Looking for the ‘New Firm’

Forgive me for stating the obvious: Celtic fans all over the world know there is no “Old Firm” anymore, despite concerted efforts of pundits, the skewed Scottish sports media, and even those in the Celtic board room trying desperately to capitalize on this myth that was put to rest in 2012.

Follow me here. A club formed in the late 1880s playing a club formed in 2012 cannot have the word “old” rightfully placed anywhere in a description of their matchup. Call it the Glasgow Derby — a noble a name as there can be, to be frank — or the Last Great Battle of Good Versus Evil, or whatever. But “Old Firm” clearly has run its course.

Rational people know this.

And while there’s much delirious celebration still going on after Celtic’s win on Wednesday — going to the top and leading by 55 points in the table, if you count like they do at Ibrox — I’m willing to wait for the glee to die down before deciding on what to do about this.

After all, remove the gravity of the inter-city derby between these two, and Celtic playing Sevco is just another match. Josip Juranovic even alluded to this in a pregame press conference, and he was absolutely right.

So if there’s a real hunger and a real deep-down need for a “firm,” then why not make another one?

How about with Hibernian? After all, if history serves, Hibs was Celtic before Celtic was Celtic — that is, Hibs put down Irish roots in East Scotland about 10 years prior to Brother Walfrid doing the same in Glasgow a decade later. Despite any fallout between the clubs since — and I understand that there is a lot of animosity since then — wouldn’t that, at least, be grounds for a new “Old Firm” anyway?

Or what about Aberdeen? They’ve now got one of our iconic captains at their helm, and along with Scott Brown they’ve also got Jonny Hayes. Wouldn’t that be worthy of at least starting the ball rolling on heating up this rivalry?

The possibilities abound and, if there is a life-and-death need for a “firm” match, they can be explored. So I think I’ll take a seat, like Borna Barasic watching a Celtic goal on Wednesday, and ponder this a little longer.

Mon the Hoops.

Dear SPFL: My work is done here

That’s all for me.

I’m out.

Organizing guru and bestselling author Marie Kondo says — and I’m paraphrasing here — that if something doesn’t bring you joy, you should toss it.

With that in mind, I am tossing Scottish football.

Scottish football is unwatchable. It is nowhere near worth the effort of putting in two hours of my life on a weekend or weekday to watch when, more times than not, even in a Celtic victory — like the one against Alloa on Saturday, which is the final straw after many other instances — it does not provide satisfaction.

Life is too short to watch unfair, corrupt, bad football. And Scottish football, whether it’s the SPFL or the underleagues, has created an environment where hammerthrowers thrive in high numbers, where officials at all levels are either too corrupt or too stupid (and possibly both) to provide a even a halfway decent product on the pitch, and where sports hacks of the mainstream sports media — no one outside Scotland would ever consider them real journalists — would rather pad their wallets than provide the public with the truth.

To say nothing of the leadership in the upper leagues, who are blind to a situation in which their league spirals into backwater oblivion in the eyes of the world outside of their borders.

In a worldwide market where football fans have a wide choice of quality football from around the world to choose from, Scotland does itself no favors by acting like everything is fine and actively ignoring these glaring problems.

Problems which the Bundesliga doesn’t have.

Problems which LaLiga doesn’t have.

Problems which the Eredivisie, the Allsvenskan, or Ligue 1 don’t have.

Problems which even the MLS doesn’t have.

I love Celtic and I think that Ange Postecoglou is on the right track. There’s a good chance another treble is in the works this season, miraculously, and it’s my sincerest hope that this transpires. It would be poetic justice in the face of the constant abuse in the form of attacks on our players on the pitch while referees look the other way, and the bleatings of so-called “journalists” covering matches, who are spoon-fed nonsense that they transcribe as if they were stenographers.

I’ll keep watching Celtic, and rooting for them. I will still suit up every game as I always do when I watch. But where once I looked forward to game day, now it has become a chore; what was once a welcome event has become a two-hour visit to the garden of Gethsemane.

I’m through with having to watch Celtic playing both the 11 men parked on their end of the pitch and the four so-called objective officials who, maybe not so ironically, have SpecSavers on their sleeve.

I’m through having to temper any joy in victory with dealing with a casualty count, while literal assailants go unpunished and, in some circles, praised.

I’m through with watching one SPFL club get preferential treatment in every game, while every other club in the Premiership — including Celtic — sits idly by and says nothing.

This behavior may play to rave reviews there at home. But bear in mind that the rest of the world is laughing at you.

