Remember Scott Bain?

We all know what speculation brings, regardless of what an army of “inside sources” may claim. But until Fraser Forster and some Southampton bigwig sit down for a press conference announcing The Wall is returning to the Saints — something that hasn’t happened at least while this was written on Thursday afternoon — it’s fair to assume a deal is still possible and Forster may very well return to Celtic.

Yet even in the tragic event that Forster doesn’t return, we still have a capable goalkeeper to start for the Hoops; a goalkeeper who had a hand — injured or otherwise — in the club’s success prior to the arrival of La Gran Muralla.

Good enough then, good enough now: Scott Bain lifts the Scottish Cup after Celtic won the final in May 2019.

Cast your minds back, Celtic fans. His name is Scott Bain, and until Forster came along, Bain was adequately handling the goalkeeping duties for the Hoops.

Of course, there’s no denying that Forster was an integral part in our most recent championship, and there’s no Hoops supporter in their right mind who would not want Forster to return to his station between the sticks for Celtic.

But that’s not the point here. This is: Lacking the services of Fraser Forster this season, the Celts go into 10-in-a-row already equipped with a game-tested and game-proven goalkeeping talent in Bain. If anything, any newly acquired goalkeeper — whether it’s Joe Hart, who is no longer head-and-shoulders above other goalkeepers, or Camp Nou hero David Marshall — should be sought for backup purposes.

It’s why this latest “crisis” is a manufactured one. It’s a mystery why Bain isn’t in the forefront of any discussion around acquiring a goalkeeper in the event that Forster doesn’t return, other than perhaps to create drama where actually there is none.

The Hoops already have a Number 1 in Bain; in fact, essentially Celtic had two Number 1s in Bain and Craig Gordon, but the latter has set his sights on starting for Championship League contender Heart of Midlothian and has acted on it accordingly.

Despite the current distraction, this team is easily ready to take the 10. With a healthy squad ready for an encore performance from last season’s championship, and with a crop of young players waiting in the wings augmented by a few previous transfer window acquisitions who have yet to show their talents, Celtic is unquestionably poised for 10-in-a-row.

Fraser Forster should be a part of that, and essentially his presence would guarantee it. But should he choose not be a part of it, the sticks are in capable hands with Scott Bain.

One more thing

I don’t know about the wider Celtic supporter base worldwide, but personally I’m getting a little tired of Hoops fans slagging former defender Kieran Tierney. Waking up to a Celtic fan’s tweet this morning where, paraphrasing here, he (or she) doesn’t care whether Arsenal fans like KT or not, he (or she) doesn’t pay attention to him anymore.

And that’s fine.

However, bear in mind that every time the former Celt takes the field at Highbury, he brings about 14 years of the Celtic system on to it as well. That alone reflects remarkably well on our club’s training system when KT is doing well for Arsenal; to say nothing of the fact that despite however well he is doing for Arsenal, the Gunners were still fleeced in spending as much as they did on him.

Perhaps someone someday can explain to me why we speak fondly of some former Celts — like Moussa Dembele, for example — and a lifelong bhoy with years of history with the club gets unceremoniously dragged.

Until next time, graffiti on the walls says we’re magic . . . .

Random thoughts, cheap shots, bon mots: Treble edition

First things first: Now that the bhoys are back in town — Lennoxtown, that is — I can stop prefacing my posts as on “hiatus” because now we’re back on the air, so to speak. And with the bhoys back, so is this blog, on its regular schedule.

Take that either as good news or as a warning. Your call.

Nevertheless, after endlessly watching Celtic games this season in the wake of “restrictions” forced on us by Covid-19 — thanks, Celtic TV — or poring over news about the Hoops during this time, it’s good to be back to work behind the keyboard and provide some hopefully welcome commentary.

That said, weclome to the third installment of “Random thoughts, cheap shots, bon mots,” the “Treble edition.”

From upstart to Jam Tart: Craig Gordon leaves the Hoops to join Heart of Midlothian in the Championship League for the upcoming season.

