Sunday, 29 November 2015

At the rising of the moon

At the Rising of the moon

A steady drizzle was falling over the hushed streets of Glasgow’s east end as Thomas trudged towards the meeting point. He puffed on his white clay pipe which was his constant companion. He had etched his initials onto it to ensure no disputes over ownership. Over his shoulder he carried the tools of his trade; a thick handled pick and a shovel. Dawn was slow to come on such grey days and a few smoking chimneys told him he was not alone in feeling the chill of this November morning. From the closes and Wynds of this, the poorest part of Glasgow, others trickled out to join him on his walk. Some pushed wheelbarrows while others brought a variety of tools required for the work at hand. Padraig Coll, a stout labourer who hailed from Belfast, joined Thomas on his walk. ‘Morning to ye Thomas. Not a pleasant day for our labours.’ Thomas nodded, ‘Aye to be sure Padraig but there’s much to be done and little time to do it.’ As the trickle of men reached a fenced off area adjacent to Jeanfield cemetery they could see that a hundred or more had already gathered around a horse drawn wagon upon which stood the familiar figure of John Glass. Thomas McGarrigle and Padraig Coll joined the small crowd of men and listened as Glass spoke. ‘Our first task is to fill the quarry and the old mine workings. We already have tons of earth on site boys so go where the Foremen send you and put your backs into it. Tis a fine endeavour you undertake this day and you have my thanks.’ With that the crowd of men entered the site for a day of hard labour.

The quarry hole in the centre of the site was over 20 feet deep and wide as a large church. The bottom of the quarry was covered in slimy water of uncertain depth and a stout rope was kept nearby in case anyone fell in. At the far end of the site a hand pump was being operated to try to suck some of the water from quarry. Thomas and Padraig were assigned to the wheelbarrow squad who formed a continuous line from a huge mound of earth to the very edge of the quarry hole. Like a line of worker ants the men shifted tons of earth and dumped it into the vast hole. As they worked Padraig Coll, a man noted for his fine singing voice and encyclopaedic knowledge of Irish folk songs, began to sing a familiar air…

‘Oh tell me Sean O’Farrel, tell me why you hurry so,

Hush me Buchal, hush and listen, and his cheeks were all aglow

I bear orders from the Captain,  get you ready quick and soon

For the pikes must be together at the rising of the moon!’

From around the site as the wheelbarrows squeaked along the planks laid over the mud and the hammers and picks swung in familiar rhythm, scores of voices joined the chorus…

‘'At the rising of the moon, at the rising of the moon

The pikes must be together, at the rising of the moon

Thomas barely looked up from his work as the men grafted and sang in that quintessentially Irish way. These men knew what a day’s work was and were in demand in the factories and docks of Britain because of it. Less than a mile north of where they laboured, the great Beardmore’s Iron works pumped black, acrid smoke into the Glasgow sky. Much of the muscle which kept the great steel works moving came from the poor Irish community which supplied the men who were giving up their one day of rest to make ready the land by Jean Field cemetery.

As the morning progressed and the large pile of earth began to diminish a huge Shire horse was brought in to haul timber across the site. As the small man leading the horse neared the wheelbarrow squad they parted to let it pass. The big animal lumbered past them and as it reached a point near the edge of the quarry the earth began to crumble under its hooves. ‘Watch out!’ shouted Thomas as the earth gave way and the huge horse reared up before crashing into the quarry below. Thomas reached instinctively for the small man who controlled the horse and grabbed him by the jacket just in time to stop him joining the animal in the sludge of the quarry. As he did so his favourite clay pipe fell from his mouth and into the quarry hole. It was a small price to pay for saving the small man from joining his horse in the pit below where it lay in obvious distress, neighing forlornly.

A brief discussion was held and it was decided that as the horse had clearly broken a leg and was beyond rescue that they should put it out of its misery. A runner was sent to fetch a certain Mr Cleghorn who dealt with sick and wounded animals. He duly arrived carrying a long slim case which contained a rifle. The situation was explained to him and after a brief look at the horse lying 20 feet below him in the quarry he nodded sadly before he opened his case and assembled his long rifle. As the labourers paused in their work to watch, a loud, echoing shot split the quiet morning air and the horse’s suffering was over. Work resumed, although the men were a little quieter.