And that’s the worst, and saddest, part about it: Hands are thrown up and it’s just accepted as “our fate” or “our lot in life” that it has to be this way, because it has always been this way.

I’ve turned comments off. This is pretty much non-negotiable. If the Scottish game perchance ends up improving, becoming more fair and objective in its officiating, and providing the quality that is truly there — groaning under the sheer tonnage of graft, hypocrisy and greed that would stun a team of oxen — I would fight to be the first to sing its praises.

But I think I have a better chance of seeing Nessie pop up out of Loch Ness. From my couch.

So long, SPFL. Good luck. And, as always, Mon the Hoops.

OK, class: The sensei is in

All right, all right, class, have a seat and settle down. If you have coffee — good, because you’ll need it — drink up as this may take awhile. We have a lot to cover. As I have been assigned this task a week ago in this Twitter thread by none other than Father Antony CP on Twitter (@BrotherAntony), a priest and Celtic fan, far be it from me to go against the wishes of cleric.

My qualifications? Glad you asked. They’re not the most ideal, but I lived in Japan from 1996 to 2000, married a Japanese woman and we had a daughter; the latter who still lives with me and the former who doesn’t. I taught English, as most American gaijin (foreigners) do when they live in Japan, but I also edited an English-language lifestyle magazine and worked as a typist/proofreader at a large American law firm’s Tokyo office.

[Fun fact, and I’ve told this story before: In 1997 I went to a Yokohama Marinos game with my adult English students and saw Shunsuke Nakamura play. Like an idiot, I don’t remember seeing Nakamura, but I do remember being beguiled at the fact that I could get udon noodles at the concession stand. Yep, I’m still kicking myself for that.]

Suffice to say, I am not fluent in Japanese, but I know my way around the language. I’d also welcome some help from those who might be more conversant and knowledgeable in the language than I am, so feel free to jump in and post comments below.

All of that said — and if you’re still awake — let’s get started.

Two – no three – forms of writing

Yeah, I know some folks — especially those who, for the most part, support teams that wear blue — struggle with a mere 26 characters in what we know as our sole source of symbols, namely the alphabet. A to Z, or as you would say, A to Zed. That’s known in Japan as Romaji, but we’re going to leave that out because, hopefully, you don’t need help with that one. In Japanese, there are essentially three forms of writing: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Let’s take them one at a time.

A detailed hiragana chart, above, and a Katakana chart, below , courtesy of https://thejapanesepage.com/, which is a phenomenal resource if you’re interested in learning more.

In a nutshell, Hiragana is used for representing Japanese words phonetically in writing, as opposed to kanji, which we will talk about it a bit. The Japanese language has had a tendency to borrow a lot of words from other languages — “hot dog” for example, which we’ll show below — and to write those words, they use Katakana.

Again, without going very deep into detail — hey, I have a life, too, you know, and I do have to get back to it relatively soon — Katakana is essentially used for words imported from foreign languages. So for example, because the Japanese don’t have a word for that American delicacy known as the hot dog, it is written, in Katakana, ホットドッグ, or transliterating, “hotto doggu.”

And then there’s Kanji.

A sign at the Japan Rail station at Shin-Okubo details Kanji and Hiragana, as well as Western letters for those who can’t read neither Hiragana nor Kanji.

Kanji are logograms representing symbols adopted from Chinese, but while most of them have different pronunciations between the symbols in the two languages, the meaning is the same. For example, the symbol 山 — “yama” or “san,” meaning mountain in Japanese — also represents “Shān” in Chinese, which of course means mountain. Essentially the symbol means the same thing in both languages, but they have different pronunciations.

Confused? In the words of Leslie Nielsen throughout the movie “Airplane” — “But that’s not important right now.”

In the photo above of the Shin-Okubo Japan Rail station, there is the Kanji for “Shin-Okubo” atop the Hiragana (because Shin-Okubo is Japanese) and then Romaji, or the Western alphabet that you can read. That pretty much covers it for everyone in the station.

Yeah, but how do I say it?

The first rule, and a fairly helpful rule, is that there is only one vowel sound in Japanese — no long “O” or short “O” at least as we know it in English (but there is a nuance here that, in the interest of time, I will skip. You’re welcome) — and each essentially corresponds to the same vowel sound as you would pronounce them in Spanish. So if you paid attention in Spanish class in school, you’re more than halfway there. A is “ah,” E is “eh,” I is “ee,” O is “oh,” and U is “oo.” For example, か, or “ka,” is pretty much pronounced that way, and す, or “su,” is pronounced “sue,” like the girl’s name. Or the boy’s name, if you’re in a Johnny Cash song.

