There’s a story that I like to tell my Celtic-following friends — or anyone who wants to hear it — despite the fact it makes me look like a complete idiot (which, if I’m being absolutely honest, is not terribly hard to do).
When I lived in Japan in 1997 and was teaching English to a class of advanced students — young professionals whose English was (and probably still is) better than most Americans I know — the class took “Larry-sensei” to a Yokohama F. Marinos match. While at the stadium, the thing that impressed me most was the fact that I could get phenomenally decent ramen at the snack stand, which I ate at my seat as my students enjoyed the game.
Playing in this particular game, as I found out years later as a Celtic supporter when I asked one of my students with whom I am still in touch, was a rookie named Shunsuke Nakamura.
Outside of the ramen, the then-incomprehensible cheers that I chanted with my students, and winning the match against either Jubilo Iwata or Urawa Reds, I don’t remember seeing Nakamura play, even though apparently I did.
See? I told you: Complete idiot. Just hand me that pointed hat with the word “DUNCE” on it and I’ll just go to the corner and sit on that stool.
It wasn’t until years later that, after adopting football and supporting Celtic, I discovered Nakamura and his greatness.
Now, the legendary magician who made balls swerve and appear in the back of the net — sometimes at historic times for Celtic — is hanging up his boots at the ripe old age of 44, at the end of second-tier Yokohama FC’s season.
Though he wasn’t at Celtic for as long as he should have been, leaving in 2009 for Espanyol of La Liga before returning to Japan, his time in the Hoops was a storied one, with 166 appearances and 34 goals. Not a high goal count like other Celtic legends, perhaps, but some of those goals were historic. Winning the league on a free kick against Kilmarnock, the two free-kick goals against Manchester United, and there’s always his first goal against Rangers — back before they were liquidated in 2012 — that defied physics; anything that makes that idiot Allan McGregor look this foolish deserves to hang in the Lourve.
There was an NHK program which was broadcast shortly after Nakamura’s departure from Celtic which outlines the effect he had on the club and Glasgow itself. The narrator speaks in Japanese, but much of it is in English (with Japanese subtitles) with Gordon Strachan and Neil Lennon giving insights into Nakamura’s time at Celtic, as well as several fans telling their impressions of Nakamura. There’s even a very young Kieran Tierney and his family talking about Nakamura’s influence on the lad.
So どうもありがとうございます — doumo arigatou gozaimasu or “thank you very much” — to 中村俊輔 (Nakamura Shunsuke) for blazing that trail from Japan to Scotland for others to follow. Thankfully, we have a new generation of Japanese players following in Nakamura’s footsteps at Celtic, coincidentally led by the former manager of Yokohama F. Marinos, Ange Postecoglou.
One more thing
Because we’re speaking about Japanese players in Scotland, Kyogo Furuhashi seems to be wearing a target on his back, rhetorically speaking, and it wasn’t more evident than it was against Hibernian last week. Kyogo ended up on the pitch a lot more than he should have, and on one than more occasion Hibernian’s Elie Youan flattened Kyogo, once in front of the referee which resulted in — wait for it — no call.
Of course, minutes later Kyogo retaliated with a push, and the referee was all over that with a whistle in world-record time.
I hate repeating myself, but I will: The SPFL is a rampant breeding ground for hammerthrowing nobodies festering in a petri dish of crooked officiating, both contributing to making the league — and Scottish football — the laughingstock of the world. It’s not enough to just shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, it’s always been that way.” Either it changes and the football becomes respectable, or it founders in a chorus of “same as it ever was.”
Rant over. Celtic is at Fir Park on Wednesday to play Motherwell in a League Cup match at the very weird hour of 10:15 a.m. US Pacific Time. I’ll have on my Celtic jersey underneath my strike t-shirt, as I’ll be on a picket line during my union’s strike against the City of Santa Cruz. But I will have the game on my phone, so Mon the Hoops!