Padraig Coll turned to Thomas, ‘That was bad luck but we must continue nonetheless.’ Thomas nodded, ‘Aye, and my best pipe was lost in that hole too.’ Coll smiled, ‘Sure a pipe is easy to replace, yer man who lost his horse had a tear in his eye.’ Thomas nodded, ‘Aye, you’re right Padraig. All in a good cause though.’ As the earth was shovelled into the pit the horse was soon covered and lost from view. The hard work continued all that long day until darkness once more shrouded the city.

And so it was that community gathered together for 8 arduous weeks to create their field of dreams and give a fitting home to their team. The old stadium, barely 400 yards away was lost as a greedy landlord demanded a huge sum of money to rent it. This grated with many as greedy landlords back in Ireland had done the same to many and driven them from the land. The people had built that first stadium too and now they gathered again to build a second Celtic Park. There were those who would like to have seen the new club stillborn but it was people’s club and the people would never desert it. For men like Tommy and Padraig seeing the turf laid and the grandstand rise gave them immense pleasure.

As they walked home when their labours were over, Padraig smiled, ‘I look forward to seeing the Bhoys play on the new field. Tis a grand thing we’ve built here.’ Tommy nodded, ‘It is indeed and to think they’ll be running out over a ground which holds so much of our sweat and of course, O’Malley’s horse.’ Padraig Coll regarded him with a grin, ‘Sure it holds your pipe too, Thomas.’ Thomas McGarrigle nodded, ‘Aye, it does and I hope it brings them luck.’

Postscript: Glasgow 1994

Tony McCready eased his van carefully through the gates of the muddy building site. He stepped out to regard the huge steel frame of the North Stand rising into the east end sky. His workmate and lifelong Rangers fan, Andy Carrol, gazed at it too, ‘Looking impressive Tony but will your lot fill it?’  Tony replied, his eyes still on the huge skeleton of the stand, ‘I think we will Andy.’ A gruff voice cut across them, ‘Tony, get yer arse intae that trench and check they pipes. The concrete will be here at nine!’ Tony nodded towards the foreman and walked towards the trench cut into the muddy ground a few yards from where the Jungle terrace used to be. He clambered in, his boots splashing muddy water onto his jeans. As he examined the joints on the sewerage pipes something caught his eye. He reached into his toolbox and removed a small screwdriver and dug gently around a white object embedded in the wall of the trench. It came free in his hand and he dipped it into a bucket of water to clean the mud from it. ‘What have ye got there, Tony?’ asked Andy. Tony examined the small object carefully, ‘Looks like a smoking pipe?’ He noticed some letters etched onto it and what appeared to be a harp and a shamrock, ‘Looks Irish and it says, T. M, on it?’ Andy shrugged, ‘Well we’ll never know who dropped it but that’s your initials anyway so ye should keep it as a souvenir.’ Tony nodded, ‘Aye, I will. Wonder who T.M was though eh?’

Tony wrapped the pipe carefully in a cloth and placed it in his tool box. He’d find a spot for it somewhere at home and it’d remind him always of his time working on the new stadium. He turned back to the task at hand and playing his small role in the rebuilding of Celtic Park. He longed to see it finished and to hear those familiar songs echo around the new stands. He would always be proud of the small part he played in Celtic's rebirth.

Just as Thomas was a century before.




Saturday, 28 November 2015

The last key in the bunch

The last key in the bunch

There is an old adage which suggests that the higher we set our expectations the greater the disappointment when they are not met. Anyone following Celtic’s European efforts this last couple of seasons will no doubt attest to that. Celtic poor efforts in this season’s Champions League Qualifiers and Europa League may well have caused much soul searching among the support and even caused some to question the manager’s competence in the European arena. Deila is in the team building business and would no doubt argue that progress is being made as his younger players gain more experience of the fine margins between success and failure at that level. The Ajax game this week was another reminder of how cruel the European game can be. Celtic had more shots on target than Ajax and still managed to lose the game. It isn’t that teams are outplaying Celtic in the Europa League, it is that fatal combination of failing to take the chances which come along and conceding goals which are at times appallingly defended.