But here are a couple of curveballs, to use a baseball metaphor, in Japanese for native English speakers. For example, the “R” sound in Japanese is a very hard “R,” in linguistic terms, and so hard in fact it’s really an “L” sound. And the Japanese essentially pronounce Ra/Ri/Ru/Re/Ro as La/Li/Lu/Le/Lo.

That said, I sheepishly confess that I possess perhaps the most difficult name for the Japanese to pronounce — Larry. While living in Japan, my English students once gave me a birthday card that proclaimed, “Happy Birthday, Rally.” True story.

Which, of course, brings us to pronouncing the names of the Japanese quartet now in the Hoops.

Reo Hatate

Let’s do this one first. Everyone gets an “A” for effort in matching up Reo’s name with the Duran Duran song — “His name is Reo and we cheer him from the stands” — but unfortunately, if you were to pronounce his first name correctly, phonetically his name is Leh-oh, but we can still cheer him from the stands. Last name is simple – Ha-ta-teh.

Daizen Maeda

Pretty straightforward here for Daizen Maeda. No chicanery in the vowel sound department, just straightfoward vowel combinations producing “Dye-zen” for his first name and “Mah-eh-dah” for the family name.

An aside: In Japan, family names take precedence over given names, and you may see this player, for example, be referred to as “Maeda Daizen” in Japanese. This is customary in Japan, and often times one might refer to a colleague — if, for example, Daizen Maeda was your office mate instead of a footballer — as “Maeda-san” as opposed to, “Hey, Daizen.” Also, this “san” is an honorific attached to the end of a name, and is not the same as 山, meaning mountain.

Again, cue Leslie Nielsen.

Yosuke Ideguchi

Thank goodness we’re just going to refer to this new bhoy as “Guchi,” pronounced “Gucci” like the Italian fashion designer. There’s a nuance to some “U” and “I” vowel sounds where the sound is virtually swallowed and is almost non-existent. Such is the case with his first name, Yosuke. It’s not “Yoh-soo-keh” but “Yoh-skeh” with the “u” in “su” essentially disappearing.

Another Celt had this situation a couple of decades ago that gave announcers at the time some fits. You may have heard of him. Shunsuke Nakamura, whose first name is pronounced, as you all know by now, as “Shoon-skeh.”

I don’t know why this is. It would take someone with a better understanding of Japanese to explain. Are you out there?

Kyogo Furuhashi

OK, everyone. Welcome to the world of the Japanese syllables that English speakers can’t pronounce to save their lives, and yet another of the aforementioned curveballs in pronunciation. That would be a series including kyo/ryo/hyo/myo, or its variants, which are really pronounced as one syllable as opposed to two.

We have heard it all season: Key-Yo-Go or Kai-Yo-Go (the latter a specialty of John Hartson’s). Fingernails across the chalkboard . . .

It’s hard. But it’s “Kyoh-goh,” only two syllables. And believe me I get it because, having once been married to a woman named Kyoko, it took a little practice to get her name right while we were dating. And to this day I constantly trip over the word “ryokan” — inn — and instead I just call it a “ホテル” or “ho-teh-roo,” or “hotel.”

One more thing

While Google Translate is probably the greatest invention ever for reading worldwide dispatches about football in languages other than your own, it still needs to come up to speed when it comes to translating words and phrases from one language to another. As far as artificial intelligence in this area has advanced, it still hasn’t reached the stage where it can ascertain whether something is idiomatic or sarcastic between languages, or both.

But for the most part, you can get your point across using it, even though you risk sounding like a complete dolt.

For example, run “Mon the Hoops” through Google Translate into Japanese and you get “フープの月” — fupu no tsuki (note: “hu” becomes “fu” in Hiragana/Katakana), so it translates into Japanese as “Hoop Moon.”

Back to the drawing board, Google. Meanwhile, Mon the Hoops, in any and every language.

Class dismissed.

Tidings of comfort and joy

My holiday season could best be summed up by the line in “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas: “No one could have had a noisier Christmas Eve.” Hence the late post, scheduled for it’s usual Tuesday slot, for which I offer apologies.

First, I hope everyone had a good and safe holiday season. And to the supporters of the Glasgow club that plays at Ibrox, we should let Chris Sutton drive here, wishing them a happy holiday season.