Goodbye, Craig Gordon

While many Celtic fans pray in our personal Gethsemane for a deal to come through to keep Fraser Forster, news has broken that Craig Gordon has left for — let’s be honest — less-than-greener pastures. While I was hoping that Gordon would come stateside and play in the MLS, Gordon has chosen to sign with Heart of Midlothian.

Regardless of whether you thought he/his agent handled the departure adversely by negotiating through the press, Gordon deserves nothing but accolades and admiration for his time at the Hoops. His level of play was always top-notch and his contributions off the field with the Celtic FC Foundation make him not only a good player, but a great individual.

Good luck, Craig, and thanks for the memories.

The new look bhoys

Scott Brown with hair? OK, as long as it’s not another red mohawk. The captain and a couple of the other returning Hoops players have been sporting new looks for the new season.

Take Moritz Bauer, who has shed the golden locks for the bald look, according to some reports which have speculated that Peter Lawwell can pass off the defender, on loan from Stoke City, as a new signing. Also, Patryk Klimala has seemed to have put in a lot of quarantine time working in the weight room and has bulked up considerably.

How those new looks for those particular players affect play on the pitch, if at all, remains to be seen. But especially in Klimala’s case, gaining muscle mass can’t hurt when playing in the rough and tumble up front.

In the bag: Former Celt Kieran Tierney is starting to make an impression on his new club, Arsenal.

Local bhoy makes good

Social media was all over former Hoops defender Kieran Tierney for showing up to the Arsenal match against Sheffield United on Sunday with his things packed in — gasp! — a Tesco bag.

But while they were poking fun at Tierney on Twitter and elsewhere, this is what he was doing on the pitch for the Gunners in earning Man of the Match: 58 touches, 39 successful passes (24 in the opposite half), 5 crosses, 1 key pass, 10 passes into a final third, 2 interceptions, 5 possession gained.

In addition, much of the talk on social media and on Arseblog — the Gunners’ online publication with possibly the most hilarious name ever — speak highly of Tierney, with some of those posting seeing him as the next Arsenal captain. High praise for the kid who literally grew up in the Celtic system.

But then again, that praise can go too far, especially from one Twitter poster who goes by @LinkUpArsenal: “Arsenal have an excellent relationship with Celtic following the Kieran Tierney deal. Hoping we can use this to somewhat gain leverage in a a deal for Odsonne Edouard.”

No chance, mate. No f-ing chance.

That’s all for today. Until next time, walk on with hope in your heart . . . .

Hiatus: Close the window

Now that the Bhoys are Back in (Lennox)Town, apparently it appears that Celtic captain Scott Brown needs a barber . . . .

Now that the Bhoys are Back in (Lennox)Town, attention has now been directed at the now-open summer transfer window, where speculation abounds regarding who Celtic should acquire to assure the 10.

Allow me a radical approach to this window in these special times: Close the window and don’t seek anyone new.

Sure, make the deal with Southampton and sign Fraser Forster; that’s a must. Sign Mohammed Elyounoussi, too, while you’re at it. But Celtic has the nucleus of a great team already in place, and some of the recent additions have yet to see adequate playing time on the pitch to show why they were signed in previous transfer windows.

Don’t forget, too, that we have a reserve team full of talent, some of whom have shown they are first-team ready, like Karamoko Dembele and Jonathan Afolabi.

The hiatus forced upon us thanks to Covid-19 has given those on the club with injuries a chance to heal, so we’re starting the next season with a clean slate where everyone is healthy. So the outlook for the club as we go for 10-in-a-row is remarkably good.

Up front, we’re set with Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths — the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid of the Celtic front line — and behind them we still have yet to see an unleashed Patryk Klimala or Vakoun Bayo, indicating that maybe — and this is a very big maybe — only if the right striker comes along at the right price, the club might take a punt. But even if that does not happen, Celtic is in good shape up front.

