottish Sun a red card: Got to hand it to Scottish Sun Sports for lowering the journalistic discourse of Scottish news — I am told that is not really possible, but I digress — by this idiotic tweet regarding Fergus McCann’s appearance at halftime at Paradise yesterday. Had someone actually checked the history books — or even took a quick look at Wikipedia — they would have known that Celtic had already won nine in a row once before, between 1965 and 1974. But that would require, oh I don’t know, fact-checking, which I seem to recall is a staple of journalism everywhere. Except maybe at the Sun in Scotland.

Speaking of Patrick Thistle: According to our friends at The Celtic Star, former Ranger Ian McCall will be named as Partick Thistle manager today, which is unfortunate timing for him, as Patrick Thistle’s next game is the Betfred Cup match on Wednesday against, well, us. Apparently, McCall opined recently on the air that both Alfredo Morelos and Jermain Defoe are better strikers than Odsonne Edouard. As I wait for the laughter to die down, I’d like to remind Mr. McCall that this kind of talk usually ends up on the bulletin board of the opposing team and serves only as inspiration for Celtic to run up the score, as I hope they will, on Wednesday.

Lost in translation: Meanwhile in Hamburg, FC St. Pauli “praised” their Japanese winger Ryo Miyachi on social media with the line, “Ryo, Du Rakete!” Which, as you might assume, translates into English as “Ryo, you rocket!” The reason that the club is praising Miyachi is that this Boy in Brown has been deemed the fastest player in Bundesliga 2, which is no small feat. However, as I understand it, being called a rocket in Glasgow is not the most flattering of terms. But as the car ads say, your mileage may vary.

Busy day in the blogging week this week, another one tomorrow and a game on Wednesday, followed by a scheduled Thursday post. And the beat goes on. Hail Hail everyone.

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

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]