Despite a draw at St. Mirren which brought out the Naysayer Brigade once again earlier last week, the Bhoys ended with a crisp 3-1 win at McDiaramid Park last weekend on a pitch that might quite possibly had been used the previous day for a tractor pull or some other monster truck event. The Scottish Football Association clearly needs to step up their standards on playing fields, and these guys deserve to play on much better fields offered by St. Johnstone.

But I digress.

In this holiday season, Celtic fans have a lot to be thankful for. This guy, for starters.

Not Eddie Howe. And for this we are truly thankful.

There is no one — no one on God’s now less-than-green earth — that could have pulled off the herculean task that Ange Postecoglou has done.

He leaves his family in Australia, and comes in to a club in turmoil without his own staff and inherits the backroom staff that arguably brought us to this point. He works briefly with a CEO he’s in tune with and suddenly, mysteriously, the CEO resigns under questionable circumstances. Now with a new club captain, he’s fighting off player injuries and nebulous and oft-changing COVID restrictions. And then there’s dealing with a Scottish sports press corps which, collectively, seem to both be sharing a collective IQ point while rewriting the record book in number of moronic questions asked of a Celtic manager.

All of that, and then there’s the officiating. Between the “honest mistakes” and downright chicanery in other games, the fact that SpecSavers sponsors the SPFL referees is an irony lost on no one.

Yet the turnaround many expected to take most of the season, at the earliest — and many were expecting longer — was nearly instantaneous. We are now 2nd in the league, easily within striking distance. Some may argue that 2nd is nothing to be thankful for, and there may be a case to be made for that. However, it could be phenomenally worse.

As it stands right now, Eddie Howe’s Newcastle is in the relegation zone. Are you really going to argue the point that we should trade places with Newcastle?

I didn’t think so.

Then there are these two guys.

Anthony Ralston and Kyogo Furuhashi

Some of the more vocal and somewhat, um, “opinionated” supporters on social media wrote off Anthony Ralston long ago, as they do with anyone who has one or two bad games (Remember Jack Hendry, now excelling in Belgium?). If we can be thankful on this holiday season for anything, it is these wannabe swamis are light-years removed from any decision-making authority in Celtic’s player personnel. The amount of crow eaten by these Playstation Pundits can be measured in tonnage seeing the player that Anthony Ralston has become. But give Ralston credit — he worked hard to make the jersey fit, and his improvements on the pitch have helped in the club’s recent success.

And Kyogo Furuhashi? すばらしい — suburashii, meaning “wonderful” in Japanese. Not only does this kid light it up on the field and is a joy to watch playing the beautiful game, he’s also living rent-free in the tiny heads of his detractors, who claim he cheats because they have no other reasonable way to explain how, even at 5-foot-7, he’s head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league.

And speaking of head and shoulders . . . (you knew that was coming).

Joe Hart’s career has been given new life at Celtic.

Charles Joseph John Hart. Joe Hart, to those of us who know and love him between the sticks for Celtic. The reputation of a big-time player past his prime was clearly unwarranted as he stepped up with both his commanding play and a commanding leadership presence on the pitch.

There are more contributing to the good tidings as well: Cameron Carter-Vickers’ rock-solid defense picks up when others falter, and he should stay with Celtic; there’s talk of that being bandied about during the break. Jota should definitely be signed as soon as possible — he seems to be at home at Celtic and his presence has proven to be a good fit for the club. And what can you say about Tom Rogic? The Wizard of Oz has found the magic so many had thought he had lost.

Leading up to the holidays, the results — though not perfect — were good enough to lead into a happy and satisfying Yuletide. There’s no reason that this won’t continue into the second half of the season.

Happy New Year, Celtic fans. You’ll never walk alone.

Why Ange Postecoglou matters

If you are a Celtic fan — and if you’re not, why are you here in the first place? — the afterglow of the Insert-Sponsor-Here Scottish League Cup final victory on Sunday was still fresh on Monday when this video appeared on social media.

Give it a watch. I’ll wait.

The video takes shots of the postgame celebration at Hampden and puts the images atop audio of Ange Postecoglou in a speech he made to the Socceroos — the Australian national team — when he was coaching them. After doing a little digging, I found the clip on YouTube of the original video, which is here.

Go ahead and give it a watch. Again, I’ll wait.

Tom Rogic and Josip Juranovic congratulate Celtic gaffer Ange Postecoglou at the end of the Scottish League Cup final at Hampden on Sunday, providing a simple reminder that we’ve been one club since, well, you can figure it out.

