[Blogger’s note: I wrote this letter yesterday, put it down before going to sleep, and picked it up again this morning. After making a few changes, I printed it out and put it in the mail only a few minutes ago — great timing since my letter carrier arrived at the same time I was heading to the post office — and depending on how our damaged United States Postal Service (led by a Trump appointee) handles the letter, it may make it to Scotland sometime within the two or three weeks. However, here is the letter, verbatim.]
4 October 2021
Neil Doncaster, Chief Executive Officer The Scottish Professional Football League Hampden Park Glasgow G42 9DE Scotland
Dear Mr. Doncaster:
As a matter of introduction, my name is Larry Cafiero, and I am a football fan in the United States who has followed the Scottish Professional Football League since 2017 in my capacity as a supporter of one of its member clubs, Celtic FC. Insofar as my experience as a fan may be limited compared to others who may have followed the football in your league for much longer, allow me nonetheless to point out a situation that needs your immediate attention.
Mr. Doncaster, you have a problem. While it’s true that we all have problems, yours affects tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands or even millions, of football fans worldwide. It’s a phenomenally huge problem that, if not addressed immediately, is certain to hemorrhage football fans outside Scotland – and possibly within Scotland as well – from following your league.
No doubt you already know this: You cannot allow the inept level of officiating to continue in the SPFL. For the sake of argument, I will merely refer to the level of skewed officiating as inept; however many, both in Scotland and elsewhere, have made a very strong and compelling case for the officiating at Scotland’s highest level to be not so much inept as much as it is corrupt.
Of course, ineptitude can include corruption, but you cannot be corrupt and inept at the same time, at least not successfully. But I digress.
It was the great Jock Stein who said, “If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter.” However, contextually speaking – and this is how I, and others, interpret this quote – Stein was referring to officiating that is fair and objective in its execution. It’s beyond crystal clear that you don’t have that in the SPFL this season, and for all intents and purposes, you didn’t have it last season either.
The latest in the sky-high pile of “honest mistakes” was the red card on Hibernian’s Ryan Porteous on Sunday. Putting aside the fact that the challenge successfully separated the ball from the player in question, it bears noting that Ryan Porteous has only received two red cards in his SPFL career, both received from the same official, Nick Walsh, and both received in games where Hibernian played Rangers (source: Transfermrkt.com).
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Can you, in all honesty, tell me with a straight face that this is a coincidence, one of hundreds this season and last? Would you really try to convince me, and thousands of other football fans, that this, and so many other calls made and not made, are really just “honest mistakes”?
To list all the “honest mistakes” in Rangers’ favour this season and last would make this letter the size of the Oxford English Dictionary, so I’ll spare you. You’re welcome. But in the meantime, this situation has reached a tipping point where your league has lost most, possibly all, its officiating credibility. Needless to say, this does not reflect well on the SPFL, and its effect on casting Scottish football in a negative light spills over Scotland’s borders.
In other words, it’s not a local problem for the SPFL. It’s global.
Here’s my perspective, from 5,000 miles away: I have a larger than normal group of football-loving friends here in the United States with whom I converse, many on a daily basis, and the general consensus here on Scottish football is this: It’s corrupt, and in its corruption the SPFL is relegated to a backwater status in the eyes of many of my American contemporaries watching and following football abroad.
Even recently, an acquaintance said to me in conversation about Scottish football: “It’s a joke. I’d rather watch the Allsvenskan.” And while admittedly this comes from a guy who my friends and I describe as a “Bundesliga snob” and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with Swedish football, I had nothing concrete to point to in order to counter his argument, because he is right: The SPFL, as it stands right now, cannot be taken seriously when only one club – a nine-year-old club at that – solely benefits from what appears on the surface to be a skewed officiating policy that consistently, and without fail, rules in their favour.
The choice is yours: As the league’s chief executive, you can fix this and make Scottish football respectable again. Or you can do nothing and contribute to its continued atrophy. It’s a simple choice, and I know you’re smart enough to make the right choice.
