Ange and the press

One of the most remarkable facets of Celtic’s season so far has not been any particular performance on the pitch, but rather Ange Postecoglou’s performance off it, specifically dealing with the Scottish sports media.

Ange Postecoglou’s performance behind the microphone is one of several breaths of fresh air for Celtic FC this season.

Apparently, the Australian gaffer has taken to heart the words of warning from The Celtic Star’s editor when the gaffer met with non-mainstream media — that’s us, the bloggers and podcasters and the like — early in the season, when Postecoglou was told at the outset he’d have rough sailing with the Scottish mainstream media’s sports writers.

Coupled with the fact that, collectively, the sports writers and pundits in the Scottish press have the unique distinction of being a bigger joke than the SPFL officiating — clearly no small feat there — and Postecoglou’s performances behind the microphone have been, to this day, flawless.

On a personal note, the news media is something I know a little about. Until 2014 when I was part of the last layoff at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, I had been in news field — in various capacities and on two continents — since the day Jimmy Carter was inaugurated president. That would be 20 January 1977, for those of you keeping score at home.

That said, I think I speak with a degree of authority on the topic when I say, by any journalistic standard, the bias in both the reporting and punditry in Scotland when it comes to professional football is an embarrassment only eclipsed by the state of disrepair in the game itself. On all levels — from the daily newspapers to the BBC, initials which can now easily stand for “Billy Boys Channel” — the nature of distrust that, ironically, has replaced the hallmark of journalistic integrity serves as a cautionary tale not only in football, but the news industry’s role in society as a whole.

The fact that Ange Postecoglou is not having any of it is absolutely refreshing. Compare any Postcoglou press conference with that of his predecessor, whose fumbling through the questions was literally painful, and you can see that the Celtic manager is all business, all the while not suffering the media’s fools — of which, unfortunately, there are many. Ange’s straightforward manner and tell-it-like-it-is addressing of questions that are completely nonsensical is a breath of fresh air in the staleness that has become commonplace in SPFL coverage.

Celtic did themselves a favor — and can continue to do so — by allowing more access to non-mainstream media outlets in order to provide a more balanced and nuanced coverage of the club; coverage that is, and has been, clearly lacking in the mainstream media.

But meanwhile, there is this: Angeball is great, but Angepress is better.

Anyway, tomorrow we have Ferencvarosi TC at Celtic Park at the odd Tuesday kickoff time of 3 p.m. (7 a.m. here on the U.S. West Coast), so I hope we can grab a win in this Europa match.

One more thing

Speaking of the Europa League, one of Celtic’s opponents in the current group — Bayer Leverkusen — had its lunch eaten by Bayern Munich yesterday in their Bundesliga match, when Bayern scored five in the first half. I watched another match yesterday while that one was going on — Hammarby and AIK in the Allsvenskan, the Stockholm Derby featuring ex-Celt Mikael Lustig, which Hammarby won 1-0 — but thanks to the modern miracle of ESPN+, I was able to watch a replay of the first half of the Bayer-Bayern game.

Putting aside for a moment that Bayern is near perfection when it comes to 90 minutes of football or that even I could manage Bayern to the Bundesliga championship with their depth of talent, Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky — a proverbial thorn in Celtic’s side as of late — really couldn’t be faulted for the first three goals which seemed to come from woeful defensive miscues, while the other two could be placed squarely on his shoulders. There was even one Celtic-like Bayern shot that glanced off the post, so it could have been 6-0 easily at the first half.

The point here is that while Leverkusen could be Celtic’s strongest opponent in our Europa League group, Hradecky’s bad day at the office should not be misconstrued as anything but that, and Die Werkself are still an overwhelming adversary in advancing to the next stage.

Mon the Hoops!

Dear Neil Doncaster . . .

[Blogger’s note: I wrote this letter yesterday, put it down before going to sleep, and picked it up again this morning. After making a few changes, I printed it out and put it in the mail only a few minutes ago — great timing since my letter carrier arrived at the same time I was heading to the post office — and depending on how our damaged United States Postal Service (led by a Trump appointee) handles the letter, it may make it to Scotland sometime within the two or three weeks. However, here is the letter, verbatim.]

4 October 2021

Neil Doncaster, Chief Executive Officer
The Scottish Professional Football League
Hampden Park
Glasgow G42 9DE
Scotland

Dear Mr. Doncaster:

As a matter of introduction, my name is Larry Cafiero, and I am a football fan in the United States who has followed the Scottish Professional Football League since 2017 in my capacity as a supporter of one of its member clubs, Celtic FC. Insofar as my experience as a fan may be limited compared to others who may have followed the football in your league for much longer, allow me nonetheless to point out a situation that needs your immediate attention.

Mr. Doncaster, you have a problem. While it’s true that we all have problems, yours affects tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands or even millions, of football fans worldwide. It’s a phenomenally huge problem that, if not addressed immediately, is certain to hemorrhage football fans outside Scotland – and possibly within Scotland as well – from following your league.

No doubt you already know this: You cannot allow the inept level of officiating to continue in the SPFL. For the sake of argument, I will merely refer to the level of skewed officiating as inept; however many, both in Scotland and elsewhere, have made a very strong and compelling case for the officiating at Scotland’s highest level to be not so much inept as much as it is corrupt.