There is literally a world of difference between the Scottish coal pits south of Glasgow — where the likes of Jock Stein, Matt Busby and Bill Shankly removed themselves to lead football clubs — and the sunny shores of Melbourne where Postecoglou, an immigrant lad whose family had fled Greece in the wake of a political coup, grew up and learned to be a footballer and then a coach.

But despite the difference in distance and time, it’s not a stretch to say Postecoglou is cut from the same coaching and leadership cloth as our own Jock Stein. Compare the football played this season to last season — this season is definitely a lot closer to “pure, beautiful, inventive football” the way Stein had his team play it when he was in charge.

Just to be clear, I am not equating Postecoglou with Stein. Postecoglou has a long way to go to reach the rare air of Stein’s lofty status as a football manager. However, with a foundation marked by his successes in the past coupled with the recent turnaround of this current team, he is well on the way.

But more to the point: Postecoglou is clearly Celtic grade. Pure and simple.

It has gone beyond the trivial “foreign coach brings new ways to a new land” subtext, because despite the club’s recent successes, Celtic has returned to winning silverware again. That speaks volumes to Postecoglou’s skills as a manager.

So to say we’re fortunate to have him is a profound understatement. And whether it’s bringing his brand of football to the Hoops or putting the self-important and self-aggrandizing Scottish sports press in its place, Postecoglou has made his mark on the Scottish game in the time he has been at Celtic’s helm.

We can only hope he continues on the same successful course with the club, and if the past several months are any indication, he will clearly earn a place in Celtic history.

By the dawn’s early light

It’s 6:30 a.m. Pacific time, and I’m already awake — fallout from the 8- to 9-hour time difference between here and Europe when dragging myself out of bed to watch Celtic and St. Pauli matches live — and because the Winter Solstice is tomorrow, the sun is just making its way on the horizon behind the hills to the east.

But I confess, after a sleepless night — in a good way — I am still buzzing about yesterday’s win. My daughter, who was born in Kodaira-shi in the Tokyo Metropolitan District to her Japanese mom and me, now has an adopted older brother named Kyogo Furuhashi, who becomes a part of the family by virtue of his Larsson-esque play this season.

This is a Monday I don’t mind facing. In fact, I’m planning to break my mask protocol and wear my Celtic mask for two days in a row when I go into work later. Even in America, the reach of Celtic has a profound effect on its followers, and I know I’m not the only one. Across four time zones, there’s an excellent chance Yanks who bleed green-and-white are still buzzing about the results at Hampden.

Thank God Eddie Howe balked at joining Celtic and is now toiling — to be diplomatic — at Newcastle. Howe would have never — never — accomplished the same 180-degree turn with the Hoops as Ange Postecoglou has in the last several months.

As an aside, I don’t know where Dom McKay might be these days, but he’s owed a huge debt of gratitude for bringing in Postecoglou and the wave of players in during the last transfer window, many of whom made the difference yesterday with long-time Celtic veterans like Tom Rogic, Nir Bitton and Callum McGregor.

Put aside the fact that Postecoglou won, in a matter of months, the same number of trophies that Steven Gerrard took years to finally accomplish at Sevco before taking the first train out of Glasgow for Aston Villa. Ange is no stranger to silverware, and for those of you keeping score at home you can count Hampden as his ninth — three with South Melbourne, three with Brisbane, one with the Socceroos, one with Yokohama Marinos, and now one with Celtic.

But they said Postecoglou was not built for the SPFL. They said he’d be gone by Christmas.

In what has sadly become a hallmark of the Scottish mainstream sports media, they thought wrong.

And this team Postecoglou has put together, what more can you say? It’s a team that is once again geared to win trophies. Against most odds. Against the resistance of a Celtic board that balks at expense.

And what about this kid?

Every Celtic fan on the planet Earth would gladly trade places with Anthony Ralston yesterday at Hampden to greet Kyogo Furuhashi after his second goal to put the Hoops up 2-1.

Kyogo was not 100 percent yesterday, coming off a hamstring injury. But he was ready to play regardless. Postecoglou said on Sunday that no one was keeping him off the pitch, and for this we are truly thankful. The kid delivered.

It wasn’t just Kyogo. It was everyone, a team effort. Even Carl Starfelt — who Michael Stewart couldn’t slam hard enough on the game broadcast, early and often — had an OK game with a couple of miscues that resulted, arguably at most, with Hibernian’s only goal. But the point here is that everyone stepped up, because that’s the Celtic way.

