A few of my favourite things

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.

‘The Celtic story tells itself’ — Interview with writer Matt Corr

Celtic historian. European away trip veteran and travelogue writer. Celtic Park tour guide and match programme contributor. Marathon man. Author.

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!

In 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.

In 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.

Other 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.

On 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.

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.

People 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.

In 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.

The 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.”

By 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.

Billy McNeill: ‘Everything a Celt should be. Dignified, ambassadorial and classy. A true leader and serial winner.”

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.

Henrik Larsson, an all-time favorite among many Celtic fans, including Matt Corr.

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.

And 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.

Scott Brown, a shoo-in for Celtic legend status once he retires from football

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.

I’m 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. Special day.

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.

Best fans in the world

A painting of The Huddle graces the room in Fiddler’s Green in Millbrae, California, where the San Francisco CSC watches Celtic games.

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.

‘You Gotta Have Heart(s)’

In the musical “Damn Yankees,” the manager of the Washington Senators breaks into one of the theatrical performance’s songs about having “heart.” It’s guts, the will to face adversity, the ability to believe that you can overcome sometimes overwhelming odds.

One can only hope that Heart of Midlothian FC were paying attention. Because after the thrashing they received at Celtic Park yesterday . . .

When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win
That’s when the grin should start

Celtic’s Callum McGregor shoots and scores at the 52-minute mark to put the Bhoys in Green up 3-0. Celtic went on to beat Heart of Midlothian 5-0 at Celtic Park on Wednesday night.

After its usual methodical — some might say “slow” — start with Olivier Ntcham scoring off a rebound at the 30-minute mark to go into the locker room at halftime with a 1-0 lead, Celtic shifted into another gear and, in quick succession scored at 46 minutes (Christopher Jullien) and 52 minutes (Callum McGregor), waiting a bit to score again at 67 minutes (Ryan Christie) and then at 80 minutes (Jozo Simunovic).

All unanswered.

And while it could be a little disconcerting to some to think that Edinburgh could end up a city with only one club in the Scottish Premiership, Celtic on the other hand is a club that is reaching new highs.

Putting aside for a moment the fact that the league, for the second year in a row, may have been won again at Rugby Park — this time by Kilmarnock’s Eamonn Brophy slotting a right-footer against The Rangers making it 2-1 Killie with two minutes remaining — the Celtic team that put on a show Wednesday night in Glasgow fired on all cylinders.

Greg Taylor is fitting in nicely and delivering crosses with apolmb. Christie walked on to the pitch in the second half and, a few minutes later, ended up on the score sheet. Even Simunovic, who many of the so-called Celtic faithful have written off (shame on them!), marshalled the ball around the Celtic half of the pitch on defence for most of the game and, on the last Celtic corner of the game, headed in a delivery into the net with a quick nod to wrap up Celtic’s scoring.

My Man/Woman of the Match? Whomever put on the “Theme from Hawaii 5-0” on the stadium PA after Simunovic, who wears number 5, scored to make the tally — wait for it — 5-0.

OK, seriously: This time, I’d give it to Ntcham, whose ball handling and passing in traffic has been outstanding as of late. Putting back the rebound early in the game didn’t hurt, either, but the Frenchman is showing his worth to the Celtic. Though Taylor is getting better and better now that he’s got a few games under his belt, he easily could have been considered the Man of the Match as well.

It’s a good problem to have — indecision regarding who to give Man of the Match to when there are so many good players performing at peak levels.

But officially, the Man of the Match on Wednesday was McGregor. And rightfully so.

Next up: Aberdeen on Sunday. Mon the Hoops!

Focus, focus, focus

Taking a look at all that’s going on in Scottish football over the last couple of weeks, it appears that distractions are rearing their ugly heads and overwhelming the general public in general, and football fans in particular, in tsunami-sized waves of falsehoods.

To recap:

Celtic fans tried to kill Alfredo Morelos. No wait, that paper-thin perpetrator under Fredo’s Lamborghini is actually a private investigator hired by Morelos’ pregnant wife to place a tracker on his car to keep tabs on him.

So, let’s deflect.

Sky Sports — let’s turn on the Sarcasmatron and see what it calls them . . . it says “a paragon of sport journalism” — produces an interview with a player who can’t understand English, yet he claims there’s racist abuse directed toward him at Celtic Park. But wait: Those subtitles aren’t exactly a match to what he’s saying. In fact, they’re arguably not even close.

The total weight of this disingenuous behaviour could stun a team of oxen.