Well, after an international break that sent all of our bhoys back essentially unscathed, and after a win in a shower of glass on Sunday against a club which is known worldwide for its complete lack of class and common sense, it’s nice to bask in the afterglow of Sunday’s victory while pondering a problem approaching Celtic as the season winds down.
What problem, you ask? Simple. It’s going to be difficult — or maybe even downright impossible — to decide who gets the Player of the Year nod this season.
So who, in a multitude of more-than-qualified candidates, gets it?
Had he not been injured, Kyogo probably would have been a shoo-in for the award. The kid is phenomenal and shows a commitment to the team that belies his own well-being — scoring a brace while playing injured in the Scottish League Cup final put him out for several weeks. But now that he’s back, he’ll be a force to contend with as Celtic looks to wrap up the season atop the table.
The Phantom of the Up the Ra: Callum McGregor may get stick for having to wear a mask after getting his face smashed earlier this season by a forgettable hammerthrower — seriously, I forgot who it was who assaulted him, but truth be told this nobody will someday run out free drinks at his local pub and die alone and friendless. But if anything, CalMac has taken the torch of leadership from Scott Brown and handled it admirably as Celtic’s captain. Not only this, with his constant solid play in the midfield which rarely garners attention but is the linchpin of Celtic’s success, he certainly deserves the accolade this year.
Cameron “The Refrigerator” Carter-Vickers . . . what can you say? The guy’s an absolute beast to anything that comes his way, opponent-wise, and is key to Celtic’s top-of-the-league defense. Not only this, CCV has an immense ball-handling talent that regularly gets Celtic out of the back quickly and off to the races, so to speak, when it comes to the attack. Celtic definitely needs to sign him, and soon, and he deserves a shot at POTY.
It still makes me literally shiver to think that he may have been off to some far-flung club in Saudi Arabia (I think that’s where he was said to be possibly going . . . ), but cooler heads prevailed and the Wizard of Oz stayed. And here he is, a whiz of a Wiz, if ever a Wiz there was! Rogic, uninjured for the better part of the season for the first time in quite awhile, has returned to his old form and is playing at a level that makes him a candidate for POTY.
Whether he’s on the wing — or anywhere else, for that matter — Jota is always a threat wherever he is on the pitch. One of Celtic’s best loan acquisitions in, like, the 134-year history of the club, every effort should be made to sign him. If he is POTY and they send him back to Benfica, it would be a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.
Perhaps he is a dark horse for the award, but it bears mentioning that Josip Juranovic has been solid in defense, as well as spectacular on the wing, for Celtic all season. Also, there’s the penalties as well. On a club which isn’t as stocked in talent as Celtic is, Juranovic would definitely be a front-runner for POTY. But his phenomenal play is often overshadowed by others on the pitch — not a knock on Juranovic by any matter of means, but just a reality.
And the rest . . .
You can’t leave Daizen Maeda off this list. The guy covers the pitch like Sherwin-Williams covers the world, and does not stop for 90+ minutes. If Georgios Giakoumakis continues his ever-improving form, it would be hard to keep him off the list as well. Matt O’Riley and Anthony Ralston also deserve a look as well, as both are having good seasons with the club.
But my choice of Player of the Year, right now, would have to be . . .
Thank you, Nuno Espirito Santo. Espirito Santo, at the time the manager at Tottenham Hotspur, told Joe Hart, and this is a quote, “I would not feel comfortable with you playing one minute for me. The ball’s too quick for you, you’re too old, you’re not moving, you’ve got no strength in your body.” Fast forward to November of last year: Espirito Santo is fired after 17 games at the helm of a lackluster Spurs team, and Joe Hart — too old, not moving, no strength in his body — has been a godsend between the sticks for Celtic. At the rate he’s going, Hart could very well be on his way to joining the pantheon of Celtic’s iconic goalkeepers, like Fraser Forster, Artur Boruc, Packie Bonner, or even Ronnie Simpson. While a case can be made that Hart is playing behind a solid defense, the fact remains that someone has to stop whatever shots get through, and Hart has done so almost flawlessly. He’d be my choice for Player of the Year, hands down, and head and shoulders, over the rest (you knew that was coming).