To be realistic, if I were a gambling man I would wager that this letter doesn’t make it past your secretary. Or your secretary’s secretary, for that matter. Regardless, while I don’t have the answers, I do have what I think may be the start of one.
Let me suggest this: You may want to try employing FIFA/UEFA officials from outside Scotland to officiate SPFL games. See if that works in the way of restoring objectivity and, in the process, credibility.
It goes without saying, but it bears repeating, that this credibility would foster respect, returning Scottish football to the status it once held — and a status it deserves — as one of Europe’s best; a justified respect for the Scottish game in both Scotland and beyond.
Football fans of every SPFL club deserve the best football officiating the league can provide. Of course, that can be said for any league in any country. That’s not happening right now at Scotland’s top level.
But it can be.
It’s your move, sir.
Larry Cafiero [street address] [city, state, post code] [country] [blog post address]
“If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter.” — Jock Stein
Today was one of those days that Jock Stein was talking about in his famous quote above. However, truth be told, referee Euan Anderson should never be let onto a pitch ever again, whether it’s to call a professional game, a pub match, or an under-8 kids game. In fact, Anderson should never be able to watch a match ever again, even from the comfort of his own couch.
But never mind the fact that Anderson was just inept rather than corrupt. The fans are back — as many as COVID-ly possible — and the Bhoys ran roughshod over Dundee FC today 6-0 in a show of what Celtic can do under the new and improved no-nonsense leadership of Ange Postecoglou and with Celts, new and old, stepping up to the plate, to borrow a baseball metaphor.
So looking around the realm of social media and various Celtic forums, one has to ask: Where are the whiners? Someone in the Celtic faithful somewhere has to be moaning about today’s game for some reason. My guess is someone somewhere will say, “lapses in defense,” in the face of a clean sheet. That’s where my money is. Anyway, if you find anyone, could you let me know?
Here’s why they’re so silent today.
New Kids on the Block
Liel Abada spent all day today slicing and dicing the Dundee FC defense. Kyogo Furuhashi spent all day scoring on the Dark Blues, and probably would have scored more than three had a couple of shots been closer. Anthony Ralston — you know, the guy who many Playstation Pundits and Armchair Gaffers couldn’t stop hammering 24/7 for “not being Celtic quality”? Oh, the deafening silence from that crowd now! Stephen Welsh, patrolling the backfield with Carl Starfelt, gave new goalkeeper Joe Hart little to do, and giving him arguably enough time to wash his hair during the course of the match.
Taking a page from Pete Townshend and the Who, “The Kids are All Right.” And with Abada and Furuhashi up front — two up front, what a concept! — the goals should be pouring in to opponents’ goals.
Old Guys Rule
In my neck of the woods on the Central California coast, the saying “Old guys rule” refers to the surfers in the area over a certain age. But it can apply to Celtic and their more experienced players as well. Tom Rogic — can the Wizard of Oz finally be back? Could be. Ryan Christie had a phenomenal game, and hopefully we can get more like this from him going forward. Add to the mix that it is only a matter of time until James Forrest gets back up to speed and sharpness, and with the young guns, the old guys can help Celtic flourish under the watchful leadership of Callum McGregor, who was artful in leading the Bhoys in the home opener.
With this combination of new talent and established players, Postecoglou may have found the right mix going forward. All of which would indicate that Celtic are on their way to a successful season.
Guess who just got back today? Them wild-eyed bhoys that had been away, Haven’t changed, haven’t much to say, But man, I still think them cats are great.
One more thing
When you look at and listen to old clips of Shunsuke Nakamura’s early games in the Hoops, you can hear the commentators trip over the pronunciation of his name. They often called him “Shoon-sue-kay” when in Japanese it’s pronounced “Shoon-skay.” Quickly over time that was cleared up during Nakamura’s stay at Celtic.