Thank God for Michael Stewart, who has both the gravitas and the courage to tell the truth, taking to heart the Latin phrase, Fiat justitia ruat caelum — let justice prevail though the heavens fall. To his immense credit, Stewart is doing what journalists should be doing everywhere, but sadly aren’t; especially in Scotland, apparently.

As a former journalist, I can go on for days here regarding how important Stewart’s statements are and the heroic nature of the stand he is taking, just by merely highlighting the truth. But I will spare you.

You’re welcome.

The Dynamic Duo: Leigh Griffiths hugs Odsonne Edouard after Edouard’s opening goal at the 9-minute mark at Fir Park. Celtic went on to beat Motherwell 4-0.

But speaking of the Motherwell game . . .

All distractions aside, what I did want to write about today was yesterday’s game at Fir Park, where Celtic got off to its usual meticulous start in the first half, going into the locker room with a meager 1-0 lead, and came out of the gate in the second half like gangbusters, ending the game with a 4-0 score, and a wider goal differential in its seven-point lead in the table.

Rather than do the usual “five takeaways,” I am going to make this brief, sort of.

During the transfer window, we had a flurry of greeters bemoaning the fact that we need [fill-in-the-position-of-your-choice-here] or we are doomed to extinction. This while ignoring that there really was only one blemish on the season so far, on Dec. 29. One misstep that has seen us atop the league virtually all season and accomplishing one of three steps toward the Quadruple Treble so far.

So I am going to assume they will go contentedly silent now. Maybe.

It’s not only the obvious things that set us apart atop the rest of the league, like the tandem of Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths — twin strikers from separate mothers — working like a well-oiled machine at the front, or how the crowd in the 3-5-2 midfield is seemingly flawless in their ball-handling, moving the ball efficiently up the field. It’s not only Fraser Forster rejecting everything that comes remotely near him in goal.

It’s also in the little things, too: Patryk Klimala and Stephen Welsh both showing promise; the former showing speed and skill in two brief stints at the end of the last two games, and the latter having a good game in his debut. Tom Rogic and Jozo Simunovic getting back up to speed; especially the latter, who has put together back-to-back adequate games as a starter. And then, to add to the returning wounded, Ryan Christie showing some flash in the Motherwell game, starting the Christie to James Forrest to Callum McGregor goal in the second half.

But wait, there’s more. Mohammed Elyounoussi is training and will be back soon, followed by Hatem Elhamed and Jeremie Frimpong. Once we’re back to full strength, we should be unstoppable.

Most importantly, what someone needs to do, or should have done, immediately after the final whistle at Fir Park was to wake up Peter Lawwell and have him sign Forster immediately after the game. For life. Right now. As great as our backups are — and both Scott Bain and Craig Gordon are top-notch, even though we haven’t seen them all season — neither one of them is making these same saves. The Wall is in his own class, in his own league, in his own universe.

Forster needs to be Celtic for life.

The same applies to Edouard as well. Though he’s under contract until the end of the 2021/22 season, he needs to be kept around at all costs. Chris Sutton is absolutely right when he says Edouard is “the closest thing to (Henrik) Larsson I’ve seen in a Celtic jersey.” If anyone on the planet can speak with authority on this topic, it is Sutton.

One more thing

Kristoffer Ajer and Christopher Jullien might be getting slagged a bit on their defensive lapses in the Motherwell game, and there is no argument there — Ajer’s missed tackle could have sullied the clean sheet that Celtic came away with had Motherwell scored. But they didn’t. And to their credit, Kris and Chris are always in communication, and you can see them discussing play during the celebration of Edouard’s first goal.

Additionally, Motherhell — sorry, Motherwell — clearly have worked hard on consistently being a team of hammer-throwing Steelmen; no secret there. They also happen to be third in the Scottish Premiership table, which makes them first-of-the-also-rans behind Celtic and Glasgow’s other club. They’re third in the table for a reason, and on Wednesday, taking advantage of Celtic’s defensive lapses is probably the main reason why they lead the rest of the pack.

Now, for the rest of the season, let’s focus.

Focus on our positives far, far outweighing our negatives, because they do. Neil Lennon has been nothing short of masterful in handling suitable lineups in the face of multiple injuries. Focus on the two prizes needed to complete the next treble; one cup down, one cup and the league championship to go. Focus on the fact that, despite all these infantile shenanigans going on in Scottish football drawing away everyone’s attention (and we’re not even going close to the disciplinary garbage the SFA is pulling), Celtic is playing its best football in quite some time and, barring any disasters, we should prevail.

