The numbers game

As a relatively new Celtic fan — only four seasons still makes me a neophyte in the grand scheme of Hoops history — one of the things that, at least to me, has always ranged from a mild mystery to a downright conundrum is the club’s assigning of player numbers.

This observation first occurred to me while I was still grieving the departure of Mikael Lustig, who had sadly moved on from Celtic to KAA Gent, before ending up now at AIK in Stockholm. His number 23 went immediately to a new acquisition at the time, Boli Bolingoli. I thought it was odd that the number of a beloved Celt would be transferred so quickly, but I guess it is par for the course in the football world.

You move on, and your number is up for grabs, apparently. It’s as simple as that.

Or is it? Is there more to it than meets the eye, a certain metaphysical reason behind a player ending up wearing the number of a legend?

This number 8, Kyogo Furuhashi, has the monumental task of filling the legacy of the previous number 8, Scott Brown. History is on his side, because Brown admirably filled the legacy of a previous number 8, Paul McStay. Photo credit: The Celtic Star

We have a new number 8 who replaces a recently departed number 8 — departed in a football sense, that is. Little has been said about Kyogo Furuhashi inheriting Scott Brown’s number. On the surface there may seem to be few similarities between the two, but if you look back the Hoops legend from Dunfermline and the new kid from Nara may be more alike than meets the eye, primarily and most importantly, both are quick and good with the ball. Also, it can be argued that Brown inherited the number from another Celtic legend, Paul McStay, and Brown admirably filled the legacy of that Hoops great.

We could go on and on about this, because examples here are plentiful: Liel Abada’s number 11 runs through the scenic route of the retraced steps of Scott Sinclair back to Bobby Lennox, while the number 5 has a magical and mystical significance insofar as the last player to wear it, Jozo Simunovic, scored after 67 minutes in a game honouring the greatest number 5 to play in green-and-white, Billy McNeill.

Then there’s the iconic number 7: Last worn with historical significance by the King of Kings, Henrik Larsson, but with a lineage that goes back to the greatest of all Celts, Jimmy Johnstone.

Josip Juranovic or Gary Hooper? Time will tell . . . Photo credit: The Celtic Star

Today, photos of new Celtic acquisition Josip Juranovic have the new player wearing number 88, that of a Celtic historic goal-scoring magician, Gary Hooper. During his time with Celtic, Hooper — who is still playing in Australia — was an exciting player to watch, and it remains to be seen whether the magic of the number rubs off on the Croatian defender joining Celtic from Legia Warsaw.

This magic sometimes transfers — Brown to Furuhashi seems, at least so far, to be proof of that.

But sometimes it doesn’t — Lustig to Bolingoli being Exhibit A here, to say nothing of Albian Ajeti’s number 10, with a pedigree that spans the timeline through Moussa Dembele, Jan Vennegor of Hesselink, John Hartson, Tommy Burns, and Bertie Auld.

You can say it’s only a number, but fate, superstition and the football gods may have other intentions. No one knows for sure.

Nevertheless, on Thursday we have the second leg against Alkmaar Zaanstreek — AZ to the cool kids — away in the Netherlands, bringing with us a 2-o advantage from last week’s Europa League match at Parkhead.

Mon the Hoops!

Regrets? I’ve had a few…

My only regret about today’s phenomenal game against St. Mirren is that it was merely a 6-0 victory for Celtic, and not a 24-0 win — the crew at The Celtic Noise will get that reference. I’ll go into why later, but first let’s look at some of the superlatives from today’s game.

First, let me just leave the stat sheet here for your consideration as I walk away for a moment.

I’m back. Did you miss me?

While I don my Captain Obvious costume, let me state that Celtic was relentless on both sides of the ball today, and it would be safe to say that the Bhoys in Green are back. This is nothing new, of course, and it parrots every other Celtic pundit on the planet, where credit is rightfully given to new manager Ange Postecoglou.

An aside: When you think about it, with the success that Postecoglou has had invigorating the current Celtic roster — giving new life to Ryan Christie and Tom Rogic and others, combined with a mix of phenomenal new talent like Leil Abada and Kyogo Furuhashi — you have to wonder what he could have done with some of the players who left. Postecoglou could have made Patryk Klimala into the second coming of Robert Lewandowski.