What makes this European failure harder to bear is the recurring thought that Celtic’s once proud European record is being slowly eroded. Teams no longer fear coming to Celtic Park and every Celtic side playing in Europe will inevitably be compared to the great sides of the past. It may surprise some of our younger supporters to know that much better Celtic sides than our current crop have also struggled in Europe. The club’s record in European competition since their first game against Valencia in 1962 up until their 3-2 aggregate defeat by Real Madrid in 1980 was commendable. In those 18 years Celtic reached the Quarter finals on 10 occasions, the semi-finals on 6 occasions and the Final of the European Cup twice.

However the 20 seasons between 1980-81 and 2000-01 saw Celtic out of Europe before Christmas every season. Fine sides with players such as McStay, Burns and Provan couldn’t crack Europe and despite some stirring individual victories never advanced far. Fans were generally more ambiguous about European failure then as the much more competitive domestic competitions ensured we were happy just to win the title in any given season. Celtic battled it out with Aberdeen, Dundee United, Hearts and Rangers for the trophies then and there is undoubtedly a tendency to take domestic success as a given in the last few years. This is partly down to the decline in standing of the Scottish League as it slipped from 10th rated in Europe to 25th today. Indeed Scotland’s coefficient has the country just above Azerbaijan in the UEFA rankings. This is largely down to Celtic being left to carry the can alone as our other Scottish clubs are often out of Europe before the summer is over.

Martin O’Neil’s arrival in 2000 saw major investment in seasoned players such as Sutton, Valgaeren, Lennon and Hartson. When this experience was added to existing talents such as Larsson and Lambert, the combination made for a powerful side. We then enjoyed some great European adventures in the Champions League and of course that memorable run to Seville in 2003. O’Neil’s spending was due in no short part to investment from the club’s largest shareholder, Dermot Desmond and there is no doubt it payed off on the park. Whether he would put his hand in his pocket today is an entirely different question.

The last few years has seen a sea change in Celtic’s policy with regards to team building and that has undoubtedly had its effect on the team in Europe. The club has stated that buying relatively inexpensive young players and developing them into better players is now the preferred option. The days of £6m players like Lennon or Sutton coming to Celtic are over for the time being. The choice of Ronny Deila as Manager was no doubt partly influenced by his track record of building decent sides on a tight budget. Deila is a coach who requires time to implement his plans and at a club like Celtic some of the supporters are impatient and hungry for more of those big European nights at Celtic Park. Deila is hampered by the club’s habit of selling better players to the cash rich English Premiership although in truth many of those players probably only came to Scotland on the understanding that they be allowed to go south after a couple of seasons with the Hoops. Whether you consider this ‘selling club’ mentality to be sensible stewardship of the club’s finances or detrimental to the team developing, it is a harsh reality for Celtic supporters. We are a big club trapped in a low income, small league and unless that changes, we have to adopt sensible financial policies. We saw what recklessness brings in the shape of the staggering events at Ibrox over the past few years.

That is not to say that there isn’t a middle path and that’s the one Celtic should take. The signing of players such as Balde, Pukki, Bangura, Scepovic and Boerichter cost Celtic in the region of £10m and it’s fair to say their contribution has been poor. Such a sum could have been better targeted on a couple of proven, experienced players who would slot straight into the side and raise the quality of the team. This would not only help Ronny Deila develop his young squad as they’d learn from experienced players, it would also hopefully help end our current dismal European form. Celtic does have a good crop of young players at the moment but in Key areas a solid, experienced ‘old head’ would help. This is particularly true in defence although the creative midfield area and striking departments could do with help too.

For supporters there is a need to be patient with Deila’s team building which at times seems to be one step forward, two steps back, particularly in Europe. The Manager is heading into the most telling part of his Celtic career as he faces a push for a domestic treble which would surely assuage even his harshest critics among the support? Next summer’s assault on Europe will be the defining moment for him. It is absolutely vital that the signing targets identified are of high enough quality to slot straight into the team. We have enough ‘potential’ at the club what we need are ready made leaders to help develop it and drive it on. We have wasted enough money on players who were seemingly unable to adapt to our much maligned Scottish game so let’s get some quality in. In the short term it might cost but in the longer term it might deliver and stop this vicious cycle of selling our best players because we failed to reach the Champions League. That policy is diluting the quality of the squad each season and making qualification more difficult. We need to try something different for next season and halt our decline as a European force.