Focus, focus, focus.

Five takeaways from Celtic-Hibs

Captain, Leader, Legend: Scott Brown scored two goals against Hibernian on Saturday, as the Celts cruised to a 5-2 victory over Hibernian at Hampden on Saturday in the Betfred Cup semifinal. (Photo: The Celtic Star)

To be honest, I really, really like the 12 noon (or thereabouts) kickoff times in Scotland. Yes, I have to drag my sorry butt out of bed at some ungodly pre-sunrise hour, but at least I get to watch the game live and, for the most part, unfettered.

The 5:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m. Pacific) kickoff puts me right square in the middle of a workday on a Saturday or a Sunday (yes, I work weekends. Don’t ask). And, generally speaking, while the Bhoys seem to excel when I’m away from the screen — thank God for Celtic TV and their rebroadcasts (best $18 a month I’ve ever spent, and I highly recommend it) — I’d really like to be there watching when the action actually happens.

So I get home from a fun-filled work day — yes, that’s sarcasm — and spend two hours watching the game, start to finish, and head over to The Celtic Noise to talk about it with the merry band of forum denizens who have had a head start. One thing I always look forward to is Sandman’s ratings, which are posted first on the Noise and then posted on The Celtic Star; quality analysis and it can only be found here.

But anyway, my five takeaways from the Celtic-Hibernian game are as follows:

1. Captain. Leader. Legend.

Broony. Damn. Just damn. You worry as the seasons pass that a guy who carries the team might– just might — be feeling the trappings of the twilight of his career, and you think to yourself, but dare not say aloud, that he may retire before the 10 in a row. But then he pulls something like this to make you feel like a complete idiot. Two goals. Two brilliant goals, as a matter of fact. And instead of buying just one Broony DVD, you’re tempted to buy a whole case and give them out as Christmas presents (“Here, Mom, Merry Christmas!”) because . . . damn. Scott Brown has definitely earned his place in Celtic history, and the process for commissioning a sculptor to create his statue outside Parkhead should start soon.

2. Mohammed Elyounoussi should stay

Mo Elyounoussi is a goal-scoring machine. Full stop. It must be a blessing to know where to be, showing up at the right place at the right time, as Elyounoussi seems to do. Both of his goals were impeccable, whether it was a header on a cross from James Forrest or a pass from Odsonne Edouard in front of the net (more on this in a bit). I would like to think that the board will pony up the money to keep Big Mo wearing the hoops, but that remains to be seen. One can always hope, no?

3. When Boli is out, an attack vector is lost

First things first: This is not a knock on Jonny Hayes. Hayes is a solid player and can start pretty much on any other team in the league. His speed and ball handling are impeccable, and we’re lucky to have him wearing the Green and White. However, when Boli Bolingoli was taken out at halftime — I understand it’s a hamstring — the Celts lost one of its two threats down both the left and right side that kept Hibs unbalanced for pretty much the first half. Here’s hoping it’s not a serious injury.

4. Unselfish Edouard shares the wealth

No doubt goalkeepers everywhere have nightmares about Odsonne Edouard. Those nightmares — at least the ones that don’t involve the goalkeeper standing in the goal mouth in his underwear — probably consist of Edouard coming down the pitch with the ball and eluding all the goalkeeper’s defenders and delivering a Celtic goal. But add one more layer to this nightmare: French Eddy passing the ball to another Celt for the assist instead. It happened twice against Hibernian: One went to Callum McGregor and the other was on Elyounousi’s second goal. Eddy ended up with a grand total of zero goals and two assists; not that he was complaining. When Edouard approaches the goal, defences start to collapse around him, freeing up one or two teammates who are ready to score. So now, not only do goalkeepers have to worry about Edouard scoring, they have to worry about him passing it away to open teammates.

5. Hibernian is not really that bad

At the moment, Hibernian is staring relegation in the face in the standings. But truth be told, the 5-2 score betrays the fact that they played Celtic fairly strong in the Betfred Cup semifinal. Sure, Celtic should have won 8-2 if not for some unlucky bounces — damn goalposts! — and Melker Halberg was clearly offside in their first goal. But never mind. I am sure that the coaching staff have some positive takeaways from the semifinal game. Also, completely unrelated, “Sunshine on Leith” is a great song — probably second to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as far as football songs go.

Meanwhile, Celtic takes on Nazio — sorry, Lazio — in Rome this week, and it would be great to steal a win away from the fascists.

