We have said it all along: We wanted to play out the season. With Glasgow’s other club self-destructing in a manner that makes the Hindenburg look like a minor traffic accident, it would have been great to see the Hoops finish 20 or more points ahead of the second place team.
In all probability, that would have been Motherwell.
Yet, alas, we are left with this: Our ninth championship in a row in a truncated season; a season where Celtic won 26 out of the 30 games it played. A season where the Hoops scored 89 goals to opponents’ 19. A gap of 13 points at the top of the table, with Glasgow’s other club finishing the season behind us, with the eternally ironic point total of 67.
That’ll have to do for now, in these very odd times. And it is a victory to be celebrated, cherished, and savoured like the other eight before it as we set our sights to 10.
On this day when we also celebrate the birth of Brother Walfrid, the celebration is doubly important. Celebrate reasonably, and strap in for the 10.
Truth in advertising: What you’re about to read is not so much a review of Matt Corr’s book, “Invincible,” the first book in a trilogy on the history of each of the Treble Treble seasons, but rather an observation that provides a peek behind the curtain of this outstanding literary project.
The Celtic Star’s editor David Faulds hired me, a retired newspaper editor, to proofread Matt’s book. So in other words, I was one of the lucky few who had a head start in reading it.
A little perspective: Currently I occasionally do freelance work editing and proofreading technical documentation — both hardware and software manuals — and, as you might imagine, the prose in these manuals and documentation are not exactly page-turners, by anyone’s definition.
So, to work on a book on a topic close to my heart — namely, Celtic — was a godsend. But this project was more: To work on this book was an honour and a privilege unrivaled in an editing career that has spanned four decades, simply by virtue of the fact that the material I had to work with was so clear, so precise, and so outstanding.
I was not a Celtic FC fan during the 2016/17 season. I was not even a football fan then (the story about how I started following football in general, and Celtic in particular, has been told elsewhere). I mention this because in “Invincible,” Corr literally puts you in the seat next to him for each of the games he describes in that glorious season.
No small feat, and it’s a testament to Matt’s uniquely detailed writing style, which constantly keeps your interest and focus on the moment on every page and on every game leading to the ultimate victory of the first Treble Treble.
Matt is no stranger to the Celtic faithful. His dispatches from European venues on the road with the Hoops, as well as other historical articles in The Celtic Star and writing game programme articles for home-game matches, has entertained and educated Celtic fans over the years. A man of many hats, he is also a tourguide at Celtic Park.
Suffice to say that Celtic is in Matt’s DNA, and the material he presents in his first book is easily relatable to all Celtic fans worldwide. In these pages, you are there with him in that first historic season. To that end, all Celtic fans own a piece of the history that is outlined in this book, making us all “Invincible.”
Now to sharpen my No. 2 pencil and wait for the next two books . . .
To buy a copy of “Invincible,” visit The Celtic Star bookstore here. The book is £19.99 plus postage, and it makes the perfect Father’s Day gift, assuming your father is a Celtic fan (and even if he isn’t, this will probably make him one).
First things first (and spoiler alert): I am going off script for a moment, and writing about something that does not directly have to do with Celtic. Though in the recent hubbub and statement maelstrom that has marked Scottish football over the last couple of weeks, this may be a welcome respite.
In addition, while this is not directly Celtic-related, I hope that it resonates with the Hoops and with its fans as much, if not more, than it did with me. I think that Brother Walfrid would look down on this club from his heavenly perch and nod in approval.
“This club” is Nairn County FC, which ended up in 8th in the Highland League when play stopped for Coronavirus. With no prospect of restarting play any time soon, the club has focused its attention on the community, as outlined in its club statement on its Web page.
It starts: “Bill Shankly once said that football is not a matter of life and death, it is more important than that. Mr Shankly was wrong. It is a trying time for the Club, the town and the Country as a whole. In this regard we are aware we have not just football but also wider responsibilities.”
Statement author, NCFC Secretary Ian Finlayson, continues with talking about how the season ended and how resumption of the games is not likely for the foreseeable future, before revealing that the club’s board has “budgeted over these years to make allowance for tougher times, placing at the sage guidance of our Treasurer, some monies from transfers, sponsors and other income away to safeguard our future.
“The Rainy Days have come and we are ready for them. We can confirm today that wages will continue to be paid in full to all our players and staff and that we will continue to meet our due bills and costs.”
Hmm. A club with a good financial footing and sound financial practices. Sounds like one of Glasgow’s Premier League clubs . . .
But wait, there’s more.
“Now to our wider responsibilities. When we were in financial trouble several years ago, we asked the community for help and the community responded. We remember this and now it is our turn to repay this debt.”
This “debt repayment” by NCFC appears to be twofold: It involves deals with sponsors and local businesses so they are not left short in the wake of the current crisis, and using their social media channels for “advertising our local business sponsors and encouraging people to shop local and to consider making future bookings and buying vouchers now for local Hotels, hostelries, pubs and restaurants and all others to get some much needed cashflow into local business.”
And to the fans?
“With regards to our fans and the community as a whole. Well, we are not playing football for the foreseeable future, so if we can help on a Saturday with anyone in self isolation, be it picking up your shopping, getting your prescription to you or even just walking the dog, drop us a message or give us a call and we will sort something out for you.
“Nobody knows how long this virus will be with us, it could be a long haul, but we want you to know that your Club is with you. You have supported us, now its our turn to do the same for you.”
You have supported us, now it’s our turn to do the same for you.
Every club should have this attitude regarding its fans, and every club should realize its importance in the communities they serve by following NCFC’s lead in this regard.
Many have — Celtic certainly has with donations to the wider community at several levels during the crisis — but some haven’t.
So bravo to the maize and black of The Wee County, and know you’ve earned yourself a new fan 5,000 miles away.
So, I don’t know how you all are weathering the Coronavirus situation — first and foremost, I hope you’re all well and safe — but being without football has been driving me into an advanced state of insanity masked by cabin fever.
The only way I have figured out how to cope with this is by watching, and re-watching, and re-re-watching this season’s Celtic games, thanks to Celtic TV.
On this note, Celtic TV has been the best $28 per month I have ever spent. I can watch (and re-watch) all the games I want this season, and there are a lot of feature shows that they also throw in (like this interview with fellow Californian Cameron Harper here). So again, they don’t pay me to pitch it, but I am Celtic TV’s biggest fan.
