Friday, 30 October 2015

Open to all?

Open to all?

Those of you who read my ramblings will know how much I support Celtic’s ideals of inclusion as a club open to all. That openness includes those of all faiths and none, all ethnicities and all political views which stay within the bounds of sanity and decency.  Our support has grown beyond the progeny of the founding generation of Irish migrants and now includes people from all walks of life and that is how it should be. There is however a tendency among a minority of our fellow fans to be rather unforgiving to any who don’t feel as they do about certain issues surrounding the club. This is nothing new as the early history of the club saw an event which caused great soul searching among those who followed the Celts.

One of the great controversies of the early years of Celtic FC occurred shortly after the club converted from charitable status to become a Limited Company in 1897. The years between 1888 -1897 saw Celtic deliver on their promise to fund the Children’s Dinner Tables and do so in a spectacular way. The club was an instant success and the crowds were turning up in large numbers. The Scottish Cup victory of 1892 had the east end of Glasgow in a state of fevered excitement. Walfrid’s team had arrived and were looking to be the dominant force in the land. However there was some division within the camp between those who saw the need for the club to become a Limited Company and those purists who saw the charitable trust as the way forward. In the end the hard headed businessmen, led by the tough and pragmatic John Glass, won the day. Celtic needed to become a Limited Company, Glass clamed, so that in the increasingly professional world of late Victorian football they could raise revenue to rebuild the stadium to the required standard and recruit players of high calibre.

Glass was probably right in as much as the Celtic we know today might not exist had it remained a charity. More professional outfits would soon have left the club in their wake had they not become a formal business on a secure financial footing. Professionalism was coming and Glass saw that a charity would be hard pushed to sign or retain top players and Celtic might not remain a leading club if it stuck with the old model. However funds being donated to charity fell in the years after Walfrid left for London to the point where in some years nothing at all was given and that remains a stain on the record of the early Celtic Board.  In 1963 Walfrid’s old school, St Mary’s, celebrated its centenary and a history published to celebrate its 100 years was scathing towards the new business culture at Celtic…

‘The Penny Dinner Tables lost the financial aid of the Celtic Football Club. Brother Walfrid, who founded Celtic as a charitable trust, was sent to London in 1892 and the Committee freed from his restraining hand ignored the end for which the club had been founded.’

The purists eventually attempted to form a new club, Glasgow Hibernians, which they thought might resurrect the spirit of the early Celtic. Glasgow Hibernians failed, principally because the community supporting Celtic were firm in their loyalty to the Parkhead club and as Eric Cantona once said: “You can change your wife, your politics, your religion, but never, ever can you change your favourite football team.”.

Today few seriously challenge the need for Celtic to be run on modern lines like every other top club in the world. There are of course the usual discussions about the direction the club takes, the amounts given to charity and such things are part and parcel of any institution followed by such a passionate support. Many Celtic supporters though are also very politically aware and this is perhaps a result of the club’s history. The ideals of a club ‘open to all’ are challenged for some when it comes to accepting others with different political views to their own. The Celtic support is rightly proud that a side born into the Irish Catholic community was accepting players and officials of all faiths and none from their earliest times. As Willie Maley famously said; ‘It’s not the creed, nor his nationality that counts, it’s the man himself.’ In that spirit Celtic can count among their greats many who did not come from a traditional Celtic background.

It did not go unnoticed among many that Celtic non-executive Director, Lord Livingston of Parkhead, is a Conservative Peer and as such generally supportive of the proposed cuts to tax credits which analysts say will hit 3 million of our poorer families should they come to pass. Some have demanded that Lord Livingston be removed from the Celtic board amid claims that his stance is not compatible with the charitable traditions and ethos of Celtic FC.  An online petition to this effect has had over 8000 signatures added to it and my Twitter timeline contains many comments regarding this matter. A minority have resorted to rather base language but alas that seems to be standard fare on social media in the modern era. I decided to get in touch with Ian Livingston and put the question to him directly and emailed him the following:

Tirnaog:I am an ordinary Celtic supporter from the East End of Glasgow. I wanted to ask you how you could possibly vote in favour of tax credit cuts for 3 million of the poorest working people on these islands and square this with your work at Celtic FC, a club founded to support the poor in Glasgow? You must realise that these measures would hurt many of the most vulnerable in society among them many Celtic supporters. Brother Walfrid would be appalled.’

Lord Livingston replied promptly and I must stress that he did so in his role as a Peer of the House of Lords and not as a Celtic Director…

Lord Livingston: ‘I believe that the tax credit changes should be adjusted to help those affected. These changes should also be set against the changes to the minimum wage and much higher level before people pay tax in looking at the net impact. However I voted against the amendments to effectively stop the implementation of the reduction in working tax credits because I think this financial matter was constitutionally a matter for the democratically elected House of Commons not the House of Lords.’

Firstly as a Tory Peer it is fair to say that he is in general agreement with the budget deficit reduction the current Government is trying to achieve but he stresses he wants to see those worst affected helped.  He also voted in the way he did on the point of order that the House of Commons not the Lords should decide on financial legislation. I responded to Lord Livingston by asking the following question..:

Tirnaog: ‘In choosing the name ‘Lord Livingston of Parkhead’ in your title must surely make you think of the lives of the powerless out here in the real world who have had a most difficult time these last few years. A society is judged on how it treats the most vulnerable and ours is frankly failing them. I see it in the rise of food banks, children coming to school ill shod and hungry and that Sir is the reality of life in our poorer quarters. 127 years ago a good man said, ‘A football club shall be founded for the maintenance of dinner tables for the children and unemployed.’  Are we returning to those days?’

