Doviđenja, Jozo, i sretno (Goodbye, Jozo, and good luck)

Ground Conrol to Major Ken: Jozo Simunovic launches Kenny Miller into orbit in what could best be described as one of the all-time great tackles in football history.

The memory is ingrained deep in the psyche of all Celtic fans — the moment you saw Jozo Simunovic head the ball into the net against Kilmarnock last April in a game honoring another Number 5, Billy McNeill.

You may have been at Paradise, or maybe you were watching at home. Maybe you were in a pub with like-minded Celtic supporters.

Or if you were at Fiddler’s Green in Millbrae, California, as I was, watching with the San Francisco CSC, you might have done what we did: Cheer wildly for the goal, and when the gravity of fate made us realize that Number 5 had scored 67 minutes in, a hush of awe washed over the room.

Shortly afterward, I put the picture of Jozo pointing to the heavens after scoring that goal as the photo on my cell phone. It stays there to this day to remind me about how, on that day, the forces of nature sent a clear and unequivocal sign to Celtic and said, “There’s nothing stopping you now.”

Those who know me in Celtic circles know that I am a full-throated defender of Jozo Simunovic in the face of some of the naysayers within our support. Yeah, he may have knees of glass and, yeah, he may have been in injury recovery a little longer than might be convenient. But when he does make his way onto the pitch, Jozo is a machine.

Not only does he patrol the backfield with aplomb, he has also been known to wander forward and at a few opportune times — like in the game against Hearts back in February — his forehead happened to be in the right place at the right time to head Ryan Christie’s corner into the net to make the score 5-0. Or when Jozo took some initiative and drove forward to take a Greg Taylor cross in the game against Kilmarnock in March, only to be carried by momentum over the goal line but not before heading the ball back to Odsonne Edouard, who scored.

Two for the road: Jonny Hayes and Jozo Simunovic sadly will be leaving Celtic.

Jozo has earned a spot in Celtic lore not only for his goal in the Billy McNeill game or for launching Kenny Miller in a textbook tackle that should be taught in football academies worldwide, but also for his firm and steady defensive play for the Hoops. It is unfortunate that, due to injury, he could not reach his full potential for the club, but by the same token his play while in good health was of the highest quality.

They say things like this come in threes, so after Jonny Hayes and Jozo Simunovic, who might be next? Some are speculating that it might be Kris Ajer, who has been rumored to be on his way out for some time. My sincere hope is that this is wrong, but it remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, thank you, Jozo, for all those moments with the Hoops, and you are always one of us.

[Blogger’s note: A few weeks ago, I went “off script” and wrote a blog item about Nairn County FC in the Highland Football League after their statement assured that their team and staff would be paid, and club resources would be used to help the community through the Covid-19 crisis. Lo and behold, after exchanging emails with the club’s Donald Graham, I am now in possession of a maize (not yellow) and black NCFC scarf. Thanks, Donald, and mon the Wee County!]

Moment to moment

Brown 90+2 — This speaks volumes.

Breathe.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Whew.

After today’s game with Hamilton Accies, I am going to forgo the usual “five takeaways,” because there is really only one. And while I will always suggest taking a look at The Sandman’s ratings on The Celtic Star, there is really only one thing (well, two actually) to say about today’s game.

Scott Brown: Captain. Leader. Legend. Demigod.

That really says it all.

Well, that and for a minute and 37 seconds, The Rangers™ had thought they had continued to keep pace with Celtic when Hamilton equalized right around the 90-minute mark. That was erased after Brown, off his left foot, scored the go-ahead goal.

The bus ride back from Aberdeen to Glasgow for The Rangers™ fans was probably a very somber one.

I wish to God I had sounded more coherent when the ball hit the net, because all I could do when I jumped out of my chair was just scream, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Broo0000000000000000000000000ny!” All the while running around the living room, stopping only to do The Broony™ after standing on the coffee table.

But it does makes one think about how special this club is, and how perhaps forces beyond this realm are guiding the club in the right direction. Today’s “intervention” — for lack of a better term — rivals last seasons’s Billy McNeill game against Kilmarnock, where Jozo Simunovic — number 5 — scored in the 67th minute of the game.

Some are calling this a “Scott Brown won the league at Celtic Park” moment, as this article in The Celtic Star outlines, and they are not far off. Realistically, there is a lot more football to be played between now and the end of the season, but if this game is any indication, we are in good hands.

On to Sunday and the Betfred Cup.