One more thing
Two, actually: First, it might seem like I am making light of our visit to Ibrox on Sunday in the first paragraph. Let me be clear: What happened in the Bigotdome on Sunday was completely deplorable. When the home club claims not to be able to ensure the safety of pundits in the press box while their idiot fan base rains down bottles on opposing players on the pitch, you have what is the epitome of hypocrisy. But that nothing new for Sevco, as it’s their stock in trade. Celtic should be more vocal in calling this out, asking for sanctions from both the SPFL and UEFA, as well as never — let me repeat, never — allow Sevco fans into Celtic Park ever again. If it means no Celtic fans at the cesspool Sevco calls a home stadium, then so be it.
What’s worse, we’re watching. The Scottish press can gloss over it all day and night, but the rest of the world is watching. And those outside Scotland who aren’t derisively laughing at the SPFL are shaking their heads in disbelief to think that a league with a storied history has become such a joke, and a bad one at that.
Also . . . some think he’s no longer a Celt — he’ll always be a bhoy in my eyes — but Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney is going under the knife for season-ending knee surgery. Good luck, KT, and recover soon.
While the exit door at Parkhead seems to be jamming a bit lately, the latest departure rumour has Odsonne Edouard, according to pundits’ recent reports, joining Leicester City (much to the dismay of fuming Arsenal fans) for an encore performance with Brendan Rodgers.
And with this news, of course, follows the tsunami of petulant, spoiled naysayers among the Celtic support disparaging Edouard’s phenomenal contribution to the Quadruple-Treble, whether on the wider social media front or even here in this thread in the Celtic Noise forum, with a raft of nonsense discounting his endeavours in the Hoops by focusing solely on this past season.
You know, the 2020/21 season. The season where Edouard was asked to play up front alone most of the time, despite being more successful — as nearly all strikers are — with a second striker to play off of. But let’s not quibble about that, oh spoiled petulant ones, when you can dump on a phenomenal player who can arguably be credited for most of the club’s high points over the last four seasons, right?
The “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” crowd, in their typical myopic and moronic manner, just want him gone. “He lost interest.” “Couldn’t be bothered.”
You know what? I wanna be Edouard. I still wanna be Edouard. And when he goes to play at Leicester City or wherever he ends up, I will continue to watch him, just as I do former Celts I miss playing in the Hoops, including Kieran Tierney at Arsenal, Moussa Dembele at Athletico Madrid, Scott Sinclair at Preston North End, Mikael Lustig at AIK, and closer to home, the Celts in America: Patryk Klimala, Cameron Harper, and Andrew Gutman at New York Red Bulls, and Lewis Morgan at Inter Miami.
With the exception of Mo Johnston and perhaps Boli Bolingoli — the player who sadly lit the match that ignited last season’s dumpster fire — if you wear the Hoops and play Celtic football, you’ll always be a Celt wherever you go.
Normally, I’d have “One More Thing” to add here, but today I’m going to have to pass. It’s a beautiful day here on the Central California coast and, with nothing burning (so far) and nothing football-wise to watch, I plan to take full advantage of it.
To be honest, the International Break drives me crazy. With no Celtic (or no anybody, really) to watch as the nations line up to qualify for the World Cup, the best I can do — after watching endless past games and the Broony DVD multiple times — is watch the bhoys play for their respective countries. If there is any consolation, it’s seeing things you don’t normally see when the Hoops play in the SPFL.
Like . . .
Norway. Why did it have to be Norway?