Again Lord Livingston was quick to respond and emphasised that he is in favour of changes to the current proposals:

Lord Livingston: 'I would like to see changes to the tax credit proposal to ameliorate the impact of it. However, I voted against the motions as it is not the constitutional role of the unelected House of Lords to overturn the clear will of the elected House of Commons on a financial matter.'

Lord Livingston is not unaware of the campaign being waged against him on social media and this has in turn been picked up by the press who always seem to enjoy disseminating tales of disharmony in the Celtic camp. In response to my question about choosing the title ‘Lord Livingston of Parkhead’ he said:

Lord Livingston:I note the characterisation of me by some.  I took the name Parkhead not just because of Celtic but also as my father was the local GP for 30 plus years.  You could walk round the Barras and people from all sides would greet him. He was the first to go to university in the family. My grandfather was born in the Gorbals and my great grandfather was a penniless immigrant.’ 

It is up to each of us to decide how we feel about the proposed cuts to tax credits. I don’t mind airing my view that I feel they are essentially an attack on the working poor which is unjustifiable and immoral. But the issue I am raising in this article is one which goes close to the heart of what Celtic FC is about. I often use the phrase ‘Open to all or not at all.’ Are we really saying that we want Celtic FC to close its doors to those whose political opinions we find unpalatable?  Ian Livingston is a Tory by choice just as Jackie McNamara Snr was an avowed Communist in the 1970s. Who decides which position is acceptable at Celtic FC? Lord Livingston himself said to me… ‘I believe Celtic should be open to all faiths, creeds and opinions.’ Is he correct in this? We tread a dangerous road indeed when we look to exclude people on political grounds.

I understand fully the chain of thought which sees a clash between supporting punitive cuts to the income of poorer workers and the founding ethos of Celtic FC. I am old enough to recall the devastation of the Thatcher years and the suffering it caused and will take to my grave an undying distaste for the Conservative Party. I want Celtic to be socially responsible and I believe the club tries hard in this area although issues such as the living wage suggest the PLC Board could do much more to live up to the founding principles of the club. Unless there is change of revolutionary proportions the current structures will remain intact. I hear talk of fan ownership or Barcelona style membership schemes but it remains nothing but talk. The harsh concrete reality is that Celtic operates in the manner most clubs do these days and hire people with business acumen to ensure the financial stability of the club. Ian Livingston is one such man.

Should we wish to defeat political opponents and end the iniquity of proposals such as the proposed tax credit cuts the way to do it is at the ballot box. All of this is of course just my opinion and I’m happy to share it. Can we accept that other Celtic fans have different opinions from us and more importantly can we leave our opinions at the door as we enter Celtic Park and unite not as supporters of political ideologies but as Celtic Supporters? That is the real question we must ask ourselves.

I believe Lord Livingston will read this article and should you wish to leave a message in the comments section, please do. Try to avoid being abusive if you can. We can disagree without being disagreeable.

Postscript: 2nd November 2015
Lord Livingston read the above article and the comments below. He is not disconnected from the real world and understands fully the depth of feeling which exists on the issue of proposed tax credit cuts. He emphasises that he keeps his work at Celtic and his role in the Lords completely separate. He stated today...

‘Whilst we disagree about politics, your article is balanced. 

To some of the comments made in your article or the comments setion: I do not represent Celtic when in the Lords nor the Lords (or BT before that) when at Celtic. To do so in either case would be a conflict of interest and against the law or House of Lords ethics (most do have them!). If you feel that directors should have no other interests, this would certainly cut the potential pool of expertise.

Also, I am only a member of the House of Lords because I was prepared to serve (for nothing) as Trade Minister and gave up being CEO of BT to do so because I felt I could help create employment and economic growth for the UK by promoting exports and inward investment. I feel I had some impact. I had little history in politics and certainly no intent to be involved in govt until the PM asked me to become trade minister.

Finally, I know a lot of Labour peers felt differently about the role of the House of Lords vote but interestingly they did not vote for the fatal motion which does suggest they knew that there was an issue. I am surprised to see so many people thinking the non-elected House of Lords should override the will of the Commons. To my mind the House of Lords insofar as it has any role should be a chamber that scrutinises and amends the details of laws.’

Lord Livingston is clearly commenting  in his capacity as a Peer and not as a Director of Celtic. He states clearly that to mix the two would possibly constitute a conflict of interest. It is up to each Celtic supporter to consider his words and draw what conclusions they will.  My correspondence with him  suggests he is an intelligent man who knows that he must clearly differentiate the roles he has at Celtic and in the Lords.  He  also knows that his political opinions may not match those of the majority of working class Celtic supporters. Indeed many Celtic fans have expressed their opposition to his continued presence on the Board on the basis of his political leanings being out of kilter with Celtic's origins and ethos. That is for each individual fan to decide but I'm sure Lord Livingston  would echo the words of the great Reformer Martin Luther who defended his beliefs with the words: 'Here I stand, I can do no other.' 

