A friend from the fine town of Dunkeld required some directions when attending the recent Scottish Cup Final at Celtic Park. A lifelong fan of St Johnstone who once said to me that his proudest moments were watching that fine St Johnstone side of the late 60s and early 70s beat Everton and Hamburg in Europe. He hoped they’d make history in Glasgow on cup final day by winning their first ever major trophy. I gave him precise directions to Glasgow’s east end and he made it most of the way before straying a little off course a mile or so from Celtic park. I called him after the game to congratulate him and ask how his day had gone and he told me of a rather surreal experience he had in dear old Glasgow town.
He parked his car and was taken by surprise by what he thought was the sound of other fans drifting on the Glasgow breeze. It turned out he had stumbled into a small Orange Parade which some wise person had decided to allow on Cup Final day. As he and his son watched, some folk he described as ‘grim faced fellas’ passed; it seemed were following the bands. One of them noticed his St Johnstone shirt and said, ‘Make sure ye beat they Micky bastards today.’ My friend being a stranger to Glasgow’s slang terms required a translation. The sectarian assignation the marcher had ascribed to Dundee United (Formerly Dundee Hibernian) was as out of date as the battles these marches commemorate. It was a reminder of how out of touch with modern Scotland such people are. The tide of history has moved on but some it appears are stuck in a time capsule. Do they really think ordinary Scots are in the least concerned with their petty prejudices? My friend was somewhat bemused by the parade he ran into as he had never witnessed anything like it. He did make a telling remark though when he said, ‘Imagine if all the energy and time people spend on such things was put into making Scotland a better place for us all to live in?’ He had a point.
On the field a workmanlike St Johnstone team overcame the more skilful but I thought physically weak Dundee United team to win their first ever major trophy. Part of me said ‘Well done’ and wished them well as the spread of trophies in recent seasons has been good for Scottish football. Another part of me was a little peeved as Celtic would have beaten both those sides on the day. The fact we didn’t get there was a source of annoyance to many as the teams cup record in recent years has been poor by our high standards. Teams such as Morton, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Hearts and St Mirren have beaten Celtic in cup ties and those loses were more to do with Celtic deficiencies on the day rather than brilliance from the opposition. The great sides are always relentless in their pursuit of victory and Celtic must learn to be ruthless in the future if they are to win the honours their play often merits but attitude often throws away. Henrik Larsson once said, ‘Before I go out there I tell myself that it’s going to hurt and so it should but I’m bloody stronger than them.’ That is the voice of a winner and the attitude our players need against Morton as well as Milan.
So we face the summer and the silly season in the press. They’ll no doubt have half our team sold with little evidence to back it up. What remains important is that we have the team we need sharp and fit for the Champions League qualifiers. Make no mistake about it our victory over Shakhtar Karagandy last summer was the most important win of the season. Not just in terms of the financial boost it gives to Celtic or the morale boost it gives the game here. It is vital to spicing up our season in the absence of those big derby games we enjoyed before the oldco collapsed in debt and disgrace. Lennon or whoever is in charge by then needs to get the ins and outs sorted quickly so we can go forward with confidence. We may lose a player like Forster but must have the ambition to bring in a bit of class. Our relatively poor performance in the group stages last season was down to the fact we sold good players in Hooper, Wanyama and even Joe Ledley and replaced them with others not of the same standard. That decline has to stop. I’m all for sourcing good young players but there comes a time to invest in a ready-made and experienced player who can slot straight into the team. Martin O’Neil knew this and took Celtic from a 21 point deficit in the SPL in season 1999-2000 to a treble and European final within 3 years. Of course the level of finance available to O’Neil won’t be there for the Manager this summer but the case for adding some real experience and class to the squad is overwhelming. We don’t want a squad to win the SPL, we want a first 11 who can compete with the best in Europe and give us more nights like the one we enjoyed when Barcelona came to town in 2012.
Of course we also want more success in the domestic cup competitions even if the spread of trophies around clubs like Kilmarnock. St Mirren, Aberdeen and St Johnstone has given fans of those clubs memories to cherish forever. To hear the excitement and real joy in my old friend’s voice after he returned from the cup final was a wonderful thing but like many of you I’d rather have been out at the game on Cup Final day watching Celtic challenging for glory instead of watching it on TV. I’d even run the risk of bumping into those medieval bandsmen for that kind of action. It may have gave them some strange pleasure that St Johnstone did indeed defeat Dundee United but those ‘Micky bastards’ are in fact a multi-racial, multi-faith football team who see the strengths of different people working together. For some that sadly still seems to be an alien idea.