It seems that whenever I line up ESPN+ to watch whomever is playing at any particular time over the last week, Norway seems to be at the top of the list for broadcast. It could be worse, obviously, but it’s good to keep an eye on Kris Ajer and Mohammed Elyounoussi (not to mention watching the antics of Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland). Overall both of the bhoys have been playing well for Norway despite the team’s lackluster results, especially Elyounoussi — I don’t have the stats in front of me, but he seems to have stepped up his game in the take-away department. Ajer, of course, has been the Viking enforcer in the back who does not fear taking the ball up the pitch when the space is available to him. We’ll have to see how it pans out for the Norwegians.
Oh no, Nir! Not again!
One reason — perhaps the main reason — I loathe the International Break is that Celtic players tend to get banged up in the process. Call it the “Tom Rogic Effect.” Once again, an injury rears its ugly head as Nir Bitton tore a groin muscle in the final training session for Israel before they started their games, and now he returns his injured self to the training table in Glasgow. To be fair, Bitton was not 100 percent when he was picked to play for Israel in the first place.
[As an aside, anyone watching the Israel-Scotland match notice how in-the-groove ex-Celt Hatem Elhamed was in defense? Pity he couldn’t stay.]
Kieran Tierney, assist king
Meanwhile, back at home — yours, not mine (over here in the States, we’re still fuming over the fact that the U.S. Men’s Team didn’t qualify for the Olympics, while waiting for some heads to roll) — the Scots under Steve Clarke seem to be holding their own in a group where they precariously hold on to second in Group F. The Scots pretty much had their way with the Faeroe Islands 11 yesterday, 4-0, thanks in large part to three assists by ex-Celt Kieran Tierney; all of which were beauties, and one of them which came from a cracking pass from Callum McGregor — pity there’s no stat for “assists-on-assists.”
It begs the question: Is there anything Tierney, the kid with the Tesco bag, can’t do?
Shocker: Edouard gets the penalty
Take notes, SFA: When you have referees who are not — how can I put this tactfully? — playing the 12th (or 13th or 14th) man on behalf of Glasgow’s other club, you get what can best be described as fair officiating. Proof of that, of course, is the call in France U21 game against Russia where Odsonne Edouard, who was clipped with the same intensity as he was in the Glasgow Derby, getting not a yellow card for simulation but a real, honest-to-God penalty kick, which he slotted away in his usual Edouard way.
Amazing, isn’t it? I’ve always said that there was much more to the SpecSavers’ sponsorship of the SPFL officials than meets the eye.
(Pun completely intended.)
One more thing . . .
Two actually: First, I caught the end of the Germany-North Macedonia game, with the Germans scrambling to draw unsuccessfully at the end of the match, which went the North Macedonian’s way 2-1. First loss at home for Germany in, like, forever, and a boost to the tiny landlocked nation just north of Greece.
Second, it looks like the MLS in the U.S. is starting to expand its scope of players loaned from European to American clubs. That is, when they are not signing them outright, as in the case of ex-Celts Cameron Harper and Andrew Gutman. News from Hamburg has FC St. Pauli midfielder Leon Flach joining Philadelphia Union, a rival to Harper’s and Gutman’s New York Red Bulls. Interesting note that Flach goes to Philly to join Stuart Findlay, who came up through the Celtic youth system and played with Kilmarnock before heading stateside.
Not the strangest MLS loan transaction, though. The winner of that one, so far, would be Sporting Kansas City’s acquiring Mexican player Dani Rojas on loan from AFC Richmond for, wait for it, a metric ton of barbeque sauce. Don’t believe me? Here’s the press release from SKC.
Wait a minute. Anyone have a calendar? Ah, that would explain it . . .
A recent article in The Athletic (subscription needed) outlines in great detail the reasons that Jeremie Frimpong has jumped ship from the cozy confines of playing for the Hoops at Celtic Park in Glasgow to donning the black-and-red and playing in the antiseptic Bay Arena in Westphalia.
The article is full of high-road plaudits and reasons for his departure. There’s no doubt that Frimpong wants to play in a more prestigious league — he certainly has the talent to do so — and at his age, 20 at his last birthday, his entire football career is in front of him. Neil Lennon described him in a press conference as “ambitious.”