My Celtic Star colleague Niall J points this out in more depth in his article here. It’s worth a read, outlining the contributions the team has made. But it bears repeating. Rogic? Awesome. Bitton, coming in for the dinged-up David Turnbull? Phenomenal. McGregor, the captain? No doubt the man we want in charge. Cameron Carter-Vickers? His solid defense clearly earns him the nickname “The Rock,” in deference to actor Dwayne Johnson.

[Cameron “The Rock” Carter-Vickers. Hmmm. That has a nice ring to it.]

The only thing missing, sadly, on Sunday was the absence of Jota, who is out with an injury. If anyone has contributed to the success of the club this season, it is clearly Jota. And for him to be absent in the victory on Sunday was definitely heartbreaking.

But of all the deliriously joyous events and happenings at Hampden, this one was probably the best.

Somewhere in the ethereal realm of the afterlife, Bertie Auld was looking down and watching yesterday’s game at Hampden. But his cutout was present yesterday, wearing the Hoops scarf.

Some cardboard cutouts are destined for the trash bin. And some are present at the final at Hampden. If you listened closely enough after the game, you could hear Bertie Auld say, “That’s entertainment.”

Coffee’s ready, finally. We’re away to St. Mirren on Wednesday — here we go again, we’re on the road again. Mon the Hoops!

Stop the presses!

Those who know me are aware of the fact that I spent most of my adult life in the news industry, until I was unceremoniously waived from my wire desk duties by the Santa Cruz Sentinel in 2014 in their final layoff. In nearly four decades of news work, overall I am proud of the fact — and consider myself profoundly lucky — that my career went virtually error-free.

Mistakes? Yeah, they happen. I’ve seen it first-hand, and have been part of news teams to rectify them. I’ve even caught my own, thankfully before they were put into permanence via print. But this one by the Daily Mail is pretty much a “rookie mistake.” You don’t report the results of an event until the final whistle blows because, well . . .

Oops. Well, Luke, better call rewrite, and fast . . . .

To be fair, let me pull back the curtain on how many sports writers cover games; and bear in mind that in these days of electronic media, it differs slightly from the good old ink-and-paper days. Generally speaking, in nearly every instance, reporters are writing the story as the match unfolds in order to have something ready when the final whistle goes. They’ll add post-game quotes from coaches and players and submit it to their editors. And voila, you get to read it shortly thereafter.

But in this “gamer” — the game story, as it’s called — apparently they jumped the gun, perhaps in an effort to get out of the office and into the pub. Or home, maybe. Only the people involved at the Daily Mail know for sure how this happened, but I would offer — not as an excuse, but as an explanation — that chances are there are a shortage of editors and writers at that news outlet, just as there are all over the industry worldwide as greedy publishers try to cut corners at the expense of the quality of their product, which by now is suspect.

But I digress.

In the closing seconds of injury time, Anthony Ralston put away a header to win the game against Ross County, 2-1.

Anthony Ralston’s goal in the upper reaches — literally and figuratively — so far away at Ross County was phenomenal. Much has been made of it elsewhere by those closer to the action than me. It is one of those endings that rival other late-game heroics that are part and parcel to Celtic’s recent history. It’ll be talked about for quite some time, to be sure.

If nothing else, the Daily Mail gets a yellow for this foul, and chances are they won’t do it again. Or will they?

One more thing

It would be easy to be complacent after an exceptional win like Wednesday’s at Ross County, and while you can easily bask in the afterglow of Ralston’s goal for quite some time, the fact remains that the officiating in the match didn’t even rise to the profoundly low and remarkably substandard level so common to the SPFL.

Carl Starfelt should have never been sent off, especially after having his nose broken, or so it seemed, several minutes prior. A clear handball — actually a both-handsball — foul on a Ross County player in their box in injury time completely missed by a ref who was as near to it as I am from my living room to my kitchen (and in this small apartment, that’s not very far). Virtually every no-call — and there were many — against various Ross County players who seemed to be playing rugby moreso than football was not only grating, but affected the outcome of the game.

This has to stop. International bodies like UEFA or FIFA have to step in here and send Scotland some real officials instead of the poseurs now wearing SpecSavers on the sleeves of their black shirts.

On Sunday at Hampden, we have the League Cup final starting at 3 p.m., which thankfully is 7 a.m. Pacific. Mon the Hoops!

3-0 at Tannadice is nice, but . . .