In watching the season again so far, where we’re 13 points up in first place and 25 or so ahead in the goal difference, and while ignoring the tsunami of statements from Glasgow’s other club as the sun sets on them, I have a few observations about this season that bear mentioning. Like . . .
Celtic’s Mr. Indispensable
I know what you’re thinking: Mr. Indispensable? Got to be Broony. No, maybe it’s Odsonne Edouard. Wait, it’s Fraser Forster, definitely.
Nope, though all of those players are vital parts that make the Celtic machine hum in all gears. But the player we really can’t do without is Callum McGregor. While The Celtic Noise’s Sandman, in his game ratings, has likened him to a metronome (and I assume he means that in a good way), CalMac has been nothing short of perfect in the midfield this season, providing an outlet to those who have been shut down on the wing, and distributing the ball with aplomb. He also is not shy about taking a shot when he sees fit.
This epiphany regarding CalMac came at the end of the Lazio game in Rome. If you watch the replay of Olivier Ntcham’s Rome-conquering goal, BT Sports (sorry, Celtic TV) shows a wide-angle view of the field after Edouard intercepted the errant pass and started downfield. You can see in the background both Scott Brown and Callum McGregor advancing, but who is sprinting forward, essentially catching up to Odsonne before he passes to Ntcham? Sprinting after 94 minutes of game time?
Callum McGregor, head still in the game, still ready to contribute.
It’s that kind of never-say-die play that makes CalMac indispensable, game after game, season after season. If anything, it boosts his chances on being Player of the Year again this year, if the votes go his way.
Speaking of the POTY vote . . .
You still have a chance to vote for the Triple Crown of Celtic greatness in the Player of the Year Awards, which is broken down into three categories: Player of the Year, Goal of the Year, and Young Player of the Year.
How did I vote? Glad you asked.
Player of the Year: Despite singing Callum McGregor’s praises a few paragraphs ago, I opted for Odsonne Edouard for Player of the Year. French Eddy rises head and shoulders above all other strikers in Scotland, not to mention many in Europe as his exploits in the U21 for France has shown. Hands down, Player of the Year for the Hoops. Also completely worthy of your vote: McGregor, Ryan Christie, Fraser Forster, Leigh Griffiths.
Goal of the Year: There are a lot of options here, and with a team as great as Celtic, there are a lot of fantastic goals to choose from. But you have to go with Olivier Ntcham’s goal at Nazio — sorry, Lazio — to win the game in Rome. For historical value, this goal is light-years ahead of the rest. But if you must vote for another, Griffith’s goal against St. Mirren, Edouard’s goal against Rangers, or Ntcham’s goal against Partick Thistle from about 10 miles out — OK, it was “only” about 35 yards — are also worthy. Actually ALL of the nominated goals are worthy, so it’s your choice.
Young Player of the Year: Oh my days! There’s no other choice here but to vote for Jeremie Frimpong. Funny thing: Tom Boyd was talking in a post-game show in October — it was either after the St. Mirren or the Aberdeen game — where he made comparisons between Frimpong and Jimmy Johnstone, and I thought, “Hmm, where have I heard that before?” I honestly hope the lad recovers from the mugging against Kilmarnock and enjoys a successful career, mostly with Celtic.
Dear Simon Donnelly . . .
Twice during the season at the outset of Celtic TV broadcasts of games with noon start times, Simon Donnelly (I think, though it could have been Paul Cuddihy, too) gave a shout-out to the Los Angeles CSC for waking up at Oh-My-God-Thirty in the morning to watch Celtic.
While that’s fine and it’s great that we West Coasters get recognized for making the herculean effort of dragging out butts out of bed at around 3:30 a.m. to watch a noon kickoff in Scotland at 4 a.m. Pacific Time — and to be honest, it’s the least we can do to watch a club like no other — fair play dictates that the bhoys and ghirls at the San Francisco CSC (of which I am one) deserve a shout-out as well, all of us watching on the big screen TV at an Irish pub called Fiddler’s Green in suburban Millbrae, California.
So how about it, Celtic TV in the booth? When this all gets sorted out and we’re back on track, the folks gathering for every Celtic game at Fiddler’s Green could use a hat tip.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to watch the Celtic-Livi game from November 23rd.
Fun fact: “The Sound of Music” was the first movie I went to see with my family when I was a kid. A minor qualification, though: Really, the first movie I ever saw was the night before in a Friday night outing with my Dad and my friends from the neighbourhood to the drive-in, where we saw a forgettable stock-car racing movie called “Red Line 7000” with James Caan.
Anyway, “The Sound of Music” ended up producing a boatload of cultural references over time and, in the Internet age, a raft of memes that range from sublime to hilarious.
“Red Line 7000,” not so much.
As such, of all the songs in “The Sound of Music,” the song “My Favourite Things” has probably been parodied most throughout the 55-year history of the film.
Permit me to add another. Sing along if you know the tune.
My favourite things
Ntcham and Jozo and Rogic and Boli, Griff blasts a shot that slips right past their goalie, Jeremie Frimpong flies quick up the wing, These are a few of my favourite things.
Killie in Glasgow, French Eddy puts two in, Oh, and hey look, Tom, “Whit’s the goalie daein’?” Taylor to CalMac, the Green Brigade sings, These are a few of my favourite things.
Broony at Rugby Park, Moi Elyounoussi, Bitton upfield with a shot like an Uzi, Forrest and Christie, two midfielding kings, These are a few of my favourite things.
Loss to Cluj, and draw at Livi, When I’m feeling sad, I simply remember The Wall is in goal, And then I don’t feel so bad.
Celtic historian. European away trip veteran and travelogue writer.
Celtic Park tour guide and match programme contributor. Marathon man.
A man of multiple talents and one of Celtic’s “go-to guys” for institutional knowledge, Matt Corr wears many hats for the Hoops. The Celtic faithful have regaled in Matt’s reports from away games in Europe over the last couple of seasons – as well as his Celtic Star articles about past games and other historical characters and events. Not to mention that he ran the New York City and Tokyo Marathons last season on behalf of the Celtic Foundation, with another notable fundraiser scheduled for later this year. Watch this space.