Said Frimpong in the article, “It was the right time to leave Celtic because it was about a big club like Leverkusen coming, rather than about Celtic. And obviously the Bundesliga was really attractive. So when they came, I was like, ‘I could play in the Bundesliga!’, and that was it really.”
Frimpong highlights that he wanted to play in the Bundesliga, which he calls correctly “one of the top three leagues in the world,” and who can blame him?
But I think there’s an unspoken reason for Frimpong leaving Celtic and saying goodbye to playing in the SPFL, and my guess is that most of it has to do with the latter.
Let’s set the stage: In a league like the SPFL which has questionable officiating — where the referees’ SpecSavers sponsorship has gone way beyond irony when multiple clear red-card fouls go uncalled — and in a league like the SPFL where hammerthrowing is the rule moreso than the exception, why would a player with a potential for greatness want to play in a leauge like the SPFL where a career-ending injury might be just one late tackle away?
My guess is that what is not being said as Frimpong takes the high road in interviews is that he had enough of the likes of Kilmarnock’s Alan Power or Hibernian’s Alex Gogic — two examples of several players in the league who serve no real purpose on the pitch other than to create mayhem and injure opponents. And frankly, Frimpong was right to go. I would have helped him pack his bags, too, because I would rather see him play for years, or decades, elsewhere rather than see his career cut short by a mouth-breathing neanderthal nobody in a Killie jersey.
For the same reason, Kieran Tierney — a kid who spent 2/3rds of his life in the Celtic organization — was absolutely and completely justified in taking the money Arsenal offered him to play at Emirates. It physically hurts to say that, but that is the truth. Tierney will always be a Celt, but why should he sacrifice his football career on the altar of poor officiating and unpenalized rough play that is part and parcel of the Scottish Premiership? Tierney himself had career-threatening injuries playing for Celtic — he didn’t get them slipping and falling in his apartment — and he overcame them to both excel at Celtic toward the end of his career in Glasgow and to shine in North London, where he is showing the EPL the quality of the Celtic system.
And when Celtic has a poor transfer window because players are hesitant to come ply their trade in the SPFL? Are you really surprised quality players pass on us in an effort to avoid what has degenerated into a style of play in this league more resembling ice hockey than football?
Until the SFA gets a grip on more consistent officiating — consistent insofar as actually making calls instead of blowing them off, mostly for the benefit of one club (and it isn’t Celtic) — and until the quality of play in the SPFL starts more resembling other respectable leagues around the world, quality players in the Hoops will always have an eye on playing elsewhere.
For as long as I live, there are three things I will never understand: First, there’s how gravity works, and then there’s the ending of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The third is how some people who claim to be Celtic fans still — still — to this day dish out vitriolic rubbish about Kieran Tierney leaving Celtic to play at Arsenal.
It wouldn’t be an issue, but over the weekend, someone on Twitter posted a picture of Tierney’s shin guards that the player posted on Instagram — one a Celtic guard with his Celtic number and the other an Arsenal guard with his current number. This renewed the debate of is he/isn’t he a Celt even though he plays elsewhere.
Let’s end this debate once and for all: Kieran Tierney was, is now, and always will be a Celt.
To even question this is ridiculous. Tierney literally spent two-thirds of his life in the Hoops, signing when he was seven and coming up through the youth program. To see the player he has become is a testament to the Celtic system, as well as a testament to the courage and will of a young player who took all the hammerthrowing SPFL opponents had to offer and played for Celtic while nursing serious, potentially career-ending, injury.
I look in on Arsenal from time to time to see how Tierney is doing. To be honest, Arsenal has always been interesting to me as a casual observer. In addition, I will always think it’s one of life’s great anomalies that both Jeremy Corbyn and Piers Morgan both support the Gunners. There are other things, too, I think are quirky about the North London club, like the “marble” away jersey — who’s idea was that? — or the fact that there’s a news blog related to all things Arsenal called . . . wait for it . . . Arseblog (which, of course has a linked podcast called, ahem, Arsecast).