First things first: Celtic played a phenomenal game at Tannadice on Sunday against fourth-place Dundee United, winning 3-0 easily with phenomenal play from Tom Rogic, ballet-like moves by David Turnbull and new kid Liam Scales slotting one in to seal the deal.

What could have been potentially a nailbiter with key players missing — the absence of Anthony Ralston, Jota, and Stephen Welsh casting a shadow over the game — ended up being a classic show of Angeball.

The Bhoys in Green made fairly easy work of a club that — unlike, say, Livingston and their 10-0-0 formation — actually went out of their way to challenge Celtic on the pitch with a pressing style of play. While it’s hard after a 3-0 defeat to heap glowing praise on Dundee United goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist, he did play well to keep the score from being significantly higher; to say nothing of feeling completely awful for ex-Celt Charlie Mulgrew, now sadly toiling in obscurity for the Tangerines, who got beat so handily by Rogic on the first goal of the game.

Who taught this bhoy how to dance? David Turnbull pirouettes around Benjamin Siegrist to score at the 40-minute mark to make the score 2-0 Celtic. Photo credit: The Celtic Star

But . . .

You would think that the officiating would be its cutting edge sharpest in a match where all eyes were on the Men in Black, especially after the razor-thin margin of an offside goal for Celtic on Thursday had caused such a huge scandal in Scottish football.

Sadly, any semblance of objectivity or sharpness on the part of the officiating crew at Tannadice, or anywhere else throughout the league for that matter, was virtually non-existent.

On Sunday, three offside calls that weren’t really offside — I guess that will show us. Countless fouls matching the non-calls on fouls.

And then there’s the aptly named Callum Butcher. Butcher: Is there an any more appropriate name for a hammerthrowing nobody who immediately should have been red-carded for his spikes-up marking of David Turnbull?

No doubt the Scottish Football Association’s Crawford Allen will have a busy week going round all the media outlets telling us why Butcher didn’t get a red card and why his linesmen had countless incorrect decisions against Celtic on Sunday, just like he did this past week after Kyogo Furuhashi’s goal against Heart of Maddenlothian . . . sorry, Heart of Midlothian.

Wait. Who am I trying to fool?

So, while I’m pleased with the results against Dundee United on Sunday, pleased with how Ange Postecoglou and the coaching staff arranged the limited personnel, and reassured by the uptempo style of play which makes us the team to beat in the Scottish Premiership, I don’t want to get complacent with our treatment by the officials, which is nothing short of abhorrent and, as the rest of the world outside Scotland sees it, hypocritical.

As such, it’s easy to take our foot off the gas — rhetorically speaking — when it comes to the malfeasance on the part of the officiating crew. This is where I think we should keep on it. Keep pointing out the errors, keep pointing out the injustices. Some might say, “Well, it has always been this way,” and that may be. But it doesn’t mean we have to accept it.

Call it out. Early and often. Every time it happens.

One more thing

Two, actually.

First: Ghirls will be ghirls.

The Ghirls in Green won their first piece of silverware in a decade — the Scottish Women’s Premier League Cup on Sunday, dragging out a 1-0 victory over perennial women’s power Glasgow City. Fran Alonso has really gotten the women’s team to fire on all cylinders this season, and it’s good to see that he’s getting results. Congrats, ghirls!

Second thing: Why isn’t Tom Rogic ever in any of the Celtic Christmas videos?

Anyway, we have the fascists from Real Betis visiting Celtic Park in a Europa League match on Thursday. It might be a good time to give some of the bhoys a rest and let the kids take the stage, so to speak.

Anyway, Mon the Hoops!

Requiesce in pace, Bertie

I read the news today, oh boy . . . and after reading the headlines before grabbing a quick cup of coffee and toast on my way out the door to go to work, I rued the gloom that eventually ended up following me for the entire day: Celtic legend Bertie Auld had passed away.

Bertie Auld takes it to Inter Milan in the European Cup championship in 1967.

There are only a handful of players in the wider Celtic’s history that define a certain aspect of the club’s persona.

Vision was always defined by Brother Walfrid, who had the idea to feed the poor through the game of football, and then later by Willie Maley, who brought the foundation of quality players to the Hoops.

Leadership was always defined by Jock Stein on the sideline — espousing pure, beautiful, inventive football — and Billy McNeill implementing it on the pitch.

Skill had a wide variety of representatives in Celtic’s history, but none was superior in all of Celtic history than Jimmy Johnstone.

Personality and heart had but one shining representative: Bertie Auld. He understood and reflected what it means to be Celtic. He was faithfully Celtic, through and through.