One can make the compelling argument that the current midfield is one of the best in Celtic history. Callum McGregor, Scott Brown, Ryan Christie, James Forrest, Olivier Ntcham — any club anywhere would want some or all of these players patrolling the center of the pitch. But we also have yet to see Maryan Shved playing to his potential, and we’ve yet to see Ismael Soro at all so far. Don’t forget Tom Rogic was starting to get into a good rhythm until the season was unceremoniously curtailed. And, of course, there’s Mikey Johnston. Yet despite the unfortunate departure of Jonny Hayes, the club is still set in this department.

Jeremie Frimpong has been a more-than-welcome addition to Celtic this past season.

Meanwhile at the back, many make the argument that we could use a defender or two. Or more, with the main — and in my opinion, misguided — complaint that the tandem of Greg Taylor and Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo are not adequate at right back. We’ll get back to that in a minute, but first let’s look who’s still here: Hatem Elhamed, who was awesome early in the season last year, along with Chris and Kris — Jullien and Ajer, respectively. Jeremie Frimpong’s impersonation of Jimmy Johnstone has been stellar this season, until his mugging at Rugby Park by serial hammerthrower Alan Powers. Having Moritz Bauer on the bench does not hurt, either, and Nir Bitton, listed as a midfielder, has been known to play a pretty good defence himself.

Most football clubs would be wise to stand down in the transfer market while the revenue streams in the near future remain, to put it diplomatically, profoundly unsure. Until things return to “normal” — if they ever do — this is the new reality. Prudence dictates that Celtic should be no exception, and to its credit, the Celtic board has put the club in a very sound financial position heading into uncertain times.

Jonny, we hardly knew ye

Shutting up the fans at Ibrox: That’s what Jonny Hayes is most known for this season, but there is so much more to the man who has decided to move on.

First things first: Jonny Hayes is one of those players that makes a club overwhelmingly better by his mere presence. He’s what we call in the U.S. a “lunchpail player,” the kind of player who, without flash or fanfare, shows up to work, clocks in, and goes above and beyond the job asked of him in any given game.

So when he posted an Instagram message saying that he’s moving on, the Celtic faithful rightfully is mourning his departure and wishing him well in his future endeavours. My wish would have been that his “future endeavours” would have been in green-and-white, but . . . .

“Football at times brings tough decisions,” Hayes writes in his post, “so I’d like to thank you for all the support received along the way!”

Most of the memories relayed on social media involve Hayes’ goal against The Rangers™ earlier this season to put the game out of reach, as the picture speaking a thousand words above outlines. That was completely sublime, of course, but there was so much more to Jonny’s contributions to Celtic since he came to the Hoops from Aberdeen.

Hayes will always be remembered for his leave-it-all-out-on-the-pitch style of play, where he gave his all every game. There’s nothing more you can ask of an athlete, and he always delivered. Solid play against Lazio. A potential goal-saving tackle at Rennes. The list is quite long.

But what I like to remember Hayes for — and this seems inconsequential to most — is how that brand of play was typified in his throw-in at Hamilton back in February that led eventually to the 2-1 winner by Christopher Jullien. Hayes literally vaulted the signage on the Hamilton sideline, retrieved the ball, quickly threw in to Callum McGregor, who passed it back to Hayes, and then Hayes passed forward to Ryan Christie, who crossed it to Jullien, who put it in the back of the net.

It looked something like this.

At the end of that clip, we see Neil Lennon congratulating Hayes for starting the ball rolling, so to speak.

Like Mikael Lustig and Scott Sinclair, whose careers I still follow even though they’re playing elsewhere, I’ll keep watching Jonny Hayes because he will always be Celtic through-and-through.

Good luck in your future endeavours, Jonny!

Champions again, as you know

Today was a perfect day for jelly and ice cream . . . .

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.

We are all ‘Invincible’

Matt Corr’s ‘Invincible’ — outlining the first of the three ‘Treble Treble’ seasons — is out now.

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).

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.

Riding the storm out: Coping with the virus-caused Hoops-free spring

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.

“Rome, conquered!”

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.

A tale of two Norwegians

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.

Kris Ajer: Not going anywhere, at least not soon.

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.