In fact, this passing interest in Arsenal recently went as far as a visit to the Arsenal store on-line to price a Tierney jersey. To be honest, it was a little above my budget. OK, it was waaaaaaaaaaaay over my budget, and with what I would have spent there, I could have gotten two Hoops jerseys, at least pre-postage overseas.
But I digress.
The fact of the matter remains that when you leave Celtic, Celtic rarely ever leaves you. It’s sort of like Hotel California: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. And it shows with some of the former players.
Lyon’s Moussa Dembele — incidentally, I don’t seem to remember him getting anywhere near the flak that Tierney got for leaving Celtic — is another player I like to look in on; on social media he is always looking in on the Hoops and praising the Bhoys in Green.
Scott Sinclair at Preston North End? Got him covered, and it looks like he’s settling in with the Lillywhites.
Mikael Lustig — one of my all time favorite Celts who we could really use wearing the Green and White right now — last year had me following KAA Gent until he moved home to Sweden to play for AIK. Anyone who follows me on social media knows how much I miss Constable Lustig, the mad Viking.
The list goes on. Regular readers of this blog know I have been following the MLS exploits of former Celtic winger Lewis Morgan, who was Inter Miami CF’s MVP in their inaugural season. Marian Shved, out on loan to Mechelen, still gets a look-in from time to time, and it was great to see him a few days ago get the winner late in the game. Jozo Simunovic — pointing every skyward after scoring at 67 minutes in the Billy McNeill game — still remains on my phone wallpaper while we wait to see where he ends up.
So the moral of the story is simple: Bhoys will always be bhoys.
So now that the first game is finally under Celtic’s proverbial belt, a convincing 5-1 against Hamilton Accies at home on Sunday, there are a few positive takeaways from the classroom on the pitch at Celtic Park.
Before we start, however, there are two glaring observations that need to be dispensed of at the outset.
First, if today’s game is any indication, Celtic is playing like a team destined for the history that awaits them, namely winning 10 in a row.
Second, however, and probably more importantly, is Sunday’s game shows Celtic fair warning: If the hammer throwers at Hamilton Academical are any indication, the other 11 teams will ply a trade of constant bodily harm in order to thwart the Hoops’ date with destiny.
That said, let’s take a look at Sunday’s game. Take out your notebooks, boys and girls.
Odsonne Edouard is uninterested?
Yeah, that was the run-up, all-encompassing question prior to Opening Day: Was Odsonne Edouard, as they say in France, too indifférent, as even some were saying paresseux? Pardon my French, but one hat trick against the Accies later, and all that nonsense seems to have évaporé. Any preseason evidence suggesting that Edouard is not ready to get to work for the 10 was vanquished on Sunday, and let’s look forward to more of this, s’il vous plaît.
The Passive Aggressive Hoops
In his post-game interview, Neil Lennon said that he thought, “we were a bit too passive in the first half.” While that may be true, in typical Celtic fashion the club came out of the gate storming in the 2nd with their usual aggressive attacking football, which is something we had seen all season when the Hoops won their 9th in a row. Sure, it would be great for the Celts to get up to speed quicker and lay down a marker earlier in the game. But when the results are a win, who cares when they pull away from their opponents?
Greg Taylor: Man of the Match
Yeah, I know: Edouard gets the nod by virtue of three goals, but Greg Taylor had a phenomenal game on Sunday. Taylor and his counterpart on the other side, Jeremie Frimpong, kept the Accies busy all game with crosses to the center of the pitch, essentially keeping them back on their heels for a majority of the game. The ball handling by the entire team earned special mention, but the play from the wing — both of them — was unusually good this time around and shows promise for success going forward.