Today, same story, different set of proverbial nails scratching the chalkboard: The Celtic TV today was the broadcast crew calling Furuhashi either “Key-yo-go” or “Kah-yo-go” when it’s “Kyo-go” — two syllables, not three. Again, I expect this to clear up quickly by, oh, the next match, but I have to admit that to this guy who spent four years in Japan, it was infuriatingly grating.
I was so looking forward to returning from the off-season hiatus at the start of the Scottish Premiership season yesterday and reporting whatever observations and insights I might have about the game at Swinecastle — sorry, Tynecastle — against the Diet Huns of Heart of Midlothian.
But I can’t. Instead, I have to play Captain Obvious and point out to everyone an emperor-has-no-clothes moment in Scottish football.
Specifically, the Premiership of the Scottish Professional Football League is a joke — and not even a good one, at that — primarily because of its lack of objectivity in its officiating now running on its second season of “honest mistakes” (and arguably it goes back further). And while you may want to note that the issue may be all well and good in Scotland around this, where the woefully spoon-fed Scottish dictation corps — sorry, I mean the Scottish mainstream media — would just as soon sweep it under the rug and point out there’s a new Page 3 girl.
But the rest of the world is laughing at you and pointing, Scotland, and that’s before many are turning away and tuning out from your brand of football to watch leagues that are more fair.
I know, I know. Jock Stein said that, “If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter.” But yesterday, even Big Jock had to have been looking down from above on the games yesterday and saying, “Holy shit, are you kidding me?”
Let’s take a look, shall we?
Oh, just ignore that JamTart in the circle, who clearly has Celtic winger Leil Abada onside. Apparently he’s invisible. Leil scored on this play . . . not, as it was called for offside. And let’s go to the argument-du-jour about this: Nimrods far and wide are saying, “Well, his arm is offside.” Seriously? An appendage that has nothing to do with the game? Here, have a cookie and go outside and play. In traffic.
Not offside: Rangers
Truth in advertising: I had learned to count around 1960, so it goes without saying that I have a pretty solid grasp of numbers and their concept insofar as counting things. And here, it appears to me — and probably anyone else looking at the photo — that three Rangers players are in the next post code before the free kick is taken. Offside? Don’t make me laugh — it’s Rangers.
Of course, the example of “honest mistakes” goes far beyond these two yesterday, and the scores that transpired last season, or the hundreds in seasons prior to that. But the fact that nothing has been done about it makes this a national disgrace.
What is to be done?
Well, there are options here. What might be done is that Dominic McKay and Ange Postecoglou could go down to the SPFL offices, kick down Neil Doncaster’s office door, and beat the shit out of him every time there’s an “honest mistake.” But I’m not asking for the world here, despite the barbarian appeal of marching through Glasgow with Doncaster’s head at the end of a stick.
[OK, calm down. I’m joking. No football executives were harmed during the writing of the previous paragraph.]
But what McKay and Postecoglou — and our do-nothing board and club office leadership, if it’s really not too much to ask of them — could do is to go to the mat, so to speak, in a very vocal and concerted way for fairness each and every time this kind of thing happens. We surely can’t be alone in this situation — when Rangers get the benefit of each and every call in their games, the other 11 clubs have to wonder why they aren’t being treated fairly. If they don’t, their fans certainly do.
McKay, Postecoglou, and Celtic need to take this case to the Scottish Football Association if, and more importantly when, necessary.
McKay, Postecoglou, and Celtic need to take this case to UEFA if, and more importantly when, necessary.
Our fans have taken up the mantle, at least, with a social media effort to point out each and every “mistake” the officials make, and hammer them on it. This is a good first step that needs to be followed with the backing of the higher-ups in the club.
The only benefit to living 5,000 miles away from Celtic — the only benefit, actually — is that distance offers a perspective that one who lives in Scotland may not have because you’re too close to it. Fans in the U.S. are already tuning out Scottish football for more prestigious leagues, which is a tragedy that doesn’t have to happen and can be fixed.
