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!]

On hiatus: I just can’t get enough

So, I don’t know how you all are weathering the Coronavirus situation — first and foremost, I hope you’re all well and safe — but being without football has been driving me into an advanced state of insanity masked by cabin fever.

The only way I have figured out how to cope with this is by watching, and re-watching, and re-re-watching this season’s Celtic games, thanks to Celtic TV.

On this note, Celtic TV has been the best $28 per month I have ever spent. I can watch (and re-watch) all the games I want this season, and there are a lot of feature shows that they also throw in (like this interview with fellow Californian Cameron Harper here). So again, they don’t pay me to pitch it, but I am Celtic TV’s biggest fan.

In watching the season again so far, where we’re 13 points up in first place and 25 or so ahead in the goal difference, and while ignoring the tsunami of statements from Glasgow’s other club as the sun sets on them, I have a few observations about this season that bear mentioning. Like . . .

Celtic’s Mr. Indispensable

I know what you’re thinking: Mr. Indispensable? Got to be Broony. No, maybe it’s Odsonne Edouard. Wait, it’s Fraser Forster, definitely.

Nope, though all of those players are vital parts that make the Celtic machine hum in all gears. But the player we really can’t do without is Callum McGregor. While The Celtic Noise’s Sandman, in his game ratings, has likened him to a metronome (and I assume he means that in a good way), CalMac has been nothing short of perfect in the midfield this season, providing an outlet to those who have been shut down on the wing, and distributing the ball with aplomb. He also is not shy about taking a shot when he sees fit.

This epiphany regarding CalMac came at the end of the Lazio game in Rome. If you watch the replay of Olivier Ntcham’s Rome-conquering goal, BT Sports (sorry, Celtic TV) shows a wide-angle view of the field after Edouard intercepted the errant pass and started downfield. You can see in the background both Scott Brown and Callum McGregor advancing, but who is sprinting forward, essentially catching up to Odsonne before he passes to Ntcham? Sprinting after 94 minutes of game time?

Callum McGregor, head still in the game, still ready to contribute.

It’s that kind of never-say-die play that makes CalMac indispensable, game after game, season after season. If anything, it boosts his chances on being Player of the Year again this year, if the votes go his way.

Odsonne Edouard says, “calm down,” and vote for the Celtic Player of the Year.

Speaking of the POTY vote . . .

You still have a chance to vote for the Triple Crown of Celtic greatness in the Player of the Year Awards, which is broken down into three categories: Player of the Year, Goal of the Year, and Young Player of the Year.

How did I vote? Glad you asked.

Player of the Year: Despite singing Callum McGregor’s praises a few paragraphs ago, I opted for Odsonne Edouard for Player of the Year. French Eddy rises head and shoulders above all other strikers in Scotland, not to mention many in Europe as his exploits in the U21 for France has shown. Hands down, Player of the Year for the Hoops. Also completely worthy of your vote: McGregor, Ryan Christie, Fraser Forster, Leigh Griffiths.

Goal of the Year: There are a lot of options here, and with a team as great as Celtic, there are a lot of fantastic goals to choose from. But you have to go with Olivier Ntcham’s goal at Nazio — sorry, Lazio — to win the game in Rome. For historical value, this goal is light-years ahead of the rest. But if you must vote for another, Griffith’s goal against St. Mirren, Edouard’s goal against Rangers, or Ntcham’s goal against Partick Thistle from about 10 miles out — OK, it was “only” about 35 yards — are also worthy. Actually ALL of the nominated goals are worthy, so it’s your choice.

Young Player of the Year: Oh my days! There’s no other choice here but to vote for Jeremie Frimpong. Funny thing: Tom Boyd was talking in a post-game show in October — it was either after the St. Mirren or the Aberdeen game — where he made comparisons between Frimpong and Jimmy Johnstone, and I thought, “Hmm, where have I heard that before?” I honestly hope the lad recovers from the mugging against Kilmarnock and enjoys a successful career, mostly with Celtic.

Dear Simon Donnelly . . .

Twice during the season at the outset of Celtic TV broadcasts of games with noon start times, Simon Donnelly (I think, though it could have been Paul Cuddihy, too) gave a shout-out to the Los Angeles CSC for waking up at Oh-My-God-Thirty in the morning to watch Celtic.

While that’s fine and it’s great that we West Coasters get recognized for making the herculean effort of dragging out butts out of bed at around 3:30 a.m. to watch a noon kickoff in Scotland at 4 a.m. Pacific Time — and to be honest, it’s the least we can do to watch a club like no other — fair play dictates that the bhoys and ghirls at the San Francisco CSC (of which I am one) deserve a shout-out as well, all of us watching on the big screen TV at an Irish pub called Fiddler’s Green in suburban Millbrae, California.

So how about it, Celtic TV in the booth? When this all gets sorted out and we’re back on track, the folks gathering for every Celtic game at Fiddler’s Green could use a hat tip.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to watch the Celtic-Livi game from November 23rd.

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.

Drawing conclusions

First things first: I wish I lived closer to Millbrae, where the San Francisco Celtic Supporters’ Club meets to watch Celtic games at an Irish pub called Fiddler’s Green. While my only other experience with the group was watching the Billy McNeill game last season with a grand total of five folks at 4 a.m., the 10 a.m. start time for the FC København game drew a wide range of Celtic fans — old, young, men, women — and the 25 or so of us enjoyed the game, and each other’s company, for the 90 minutes and afterward.