Scott Bain did well
Playing under the shadow of possibly — or maybe even probably — being replaced at some point soon is daunting; a dead-man-walking scenario to be sure. But Scott Bain did not falter and turned in a good game against Hamilton. Not perfect — the pinball for the Accies that went in off of Callum McGregor and Christopher Jullien was a quirk of nature that really no one could have stopped, not even Fraser Forster. But Bain showed some good distribution and make a few good stops and earned the win at his end of the pitch.
[As an aside, pity Ryan Fulton in goal for the Accies: Normally a 5-1 outing would earn a goalkeeper a good thrashing, if not a dawn appointment with a firing squad (no pun intended). But he made several great saves in a game that really should have been 9-1. At least.]
Polish Paddy on the score sheet
Patryk Klimala continues to impress, and now that he’s got a shot at being the number two striker for Celtic, it would probably come as no surprise that the Polish kid will be working hard to claim that spot. His goal at the 90-minute mark in the game came as he outmuscled a defender after a long pass from Jullien. And even after not getting a really clean shot off, it still danced cleanly into the back of the net. At which time — quite possibly — somewhere at the Leigh Griffiths household, Leigh got onto his stationary bike for some additional training time . . . .
One more thing
Not directly Celtic-related, but there has been a debate brewing in the advent, and in the wake, of Arsenal’s 2-1 win in the FA Cup on Saturday about whether it is OK to send our long-time defender and current Arsenal fan favourite Kieran Tierney well-wishes and congratulations. If nothing else, KT is living, breathing proof that the Celtic system, from the youth level to the first team, is sheer quality. When that is given the stage as massive as the FA Cup — regardless of whether you like or dislike the EPL (and I don’t) — it puts the spotlight on our player development system being an unqualified success. So go on with your bad self, Kieran, and congratulations on bringing those championships borne of the Celtic tradition to wherever you might play.
All of that said, it was clearly a great win for the Bhoys on Sunday, and hopefully we can stay at the top of the table wire-to-wire going forward.
We all know what speculation brings, regardless of what an army of “inside sources” may claim. But until Fraser Forster and some Southampton bigwig sit down for a press conference announcing The Wall is returning to the Saints — something that hasn’t happened at least while this was written on Thursday afternoon — it’s fair to assume a deal is still possible and Forster may very well return to Celtic.
Yet even in the tragic event that Forster doesn’t return, we still have a capable goalkeeper to start for the Hoops; a goalkeeper who had a hand — injured or otherwise — in the club’s success prior to the arrival of La Gran Muralla.
Cast your minds back, Celtic fans. His name is Scott Bain, and until Forster came along, Bain was adequately handling the goalkeeping duties for the Hoops.
Of course, there’s no denying that Forster was an integral part in our most recent championship, and there’s no Hoops supporter in their right mind who would not want Forster to return to his station between the sticks for Celtic.
But that’s not the point here. This is: Lacking the services of Fraser Forster this season, the Celts go into 10-in-a-row already equipped with a game-tested and game-proven goalkeeping talent in Bain. If anything, any newly acquired goalkeeper — whether it’s Joe Hart, who is no longer head-and-shoulders above other goalkeepers, or Camp Nou hero David Marshall — should be sought for backup purposes.
It’s why this latest “crisis” is a manufactured one. It’s a mystery why Bain isn’t in the forefront of any discussion around acquiring a goalkeeper in the event that Forster doesn’t return, other than perhaps to create drama where actually there is none.
The Hoops already have a Number 1 in Bain; in fact, essentially Celtic had two Number 1s in Bain and Craig Gordon, but the latter has set his sights on starting for Championship League contender Heart of Midlothian and has acted on it accordingly.
Despite the current distraction, this team is easily ready to take the 10. With a healthy squad ready for an encore performance from last season’s championship, and with a crop of young players waiting in the wings augmented by a few previous transfer window acquisitions who have yet to show their talents, Celtic is unquestionably poised for 10-in-a-row.
Fraser Forster should be a part of that, and essentially his presence would guarantee it. But should he choose not be a part of it, the sticks are in capable hands with Scott Bain.