I  asked earlier in the article if we were comfortable with the idea of excluding someone from a position at Celtic FC on the grounds that some don't like their politics. This would surely set a dangerous precedent?

Celtic supporters know more than most the heavy hand of prejudice and must surely strive to ensure we don't become the very thing we claim to despise? 



Friday, 23 October 2015

Return of the Fenian Ninja

Return of the Fenian Ninja
Celtic’s latest calamity in Europe was as disappointing as it was predictable. The past couple of seasons have seen Celtic ship an incredible 36 goals in 23 European games. Given that most of these goals have been lost against modest clubs in qualification rounds of the Champions League or the Europa League, it is a damning indictment of Celtic’s defensive frailties. Clubs who lose goals to this extent never prosper in Europe and that has been the case with Celtic. Perhaps Celtic’s return to the top of the SPFL this last week had made some supporters think the team was finally finding some form but Europe is the real yardstick of a team’s cohesion and ability and the bitter truth is that Celtic are nowhere near the level of the side which defeated Barcelona just 3 short years ago.
The defeat to a team currently sitting 7th in the Norwegian league came after an opening 10 minutes of decent football from Celtic in appalling conditions but once the sieve like defence gifted two soft goals to the Norwegians we knew it was going to be another of those frustrating nights in Europe. Celtic have finances and support far in excess of teams like Molde and our top players earn vast sums in comparison to theirs but still we fail to impress at even this modest level. Supporters are right to cast their eyes on the lower ranked clubs in the Champions League and ask why a club with Celtic’s resources can’t emulate them. Celtic is surely bigger and wealthier than clubs such as Malmo, FC Astrana, Dinamo Zagreb, Bate Borisov, Maccabi Tel Aviv and FC Gent who are currently enjoying life in the Champions League while we struggle in the wilderness of the Europa League.
We are where we are because we have allowed our squad to lose quality players year after year. Cashing in on top stars like Wanyama, Forster and Van Dijk may make financial sense but the club is caught in a vicious circle. We fail to make the Champions League and sell a star player to compensate for this. The following year with a poorer squad we fail again and another star is sold and so it goes on. All the while the fans are watching this downsizing and still showing up in good numbers but the patience of even Celtic’s excellent supporters has a limit.
Celtic’s transfer policy has had some spectacular successes but millions have been wasted on players who contributed virtually nothing to the club. Scepovic, Pukki, Balde, Boerichter and Bangura had a combined fee of almost £10m. All of them flopped and drifted off to pastures new with Celtic left hugely out of pocket. There is surely a time to be bold and sign  established players who will go straight into the team and add real quality?
Manager Ronny Deila has also come under increased pressure from a Celtic support which has on the whole been supportive and patient, even in the face of the hostile press he has endured. We are 18 months into his tenure and in European terms the club has regressed. His Celtic side has won just 8 of 23 European ties with half of these wins being against Icelandic minnows Stjarnan and KR Rekyavik. Kris Commons reaction to being substituted last night was an indicator of the frustration he felt. Celtic were 3-1 down against a team playing with one player up front and the Manager took off arguably our most creative player whilst leaving a back four intact to mark one forward. Commons’ reaction was mirrored by Celtic fans at the game and those watching at home. It is surely not rocket science to put together a reasonably solid defensive unit given the resources Celtic have?  I don’t believe for a moment that Molde have better players than Celtic but they were faster of thought, better organised and, worryingly, seemed more motivated. They also had a game plan which was simple and effective: Sit in, keep it tight and hit hard and fast on the break.  Our lax defending did the rest.
For Ronny Deila the next six months are going to define in his Celtic career. The Europa League still holds possibilities with Molde and Ajax due in Glasgow in the next couple of months. Domestically, Celtic need to start playing with a degree of consistency and entertain an increasingly exasperated support. We need to be convinced that we are progressing and that Deila’s pattern of play and tactical know how will take us forward. Above all we need to find a settled defence which won’t let us down in the matches which matter. Those of us who old enough to recall other European lows such as the defeats against Neuchatel Xamax (1-5) and Artmedia Bratislava (0-5) know that European competitions can be a daunting and unforgiving place but it remains a fact that teams with a fraction of our resources are currently outperforming Celtic and that is unacceptable.
Celtic fans who have basked in almost total dominance in Scottish football since the collapse and death of Rangers in 2012, faced the jokes and jibes from those of a blue persuasion at their places of work and in pubs around the country. This was put humorously by one Celt (@DavieH1888) online who said…
Gonnae be like a big Fenian ninja trying to get past the hun hordes in work this morning.’
Make no mistake about it Celtic should be a country mile ahead of the Rangers IFC given what’s occurred in recent years. The new club will no doubt enter the top league soon enough and Celtic had best be ready for the challenges ahead. Perhaps, in some warped way, that very challenge might help focus the club and raise the standard of performance. The SPFL has been won at a canter this past few years without demanding Celtic reach the footballing heights. Nor has it demanded that the board stretch the finances in order to maintain domestic dominance. The gap in performance and intensity demanded when we leave our comfort zone in the SPFL and enter Europe is not being bridged.
Whatever the future holds though, we’d all be happier if Celtic found a pattern of play which makes us harder to defeat in Europe. We seem to lack the flexibility to change the play once we fall behind and we continue with the same predictable approach. It is said that one of the signs of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. That seems to be Celtic’s current approach to European games.
The predictable tsunami of opprobrium and anger among the support over the latest let down has its roots in the emotional investment we supporters put into the club. We care deeply about our club, sometimes too deeply and while that is no bad thing, it can lead to occasional anger when we see  performances such as the one in Molde. We could and should be so much better than this and the current coaching staff and board should make it happen or step aside for others who can.
Meanwhile the ‘Fenian Ninjas’ slip into work when they should be marching proudly through the door.