5 Takeaways from Ross County

First things first: If you haven’t been reading the ratings following each Celtic game by the Celtic Noise poster known as Sandman, you should. This fine fellow usually hits the nail on the proverbial head every game, and his observations — with the wit and wisdom only the Sandman can provide — are always of the highest quality.

[Also, if you’re a Celtic supporter and you’re not on the Celtic Noise forum, you should be. A lot of news and insight can be found there, along with some non-Celtic banter as well. Tell ’em “lcafiero” sent you.]

As for Saturday’s game, Ross County held on for as long as they could in the first half after a stunning attack by Celtic, only to have the floodgates break open at the beginning of the second half, where Celtic cruised to a 6-0 win.

Five takeaways from the game are as follows:

1. Thanks, Manchester City

An observation: There are few clubs south of the border in the Premier League that are, as of today, more soulless than Manchester City. It may not have always been so, but it appears on the surface that they said, “Jeremie who? Yeah, whatever,” before letting young dynamo Jeremie Frimpong leave for the Hoops. And there are probably a few — several? a score, maybe? — Man City fans who are bemoaning the fact that he’s no longer at that club, but their loss is our gain. No doubt Frimpong’s moves on the pitch has sent more than one Ross County player to the trainer’s table to treat a twisted ankle, and his assist on James Forrest’s goal was a gem. The kid looks like he’s got a promising career with the club.

2. Welcome back, Wizard

Tom Rogic gave the Celts a full 90 minutes on Saturday — when was the last time we could say that? While it was pretty much an unremarkable game for Rogic — a few opportunities missed, and a couple of miscues which could be credited to “shaking off the rust” — one facet of his game stood out against Ross County: defence. The Wizard was on the receiving end of several of turnovers by Ross County, which as it turned out constantly kept the Staggies on their heels. Great to see the big Aussie performing on both offence and defence, and clearly it’s been a long time coming. Welcome back, big guy!

Dude, where’s my goal? Mo Elyounoussi, left, scored a second goal at the 72-minute mark on a cross — or a shot — by Boli Bolingoli, right. Scott Brown joins the celebration.

3. Dude, where’s my goal?

It’s great to see Mohammed Elyounoussi starting to get into the swing of things for Celtic. He’s definitely a welcome addition to the club and, sure, I’m even willing to give him a pass for saying that his Norse countryman Kris Ajer may go on to bigger and better things someday — is there any argument there, as much as we’d like The Big Viking to stay at Parkhead? But I have to draw the line when Elyounoussi starts stealing goals: Boli Bolingoli took a shot late in the game, around the 72-minute mark, that could have been his first goal as a Celt; except that shot was deflected into the goal by Mo Elyounoussi. No doubt that was part of the discussion during the celebration of Mo’s second goal . . . .

[I kid: Mo’s second goal was a great deflection, but I’m still waiting for Boli to get his first.]

4. Damn that post!

Chances are this is a direct quote from Callum McGregor after his shot in the first half glanced cleanly off the post, and Odsonne Edouard couldn’t get the rebound to go in. It matters little, because in the fusillade of shots that finally went in at the beginning of the second half, McGregor got his goal back. Which leads us to our fifth takeaway . . .

5. Ross County: New kids on the block

Ross County played better than the score would indicate. That may sound funny coming on the heels of a 6-0 drubbing, but hear me out: As the new kids on the block, so to speak, in the Premiership, Ross County had every expectation to come to Parkhead with stag-in-the-headlights sensibilities. But they hung in with the treble champions for 45 minutes, at least, and Ross County keeper Ross Laidlaw (say that three times quickly) made some pretty remarkable saves in the first half. Laidlaw and a Ross County defender — or defenders — lurking in the goal mouth in the right place at the right time prevented Celtic from being up at least 3-0 at the half; specifically a Christopher Jullien header and a rebound from a shot by Bolingoli, both successfully cleared. I’m all for giving credit where credit is due, and while you have to play a game for the full 90 minutes (86, so says Steven Gerrard, if you play for The Rangers™), Ross County clamped down pretty hard on the Hoops for awhile there, and while lessons were learned, hopefully they will recognize that there are some positives to come out of this thrashing.

But note, Ross County: Nir Bitton can kick anyone’s ass on your team, either individually or collectively. Please keep that in mind.

[Blogger’s note: My apologies for this post being so late. After a power outage last week, my WordPress settings have been hell to fix, and I finally got it up and running yesterday. Also, because we are no longer in fire season here — but not yet out of the woods, so to speak — I am going to forgo the wildfire threat level posts at the end of each blog item, resuming it in the spring.]

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.]