But I digress.

In today’s match, Abada was phenomenal and he’s only 19. Abada can be a star for the future, and he’s a treat to watch. David Turnbull? A mere hat trick does not justify the sheer tonnage of praise he deserves for his play today. Christie was all over the pitch playing like a man possessed, as was Greg Taylor. Odsonne Edouard? His body language spoke volumes about how he wants to play for the Hoops, despite what the former manager told the BBC earlier in the day.

Then there’s a defense that shut down the Saints fairly remarkably for 90-plus minutes. Could Carl Starfelt finally be settling in while the rest of the backfield takes control? Possibly. Starfelt, Stephen Welsh and Anthony Ralston all pitched in to give Joe Hart a fairly easy day between the sticks.

The down side is that despite Furuhashi playing his usual high-octane game, he is starting to get his “introduction” to the goonish reality that makes Scottish football a worldwide disgrace. Fouled repeatedly, once off the ball midway in the first half he was flattened by a forgettable nobody in a St. Mirren kit. No foul in that particular instance, of course, and no goal for the lad today overall, but that’s OK — daijobu desu, Kyogo-san — because just having the threat of his scoring leaves others open to do the deed in his place.

When he doesn’t do it himself, that is, which he has and which he will. Remember where you heard it first.

All of which leads me to why the score should have been run up more against the Buddies — someone’s buddies, but not necessarily mine.

There’s Alan Power, the poster boy for the oft-waived SPFL player who has no discernible football skill other than to injure opposing players, and who will retire to bleak anonymity someday. Someday soon, and the sooner the better. Ever wonder how much better off the SPFL — hell, how much better off humanity — would be without Power in it?

I do. All the time.

No one was more surprised than me, gasping with mouth agape 5,000 miles away around sunrise, that Willie Collum actually found his red card and actually used it against Power for an assault on Turnbull that was a textbook red card.

Actually calling a legitimate foul on a Celtic opponent. Willie Collum. You don’t see that every day. . . .

So I don’t know what was said in the locker room at halftime, but if I were Postecoglou — and I have the sweaters and shirts, to be sure, but not the hair and beard (let alone the football knowledge, of course) — I would give the bhoys a green light to light up the scoreboard when the opposition pulls hammerthrowing nonsense like St. Mirren did on Saturday. Ring them up, and while 6-0 is a sure ringing, I would have preferred more — like a double-digit, talk-about-it-generations-from-now, song-inducing score.

OK, call me selfish.

But the fact remains that if we keep playing like this, whether it’s in Holland on Thursday against AZ Alkmaar to wrap up the Europa League stage or at the Bigotdome against the Tribute Act next Sunday, the goals and the points will come.

Here we go again, we’re on the road again . . .

Night and day

Night and day. Day and night. The difference between last season’s dumpster fire of a season and getting out of the starting blocks nearly in full sprint this season is nothing short of astounding. Clearly we have Dom McKay and Ange Postecoglou to thank for that, for starters.

And let’s talk about the new gaffer for a bit, the no-nonsense leader of the club who is in control of the training, of the sideline, and of the press conference. Postecoglou is a breath of fresh air, telling it like it is and not afraid to call out nonsense from the stenographer corps masquerading as Scottish sports “journalists.”

Making black sweaters on big guys cool again, among other things: Celtic gaffer Ange Postecoglou walks off the field after Celtic’s Europa League victory against FK Jablonec last week at Celtic Park. Postecoglou is overseeing a resurgence at Celtic this season. Photo Credit: Jeff Holmes/The Celtic Star

But McKay and Postecoglou aren’t playing on the pitch for 90+ minutes. Add to their presence at the helm the recent player acquisitions to the club — Kyogo Furuhashi and Carl Starfelt, to name two — plus the resurgence of dormant players like Anthony Ralston, James Forrest, and Tom Rogic (not to mention Ryan Christie, who was absent in Sunday’s game) give the Celts the right formula to return to being at the top of Scottish football.

Where they belong.

Anyone less than Craig Gordon between the sticks for the JamTarts on Sunday and Hearts would have been in a far deeper deficit than only three goals, so a hat tip to the ex-Celt for a good game, albeit in a losing cause.