Sunday, 18 October 2015

Honest Mistakes

Honest Mistakes
When Marcelo Bordon, Stuttgart's Brazilian centre-back, was sent off for a professional foul on Stan Petrov during Celtic’s run to Seville, he did something remarkable. He knew as the last man he’d have to go and despite this he took the time to shake the hand of the Referee who sent him packing. It not only signalled that the decision was correct, it also showed the respect the official, Pierluigi Collina of Italy, was held in by players of that era. It’s true to say that officials in Scotland have rarely been afforded similar respect. Collina used common sense and a sound knowledge of the dark arts he saw in Italian football every week to get decisions right on the vast majority of occasions. That common sense is sometimes lacking here in Scotland. A case in point being the occasion when John Collins scored  for Celtic in a heated Old Firm game in the early 1990s. As Celtic players celebrated at the old Jungle, the Referee allowed Rangers to kick off. With most of the Celtic team off the field it took a good Pat Bonner save to avert a goal. Decisions like that by a Referee can be looked upon as criminally stupid in such a game. Some saw it as bias.
This weekend saw Celtic win 1-0 at Motherwell in a match they dominated from start to finish. However the chatter about the match focussed mainly on the contentious decisions of Referee Alan Muir. His failure to award two stone wall penalty kicks was at once astonishing and baffling.  He might be forgiven for not booking Stephen Pearson for a late tackle which would have  receive a yellow card on 9 out of 10 occasions but penalties change games and he got two big decisions wrong. Had Celtic lost a late equaliser the bewilderment of their support could well have turned to anger.
 Having watched Celtic for many years now, I’ve seen decisions ranging from baffling to inexplicable. I’m not given to conspiracy theories but neither do I fall for the ‘it’ll even itself out over the season’ mantra. I have refereed schoolboy games and know how fast things occur and recognise the difficulty in getting every decision correct. But then modern Referees in the professional games have the support of eagle eyed linesmen. When I was a kid my old man would ask who the Ref was for a given big game and his reaction would always be of interest. If the reply was ‘Bobby Davidson’ or ‘Mr Tait’ he’d shake his head and say, ‘We’ll get nothing off that clown.’ That inter-generational passing on of suspicion of officials is something many Celtic fans will recognise but is it fair? Were some referees really anti Celtic? More importantly, are some still anti-Celtic today?
Those of us versed in the ways of Scottish football history can point to moments which seemed to confirm our suspicions about the club’s less than fair treatment at times. The ridiculous threat to throw Celtic out of the league for flying the Irish flag at Celtic Park was one such moment, as was the appalling and unjustifiable hold up in registering Jorge Cadete by Jim Farry. In more recent times our Refereeing fraternity has been embarrassed by the ‘Dougie, Dougie’ affair when an official resigned after admitting dishonesty with regards to the reasons he changed his mind about a penalty award at Tannadice. There was further embarrassment when Hugh Dallas resigned following his involvement in sending an insulting email about Pope Benedict just before his visit to Scotland. Surely in the parochial atmosphere of Scottish football he should have had more sense?
 That being said, anyone who seriously seeks to point to organised refereeing bias in the modern era when cameras pick up every incident is skating on thin ice. In the fast paced, hurly burly of modern professional football it is easy for a Referee to miss or misinterpret an incident. They seem to get little support from assistants at times, even in European ties when there are extra eyes behind each goal. Added to this there is the constant cheating by players seeking to gain an advantage. Diving is endemic and players try to influence referees by any means they can. It is understandable that they make errors and most supporters understand this.
 What is less understandable are some of the decisions we see which seem blindingly and obviously wrong to the watching fan. Consider the following examples from recent years…
Motherwell defender stops a cross reaching Ciftci by sticking out an arm and handling the ball. Decision-Play on.
Inverness defender stops a goal bound header with his hand. Decision-play on.
Ian Black of Hearts goes over the ball in a violent and reckless manner against Joe Ledley. Ledley is lucky to escape serious injury. A clear red card offence. Decision- Yellow Card.
Kirk Broadfoot engages in blatant simulation at Celtic Park. The Referee, who was not even looking at the incident, awards a penalty.
Anthony Stokes is tripped in the final minutes of the league cup final.  Decision-play on.
 Hearts player fires a shot at Joe Ledley from 2 yards. It ricochets of Ledley and strikes Wanyama. Despite neither player ‘deliberately handling the ball’ as the rules demand, a match winning penalty is awarded.
These are big calls in big games and Celtic seldom seem to get the rub of the green. I don’t subscribe to the more outlandish ideas of conspiracy but there are certain individuals who seem at the moment of decision disinclined to give Celtic the benefit of the doubt. I’ve become like my old man when I see certain individuals are handling Celtic games and find myself mumbling… ‘We’ll get nothing off that clown.’  I’m often right.