Had Bertie done nothing else in his entire Celtic career, he achieved legendary status in Lisbon even before the game began: As the legend goes, in the tunnel awaiting to go out onto the pitch, standing next to European powerhouse Inter Milan, Bertie started singing “The Celtic Song,” in which the rest of his teammates joined in to the bemused Italians. John Fallon gives a great description of the scene in Clover Flims’ “The Fans Who Make Football” in their Celtic episode starting at around 20:50 – however, the whole episode is worth a watch, if you haven’t already seen it.

But he did so much more. For the fans who were not born yet, or not old enough to experience the glory and significance of the 1967 European Cup, Bertie Auld was the conduit – the connection to the heyday when Celtic was the first non-continental team to bring the trophy up to the British Isles. His accessibility – Bertie was always available for banter with fans, and was never at a loss to regale the public, whether it was a small group or a broadcast studio audience, with tales of Celtic greatness — was a touchstone of what it means to be Celtic.

The testament of how loved Bertie was by Celtic fans is the number of pictures posted on social media by people who had their pictures taken with him. Those are only the ones that are being shared, and there are probably more that aren’t, but it speaks to the fact that Bertie was always accessible and available to the people, and always made time for the fans. Always.

One of the most moving tributes-in-288-characters was posted on Twitter by Celtic Park tourgide Davie McLaughlin, with a picture of Bertie and Davie’s son.

His love for Celtic was boundless, and it showed. Day in and day out. He understood that football is nothing without the fans, and as a result, he seemed to give back to the fans a hundredfold, because at the end of the day we are all Celtic.

Bertie understood that. He was one of us, and that’s why we all loved him.

That’s what I thought this morning, driving down Highway 9 from Felton to Santa Cruz on my way to work, negotiating every serpentine curve through the redwoods, all the while singing “The Celtic Song.”

But I’m hearing the song in Bertie’s voice, not mine.

Requiesce in pace, Bertie. You’ll never walk alone.

We are family

João Pedro Neves Filipe — better known in these circles as Jota, our midfielder — mentioned what could have been a throwaway line in a postgame interview on BT Sport after Celtic’s 3-2 victory against Ferencvaros in Budapest. However, it bears resurrecting because it says a lot about Celtic’s resurgence.

“We are just starting to get to know each other,” Jota said of playing with his new teammates, “and month after month I think we are getting stronger and start to be like a real family, so . . . yeah, I think things are doing well . . .”

We are family: Kyogo Furuhashi and Jota during Celtic’s 3-2 win over Ferencvaros on Thursday.

That’s an important observation from a player for whom Celtic should be writing a check to Benfica to acquire him, and personally deliver it to the Portuguese club immediately. Celtic needs to seal this deal as soon as possible, as in right this very moment, as I write this and as you read this.

This kid “gets” Celtic.

When Jota hits on the family aspect of Celtic, he is not far off. Families are not perfect, obviously, and from time to time there is friction. And not all decisions made on a group level are met with the same degree of fanfare and joy, but the fact remains that whatever ups and downs there might be, we are in this together.

Faithful through and through.

We had a positive week this week with the signing of Anthony Ralston and then a Europa League victory in Budapest, wrapping up the week today when the club announced the signing of Greg Taylor to a new contract.

The Moan Brigade was out in full force on social media on that last one, which is unfortunate but sadly all-but-expected. Taylor is what we call here in the States a “lunchpail player” — a non-flashy, just-get-the-job-done, bringing his lunch from home type of player. No accolades, no fanfare. He clocks in, does his job dutifully, and clocks out until the next day.

A lot like Jonny Hayes. Remember him?

And here’s what the PlayStation pundits and armchair gaffers get wrong about giving Taylor grief: We let Hayes slip away a while back, and now he’s teamed up with Scott Brown at Aberdeen. Keeping Taylor in the fold, whether or not he’s a starter going forward from here on in, was a good move in keeping an experienced player who has the option of fighting for a starting spot.

Let’s be honest: The club signing Jota would have been a much bigger deal. That’s a given. And again, signing Jota should be done as soon as possible; there’s no way to stress this enough. But the fact that we’re shoring up the club with veterans like Taylor shouldn’t be discounted either.

Because perfect or not — and we all know there have been moves Celtic either balked on or shouldn’t have made, or moves we made and we’ve regretted — we’re still family.

Sunday we’re at Dundee against the Dark Blues at the bewitching hour of 4 a.m. kickoff on the U.S. Pacific Coast. Mon the Hoops!