One more thing
Overall, the Bhoys looked fairly good on Saturday, even though they were playing against Hearts and the officials. Both Carl Starfelt and Kyogo Furuhashi looked OK — not great, but not bad — in their first introduction to the Scottish game, despite Starfelt’s gaffe that almost resulted in an own goal. Reminds me of another Swede who struggled in his first game as a Celt . . . Henrik something, I think his name was. It’ll come to me. Clearly all the pieces aren’t in place yet (and not to beat a dead horse, although yes, we know why), but most of them are, and chances are the Hoops will hit their stride sooner moreso than later.
Without anything else to divert my attention — thanks, International Break — I have been mulling the departure of Scott Brown, the only captain I’ve known at Celtic as a fan, while both navigating the five stages of grief and speculating about what this move might mean for Broony, as well as Celtic, in the future.
I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, and I don’t have any tinfoil hats that fit me well, but after processing the whole departure of the heart and soul of Celtic, I get the sense that Brown will be back: This player-coach stint at Aberdeen is just a warm-up and a “learning the ropes” for a future managerial stint at Parkhead.
It’s just a hunch, but there are precedents at play here.
The great Jock Stein ended his playing days at Celtic and later went on to manage Dunfermline Athletic and Hibernian before returning to Celtic and making history. The same for Tommy Burns, who left Celtic for Kilmarnock late in his playing career — serving as a player-coach (sound familiar?) for Killie — before returning to manage the Hoops.
So while I am brokenhearted at the prospect of next season without Brown, as well as sad at the prospect that he will not get a proper send-off thanks to COVID-19, I do think we have not seen the last of this Celtic legend playing a role for the Bhoys.
And who takes the armband from next season? One popular debate is that it is up for grabs between Callum McGregor and Kris Ajer. Both would excel at the role of captain, but I would give the nod to CalMac — not to take anything away from Ajer, but McGregor has done it numerous times in Brown’s absence and he has a long history as a catalyst to the club’s recent successes; a history I hope continues until he hangs up his boots years from now.
In the meantime, there are bhoys playing for their national teams today — Ajer and Norway are hosting Turkey, and Jonathan Afolabi, Luca Connell and the Irish are hosting Luxembourg. Mon the Hoops on International Duty!
Celtic’s performance on Sunday against Hibernian in the club’s 3-0 win was outstanding across the board; so much so that the silence from the doomsday brigade populating Celtic Twitter has been deafening. Let’s take a quick look at the match, and single out those who deserve special mention in a game which displayed why Celtic is the club in command this year.
Scott Brown? The armchair Steins on Twitter said he needed a rest, but he came out roaring on Sunday to have a great game, and in some folks’ opinions, he should have had Man of the Match honours. Greg Taylor? Improving on the wing with every game, and more importantly on Sunday, showed his defensive prowess by shutting down Martin Boyle, Hibs’ go-to guy, for the entire game.
I suspect there’s a bingo game going on with all the talentless hammerthrowers in the SPFL to see which one of the bastards can be the first to cripple Sunday’s Man-of-the-Match Jeremie Frimpong. Hibernian’s candidates gave it their best shot on Sunday, but still the Oh-My-Days Kid came up sprinting and doing what he does best: Speeding past hapless defenders.
David Turnbull looked sharp and his play on the pitch overall was remarkable. As an aside, my only concern on Sunday — a minuscule one at best, and one that’s easily rectified — is that nearly every corner he took was a line-drive with little altitude for the skyscrapers like Shane Duffy, Kris Ajer, and even Odsonne Edouard, in the box.
But truly, the man who deserves the highest praise on Sunday, and high praise every day that he’s a Celt, is Nir Bitton.
For seven years, Bitton has simply played the game — and played the game well — for Celtic. No fanfare. No drama. No should-I-stay-or-should-I-go chapters. Just a player who is proud to wear the hoops and plays where he’s asked. And though not perfect, he plays wherever asked to as near a perfection as a player can.