As for Celtic, it was nothing short of a phenomenal game on Sunday. Not perfect, of course, but pretty damn near. Over 80 percent possession in the first half during a 2-0 halftime lead courtesy of goals by Odsonne Edouard and Stephen Welsh — and on Welsh’s goal, does anyone else think that was a designed play moreso than mere happenstance? I keep watching it and thinking that maybe it was.

And Furuhashi — Kyogo-san — taking down mouthbreather Andy Halliday early in the game was a welcome treat. Kyogo’s play overall was outstanding, as expected, and his goal was a gem, to be sure. But seeing him getting into the thick of things on both ends of the ball is a joy to behold. He’s not a one-trick pony, and the fact he’s willing to switch on the defensive jets when Celtic doesn’t have the ball is a joy to watch.

John Beaton, try as he might, couldn’t give the game to Hearts. Also the SkySports late narrative that this was a close game was phenomenally laughable.

Celtic is playing beautiful football, but it isn’t perfect. Yet. My colleague Niall J on The Celtic Star said it best in his commentary on the Sunday’s game:

“It may take a little more work in the transfer market in the next two weeks to ensure the defence is effective as Celtic’s battering attack but for now the attacking intent remains a joy to behold.”

For those of you who are slighting Starfelt for being a “bombscare,” I would suggest you buy a dictionary and actually look up the word. The big Swede is getting used to the Scottish game and he may be one or two more games away from being up to speed. Despite a couple of miscues, overall his game has been pretty good to date and the potential for improvement is clearly there.

And imagine a backfield of Starfelt, Ralston, Greg Taylor, and Christopher Jullien once the Frenchman gets back onto the pitch.

If the club can make that one last acquisition on defense and play inspired football like they’ve been playing, it may be time for another treble.

One more thing

Gerd Muller takes the ball down the pitch for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at Lockhart Stadium. Muller donned the Red and Gold for three seasons in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Perhaps the only good thing that the North American Soccer League brought to U.S. soccer was the wave of European greats who played for one last paycheck in the land of milk and honey. That said, I got to see Gerd Muller play for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the coda of his career in the late ’70s/early ’80s. So it comes with a bit of sadness to hear that Muller passed away today at 75.

Like having Gordon Banks in goal, having Muller on the Strikers was a treat since he was one of Europe’s best — albeit both of them playing in the autumn of their careers in a league where many of the American fans didn’t fully understand the game — and I remember how unstoppable he seemed to be whenever he had the ball. As a side note, my first soccer jersey was not a Strikers jersey, but a German national team jersey that I wore to Strikers games in Gerd’s honor.

Requiescat in pace, Gerd, and may you find the pitches on the other side green and the goals as wide open as they seemed to be for you here.

Kyogo Shuffle

Kyogo Furuhashi scores his second of three goals against Dundee FC on Sunday. Photo credit: Jane Barlow/The Celtic Star

[My deepest appreciation, and sincerest apologies, to my San Francisco neighbor Boz Scaggs, who wrote and recorded the classic “Lido Shuffle.” But I couldn’t help reworking these lyrics for our new bhoy from Japan, Kyogo Furuhashi. So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you “Kyogo Shuffle,” sung to the tune of “Lido Shuffle.”]

Kyogo got the call from Ange
He left Ko-bay
Signed up with Glasgow Celts
And now he’s here to stay

On the practice field
He refused to yield
but made a stop
Just long enough
to make impressions at the top

Next stop, Paradise
Kyogo took the passes nice, let ’em roll
He said one more shot ought to get in
One last shot ‘fore the half ends
One for the road

Kyogo, whoa oh oh oh
He’s on the money
He’s for the show
Kyogo’s scoring on the go

Kyogo, whoa oh oh oh
He said one more pass from Abada
One more shot ’cause I had ta
One more for the road

Kyogo will be runnin’
Having great big fun
Until he got the note
Sayin’ run it up or pass
And that was all Ange wrote

He’ll be makin’ like a bee line
Headin’ for the goal line
Goin’ for broke
Sayin’ one more goal ought to do it
Dundee? Ain’t nothin’ to it
One more for the road

Kyogo… whoa oh oh oh
He’s on the money
He’s for the show
Kyogo’s scoring on the go

Kyogo… whoa oh oh oh oh oh
One more center from Ryan
One last shot, then I’m buyin’
One more for the road

(Bridge)

Kyogo… whoa oh oh oh
He’s on the money
He’s for the show
Kyogo’s a scorin’ on the go

(Fade out)

Anthony Ralston appreciation post

Personally, I have a hard and fast rule when it comes to supporting Celtic, and from the looks of social media and some of the Celtic forums, I may be the only Celtic fan on the entire planet that follows it: Don’t slag Celtic players while they wear the Hoops.