I caught up with Matt between the globetrotting, the Celtic Park tours, his book-writing, and his marathon training for this interview, appearing both here in this blog and in The Celtic Star.
Q: First, Matt, thank you for taking time to talk with us. For a man who seems to have lived a life in green-and-white, can you take us back to the beginning – how did you become a Celtic supporter and, over the years, how did you come to be a Celtic historian?
A: Hi, Larry. Thanks for inviting me along. I guess like many supporters, Celtic was “given” to me by my dad. He was a lifelong supporter, heavily involved in the Celtic Supporters’ Association — running buses to the games, establishing and running the social club in our area — from being a young man until long after he retired. He was the full package. Once I was old enough to go along with him and my elder brother, the autumn of 1965, that was me hooked. With a brief break in the mid-’70s, when I played on a Saturday afternoon for St Roch’s Boy’s Guild in the Garngad — Jimmy McGrory’s old team — Celtic has been my thing. Dad and I attended games all over the UK and Europe together, even into the new millennium, by which time my own kids were coming along. That “rite of passage” is one of many things which makes Celtic just that little bit more special. The “fairytale club,” as Billy McNeill once said. You don’t really “choose” to support them. It’s in your DNA, if that makes any sense. When I mention that on a stadium tour there is a room full of “nodding heads,” so I don’t think it’s just me!
terms of the history aspect, that’s perhaps a bit more difficult to
be specific about. It just sort of happened, I guess. Dad had started
buying the match programmes from the early ‘60s and the Celtic
Views from its launch in 1965, so that became a ritual and we built
up quite a collection over the years. That would pretty much be my
core reading material sorted as a youngster and we continued doing
that up until I was working, and even beyond that. As a kid, I would
absorb anything I could get my hands on regarding not just Celtic but
football in general, old books of my brother’s, newspapers, library
books etc. I became a bit of a sponge. A football geek perhaps. By my
early 20s, I was
competing in the annual Radio Clyde “Kick-off” quiz programmes,
both individually and as part of the Celtic team, and on one
occasion, we represented the club in the national Rothman’s quiz
finals, winning the Scottish heat but losing to Leeds United at
Elland Road in the semi-final. Good times those.
Q: As one of the most prolific writers on all things Celtic – on club history and the travelogues on the European away games – I would assume that, like me, Celtic fans who cannot make those games revel in the reports from places like Cluj or Rome. To your credit, the reports seem to be, in equal parts, half travelogue and half game reports. Can you take us through how you came up with the idea of hitting the road with the Hoops and some of the ups and downs of following the Bhoys abroad?
A: That all started in Athens. I had only been writing for The Celtic Star for a few months. Just small pieces initially, a title win article here, an anniversary there. That kind of thing. The tie with AEK was the first time I had traveled abroad myself, following my retirement. Kids and pals were working but I wanted to go. Rather than the usual day or overnight trip, I decided to turn it into a short holiday break, allowing me to see the city a bit differently, and take in the other stadia if possible. Suit myself. I was a bit nervous about doing that but decided to give it a go. The diary idea just sort of came into my head. I thought it would be a good record, if nothing else, and it might be a bit of fun to do. People might find it interesting. Idea was to present a different perspective on the match — or maybe that should be event — insofar as what the supporters were doing or feeling. How we mixed. What the place and the locals were like. Bring those aspects to life if you will. The actual game itself is covered by the regular and club media, so I don’t tend to focus so much on that, other than the key highlights. It’s more about our story, who we are and how we manage the challenges and enjoy the places and the people we meet abroad, the laughs, the songs and the tears, all in the course of following the team we love.
terms of those highs and lows, for me the result is king, so a defeat
is always horrible. It doesn’t get any better as you get older.
Particularly, when you lose it at the death, as seemed to happen to
us constantly at one time. We were seconds away from a memorable
point in the Camp Nou in 2012, for example, albeit we beat them a
fortnight later. The clock opposite us stayed on “90” forever.
That was a sore one. And the delays can be a killer, particularly
coming home following a defeat on a long day trip. That’s the
‘never again’ moment. But the highs make it worth it.
Particularly if you can share those with your kids. Experiences you
can’t buy or describe. Triumphs like Amsterdam and, more recently,
Rome. There is no feeling quite like celebrating an away victory in
Europe with your kids. Magical.
Q: Let’s put you on the spot here: In following the Bhoys on the road, is there any place that you particularly liked? Particularly disliked?
A: Not too many places I particularly disliked spring to mind. If pushed, I’d probably go for Kiev, although that’s partly down to timing. We went there with Celtic in November 1986, around six months after Chernobyl. It was still part of the Soviet Union at that time, pre-Glasnost. That was a surreal trip, from rolling up to Desmond White’s old office in Bath Street to pay for a visa, getting on a flight with the players, to the Aeroflot stewardess wearing her “Woodhill against the Brits” lapel badge. Celtic fans will always find a humourous angle, even in the most trying of circumstances. We’re chanting “Here we glow” as we left the plane. And “Ooh, ah, up the Czar!” The people were nice enough but the place itself had nothing. You couldn’t buy a gift to take home. The hotel was giving change out in chewing gum and ran out of beer within about an hour. We ended up gatecrashing a wedding, just to get a drink. The poor bride was dancing with guys wearing Celtic scarves, whilst her new husband was wondering what he had done wrong in a previous life. There were guys following you in the street trying to buy your jeans, the ones you were wearing at that time. We were followed constantly for three days. Bonkers.
negative experiences were more to do with the people than the place.
My first continental trip was to the old Stadio Comunale in Turin,
back in 1981. We were basically under siege from arrival in the early
hours of the Tuesday until our departure from the railway station
late on the Thursday night. Fans were getting stabbed, assaulted,
robbed. That was a scary introduction, albeit the atmosphere in the
stadium was incredible. Our pub was attacked in Blackburn, although
that remains one of the best nights ever. And I’ve seen both sides
of Amsterdam. Our first trip there was a blast, with over 8,000 of us
celebrating a famous win but the trouble in the main square the last
time ruined that visit for me.
the plus side, we’ve been to some wonderful places. In terms of
scenic beauty, Salzburg was stunning. I suspect Seville was too, we
just couldn’t see any of it under a blanket of Celtic supporters.