Listed as a midfielder, Bitton is blessed with the ability to play in the back like a world-class violinist plays a Stradivarius, as was evident in the Hibernian game. Though some criticize his pace as “slow” — I prefer to use the term “methodical” — yesterday his ball distribution from the back, mostly to Frimpong, and advancing up the field with the ball like, well, a midfielder, were sights to behold.
It’s players like Bitton who make the game enjoyable. To say he’s a throwback to another era where players played for the jersey is maybe a little over-the-top, but Bitton — who has found his niche and who seems to appreciate his place in Celtic’s history — “gets it.”
In short, he understands what it means to be Celtic.
And Jock Stein would probably agree: His jersey fits.
In the meantime, let’s hope Albian Ajeti heals quickly. Mon the Hoops!
It inspires awe, unfortunately not in a good way: A club that has won nine championships in a row, not to mention three trebles, has some members of its fan base that excel at either hair-on-fire panic or terminal negativity — sometimes both — for essentially no good reason.
Even some members of the fan base — these same members, of course — who will swear on the graves of their ancestors that they love Celtic constantly, will also, at the same time, make it their sole purpose in life to slag the manager and specific players on the team.
You would think that this crass shallowness would be a hallmark of Glasgow’s other club, and one could successfully argue that it is. Which, of course, is all the more reason why it should stay there instead of encroaching onto the other side of Glasgow.
We’re better than that. Does that even warrant mentioning?
Maybe it does: Elements in the “support” — real or imagined — are calling for the removal of Neil Lennon while dragging players like James Forrest or Greg Taylor or Ryan Christie or fill-in-the-blank for the scapegoat du jour.
Taylor is an above-average fullback who is still learning to play in the Celtic system. He’s not flashy; in fact, he’s what we call in America a “lunchpail player,” a guy who brings his lunchpail to work, puts his head down and does his job without fanfare or attention-grabbing. Is he the answer to Celtic’s problems? No. But he’s not the cause of them either. Primarily a defender who excels in that aspect of the game, Taylor would be ideal in a back 4 and his current role of supplying crosses into the opposition box is one that has come with a learning curve for him. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here because I think ultimately he’ll both succeed and be a more well-rounded player for it.
The ire towards Forrest and Christie is totally unwarranted. Both have consistently given all for the club every game, both have been brilliant overall for the Hoops, and Christie deserves special note for being constantly on the go, whether it’s the first minute or the 90th. Both have established themselves in a midfield that has a vast overstock of talent in it, not to mention both being a scoring threat for the entire 90 minutes.
I am as mystified as anyone at some of Lennon’s choices in the recent lineups, but I’m not at Lennoxtown making that decision. So I trust his vast knowledge of football, not to mention his staff’s, over my approximately two years of studying the game. Yet some of the armchair Steins among the support want to replace Lennon because of it? One question: With whom? Honestly, you want to abruptly halt the momentum the club has gained under Lennon because you don’t like it that he doesn’t play 3-5-2 enough? And even if you could replace him, who would you reasonably get to replace him at this point?
It’s perfectly all right to have an opinion. Unhappy with Lennon and his choices? So am I, but rather than calling him names or worse, I’m more than glad to hear him out. Do I think players deserve to be benched for having an off-day, or even worse, resort to name-calling? Absolutely not.
Criticism can take two forms: Positive and negative. Positive critique has been sorely lacking. The panty-wetting and negativity on forums and social media are beyond the pale and are downright embarrassing.
Again, we’re better than that.
This much is clear: The demands made of Celtic players are far greater than many other clubs. Second place is nothing, to be sure, and one of the main aspects of supporting a football club is experiencing the highs and lows, the good and bad, the euphoria and the horror. In an era marked by championships, “trebles,” and a vast array of silverware, there have been few “lows,” and even fewer “bads” and “horrors.”