Full stop. They may have a bad game, or they may be in a slump over the course of several games, but they’re still our bhoys. Until they’re not.

Are they above criticism? Of course not. But there’s a wide chasm between constructive criticism and downright blasting of players, and I completely have no patience for the latter.

Once upon a time — well, back in November 2019, actually — I was chosen as the Celtic Star’s Fan of the Week, so far my highest honour as a Celtic fan. In that interview, I was asked, “Biggest transfer letdown in your time supporting Celtic?” To be honest, I wrestled with that question. On one hand, I could have said, “None,” but that would be disingenuous because there were players who didn’t exactly pan out; players who made me grit my teeth and roll my eyes. But I always sought the positives and hoped the coaching staff would fix the negatives.

So I answered Oliver Burke, a player who I wanted to succeed at Celtic — he had the speed but lacked the final touch — but, alas, he didn’t.

What does that have to do with Anthony Ralston? Bear with me for a minute.

Like Burke during his time at Celtic before returning to West Brom, Ralston had become the whipping boy of what can arguably be considered a majority of Celtic fans, with the mistaken perception having a lack of talent at right back; a position of unreasonable fixation among many Celtic fans in our quest to build a winning team.

In yesterday’s game against Dundee FC, Anthony Ralston scored his 2nd goal in the last two games to put Celtic up 5-0. Photo credit: Jane Barlow/The Celtic Star

Then the last two games showed us the potential Ralston has to become a Celtic player and possibly a Celtic starter, scoring in both the Jablonec match in Prague and in Dundee FC game yesterday.

A miracle? Perhaps, but if anyone has turned the water into wine in Glasgow recently, it has been Ange Postecoglou and the coaching staff getting the most from the talent that Ralston — and others — already possess, with a potential for improving Ralston’s — and others’ — skills going forward.

So this doesn’t only apply to Ralston. While much has been said of new forward Kyogo Furuhashi and the link-up “bromance” between the Japanese striker and fellow new forward Liel Abada, Ryan Christie also had a phenomenal game yesterday as well, and the team as a whole looked like it was firing on all cylinders for 90+ minutes. Tom Rogic — even if we only get 60 minutes a pop out of him — looked like a new player out there.

It’s a new morning in Lennoxtown, and if the Celts continue to play with the same passion and poise they have shown in the last two games under Postecoglou, the Celts will win the league, if not more.

And the way Ralston is playing right now, he deserves a shot at being a part of that team.

A final note on this topic: Many on social media and in forums have been decent enough to say, in so many words, “I was wrong,” about slagging Ralston. To those of you who did that, I fully respect and honour your decency to come forward to admit this, and it deserves mentioning here.

One more thing

Perhaps the best thing about the hiring of Postecoglou from the J-League and having imported players from outside Europe is that it ushers in a new zeitgeist for Celtic that is long overdue. That is, there is talent all over the world, not just Europe, and as it has been mentioned in this blog ad nauseum, Celtic would be wise to have a much broader reach of talent of looking to other continents for talent rather than focusing myopically on Europe.

They have done it before: Tom Rogic, Shunsuke Nakamura, Emilio Izaguirre, Cha Du-ri, the list of Celtic players from outside Europe is long and those who donned the Hoops having come from outside Europe have made considerable contributions.

Mon the Hoops!

The Bhoys are back in town

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 and Kyogo Furuhashi: There’s going to be a lot of Abada-to-Furuhashi goals this season. Photo credit: Celtic FC

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.

Time to put on the Thin Lizzy . . .

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.

Mon the Hoops!

It’s official: The Premiership is a joke

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?

Offside: Celtic


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.

Mon the Hoops!