And St Petersburg, although it was minus 12 there. Barcelona has
everything and Lyon and Paris are wonderful cities. I love Italy with
a passion but whilst we’ve had some great trips there, we’ve
tended to play in the industrial cities, like Turin and Milan, until
this season, when the background to the Lazio clash and the threat of
hassle pushed me towards doing the day trip with my daughter. We’d
been to Rome together previously and for me it’s up there with
Florence, Venice and Siena as amongst the most beautiful places on
the planet to take in.
terms of sheer enjoyment, my favourite trips with Celtic would
probably involve Germany. I’m not really sure why, they just seem
to to work brilliantly. The fans love their football, the beer is to
die for and the atmosphere in the grounds is superb. Stuttgart was
very special on the Road to Seville, as my dad and elder son were
there — so three Matt Corrs — as was my older sister. Dad was
terminally ill and we knew it would be his last trip. And there was a
huge Celtic support in the ground as we qualified on the night,
although, me being me, I still complain to this day that we blew a
great chance to get a win in Germany. And I loved Munich a few years
back, the party in Marienplatz. That’s another stunning city.
are a huge part of that enjoyment. The Stade Rennais fans were superb
last autumn. That was a real carnival atmosphere in a very historic
“Celtic” city, full of colour, friendship and fun. And staying on
that theme, perhaps the friendliest supporters, and people generally,
I’ve come across in recent years were the Bosnians of Sarajevo.
That was also the saddest, moving yet most inspiring trip I’ve ever
done with Celtic, or at all actually, and by some distance.
But if I could only visit one place again, it would be Lisbon. Standing on the marble lip of the Estadio Nacional, being photographed with one of my sons with the European Cup, on the very spot where Cesar lifted the cup in 1967, and where my dad, uncle and thousands of Celtic fans who had endured the countless trophyless years were witnessing history, well, it just doesn’t get any better than that.
Q: One article that has always stuck with me – and I linked to it in my blog at the time you wrote it – was the testimonial last year on Jimmy Johnstone’s birthday highlighting his life; in my opinion, it was one of the best pieces I have read. The history of the club is there, obviously, but from a writing standpoint, how do you pick the most unique or interesting highlights of Celtic history or Celtic lore to write about?
A: I’m not sure how best to answer that, Larry, to be honest. It’s not always planned in advance by any means. A lot of it is just instinct. And timing. For example, my first Celtic Star article was published back in April 2018. I had retired recently and was enjoying reading the various pieces in there when I saw the invitation for other writers to get involved by submitting their own. That’s what I wanted to do. Let’s give it a go. We had a chance to clinch the title at Easter Road that weekend, so I decided to write about the first time I had witnessed that there, April 1977. It was just a short “coming of age” story with a bit of self-deprecating humour. The Star editor, David Faulds, sent a “keep them coming” message back and that was that. It’s his fault! By the way, we lost that weekend to Hibs, so I haven’t submitted anything which might tempt fate similarly since then, in case I jinxed us! My next pieces followed up on that double-winning season. They were more detailed and were quite well-received. That gave me the confidence to keep going and try different things. Like the verse dedicated to the Lisbon Lions, “the men who put the star above our crest,” published the next month for the anniversary. Then a photograph I saw on Twitter gave me the inspiration for the John Thomson piece, “a familiar face was missing.” It was an incredible image, which I had never seen before. So I checked out the background. We all know about the tragedy and the immediate aftermath. But not so much about what happened next.
terms of the Jinky story, I would say that came from my work on the
tours. Jimmy is a big part of my tour. He is a unique character,
genius of a player but with the same strengths and flaws which many
of us in the west of Scotland identify with. We love a laugh and a
drink, usually together. So did he, and he did it whilst playing in
the best Scottish football team of all time. And under Jock Stein, a
noted teetotaller and strict disciplinarian. It’s a movie script
waiting to happen. Some of the best Jinky stories involved flying and
sailing, Red Star Belgrade and Largs, so I had my strapline. And his
75th birthday was approaching. So all the stars aligned,
if you like. I loved doing that piece. He brought — and still brings
— a smile to so many Celtic faces, albeit there was a real sadness
in the way his life ended.
Celtic story tells itself. It’s a treasure trove for writers. I
look for something a wee bit different, which perhaps hasn’t been
covered before in that way, or for some time. The two recent
photographs of the autographs from the ‘30s are a classic case in
point. Introduced to me out of the blue. I thought I would produce a
couple of articles, which would be interesting content for the Star
and would make a couple of my pals happy. Something for them to keep.
A win/win. And then when I started digging, the stuff I found was
incredible. I had stopped doing these kind of detailed pieces of work
to focus on the book, however, like Al Pacino in Godfather 3, “just
when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.”
the way, I am currently working on part 7 of that two-part article!
Q: Further on the writing end of things, I understand that you have a trio of books in the works on the Treble Treble coming out soon, one for each season in the trilogy. Is this something you can expand on a little and, if so, what can we expect?
A: Absolutely. Each book will be a step-by-step walk through that season, looking at and listening to the key people involved, the context, and drawing on my own personal memories, experiences and observations from childhood all the way through to the present. Facts on their own can be a bit cold, so there is humour and sadness thrown in there throughgout, as with most of the Celtic-related stories I do. I genuinely believe that it will only be later, perhaps much later, that these incredible achievements – Invincible, Back-to-back Trebles then the holy grail of the Treble Treble – will be truly appreciated. That was the case in Lisbon and probably for the 7-1 game, the Exhibition Cup, Coronation Cup etc. I know I look back on the Martin O’Neill era and think I didn’t realise just how good that side was at the time, daft as that may sound. The current era will be the same and I’m trying to capture that now, so that we have that definitive record as a legacy, for us to enjoy and for the next generation to understand.
Q: I understand that the first book – “Invincible” – is nearly complete, covering the 2016/17 season and the first treble of the Treble Treble. The Celtic Star has excerpted a chapter already online. The attention to detail in this chapter is astounding, so my hat is off to you there. So my question mainly deals with your writing process for these projects: Is it photographic memory, taking a huge amount of copious notes? How do you gather the information for your writing?