Fans should be held to the same high standard, because the Celtic scarf doesn’t shrink to fit inferior supporters.
Mon the Hoops!
[Blogger’s note: Much of this item comes as a result of private discussions with a few friends from The Celtic Noise, and they will recognize their contributions herein. While they know who they are, I won’t identify them for privacy’s sake, but needless to say I gratefully appreciate and acknowledge their contributions.]
With their 1961 hit single, the Shirelles got it right about Celtic’s foray to Rugby Park on Sunday. And while the wailing and gnashing of teeth continues regarding the 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock, believe it or not there are some positive takeaways from Sunday’s game.
First things first: Sadly, a considerable segment of the so-called Celtic support has been taking the post-game time on Sunday to post absolute full-panic-mode nonsense; sheer idiocy rivaling what followers of Glasgow’s other club tend to produce. Yes, Christopher Jullien let the team down by his foul, leading to Killie’s only real chance to successfully score, but who in their right mind would seek a replacement? Yes, probably we should have played a 3-5-2, with Odsonne Edouard and Patryk Klimala (for the absent Leigh Griffiths) up front all game, but firing Neil Lennon for not doing so? Seriously?
For those who are ready to pitch it all because you imagine that your hair is on fire because Celtic needs to buy every player on the planet and fire Lenny in the process, Eddy would like to have a word with you . . .
Now for a couple of positive takeaways — yes, there were a couple– from Sunday’s game.
Vasilis Barkas had a good debut
The Athenian Fenian started his first game between the sticks for the Hoops and, aside from Jullien’s gaffe leading to a penalty kick, Barkas played a fairly flawless game. The penalty kick aside, he stopped everything that came his way, and his ball distribution was pretty admirable, though I think he could have launched a few more long balls than he did. But that kind of thing comes with time and if Sunday’s game is any indication, it looks like he’s going to be a solid mainstay in goal.
Hard to play against a 10-0-0 alignment
As previously mentioned, the 3-5-2 which brought us to 9 in a row should probably not be deviated from. It’s hard to ascertain — and it’s not for me to question — if Lenny went with one striker up front because Griff is in the doghouse (again) or he felt our second striker option, Klimala, was not ready, then that’s the call. It’s water under the bridge now. However, Kilmarnock seemed to have come onto the pitch with a 10-0-0 alignment, with 10 defenders, no midfielders and no forwards, which makes things a little difficult for the freewheeling Hoops.
Regardless, both Greg Taylor and Jeremie Frimpong — the former moreso than the latter — got the ball in on several occasions only to have the effort fail in a sea of blue jerseys. To his credit, Ryan Christie nailed an absolute stunner of a free kick which rattled the back of the net and Callum McGregor just missed a shot which went inches over the bar in a game that lacked clear chances to score.
Jock is right about refs, but . . .
We all know Jock Stein’s quote by heart: “If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter.” However, the right call on a ball out of bounds over the right touch line immediately prior to Jullien’s penalty should have been a throw-in to Celtic. I’ve watched it a few times — thanks, Celtic TV — and the ball was completely over the line and out. Of course, one out-of-bounds ball does not win or lose games — just as one penalty kick does not win or lose games in and of themselves — but, in this case, a correct call by an attentive lineman would have changed the complexion of the game.
Where’s Uncle Albert?
One of the things I missed about this year’s visit to Rugby Park is the lack of Kilmarnock fans, especially Uncle Albert — the bearded chap who was the recipient of the Leigh Griffith Tape Hurling Award during a game last season. In fact, I don’t know if he is the same fellow, but I recall last season when Celtic TV, whose play-by-play man and match analyst have to sit painfully close — such is the case at Rugby Park — to the fans, and the broadcasters had to keep apologizing for a garbage-mouthed oaf whose profanities were picked up by the Celtic TV microphones.
Maybe he was at home saying “aye” to a Kilmarnock Pie. Who knows?