Friday, 16 October 2015

The Midas Touch

The Midas Touch
The summer of 1970 was not an easy one for Celtic or their fans to endure. The loss of the Scottish cup final to Aberdeen in hugely controversial circumstances was followed by the disastrous European Cup Final defeat to Feyenoord in Milan. There were mutterings in the press that Stein was losing his Midas touch and that Celtic who had won the Championship for 5 successive seasons might be usurped by Rangers or even the strong Aberdeen team of the era. With all of this going on at the club, they headed to North America for a post season tour which should have been a celebration with their supporters in Canada and the USA. The tour of 1966 had bonded the players and set the club up for that historic 1966-67 season but the 1970 tour was very different.

Celtic played against local sides and also met English opposition in the shape of Manchester United and the Italians of AS Bari. Auld and Gemmell had been sent home for misbehaviour and Stein was introducing some of the ‘Quality Street Gang’ into the first team. Unknown to the players and supporters was the fact that the Manager had been ‘tapped’ by Manchester United who wanted him to be their new boss. Jock had a good relationship with United and knew Matt Busby well. Indeed Busby, like Stein and his old friend Bill Shankly, was a Lanarkshire man with his roots in the mining communities which produced so many good players and Managers.  Stein had a big decision to make and seemed distracted.

The match with AS Bari added to Stein’s stress as the Italians used fair means and foul to stop Celtic playing. Harry Hood recalls that the Celtic players had to fight fire with fire once the kicking started…

‘Before kick off their keeper made a cut throat gesture towards Bobby Lennox and then the battle started.  We went into the game as a friendly but after 10 minutes it was self-preservation. Lou Macari, who was getting into the first team was deliberately punched behind the Referee’s back. I was never a dirty player but I went over the ball about twenty times in the first half. It was self-preservation.’

Stein watched the battle unfolding and on the pitch and his anger was growing. He had seen such tactics in South America when Celtic had faced Racing Club 3 years earlier. As the kicking and tripping continued, Harry Hood was relieved to hear the half time whistle. However he did notice an astonishing sight as he trooped off the Park…

‘As the punch ups were going on all over the park, Jock was getting angrier and angrier. So at half time he’d had enough. As soon as the half time whistle went he threw his bag out of the way and dived into the Italian dug-out which emptied pretty damn quick, except for their coach who was pinned down by Jock. All I saw was the big man punching lumps out of him.’

Stein’s retribution on the Italian coach was perhaps understandable and no doubt symptomatic of the stress he was under. Not just the annoyance at AS Bari turning a friendly into a war but perhaps also his frustration at what happened in Milan when the European Cup was lost to Feyenoord. He returned to Scotland before his team and had a big decision to make about where his future lay. He could triple his pay at Manchester United and face the challenges of English football or he could settle at Celtic and set about rebuilding morale at the club. The Lisbon Lions were beginning to break up but emerging talents like Macari, Dalglish, Hay and Connolly suggested he could remould the side and continue his success at Celtic Park. After due consideration, he told Matt Busby that he had an unfinished job to do at Celtic and was staying in Glasgow.

Season 1970-71 saw Celtic take on the new Rangers management team of Willie Waddell and Jock Wallace. Celtic blended the experience of the Lions with the youth of the new boys and swept all before them. Rangers were defeated by a very young Celtic side at Hampden in the Glasgow Cup Final in August 1970. The 3-1 score-line flattered Rangers as youngsters like Quinn, Dalglish, Connelly, Cattenach, Macari and Hay ran them ragged.  Celtic would finish Champions for the sixth successive year that season with Aberdeen and St Johnstone their closest challengers. Rangers finished fourth, a huge 15 points behind them, but given the events at Ibrox in January 1971 it is understandable that they had their minds on other things. Stein reacted to the Ibrox tragedy with customary dignity.

Jock Stein led Celtic to the double that season as he would do again in 1972, 74 and 77. He rebuilt Celtic’s confidence after the anguish of Milan and helped them reach further European Cup semi-finals in 1972 and 1974. It is interesting to speculate what might have happened had Stein accepted Manchester United’s offer in 1970. Sean Fallon would almost certainly have become Celtic’s manager if Stein hadn’t taken him with him to Old Trafford. In any case we’ll never know but as Stein proved in the next few years, he still had the Midas touch and was far from finished. He won a further 8 major honours with Celtic. His tenure was a golden era for Celtic with spectacular successes at home and in Europe and his total of 25 major trophies in 12 seasons remains remarkable. What is more remarkable though was the manner of many of those victories as Stein’s teams played the game in that quintessentially Celtic way. He knew the Celtic fans paid good money to be entertained and he made sure his sides did just that. What’s more the fans adored him not only because he put entertaining and winning teams on the pitch but also because he fought Celtic’s corner with the media, the footballing authorities and the Referees.

As the AS Bari coach found out in 1970, you messed with big Jock at your peril.