A: I’ve actually completed that first book now, which feels brilliant. It’s been a year in the making and has pretty much taken over my life. I’m not a huge note-taker, although sometimes needs must. My normal approach is to develop the outline structure I want then build the storyline up around that, with deadlines I want or need to meet. It’s my work now, it’s not a hobby. Old Project Managers don’t die, they just write Celtic books! Once I’ve decided on the subject and range of a particular chapter, then I’ll braindump directly on to the page from memory. Then I’ll research the people and the specific games involved in much more detail, watch the video again, read the match report. Then I get to work. Once I’ve written the chapter, I’ll go back over it again to amend, add or delete as appropriate. And only once I’m happy with it, will I submit it to my editor for review. It will then go through a further proof-reading process, before coming back to me for final comment. The editorial and design guys will then bring the manuscript to life, so it’s very much a team effort.
Q: I am going to name names here and ask you to briefly touch on their significance in the history of Celtic. We talked about Jinky Johnstone earlier, so let’s start with Billy McNeill.
A: Billy? Mr. Celtic to me growing up. Everything a Celt should be. Dignified, ambassadorial and classy. A true leader and serial winner. And his ability as a player sometimes gets lost within all the “captain stuff,” if that makes sense. Not too many centre-halves have scored in three separate national cup finals, far less in the world club final. I loved it that he witnessed his statue going up but it was distressing to watch him fight through that dreadful illness. Wonderful man, much missed.
Q: Jock Stein.
A: The greatest. Big Jock manager of Celtic. In my opinion, Jock turned Celtic from a Scottish football club with a proud history into a global institution, the best team in Europe if not the world at one point and a major European force for the best part of a decade. Despite his domestic dominance, I always feel that one European Cup is scant reward for what he achieved at Celtic Park. Other regrets for me? Milan 1970 and his final season and subsequent departure from the club. He should probably have moved on after winning the double in 1977, or moved upstairs to a proper role to allow Billy to pick up the team.
Q: James McGrory.
A: Ah. James Edward McGrory. The finest goalscorer in top-flight football in these islands bar none. Records broken everywhere. I had the pleasure of meeting him as a kid, in the old Celtic Supporters Association hall in Kinloch St, where he was signing autographs of his book, still one of my most treasured possessions. I’d love to see a statue at Celtic Park for Jimmy, that pose where he is horizontal in the act of scoring against Aberdeen. The Human Torpedo. We went to the same school and played for the same Boy’s Guild team, St Roch’s in the Garngad, albeit Jimmy scored edged me in the goal-scoring stakes…by about 546.
Q: Henrik Larsson.
A: From one goal-scoring legend to another, Larry. You’re on fire here. I’m often asked who my favourite Celt of all time is and the answer is Henrik. A fabulous player, a team player, he could do anything against anyone. And he was a role model off the park. No nonsense. Henrik was surrounded by great players in the Martin O’Neill era but he was undoubtedly the key man in the best Celtic side I witnessed as an adult. If ever a man deserved a European winners medal it was Henrik in Seville in 2003. He was sublime that night. Dragging us back into the game twice. Wonderful player. World-class.
Q: Kenny Dalglish.
A: I remember Kenny playing at right-half against Raith Rovers at Celtic Park in the late ’60s. His surname was misspelt to include an “e” for some reason. Always sticks in my mind. Then I saw him break through as a striker by scoring seven goals in two games in 1971. He just never looked back after that. I was broken-hearted when Kenny left in 1977 and, if I’m being honest, I really grudged him his success at Liverpool, as I wanted him to be scoring European Cup-winning goals at Wembley in the Hoops. Looking back, I think we both knew that wasn’t going to happen. He was probably just too late in breaking through at Parkhead, as by then the Lions had peaked and the great new hopes like Kenny, Danny McGrain, Lou Macari, David Hay and George Connelly didn’t stay together long enough after the penalty defeat by Inter in the 1972 semi-final. That was probably our best chance of recovering from the horror of Milan 1970 to secure a second “Big Cup,” albeit Ajax were a tremendous team at that time. I know we reached the semi-final again two years later and were treated abysmally in those two Atletico Madrid ties, however, I felt the 1972 team was perhaps Jock’s last great side. Kenny and Dixie Deans were a fantastic strike force around 1972/73, only bettered for me by Larsson and Sutton. In later years, I thought he showed tremendous courage and dignity in the aftermath of Hillsborough.
Q: Paul McStay.
A: What a player the Maestro was. Saw his debut against Queen of the South and wasn’t immediately aware of what all the hype had been about but within a week he blew that away, with a wonderful goal at Pittodrie, at that time one of the toughest venues in Europe to go to. Pivotal in Billy’s two great sides of the early ’80s then our centenary, it was a crying shame that he was left to carry that team with John Collins for the first half of the ’90s. He deserved to be playing alongside the best. Gave Celtic his best years before that ankle injury finished his career, just before we took off again. It would have been wonderful to have seen Paul and Henrik play in the same side. Tremendous player. True Celt.
Q: Steve Chalmers.
A: Stevie, God rest him. Another local guy who used to act as Santa at our Celtic supporters’ Christmas parties back in St Aloysius’ in Springburn. So I always had a soft spot for him. Born in the Garngad but lived in Springburn, just up the hill from where we did, so he was a local celebrity. I love it that Stevie scored the winning goal at Lisbon. I’m pretty sure his sons were at primary school with me at that time. Meant we could all dream. Another Celt with a wonderful scoring record and a lovely man.
Q: Willie Maley.
A: With over 50 years service, it’s puzzling why there is no permanent memorial to Willie Maley at Celtic Park. Hopefully, that’s something which will be addressed in time. I’m actually reading his book at the moment and it is wonderful stuff. Like listening to the man himself speak. One of THE key men who shaped the history and direction of the club, like Brother Walfrid, James Kelly, Jimmy McGrory, Jock Stein and Fergus McCann. Celtic was his life and his passion. An inspirational figure for me. And I love the song written in his name. sums up everything about Celtic for me, that does. A fitting tribute.
Q: Bobby Murdoch.
A: When you are described as the best player — the world-class player — in the Lisbon Lions, by people who know their football, then you must have been pretty special. Although I watched Bobby play for six or seven years, I was probably too young to appreciate just how good he was. I think I started to realise that when I saw and heard the impact he made on joining Middlesbrough in the mid-’70s, where folk like Jack Charlton, Terry Cooper and Graeme Souness were singing his praises. Jock pushed him back from his attacking role on the right to midfield, on his arrival in 1965, where Bobby formed the engine room at Parkhead with the shy, retiring Bertie Auld. The beating heart of the team. Tough and extremely talented, a powerful combination in every sense. Struggled with health issues and passed away a very young man, in his early 50s, the first of the Lions to do so. God bless you, Bobby.