Sometimes it’s the last key in the bunch which opens the door.




Monday, 23 November 2015

Lost in Translation

Lost in translation

I read last night’s statement from the Celtic Trust and have to say I was somewhat puzzled.  It’s worth reproducing it here so you can judge for yourself the veracity of its contents. It stated…

‘’Following the disgraceful remarks made by Ian Bankier, Chairman of Celtic PLC to the Celtic PLC AGM on Friday 20th November, the undersigned organisations feel it necessary to express our anger at these allegations.

Mr Bankier's claim that fans opposed to the re-election of Mr Livingston to the Celtic board have engaged in 'criminally racist' social media postings is an unforgivable slur on the Celtic support. For him to then evoke the name of Brother Walfrid to justify his unfounded assertion is utterly shameful. We are now, since the AGM took place, aware that there were some postings on social media which we condemn and we would support the club, and Mr Livingston, should they take action against those individuals.  None of this is a justification for the generalised smearing of the Celtic support and, in particular, those of us who voted against Mr Livingston’s re-election.  Mr Bankier committed an error of judgement and showed a complete lack of control at the AGM and this is not acceptable in a Celtic Chairman.

We would like to publically condemn his unprofessional behaviour and the subsequent attempts to suggest that his words had been taken out of context, as this patently was not the case. We call on all other members of the PLC board to denounce these comments. Ultimately, we are of the belief that Mr Bankier is no longer able to redeem himself following this attack on the Celtic support, and his failure to retract and apologise immediately afterwards, and we call on him to give serious consideration to his position as Chairman of Celtic PLC.’’

This strongly worded statement is seriously flawed. Firstly Ian Bankier didn’t say that all Celtic supporters opposed to Ian Livingston’s reappointment ‘have engaged in 'criminally racist' social media postings’ as the statement implies.  He was clearly referring to the minority who overstepped the mark and used bigoted language to describe Mr Livingston. Who could possibly deny that statements from social media such as the following are anything other than morally repugnant and against everything Celtic stands for...

‘’Get this Ashkenazi cunt out of OUR club and take that other fake Jew prick Biton with him. This is typical of their sort, infiltrating and destroying every country and establisment from within"’

‘We need to rid our club of this Zionist cancer immediately. The thought of a dirty Zionist fucker being in charge of our club is very alarming."

I could find more statements like those on Facebook or Twitter but those two sentences serve to illustrate the point that some went too far in their criticism of Mr Livingston and strayed into territory which could be construed by a Judge as ‘criminally racist.’ So if we agree that some who claim to follow Celtic have been guilty of such utterances, and it really is beyond doubt as even the Celtic Trust admit, then where does that leave Mr Bankier? Well, firstly his actual words at the AGM were as follows…

(Mr Livingston) has been subject to a torrent of utterly base personal abuse conducted over social media over recent weeks. The messages posted, in quite a few cases are criminally racist and in all cases the vocabulary chosen is base and highly abusive and what sickens me to the core is that the campaign is conducted in the name of (Celtic founder) Brother Walfrid.’

It’s clear to me that the ‘all cases’ he refers to in this statement are the people who have brought forth this ‘torrent of utterly base personal abuse’ and no one else. To extrapolate from the above sentence that he meant all fans opposed to Ian Livingston’s reappointment is at best disingenuous and at worst mischief making. If that wasn’t clear enough Mr Bankier then stated on Celtic’s website…

 ‘I have not branded our supporters racist and it is outrageous to suggest that I would ever do that. I was only referring to a small number of specific comments which have been made on social media, which I believe are unacceptable, I know Celtic fans would agree with me.’