One more thing
I don’t know about the wider Celtic supporter base worldwide, but personally I’m getting a little tired of Hoops fans slagging former defender Kieran Tierney. Waking up to a Celtic fan’s tweet this morning where, paraphrasing here, he (or she) doesn’t care whether Arsenal fans like KT or not, he (or she) doesn’t pay attention to him anymore.
And that’s fine.
However, bear in mind that every time the former Celt takes the field at Highbury, he brings about 14 years of the Celtic system on to it as well. That alone reflects remarkably well on our club’s training system when KT is doing well for Arsenal; to say nothing of the fact that despite however well he is doing for Arsenal, the Gunners were still fleeced in spending as much as they did on him.
Perhaps someone someday can explain to me why we speak fondly of some former Celts — like Moussa Dembele, for example — and a lifelong bhoy with years of history with the club gets unceremoniously dragged.
Until next time, graffiti on the walls says we’re magic . . . .
First things first: Now that the bhoys are back in town — Lennoxtown, that is — I can stop prefacing my posts as on “hiatus” because now we’re back on the air, so to speak. And with the bhoys back, so is this blog, on its regular schedule.
Take that either as good news or as a warning. Your call.
Nevertheless, after endlessly watching Celtic games this season in the wake of “restrictions” forced on us by Covid-19 — thanks, Celtic TV — or poring over news about the Hoops during this time, it’s good to be back to work behind the keyboard and provide some hopefully welcome commentary.
That said, weclome to the third installment of “Random thoughts, cheap shots, bon mots,” the “Treble edition.”
Goodbye, Craig Gordon
While many Celtic fans pray in our personal Gethsemane for a deal to come through to keep Fraser Forster, news has broken that Craig Gordon has left for — let’s be honest — less-than-greener pastures. While I was hoping that Gordon would come stateside and play in the MLS, Gordon has chosen to sign with Heart of Midlothian.
Regardless of whether you thought he/his agent handled the departure adversely by negotiating through the press, Gordon deserves nothing but accolades and admiration for his time at the Hoops. His level of play was always top-notch and his contributions off the field with the Celtic FC Foundation make him not only a good player, but a great individual.
Good luck, Craig, and thanks for the memories.
The new look bhoys
Scott Brown with hair? OK, as long as it’s not another red mohawk. The captain and a couple of the other returning Hoops players have been sporting new looks for the new season.
Take Moritz Bauer, who has shed the golden locks for the bald look, according to some reports which have speculated that Peter Lawwell can pass off the defender, on loan from Stoke City, as a new signing. Also, Patryk Klimala has seemed to have put in a lot of quarantine time working in the weight room and has bulked up considerably.
How those new looks for those particular players affect play on the pitch, if at all, remains to be seen. But especially in Klimala’s case, gaining muscle mass can’t hurt when playing in the rough and tumble up front.
Local bhoy makes good
Social media was all over former Hoops defender Kieran Tierney for showing up to the Arsenal match against Sheffield United on Sunday with his things packed in — gasp! — a Tesco bag.
But while they were poking fun at Tierney on Twitter and elsewhere, this is what he was doing on the pitch for the Gunners in earning Man of the Match: 58 touches, 39 successful passes (24 in the opposite half), 5 crosses, 1 key pass, 10 passes into a final third, 2 interceptions, 5 possession gained.
In addition, much of the talk on social media and on Arseblog — the Gunners’ online publication with possibly the most hilarious name ever — speak highly of Tierney, with some of those posting seeing him as the next Arsenal captain. High praise for the kid who literally grew up in the Celtic system.
But then again, that praise can go too far, especially from one Twitter poster who goes by @LinkUpArsenal: “Arsenal have an excellent relationship with Celtic following the Kieran Tierney deal. Hoping we can use this to somewhat gain leverage in a a deal for Odsonne Edouard.”
No chance, mate. No f-ing chance.
That’s all for today. Until next time, walk on with hope in your heart . . . .
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.