Q: Bertie Auld.
A: Where do you start? Still entertaining us in his 80s. My son treated me to hospitality at Celtic Park a couple of years ago. We’re having a couple of pints and taking it all in when Bertie walks into the lounge, walking through the throng, having a chat. Celtic royalty. We’re debating who is going to approach him like a couple of big kids when he strides over to us. “Can I have a photo, boys?” Unreal. They broke the mould with Bertie. Story goes that Jock arranged for him to be transferred back to the club from Birmingham once he knew he was taking over at Parkhead. Could be something in that. He scored five goals at Broomfield in Jock’s first match then a double in the cup final the next month as we fought back twice to win the trophy, a first in over seven years and the catalyst for everything that was to follow. Bertie’s 1965 double tends to get disregarded, with the focus being on Cesar’s winner. And I love the singsong in the tunnel in Lisbon. Classic Bertie. I tell the story on the tours with the rider that I believe the European Cup was won in that moment. The Italians probably thought they were playing a pub team. Then they got the beating of their lives. The statistics are staggering. Finished Inter as a force in world football, and defensive football in general for a while. And a “gallus” wee guy from Panmure St in Maryhill was key to that, in my opinion.
Q: Charlie Tully.
A: Charles Patrick Tully. Piling on the agony, putting on the style. I would have loved to have seen him play. My dad was at Brockville the day he scored directly from a corner-kick before being told to take it again. Which he promptly did, and he scored again. Unreal. There’s the fairytale kicking in again. Who else could have done that? I saw a clip recently of him doing the same thing for Ireland against England, so it definitely wasn’t a fluke. The Tully stories are legendary. “Who’s that guy next to Charlie on the balcony at the Vatican?” You get the idea? He was born to play for Celtic.
Q: And last, a free-kick curveball, Shunsuke Nakamura.
A: The Japanese Bhoy. Genius of a footballer. I fell in love with him, so to speak, on his debut. I’ve never seen anyone with such technique and grace. An incredible talent, who I wish we had retained much longer. His free-kick against Manchester United at Parkhead is the best Celtic goal I have ever seen. Sheer perfection, and it had to be. One chance. One spot to hit. Pressure on, big-time. And he delivered. I will never tire of watching that, or the many other fabulous goals he scored. My kids still wind me up as I used to celebrate some of his touches or passes like goals. He should have been a world star in my opinion. Could have played at any level yet his best days were in Scotland. Strange.
Q: Who have I missed who deserves to be in the pantheon of Celtic greats?
A: Danny McGrain is the one who springs immediately to mind. The best full-back in the world for me at his peak and another who gave everything for Celtic. He was indestructible. I was at Brockville the day he fractured his skull, then there was the diagnosis of diabetes on return from the Germany World Cup of 1974, then a dreadful ankle injury which forced him out of the game for 18 months or so, the key factor for me for that horrific last season under Jock. He then returned to inspire the “Ten men won the league” title win and was the creative force behind the best Celtic team goal I ever saw, the one at Love St in 1986, when Danny would be 36-years-young. A wonderful player and a humble man, as I have witnessed first hand since I started working at the club.
at the other end of the history spectrum, James Kelly. For me, Kelly
was Celtic’s first superstar. I’m not sure folk really appreciate
how vital his signing was to the club back in 1888. That was a huge
statement of intent from the new club, as he was far and away the
best player of his day, part of that wonderful Renton side who were
the best in the world at that time. The signature of Kelly attracted
others to join and, within one season, “The Irishmen” were in the
Scottish Cup Final, challenging the established order, Queen’s
Park, Third Lanark, Dumbarton. And within a few years, Celtic were
the dominant force in Scottish football. Kelly and Maley were the key
men in triggering that success.
James would be the first of the on-field heroes but others would pick up that mantle over the years. I loved David Potter’s recent series in The Celtic Star, covering his “players of the decade.” They’re all in there, Sandy McMahon, Patsy Gallacher, Bobby Evans amongst others. I don’t believe there is a club in the world with such a litany of fabulous players over such a sustained period of time. The stories are all passed down until we feel that we witnessed them personally. They are part of us. We mourn John Thomson and we sing about James McGrory. You either get that or you don’t. It defies explanation.
Q: Looking at the current club over the last several years, or at least in the Treble Treble years, do you see anyone on the current team – Scott Brown, Callum McGregor, James Forrest – joining the ranks of the future Celtic legends?
A: Definitely, yes. Obvious one is Broony, given the medal collection he is pulling together and the sheer volume of games he’s amassed over the years. I didn’t foresee that back in 2007, to be honest. And both Calmac and James are heading that way too, albeit it’s becoming much rarer for players at that level to remain in Scotland throughout their careers. Here’s hoping. Kieran Tierney was another who I felt would pick up that status. I really thought he would succeed Broony as Celtic captain. KT’s celebration at the end of the 2017 cup final is one of the most powerful and emotional Celtic images I have ever witnessed. Spine-tingling stuff, as he grabs the badge and trophy, still bleeding and dazed, gesturing to the crowd. I was really disappointed when he headed south last summer, although I bear him no ill-feeling. I like to think that we might see him again at Parkhead at some point in the future.
Q: Putting you on the spot one last time: Favourite Celtic player of all time, and favourite Celtic game of all time. Go!
A: I probably covered the player earlier. There are three who I feel are just that bit more magical than the rest, Jinky, Kenny and Henrik, with Larsson just getting the nod as No.1 for me. All three were world-class whilst they played for us, despite the suggestion that Dalglish “became a player” when he moved south. Complete nonsense. He walked into that Liverpool team to replace their beloved Keegan. Kevin was some player but no one talks about him down there in the same breath as Kenny now. Just below those three, I would have Paul McStay and Danny McGrain, with Nakamura and Lubo missing out only due to the short time they stayed with us. John Collins was another fabulous talent. So many.
going to be cheeky in terms of the game. Can I pick two? One from
childhood and one as an adult? OK, so the first one would be the 1972
Scottish Cup Final against Hibernian. Celtic won 6-1 and my hero of
the time, Dixie Deans, scored the first hat-trick since Jimmy Quinn
some 68 years earlier. It was also the highest score in that final
since Renton did it the year we were formed, in 1888, when both James
Kelly and Neil McCallum, Celtic’s first goal-scorer, played for
them. That would all click into place later. For me, it was the first
time I had seen Celtic win a cup final, at the third attempt. One
more defeat and I suspect I was being lined up for adoption. Dixie
had missed the penalty against Inter which knocked us out a couple of
weeks before that, so there was a bit of redemption for him too.
