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!

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!