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Celtic, Ireland and identity

Celtic, Ireland and identity
Identity is a multi-layered and complex concept and we learn early in life the impact it can have on our choices and chances in life. Many years ago as a skinny teenager, I worked on a building site with a chap a few years older than me. He seemed unable to contain his ill treatment of me based on the nothing more than the fact I had an Irish sounding name. He was in reality too thick to realise that his petty prejudice denigrated him more than it did me. It always surprised me how older workers on the building site seemed to accept this as normal, even those who suffered the bigotry got on with things without creating much of a fuss. I hadn’t seen that chap in more than 30 years until I bumped into him in a shop recently. He seemed smaller than I remembered him and his initial cheery smile and greeting seemed to fade as my lack of enthusiasm at meeting him again became apparent. Perhaps he recalled his bullying and bigoted ways and realised that some folk have long memories. Perhaps he realised that the skinny teenager he ill-treated 30 years ago was now 6 feet 1 and over 14 stones. Either way he mumbled his goodbyes and left. If I learned anything in the years since that chap made my life difficult with his bullying it is that you must never accept being the victim nor must you let others define you. You must define yourself in life.

Meeting that chap again got me thinking about how things have changed since my teenage days and how this part of an ongoing process which is moulding the identity of each successive generation in a slightly different way from that of their parents. That change is seen clearly in the community which founded and still supports Celtic Football Club. The founding generation of Celts were drawn from a marginalised Irish migrant community which was struggling to survive in the poorer districts of industrial Scotland. Their politics were almost exclusively concerned with what was occurring in Ireland, a land most still thought of as home. Ian McCallum’s excellent book ‘The Celtic, Glasgow Irish and the Great War: The Gathering Storms,’ outlines the various nationalist movements Celtic’s key figures were involved with in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most were what we would call constitutional nationalists and supported political and social groups dedicated to securing home rule for Ireland.  

In a sense the hostility they met from some, though by no means all, in Scotland turned them inwards towards their own community. The church, school system, the embryonic Labour Party and of course Celtic Football Club gave structure and meaning to the lives of many. Of course it couldn’t stay that way forever and the assimilation of Irish-Scots into mainstream society was in many ways relatively peaceful. When one considers the scale of Irish migration to Scotland it is remarkable that there was so little real conflict. They key to this was of course that large as the Irish influx was, it was never a threat to the self determination of the Scottish nation as a whole. The plantation of Ulster on the other hand was a completely different scenario and we are still living with the consequences of that.

My old fella, himself the son of a County Clare man, was born in Scotland but still held onto his Irish identity strongly. I recall Ireland beating Scotland in an international match in the 1980s and how delighted he was. He was a product of harsher times and told me of how he had to lie about which school he attended in order to get a job in a carpet factory. Such things were not uncommon in those days when the petty hierarchy asserted itself in many workplaces. He later worked in the meat market in Glasgow’s east end and told me of the time his boss had called him over and asked him to make up a meat parcel for a Church of Scotland Minister who had popped in. My old man recognised the Minister from the local area and knew him to be a staunch Orangeman as well as an uncompromising opponent of ‘Romanism.’ ‘Bitter auld bastard’ was how my Dad described him as he recalled the incident. The meat parcel was duly wrapped and handed over and he would smile at the thought of the Minister un-wrapping it and finding in it, among other things, a pig’s penis.

The old fella went to his rest at far too young and age like so many of his generation. His hearse drove along the London Road on its way to Dalbeth cemetery and stopped for a last, poignant goodbye to his beloved Celtic Park. This was his sanctuary from the harsh life he lived, his theatre of dreams. Here was one place where he could sing and say what he wanted without worrying about the consequences. He was among what he used to call, his ‘ain folk’ and was never happier than when he was watching Celtic win and the crowd belting out their victory anthems.

In contemporary times, Scotland being drawn in the same European Championships group as Ireland led to some interesting exchanges on social media. Celtic of course has many supporters in Ireland and there was much banter throughout the campaign, some of it having quite an edge. For some Celtic supporters on the Scottish side of the water there was no complication; they were backing Scotland, the land of their birth. Many, like myself, are no doubt proud of their Irish heritage but in sporting matters feel more Scottish. There are of course others who couldn’t give a toss about international football and a few, still remembering insults real and imagined to Celtic players, who will never support Scotland. One chap said to me, ‘look at the caps McGrory and the Lisbon Lions got! Look at the SFA bias over the years, no way I’m supporting that mob.’  One debate on Twitter actually had an Irish fan say, ‘At least we’re a real nation who fought for our freedom!’ His Scottish friend replied, ‘Pity you only got three quarters of your nation free then!’ Both of course are taking the argument way beyond the sporting arena and the conversation between two folk with very similar outlooks on the world deteriorated into a slanging match. What it did show though was the evolving identity of Scots of Irish descent who increasingly feel more Scottish. That is not to say they aren’t proud of their Irish roots because most are and celebrate this in many ways.

Of course Celtic FC and its support long ago left the ghetto of isolation and the club now has supporters from every walk of life. From the Stein era onwards there has been a considerable strand of Celtic support which has no connection to Ireland at all and that is refreshing and welcome. As well as increasing groups of fellow Scots following Celtic, we have seen banners at Celtic Park from groups like the Polska Bhoys, Italian Bhoys, Thai Tims, Villareal CSC and many others and that is fantastic.