And the other? The victory over Barcelona on our 125th birthday. A magical night. Barca were the best side on the planet at that time and we had taken them to 94 minutes or thereabouts a fortnight earlier, before that Jordi Alba sickener. My son and I were there that night and we thought the opportunity to take something from then had gone. And in the second leg we were without some key players from memory. Broony and Hooper spring to mind. Miku was playing. But then the fairytale kicks in. I’ll never forget the moment when Tony Watt was bearing down on us and the bedlam when he scored. Then Messi pulls a late goal back and we’re out on our feet. There’s no way we’ll survive. But we do. It was a huge deal. I take a call from my Man United-supporting brother-in-laws, who I think were in Braga. They just heard and want to congratulate me. Rod’s crying in the stand. He wasn’t the only one.
So some of you may have noticed — at least my mother did (thanks, Mom) — that I hadn’t posted all last week. As you might imagine, that pesky COVID-19 has put a huge crimp on my life (as it has everyone’s) on several levels: My freelance work has all but evaporated for the moment, leaving me scrambling for a bit to rearrange my life and my work. But now all seems to be fine, relatively speaking, as the governor of California is making me stay indoors for the time being.
I do freely and readily admit, though, perhaps the biggest adjustment is not having football. Probably yours too, no doubt. And plans to visit Glasgow mid-year have been put on hold, so Celtic Park (and Calton Books, incidentally) will have to wait before I grace both with my presence.
So since I am stuck at home, I would like to remind everyone that it is only quarantine if it’s from the quarantine region of France; otherwise, it’s just sparkling isolation. With this in mind, here’s how to pass the time.
Subscribe to Celtic TV and watch past games
Though I am not on the payroll of the broadcaster, I am one of the biggest fans of Celtic TV. Tom Boyd, Paul Cuddihy, and Kelly Clark — I miss you guys! Celtic fans outside the UK have it great, with live broadcasts of the Hoops, not to mention being able to re-watch games once they’re through.
I understand that UK subscribers must wait 24 hours to watch the live games. But now that there are no live games to wait a day to watch, the Celtic TV library is filled with this season’s games — as well as some past classics, reserve squad games, and other Celtic-related programming — and you’re able to watch the games by just calling them up on the screen. Easy peasy.
For the US$28 a month I pay, Celtic TV is now a godsend since I can watch games any time. I don’t know if the cost is the same in the UK, but even if it is, it’s a steal.
I have started watching this season again, starting with the Hearts game. To keep things authentic, I still wake up at 4 a.m. to watch the noon kickoffs, just as I would if the Bhoys were still playing. And they keep winning– Olivier Ntcham always manages to score late at the end of the Lazio game in Rome to save the day. It’s amazing.
Join us at Celtic Noise for some banter
Ever since I’ve been a fan of the Hoops, I’ve been a regular at The Celtic Noise, an online forum of Celtic fans hosted by the folks that bring you The Celtic Star (full disclosure: My blog posts often appear on The Celtic Star, as I am a regular contributor to the online publication).
The Noise is a collection of passionate and opinionated Celtic fans who are not shy about showing their allegiance to the green-and-white, and the freewheeling nature of talking about a wide range of topics — not always Celtic-related — makes it a very interesting place to spend time if you’re cooped up in place to ride out the virus.
Again, as passionate and opinionated fans can be, bear in mind that a few of the participants can be . . . let’s just say “overbearing,” but don’t let that deter you from participating. It’s a great community and a great avenue to talk about Celtic. And many threads are entertaining, whether they started out to be or not.
So sign up and get into the game . . . I mean, discussion.
Read, watch videos, and stay safe
Order a copy of just about anything from the Celtic FC Store (books or DVDs) or the Celtic Star Bookstore and read or watch. If you don’t want to venture out to the bookstore or the library, the selection of Celtic books and media in both places are top-drawer. Probably the best Christmas gift I received back in December was the Broony DVD — a definite must-watch for any Celtic fan, and I still pop it in the DVD player from time to time.
Of course, if you’re broke (and I know the feeling, believe me), YouTube has a plethora of complete games and highlights to watch as well.
Most importantly — because both the US and UK governments are racing each other to see which can be more incompetent in dealing with this pandemic — it is incumbent on every one of us to look out for ourselves and our neighbours. Take all suggested precautions, don’t hoard the toilet paper (or other necessities, for that matter), and we’ll all get through this until football starts again.
Amid the hubbub of the weekend’s postponments of matches and the wonderful news about the signing of adidas as July’s new kitmaker (and beyond) for Celtic, there also was a couple of disturbing stories about Celtic’s pair of Norwegian players.
The first deals with Kris Ajer talking about leaving — or Kris Ajer’s agent talking about him leaving. This mid-week special had Ajer’s agent, Tore Pedersen, saying that he’s testing the waters despite the fact Ajer has two more years on his contract.
Neil Lennon shot this rumor down as quickly as Pedersen had shot himself in the foot. And if I were Big Kris, I think I’d find my agent and give him a good ass-kicking.
But would that be the end of it? Heavens, no.
In the interim between Pedersen being a greedy agent who seems to tend to the needs of his bank account before the needs of his clients and the Lennon quote, a tsunami of fans had already given Ajer his walking papers.
I’ll be brief: If you think Ajer should be let go, you need to think again.
While, yes, Ajer occasionally exhibits lapses on the field, overall he is a solid defender in the Celtic backfield who, more often than not, gets the job done. Chances are the reason Ajer was given a long-term contract was because he is a vital part of the plan for a successful Celtic future. If you want to call it an experiment, fine: This experiment is still ongoing and has yet to conclude.
Meanwhile, Celtic’s other Norwegian, Mohammed Elyounoussi, apparently enjoys living in Glasgow and said so in a quote on social media, praising the people and the city while saying he’s glad to be playing for Celtic.