Despite Mr Bankier releasing this statement the scorn of some on social media was poured down on his head. He was advised to ‘go’ by some and take Mr Livingston with him. The statement from the Celtic Trust followed and I must confess to scratching my head as to what he had actually said which deserved the strong words flying his way. If his AGM statement wasn’t clear to some, his follow up statement certainly was. Are those who wrote the Celtic Trust statement actually suggesting that Ian Bankier is lying?  Hundreds of shareholders and media types witnessed his statement at Celtic Park and it was no doubt recorded too. He condemned foul abuse which certainly deserved the harshest condemnation. To suggest he condemned all who opposed the re-appointment of Mr Livingston to the Board is not only wrong but it is demonstrably wrong.

You would think by the whole tone of the Celtic Trust statement with its language of condemnation (slur, unforgivable, shameful, smearing, etc.) that Bankier had committed a very public offence of great importance. A closer examination of the facts shows nothing of the sort. Things have either been lost in translation or those making the accusations against him are doing so for their own purposes. Either way this whole mess offers nothing but mud for those with a dislike of Celtic to throw in the club’s face.

No doubt I’ll need to dig out the tin hat when some read this and accuse me of taking sides or being in the Board’s pocket and other such nonsense. So what I suggest you do is check the facts for yourself, read the reports of the AGM and contrast them to the ludicrous version of events portrayed in the Celtic Trust statement. I offer only one man’s opinion based on the facts as I perceive them. You’re perfectly entitled to verify things for yourself and I hope you do. Too many are prepared to believe the worst without checking the facts. If you’re going to accuse someone of ‘generalised smearing’ of the Celtic support you’d best have more evidence than I’ve seen so far.





Saturday, 21 November 2015

More than a club?

More than a club?

Celtic’s AGM certainly caused a storm on social media yesterday with the two hot topics being the club’s continuing refusal to seek accreditation as a living wage employer and the ongoing row over Director Ian Livingston’s political affiliations. For some supporters the fact Celtic was refusing to sign up to the living wage scheme (despite actually paying their full time employees the living wage at the moment) was bad enough but to then have a Director seemingly in favour of cuts to Tax credits which would hit the poorest workers in the land compounded this. The Celtic board no doubt has its reasons for the stances they take but they continue to be poor at explaining those reasons to the supporters. The Living wage issue seems to be more about ensuring the club forces contractors such as catering and stewarding companies to pay their employees the prerequisite amount per hour. The club should surely state publically that while they have no power to force other companies to adjust pay rates of their workers, they can at least negotiate the point when contracts are up for renewal.

Most of us feel that paying low paid workers the living wage is the right thing to do and Celtic talk proudly in their Mission statement of striving to be the ‘team of the people.’ with a ‘wider role and the responsibility of being a major Scottish social institution promoting health, well-being and social integration.’ If that is to be anything more than empty talk then part of it should be about fighting for the poorest workers in our society and doing so publically. Health and well-being are, after all, often affected by low income.

That point isn’t lost on many who see the plans by the Conservative party to cut Tax Credits as another assault on the poorest workers in society and some at the AGM raised the role of Lord Livingston as a Tory Peer in this context. They are quite entitled to question the board on this issue although the balance of power among shareholders means that they were always unlikely to affect the board’s position that Lord Livingston brings considerable business experience and acumen to Celtic and his political views are not a consideration when deciding to confirm his position as a director of Celtic. This may tie into the club’s stated policy of having ‘no political agenda’ but it did cause some anger amongst a vociferous group among the support which was further exacerbated by Chairman Ian Bankier’s description of some of the abuse aimed at Lord Livingston as ‘Criminally racist.’ He said that Mr Livingston had been…

Subject to a torrent of utterly base personal abuse conducted over social media over recent weeks. The messages posted, in quite a few cases are criminally racist and in all cases the vocabulary chosen is base and highly abusive and what sickens me to the core is that the campaign is conducted in the name of (Celtic founder) Brother Walfrid.’

Powerful stuff from the Celtic Chairman and his words predictably set off a chain reaction on social media which had those who it seemed didn’t read his actual words misinterpreting them as a slur on all Celtic supporters. There were numerous comments on Twitter which gave the impression the Chairman’s ‘criminally racist’ comments were aimed at more than the foul mouthed minority who certainly did use extreme and abusive language about Ian Livingston. Mr Bankier then felt obliged to release a statement denying his comments were directed to the wider Celtic support and said…

‘Already there has been some media coverage of my comments relating to Ian Livingston and his proposed re-appointment and much of it has been wildly exaggerated or taken out of context. I have not branded our supporters racist and it is outrageous to suggest that I would ever do that. I was only referring to a small number of specific comments which have been made on social media, which I believe are unacceptable, and I know Celtic supporters would agree with me.’