Of course, we will always welcome with open arms our Irish cousins too and my trips around Ireland have seen the Hoops prominent from Donegal to Clare, from Belfast to Cork. We can never forget the sacrifice and struggles of the founding community and hopefully will keep their ideals of charity and inclusiveness alive.

The Celtic family has grown tremendously since the days when Irish men and women rolled up their sleeves and literally built the club and its first stadium. They could never have dreamed of how Celtic would grow and prosper as they filled in mineshafts, quarry holes and laid out that first pitch. The journey we have been on has been remarkable and I live in hope that there are many pages to be written yet in our history. We may squabble now and then as all families do but in the final analysis we are all Celts and that is what binds us together.

Friday, 9 October 2015

The press we deserve

The Press We Deserve
The boys of the mock shock brigade were out again in the Scottish media this week after Scotland’s heart-breaking draw with Poland. The target of their ire was once again Celtic and the reason the faux- rage folk were pretending to be ‘outraged’ was the fact that Celtic had tweeted a ‘Good Luck’ message to the Irish Football Association ahead of their match with Germany. Celtic had wished the Scottish side good luck and also tweeted to every Celtic player in the squad to wish them well. All of this went unnoticed by the hacks looking for a cheap anti-Celtic story to stir up the less intelligent and get more clicks on their ad-filled web page. Celtic remains a club proud of its Irish roots and with a huge support in Ireland and there is no genuine ‘outrage’ just the usual mischief making by those with a dislike of Celtic.

It remains a source of great regret that the standard of Journalism has dropped so dramatically in Scotland. Where are the Hugh McIlvanneys’ of the modern press pack? Where is the incisive and intelligent prose we once breathlessly read in our better papers? We are treated to reporting in the tabloids which would barely pass Higher English in its stunted style and often blatantly biased content.

Such reporting of Celtic is nothing new. We have seen since the inception of the club stories and reports laughable in their bias.  One cartoon from the 1920s depicts Celtic and Rangers locked in a snooker match representing the title race. The keen eyes and smart appearance of the Rangers player is in marked contrasts to the stereotypical and frankly racist depiction of the Celt. Another cartoon of the era shows St Mungo between a Celtic and Rangers player and again the contrast is marked and the inference clear.

Those were clearly less enlightened times when ideas about race and intelligence were based on ignorance and prejudice. Even in a relatively educated country like Scotland the national church debated at their General Assembly of 1923 a report entitled ‘The Menace of the Irish race to our Scottish nationality’ and suggestions that Irish migrants be repatriated were applauded. In such an atmosphere it is not surprising to see racist depictions of Celtic players given the club’s origins.

In the modern era, we of the Celtic persuasion have seen far too many negative spins put on stories for it to be coincidence. From ‘Thugs and thieves’ to Fergus McCann being compared to Saddam Hussien, from stories of unsettled players printed on the mornings of big games to tales involving misleading headlines and photos. The advent of the information technology revolution has at least allowed the discerning reader to dump the tabloids in favour of other sources of news. Sales of newspapers like the Daily Record have plummeted from 750,000 copies per day to under 200,000 and it isn’t hard to see why this low quality paper and others like it are heading for oblivion.

Consider the standard of reporting when Rangers IFC’s coach was burned by unknown arsonists a couple of years back. The story appeared in one tabloid's online page and was astonishingly accompanied by an image of Celtic fans enjoying a pre season trip to Brentford. The ‘guilt by association’ angle was as obvious as it was unfair. 
An important game at Ibrox saw the Daily Record run with a deeply distasteful ‘Who is hated more at Ibrox?’ headline beside a picture of Neil Lennon and the Tax man. Such irresponsible reporting says much about the desperation by some in the press to stir controversy and try to stem the drop in sales. The Lennon headline at least saw Celtic act and in a furious statement they said…

We feel the language used was inflammatory and highly irresponsible. The treatment of Neil Lennon has been well documented and in this context of this article was insensitive and unnecessary.’

 Consider also the press Celtic have had in the past 20 years in contrast to the fawning puff journalism surrounding Rangers and David Murray. From Super Casino’s to a £700m rebuilding of Ibrox into a 70,000 seater super stadium and all printed without so much as a cursory check on how it would be paid for. The demise of Rangers in 2012 saw much of the media face the bitter and astounding reality that Rangers FC had actually gone way of Third Lanark and St Bernard’s. Even dyed in the wool succulent lamb munchers admitted as much at the time only to backtrack in spectacular and unconvincing style when the great lie of Rangers surviving liquidation was trotted out to assuage the shattered legions of Ibrox fans. This volte-face was exemplified best by Jim Traynor who said in the Daily Record in 2012…

‘No matter how Charles Green tries to dress it up a newco equals a new club. When the CVA was thrown out Rangers as we know them died.’

A year later Mr Traynor was employed by the Rangers IFC and was writing the following…

‘Why is it so many are continuing to write and broadcast that this is a new club when it is just the owners who are new. Is it a basic lack of intelligence or something more sinister?’

It would indeed exhibit a serious lack of intelligence if any football fan swallowed such contradictions. Mr Traynor isn’t alone in his revisionism of what occurred in 2012. Sales demand that newspapers do not alienate a large section of their dwindling customer base and so truth and objectivity are sacrificed on the altar of mammon. Money rules and the truth is seldom allowed to get in the way of a good story.