For those of you reading in places far from Paradise, you should definitely connect with your local CSC. If you don’t have one, think about starting one. If you live in the Santa Cruz, California, area, email me for details.

That aside and setting our sights now on Thursday’s game, Celtic either seems to have lost its second-half magic or they were simply outplayed by an invigorated Copenhagen team which stepped up its game against Scotland’s best.

Or, possibly, a combination of both.

Thursday’s draw — not a great result, but not the disaster some claim it is — has brought out the armchair analysts and PlayStation pundits in droves yet again. Rather than waste your time by repeating the nonsense on social media when results aren’t ideal, you can check that out for yourselves, if you wish.

There are a couple of takeaways from Thursday’s game.

Fraser Forster saves a penalty during the FC København game on Thursday. He needs to be signed to a long-term contract. Now.

First, and I know I’ve said this before, sign Fraser Forster. Now. Don’t wait. Just hand him the pen, have him put his signature on a new contract until, oh I don’t know, 2080, crack open the tin, and be done with it. The Wall is a cornerstone to Celtic’s current ongoing success, both this season and in seasons to come, so to say it would be in our best interest to keep him around is the biggest understatement ever.

Second, it looks like FC København did their homework. Not that other opponents don’t, but they knew that in games past Celtic shifted gears in the second half and usually motored away with the victory. They essentially beat us to the punch in the final 45 minutes in this regard, and their tempo was, let’s just say, uplifted for the second half where Celtic was unable to get a foothold.

Also, VAR sucks. Period. Full stop. Once you take the human element out of decision-making on the field, it’s pretty much game over. There is no way that Ryan Christie’s arm position in that hand-ball situation was anywhere near what can be considered a natural state. Not even for Christie, who I understand has the best dance moves of any Celtic player.

One last hat-tip to FC København for being a class act as an organization, and to the Celtic fans on the road again, who drew praise from the Copenhagen police. Prior to the game, the Danish Club and Audi promoted this video stating that “at least Celtic are still in Europe” — take that, Brexiteers — and after the game they tweeted this message: “Dear @CelticFC It was a pleasure to host you tonight. We look forward to visiting you for another exiting match. Have a safe trip home.” The Copenhagen police also got into the Twitter act with this tweet: “We want to thank the fans of @CelticFC – it’s been great having you guys in town – no registered problems during the night. We wish you a safe journey back to Scotland.”

Now it’s back home to take on Kilmarnock on Sunday at Celtic Park before exacting revenge for Thursday’s draw later in the week. Mon the Hoops!

Game-day rituals: Yours, mine and ours

A quick post while we await the start of the match against Hearts at Paradise: I know everyone probably has their own game-day rituals, some perhaps more elaborate than others, and I wanted to share mine before actually starting them for today’s game.

So, every morning before game time, I go out on the terrace, face the forest, and sing ‘Celtic Symphony.’ Not really. But I wish I could.

Personally, I have two, depending on whether I am working during the game or not. While I do my best to clear my schedule for the night games in Scotland — weekend games are no problem, as they start in what you would call the “wee hours” prior to sunrise — there are times when I have to work at either my part-time job as a bookkeeper at a local supermarket or as a freelance documentation specialist for computer hardware and software, which puts me at the beck-and-call of tech heads and engineers at several Silicon Valley firms.

First, fortunately I have this innate ability to wake up at 3:45 a.m. every morning, weekends especially, at which time on game days I will wash up, get dressed, don my Celtic jersey, put on my Celtic scarf, sing sotto voce either the Celtic Song (home game) or Celtic Symphony (away — “we’re on the road again”), and make my way to the computer, boot it up, plug in the headphones and log in to Celtic TV.

Shameless and unsolicited promotion: I love Celtic TV, and I would suggest anyone who absolutely, positively needs to watch Celtic games — and watch the games more than once, as I often do — to get a subscription. It’s reasonably priced at around US$25 a month (you can buy the entire season for around US$200, I think). The analysis is good, the play-by-play is adequate (the puns mostly hit, and the occasional Monty Python references are always welcome), and Celtic TV gets high marks for breaking the gender barrier by having Celtic FC Women’s captain Kelly Clark doing pre-game/halftime/post-game commentary. To her credit, Clark is more than just a token addition: She displays a deep understanding of the game that rivals, if not surpasses, her male broadcasting counterparts.

Meanwhile, back at the original topic . . .

Second, if I have an attend-or-die meeting in the Silicon Valley or have to go in to count money at the supermarket, I don my white Oxford shirt and wear a green sweater — Larry’s green and white — and take my scarf and my tablet with me; ever the professional. I have had a few engineers watching the games with me while I write or edit their manuals, and I am hoping this low-key evangelism will convert some in the tech arena to the Celtic faithful.

On the rare occurrence I am able to make it up to the San Francisco CSC at Fiddler’s Green in Millbrae (just south of the city), it’s the jersey, scarf, and excellent company with the lads up there in suburban San Francisco. One personal highlight: I watched the Billy McNeill game up there last season, which was completely magical in both the result and the camaraderie at the pub. Excellent group, those SF CSCers!

Enough about me. What are your game-day rituals? Feel free to post them in the comments.

Oh, and today’s game? Clean sheet, Griff (2) and Eddy score, 3-0 Hoops.