Next up is St. Mirren on Wednesday, kickoff at the glorious hour of 6 p.m. in Scotland and 10 a.m. North American Pacific Coast time.
Watching 131 straight days of reruns of every Celtic game of this past championship season — thanks, Celtic TV — I am grateful, like all other Hoops fans, for this: Celtic finally took to the field against Nice on Thursday for the start of French friendlies to tune up for 10 in a row. As is the postgame custom in this blog, we’ll take a look at some takeaways — namely three of them — from Thursday’s game.
VAR sucks, and the SPFL doesn’t have a monopoly on bad referees
First things first: VAR sucks. Full stop. And I have said in the past that I find the offside rule an unexplained mystery that rivals how gravity works or the what the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey” really means. But watching Odsonne Edouard sandwiched between two Nice players while the ball passes all of them leads me to believe that he was clearly onside and the goal should have stood.
Add to this the arbitrary calls and non-calls during the course of the game by a referee who definitely has been away from the game far too long and needs just a bit more practice, and what turned out to be a rust-shaking 90 minutes could have been a Celtic win.
In the first half with the starters on the pitch, Celtic got into a pretty good rhythm and did not lack chances on goal. Credit a combination of getting timing down in the first game with a few phenomenal saves by Nice’s goalkeeper Walter Benitez. With the exception of a couple of good moves and a shot by Kaspar Dolberg (after a foul downfield against Mohammed Elyounoussi which was not called, but never mind) to make the score 1-0 to Nice after 38 minutes, Scott Bain played well, making a few good saves in his first start in several months.
Then came the wholesale team change in the second half, as Neil Lennon went with the subs. They all played well, and some were phenomenal. Boli Bolingoli had a fairly remarkable game where his defense was solid, his passing was crisp and he had a shot on goal that, although wide, shows that his first for the Hoops may not be far off. Hatem Elhamed, now number 44, showed the speed and defensive form that made him a fan favorite early last season. Ismaila Soro also impressed with his defensive play, with many of his passes getting the Hoops out of danger.
And then there’s Patryk Klimala. Not only did Polish Paddy score to equalize on a misplayed ball by the Nice goalkeeper, but his play during the second half was pretty remarkable. What should have been more notable during the game was Klimala’s range — he was all over the field and he made a couple of defensive plays in the Celtic end that saved potential scores.
Which, of course, leads us to consider another Celtic striker who is currently not with the team, so . . .
Meanwhile, back in Scotland . . .
As widely reported, Lennon has dropped the hammer on Leigh Griffiths for coming into training overweight and for his social media exploits, keeping him off the roster for the French games. And with Klimala already impressing on the pitch, Griffiths’ work is cut out for him to regain his spot.
Unlike a chorus of social media pundits who think Griffiths is through, I would disagree. You read it here first: Griffiths will come back with a vengeance. In the best of all possible worlds, I am confident that Super Leigh will take this latest wake-up call and make the best of it.
One more thing
The refrain from the Grateful Dead’s “U.S. Blues” would be a fitting verse to sing for the person who raised the 9-in-a-row Celtic flag atop Glasgow City Hall last week: “Wave that flag, wave it wide and high.”
And as you might expect, the social media response to this has been pretty hilarious, now that each of the staunch statue guardians becomes a “flagpole sitta” (thanks, Harvey Danger). This one below is of special note . . . which has drawn requests from NASA to investigate (although my guess is that the American space agency will pass).
Until the Lyon game, we are Celtic supporters, faithful through and through . . .
Celtic historian. European away trip veteran and travelogue writer.
Celtic Park tour guide and match programme contributor. Marathon man.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Credit where credit is due, part one: Livingston, a club which seems to have Celtic’s number for some metaphysical reason, lived up to their reputation as a home team that is very stingy about letting visitors score, and punched way above their weight on Wednesday to put Celtic in battle-stations mode for much of Wednesday’s game.