There are of course good, honest Journalists out there but as in all walks of life there are those of poorer quality too. The quickest way to a better press is stop buying the poorer papers because in the final analysis we get the press we deserve.


Saturday, 3 October 2015

Celtic to the core

Celtic to the core

Yet another European night at Celtic Park and yet another fairly good display undone by woeful defending. Watching Celtic work so hard to build a 2-0 lead was gratifying but it’s fair to say our Turkish visitors must have thought we were giving out gifts for Eid as we handed them two goals gift wrapped by a generous defence. I have defended Efe Ambrose in the past from some of the crueller jibes thrown at him but there is no doubt he has a propensity for losing concentration in important matches and at European level that is usually punished. All good teams are built on a solid defence and ours currently loses 2 goals to every decent team we meet. Fenerbahçe had barely threatened Celtic’s goal in the first 44 minutes before they were handed an undeserved lifeline back into a game which looked to be slipping away from them. If we are to prosper in Europe that really has to stop and players who are consistently making these gaffe’s should be replaced by more dependable types. We might also look at our appalling record on defending set pieces. Three goals in the Malmo tie were lost to corners and Aberdeen’s late winner at Pittodrie recently was also the result of failing to defend a set play. Our zonal system against Fenerbahçe left 6 feet 4 Fenandao free to run past static defenders to head home. Zonal systems do concede less goals statistically but only if you have players good enough to do it properly. The evidence suggests Celtic currently don’t.

That being said there were many positives in the game. James Forrest, Kieran Tierney and Scott Brown had impressive games and the supporters once again gave the team tremendous backing. Ronny Deila commented after the game about the excellent atmosphere the support generated and noted how important it is to the team. With my normal seat sold before I got to the ticket office I found myself in section 110 which is just below the Green Brigade section. As a veteran of the old days in the Jungle, it was great to see such fervor and passion from the supporters alive and well. The drums pounded, the songs echoed and the noise spread around the stadium. The Green Brigade were simple excellent in their support of the team and it is to their credit that they have survived appalling and grossly disproportionate policing, an ambiguous attitude from the club and often a degree of intolerance from some among the Celtic support. A few of us naively thought the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act was designed to finally deal with the sectarian luddites who attach themselves to certain Scottish football clubs. Instead it was turned on people guilty of nothing more than holding progressive political views others disagreed with. There is surely scope in a democratic society for allowing the flowering of political dissention and discussion without the sort of policing some of our fellow Celtic supporters have to contend with. Eoin O’Ceallaigh in his interesting article‚ ‘Brigadistas in Paradise‘  described Police harrassment of the Green Brigade in the following terms...

‘Examples of police attempts to disrupt the group’s activities have included: constant and overt surveillance of the group at, and travelling to and from football matches; stop and searches; dawn raids on members‘ homes for controversial banners; police blocking of taxi applications; attempts by Special Branch to recruit informers; covert surveillance of members, in Scotland and abroad, down to detailing specific meals eaten; use of Anti-Terrorism legislation to detain and question members travelling between Scotland and the north of Ireland; dozens of arrests; imprisonment on remand; the completely ironic deployment of police horses, riot vans and baton charges on members protesting police harassment; and a dedicated unit tasked with monitoring the group.‘

Whether you agree with their brand of left wing politics or not there is no way such policing has been proportionate to the perceived threat the group cause. These are non-violent football ultras, not some plotting terrorist cell. It is to be hoped that various embarrassing reverses in the courts will make the police think again about how they interact with these loud, passionate, opinionated but essentially peaceful football supporters.  There is no denying they add to the atmosphere at Celtic Park.  Nor can there be any denial of their direct social action which has ranged from tons of food being collected for food banks to their now regular anti-discrimination football tournament which has featured teams from various ethnic and minority communities in the wider Glasgow area. Such positives are usually ignored by a media culture in Scotland which seems unduly willing to splash any perceived misdemeanors all over the front page.

As I watched the Green Brigade section in action from close quarters at the Europa League match with Fenerbahçe it was clear to see the infectious love for Celtic which is at the core of their being. As football has been transformed in recent decades by the construction of all seated stadia and the demands of TV companies who don’t give a damn for fans, it was refreshing to see the ordinary working class football culture alive and well.

As a teenager in the old Jungle, I’d go home from big games utterly exhausted after 2 hours of singing, jumping, roaring and generally being totally engrossed with the struggle on the field. That unity with the team which the old terraces engendered so well was challenged by the building of the new stadium which changed forever the rituals of match going. We may not have reached the levels of the ‘Prawn sandwich brigade’ as Roy Keane once famously called the new breed of well-heeled Manchester United fans, but Celtic Park does need groups like the Green Brigade to spark the atmosphere.

Many among our own support, myself included, have been critical of the odd ill- conceived banner display from the group but in truth they have made us ponder the hypocrisy in our society and that can only be good. It is healthy to have debates within our support but without ever losing sight of the one thing that unites us all and that is of course our love for Celtic.

As I jumped around like a teenager again the other night, I knew the old Jungle spirit was alive and well among the support. Our society is quick to condemn football fans but let me be just as quick to praise them. Well done to all those passionate ‘Brigadistas’ of section 111, we don’t always agree on everything but the wider support knows well that you’re Celtic to the core.  Hail Hail.