In this instance Ian Bankier is correct. A small number of comments I have read from Facebook and Twitter have been contemptable in their tone and we fail in our duty as Celtic supporters if we don’t let the people who say such things know that it’s unacceptable. I am not for an instant defending Ian Livingston’s politics but I will defend his right to hold beliefs which differ from mine without him being called an ‘Ashkenazi cunt’ or a ‘Dirty Zionist fucker’ and I’m sure 99.9% of Celtic supporters would agree with me on that. I won’t embarrass the people who made these comments by naming them but they are genuine. Such intolerance is not the Celtic way and I know that the vast majority of Celtic supporters would argue passionately about issues affecting the club without ever stooping so low.

It remains laudable that so many Celtic supporters feel so strongly about social issues affecting our poorest people. Today’s foodbank collection at the stadium will be yet another demonstration of that basic decency to be found among them. It is only right that they challenge the club to live up to its founding principles but it is also important that supporters challenge those among our number who over step the mark.

If you’re going to the game today remember to take what you can afford along to the foodbank collection points. Perhaps as our Directors gaze out of the window and see the spirit of Walfrid alive and well among the support they will think again about ensuring all who work at the great man’s club are paid enough to live on. We claim to be more than a club, I hope we’re more than just a business.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Without fear or favour

Without fear or favour

There has been some soul searching in Scottish football following Ireland’s gutsy qualification win over Bosnia-Herzegovina this week. The game in Scotland seems mired in dispute and acrimony, much of it stemming from the fallout from the collapse of Rangers in 2012. The SFA and SPFL appear to be waiting for better days rather that showing decisive leadership as the war of words over the use of EBTs by Rangers for a decade rages on in the media and online.  Craig Burley, former Scotland and Celtic player stated on Twitter…

‘What a pitiful nation, still arguing about titles and all this tosh whilst the Irish put another nail in the coffin.’

Those in favour of declaring titles won during the EBT years null and void were on his case in a flash outlining the fact that they felt they had in effect watched a ‘rigged game’ for a decade. Burley seems to be unable to comprehend the fact that for many supporters of Scottish football this is an important issue of sporting integrity and not ‘tosh.’ Not everyone who wants titles expunged is a ‘Rangers hater.’ Many fair minded people point to clubs thrown out of the Scottish cup on technicalities or due to errors in paperwork and fail to see how a club can implement over £45m in undisclosed payments to players over a decade and the very authorities kept in the dark about it declare that ‘no sporting advantage accrued!’  To para-phrase Forrest Gump…

‘I’m not a smart man but even I know if you offer Peter Lovenkrands £902,000 tax free on top of his declared salary he is more likely to agree to play in the relative backwater of the Scottish League.’  

Lord Drummond Young appears to agree with me as he stated in his recent judgement…

‘If the club hadn’t operated the EBT scheme, some players might have taken their services elsewhere.’

There are currently two camps in Scottish football and they seem miles apart. One which argues we should put all these disputes about titles and EBT’s behind us and move forward for the good of the game. The other is adamant that there can be no moving forward without transparency and a full, open investigation into the EBT years. These two camps seem irreconcilable and their hostility to each other is growing. As always the more uncouth types spit their unhelpful venom from the relative anonymity of social media and add heat to an already difficult situation but the SFA and SPFL need to accept that decent and civilised fans from many clubs are deeply perturbed by what has gone on in recent years. This is a matter of natural justice, not a matter of hating Rangers. Indeed if any Rangers supporters are reading these words ask yourself, in all honesty what would your opinion be if Celtic had operated an EBT scheme in the manner Rangers did?

So what is to be done? I for one fall into the second camp and feel an independent inquiry should look into every aspect of the football authorities handling of the Rangers situation over the past few years. The paying public who are the life-blood of Scottish football deserve to know the truth. There are too many inconsistencies, secret agreements and conflicts of interests. The rules of the game have been ripped apart with little consequence. The SFA’s own rule book states (section 4)…

‘All payments being made to a player and relating to his playing activities must be clearly recorded upon the relevant contract or agreement. No payments for his playing activities may be made to a player via a third party.’