Thanks, Moi. I persosnally appreciate the sentiment and I’m glad you’re playing for Celtic. And while you say that everyone talks positively to you, at least to your face, it’s clear that the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” contingent of the Celtic support hide behind the shield of anonymity on social media to speak otherwise. Rather than labour the point, I’ll let you see for yourselves if you care to look at the thread.
I would be willing to bet the prevailing opinion of the wider Celtic fandom shares my sentiment toward Elyounoussi. What some of the negatively responding fans seem to forget is that Elyounoussi has, in fact, repaid us so far by being a huge factor early in the season in gaining the insurmountable lead we took into the “Coronavirus break” this week.
Coming back from injury around Christmas may be slow, but we know he’ll be back to his early-season form soon. And with the break in the mix, he will be ready to go when the next whistle sounds.
Both of Celtic’s Norwegians have played an intregal part of the club’s success this season. To suggest otherwise is pure nonsense.
First things first, a thousand mea culpas for missing yesterday’s post (which, obviously, appears before you now, a day late). I had to get fingerprinted for a freelance job (go figure), and then I got sidetracked by the Bayer Leverkusen game — way to go, Bayer — before I contacted all the Celtic Supporters Clubs in North America asking them for their news to post here on these electronic pages.
Before I knew it, it was already 8 p.m., and I hadn’t gotten to this, which is really Thursday’s post.
I blame Scott Brown.
Like most of you — all of you? — going a week without the Celts borders on making me stir-crazy. To be honest, between weeks like this and regular delays like the winter break, I surely have watched all the Celtic videos on YouTube and I’ve watched the 1967 European Cup final so many times I can give the commentary.
Now, in this late-breaking development, it appears the Scottish Premiership is taking a break, and the match between Celtic and The Rangers™ — not to mention all other fixtures — is now off until further notice.
Well, it’s back to YouTube for me. And, of course, off to Celtic TV, because I just can’t get enough of the Lazio game in Rome . . .
Oh, and one more bit of news developing as I write: It has been confirmed that adidas — apparently the small “a” is correct, according to the press release — will be supplying the kits for the Bhoys for the next five years, so at least now we can expect to see a plethora of kits posted on social media regarding what adidas has planned for us.
Meanwhile, I am going to try to weather the current lack of football by just posting some humorous posts I’ve found about Celtic, mostly found on The Celtic Noise. I hope most of these will hold you over until . . . whenever.
“Take me to your Paradise, I want to see The Jungle . . .”
Tweet from Nicola McFadden: “When your da takes you to see the celtic.”
Another Twitter post . . .
And one last Tweet from yours truly . . .
[NOTE TO NORTH AMERICAN CSCs: I’ve sent most of you an email requesting information on your groups in order to publicize your activities and news on this blog for the benefit of Celtic fans worldwide. If you did not get an email from me, check your spam folder. If it’s not in your spam folder, comment below and I’ll get back to you.]
I spent Saturday’s match against St. Mirren with about 15 of the most passionate and dedicated Celtic fans, cheering on the Bhoys in Green from 5,000 miles away.
Those at the Millbrae, California, pub called Fiddler’s Green early on that Saturday morning make up the San Francisco Celtic Supporters’ Club, or CSC, which meets at the pub every game and watches each game — win, lose or draw — with the same passion and conviction that the most ardent local supporter in the stands at Paradise musters for 90-plus minutes.
The only difference is this: We aren’t there in person. And some of those in the room, like me, unfortunately have yet to step foot in Paradise, though it is in our plans and in our dreams, if not always in our hearts.
CSCs like the San Francisco group make up the worldwide extension of the “12th man” on the field, and the chants of Celtic Park are echoed by the attendees in the room where we watched. In addition in Millbrae, an impromptu chorus during the game of “Boys of the Old Brigade” was sung, started basso profundo by one member, with those who knew the song joining in. At Callum McGregor’s penalty, some of us started singing the “Hawaii 5-0” theme song while it played at Paradise.
We’ll get back to CSCs in a minute.
Unfortunately, there is a microscopic segment of Celtic fandom — a minuscule, small-minded, and tragically misguided segment — that seems to think that somehow some of us can’t be real Celtic fans because we’ve never been to Paradise. That somehow, those who go to home-and-away matches are better fans, and a class above those who cannot make the games for whatever reason.
I seem to have missed that memo: I was not aware that loving Celtic was some kind of competition.
Of course, it isn’t. But you wouldn’t know it by the attitudes of by this tiny-numbered, and tiny-minded, portion of the support.
On more than one forum, I’ve been accused of a.) being less than a fan because I have never attended a game, despite the insurmountable barrier of 4,378 nautical miles and 10 hours of flight time between San Francisco and Glasgow, making attendance at matches, home or away, just a tad difficult; or b.) being a local poseur and not really a Californian, in reality a Glasgow kid in his mom’s basement (Note: My mother lives in suburban Miami and has no basement); and, best of all, c.) the “gotcha” that if I have only been a fan since the 2018-19 season (true, as documented elsewhere), I must be a fake because I praise Shunsuke Nakamura and it’s impossible for me to have seen him . . . as if YouTube and Internet connectivity have never existed.
I’ve dismissed all that, since it’s all world-class ridiculous on an astronomical level. And I know the vast majority of Celtic fans at home in Scotland recognize and appreciate Celtic fans abroad — those of us who make the popularity of the Hoops a worldwide phenomenon — and realize that we are brothers (and sisters) in arms in the cause of the Green and White.
The club surely knows the importance of the CSCs, and whether it’s San Francisco or Johannesburg or Vancouver or Tokyo — or any of the 91 CSCs around the globe — we know that we are part and parcel of Tommy Burns’ iconic quote, “They’re there, and they’re always there. And God bless every one of them.”
Every one of them: From the decades-long season-ticket holder to the newest fan who just found Celtic yesterday. From the fan who travels to every away game to the fan who watches halfway around the world and may never see a Celtic game in person.
The passion is the same. The green-and-white scarf doesn’t shrink to fit inferior fans, and all who truly love Celtic are worthy to wear the scarf.
Every one of them: And those fans are everywhere.
Faithful through and through.
’67 in the Heat of Felton appears on a regular Tuesday/Thursday schedule, often with game observations following Celtic matches.