Credit where credit is due, part two: Celtic didn’t fold, remained focused, and kept coming after the Tony Macaronis shortly after going down 2-1 early in the 2nd half, constantly attacking the 10-0-0 Livingston formation for a better part of the second half before Tom Rogic finally got one to go in during injury time to equalise.
But before getting into some of the details, let’s backtrack a bit, going off-script for a moment, to talk about officiating over the last couple of games. It has been laughably deficient and blatantly awful.
At Pittodrie, Andrew Dallas borked most of the calls and non-calls in the Aberdeen game, which Celtic won anyway. Same at Kilmarnock with Kevin Clancy, who for the most part really has no business calling a game between teams of 8-year-olds, let alone games in the Premier League. But we still prevailed against Killie.
On Wednesday, Willie Collum may have looked at those games and said, “You think that’s bad? Hold my beer.”
Collum clearly was rendered temporarily blind when at least two Celts were clearly fouled in the penalty area during the course of the game, not to mention a variety of other fouls on the pitch. He also missed not one, but two handball fouls by Livingston on Odsonne Edouard’s free kick late in the game, to add to his usual all-over-the-map WTF method of refereeing.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: The greatest marketing ploy ever, in the entire history of advertising, is SpecSavers sponsoring the SFA referees.
And I know, I know: Jock Stein said, “If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter.”
But even after Wednesday’s game, Big Jock is surely looking down from heaven and saying, “Damn, dude.” Or whatever the Scottish equivalent to that California phrase might be.
Meanwhile, back at the original point of the blog: Despite coming away with only one point — and thank goodness Glasgow’s other club made that “academic” (thanks, Chris Sutton!) by dropping their game against Hamilton — Wednesday’s game in the Italian Restaurant Arena was a completely watchable game; despite being a watchable game that we should have won by a score of 5-2 given the penalties we should have had.
OK, I’ll stop.
Wednedsay’s game was one of those grind-it-out affairs, where we lacked in a couple of areas — Fraser Forster uncharacteristically mishandled a ball that ended up as a fluke goal for Livingston early in the first half, and their familiarity with a quirky pitch augmented by defensive misplay on Celtic’s part led to their second — but we still came away with a draw. Because that’s what champions do.
A couple of bright spots in the game: As he often does when he’s fit and on the pitch, Nir Bitton makes a good case for being a starter for Celtic. His play yesterday was nothing short of solid, and I suspect — and I could be off here — is that we’ll be seeing more of him as the season progresses.
Also, after coming back from an injury where his mobility may have been hampered (possibly permanently), Jeremie Frimpong looked as fast and sharp as he was before professional hammerthrower Alan Power of Kilmarnock assaulted him earlier this season.
And Rogic: It appears that after a few games under his belt upon his return from his lengthy injury time-off, the Wizard of Oz is finally getting his touch back.
Add to the mix the return of players like Hatem Elhamed and Mohammed Elyounoussi — the latter who had a tough time on Wednesday (it happens) and the former who Neil Lennon wisely didn’t play on Wednesday on a plastic pitch — and the Road to Nine looks clear.
While close games may be exciting to watch, it would be nice for Celtic to maybe blow out St. Mirren on Saturday. Personally, I could stand a “boring” 7-0 victory by the Hoops from time to time . . .
One more thing: Kudos to Celtic TV once again. The power went out here in Felton shortly before the 2nd half started — Pacific Gas & Electric has rolling blackouts from time to time in their effort to keep their failing infrastructure from burning down all of California — and I missed the live broadcast of the half. But thanks to their available video of the 2nd half, I was able to watch once the power was restored.
All of which is to say, one of the best investments Celtic fans abroad can make is the monthly (or yearly) subscription to Celtic TV. And while he’s no Sutton, Tom Boyd’s insights — both the significant and the quirky — are top-notch; especially the Monty Python references.
Oh, and before I forget, the Sandman’s ratings are here.
’67 in the Heat of Felton appears on a regular Tuesday/Thursday schedule, often with game observations following Celtic matches.