Of course, ineptitude can include corruption, but you cannot be corrupt and inept at the same time, at least not successfully. But I digress.

It was the great Jock Stein who said, “If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter.” However, contextually speaking – and this is how I, and others, interpret this quote – Stein was referring to officiating that is fair and objective in its execution. It’s beyond crystal clear that you don’t have that in the SPFL this season, and for all intents and purposes, you didn’t have it last season either.

The latest in the sky-high pile of “honest mistakes” was the red card on Hibernian’s Ryan Porteous on Sunday. Putting aside the fact that the challenge successfully separated the ball from the player in question, it bears noting that Ryan Porteous has only received two red cards in his SPFL career, both received from the same official, Nick Walsh, and both received in games where Hibernian played Rangers (source: Transfermrkt.com).

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Can you, in all honesty, tell me with a straight face that this is a coincidence, one of hundreds this season and last? Would you really try to convince me, and thousands of other football fans, that this, and so many other calls made and not made, are really just “honest mistakes”?

To list all the “honest mistakes” in Rangers’ favour this season and last would make this letter the size of the Oxford English Dictionary, so I’ll spare you. You’re welcome. But in the meantime, this situation has reached a tipping point where your league has lost most, possibly all, its officiating credibility. Needless to say, this does not reflect well on the SPFL, and its effect on casting Scottish football in a negative light spills over Scotland’s borders.

In other words, it’s not a local problem for the SPFL. It’s global.

Here’s my perspective, from 5,000 miles away: I have a larger than normal group of football-loving friends here in the United States with whom I converse, many on a daily basis, and the general consensus here on Scottish football is this: It’s corrupt, and in its corruption the SPFL is relegated to a backwater status in the eyes of many of my American contemporaries watching and following football abroad.

Even recently, an acquaintance said to me in conversation about Scottish football: “It’s a joke. I’d rather watch the Allsvenskan.” And while admittedly this comes from a guy who my friends and I describe as a “Bundesliga snob” and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with Swedish football, I had nothing concrete to point to in order to counter his argument, because he is right: The SPFL, as it stands right now, cannot be taken seriously when only one club – a nine-year-old club at that – solely benefits from what appears on the surface to be a skewed officiating policy that consistently, and without fail, rules in their favour.

The choice is yours: As the league’s chief executive, you can fix this and make Scottish football respectable again. Or you can do nothing and contribute to its continued atrophy. It’s a simple choice, and I know you’re smart enough to make the right choice.

To be realistic, if I were a gambling man I would wager that this letter doesn’t make it past your secretary. Or your secretary’s secretary, for that matter. Regardless, while I don’t have the answers, I do have what I think may be the start of one.

Let me suggest this: You may want to try employing FIFA/UEFA officials from outside Scotland to officiate SPFL games. See if that works in the way of restoring objectivity and, in the process, credibility.

It goes without saying, but it bears repeating, that this credibility would foster respect, returning Scottish football to the status it once held — and a status it deserves — as one of Europe’s best; a justified respect for the Scottish game in both Scotland and beyond.

Football fans of every SPFL club deserve the best football officiating the league can provide. Of course, that can be said for any league in any country. That’s not happening right now at Scotland’s top level.

But it can be.

It’s your move, sir.

Sincerely,

Larry Cafiero
[street address]
[city, state, post code]
[country]
[blog post address]

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!

Magnificent 7

Talk about announcing your presence with authority . . .

Celtic took to the pitch on Saturday to start the season and showed no mercy to St. Johnstone, taking a 7-0 victory from the Saints and establishing the tone for the season. The Celtic scoring tells only part of the story:

Mikey Johnston 9; Ryan Christie 26, 30, 68; Olivier Ntcham 73; Odsonne Edouard 80; Leigh Griffiths 87.

By now, no doubt, you’ve all read the reports about the game. I won’t repeat that here. But I did want to put out a few observations about the game.

Crisp passing contributed greatly to the Celts phenomenal 75 percent possession rate during the course of the game. Ball-handling during the last several games has been nearly flawless, and Saturday you had essentially a clinic on possession.

It looks like the new guys — Boli Bolingoli and Hatem Abd Elhamed, specifically — are getting in sync with the rest of the club, though Elhamed’s injury may be cause for concern. Johnston especially is playing his way into a starting position, and should be utilized in tandem with Edouard and Griffiths as a new trio of scoring threats.

Griffiths is back. Nitcham is back, and looks like he has something to prove, if he only wants to make Celtic a stop on his way to another club (and who are we to stop him if he wants to play out-of-this-world football?).

But the man of the match, and the player announcing his presence with authority so far over the last few weeks, is Christie. After a season-ending injury against Aberdeen toward the end of last season, Christie’s play so far this season, in the UEFA qualifiers and now in the first game of the regular season, has been flawless. If anyone were to tell you last year that Christie would come out of the starting blocks with feet blazing, you might have doubled over in laughter.

No one is laughing now. But you can definitely see the smiles returning to the faces of the Celtic faithful.

Finally, as we head into the new season, with 37 games to go in the Premier League schedule, clearly Neil Lennon has brought back the thunder. As we head to 9 in a row, it looks like we’re in for a great ride.

Buckle up.

[73 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: High]