Are we really expected to believe that over 40 professional mercenaries would have showed up at Rangers in the first decade of the new century without the inducement of huge dollops of tax free cash?  Celtic FC, the leading club in the land, clearly isn’t buying it and issued a statement following the HMRC victory in the Court of Session which declared EBTs as taxable income. They stated on the official website…

“We are aware of last week’s Court of Session ruling, which we note is subject to potential appeal. Celtic’s position on this issue is consistent – that this remains a matter for the courts of law and also the Scottish football authorities whose rules are intended to uphold sporting integrity. In 2013, we expressed surprise – shared by many observers and supporters of the game - over the findings of the SPL Commission that no competitive or sporting advantage had resulted. That remains our view."

It also remains the view of sizable numbers of Scottish football supporters from Annan to Aberdeen. We now need some leadership from the hierarchy of Scottish Football to clear the poisonous atmosphere which currently pollutes our national sport. So far we’ve had the mythical ‘SFA insider’ being quoted in the press as saying no titles will be stripped. Often such ‘insiders’ are figments of the reporter's imagination as the PR battle rages in the media. Guff about ‘protecting our sources’ means they can invent such ‘insiders’ all day long. We hear astonishing utterings from ill-informed and inarticulate ‘pundits’ on radio phone in shows who say things such as, ‘You can’t strip the titles as Rangers might have won the games anyway.’ This utter incredulous nonsense is akin to saying: ‘Don’t strip drug cheat Lance Armstrong’s titles as he might have won anyway!’ We see EBT recipients like Alex Rae wheeled out to say, ‘I would have joined Rangers anyway!’ Yes, you might have but would Klos, Cappucho, Lovenkrands, Amoruso and all the others who weren’t brought up as Rangers supporters? They weren’t in Glasgow for the weather that’s for sure.

Scottish football is in a very difficult place at the moment. If the footballing authorities who warned us of ‘civil unrest’ if the new Rangers were denied entry to the top division in 2012 are to come through these times with any shred of credibility then they must apply the rules of the game without fear or favour. They should do the right thing and not the easy thing.

As for the mainstream media, with some honourable exceptions, they lost credibility a long time ago and most supporters treat their opinions with the contempt they deserve.  

Meanwhile some greedy former footballers may well be receiving a hefty tax bill in the future. Why is it that those who have the most in life are unwilling to pay their dues to a society which has given them so much? As the Police investigation into Charles Green's purchasing of the assets of the old company in 2012 continues, it is also possible that the creditors large and small who were royally shafted in 2012 may yet see some of their money. That may be the only good to come out of this sordid mess.


Friday, 13 November 2015

That's the dream

That's the dream
As extra-time began in the fiercely contested League Cup Final of 2009 between Celtic and Rangers, the chap beside me in the Celtic end of Hampden muttered, ‘First goal is vital, if we get it we’ll win this.’ No sooner had he spoken those words when Shunsuke Nakamura curled a free kick into the crowded Rangers penalty box.  A player in green and white met it with his head and the ball, a white blur, flew perfectly over the head of Alan McGregor and into the net. The 26,000 Celtic fans filling one half of Hampden erupted and as we went slightly mad in the Celtic end I recall shouting, ‘Who scored? Who got it?’  I soon found out when those around me began to praise young Celtic centre back Darren O’Dea. It’s history now that Aidan McGeady’s late penalty made it 2-0 in the dying seconds but it was O’Dea’s goal which knocked the stuffing out of Rangers who rarely threatened after that. It was for some, his finest moment in a Celtic shirt.

Darren’s career has taken him all over the world. He has played for Celtic, Reading, Leeds, Blackpool, Ipswich, Toronto, Metalurh Donetsk (Eastern Ukraine) and most recently for Mumbai City in India. The modern footballer has to go where the game leads him but I think this particular player would remember his years at Celtic most fondly. He was and remains a Celtic fan and lived the dream that many of us who love the hoops would give much for. Darren’s experiences during his time in Glasgow both on and off the field demonstrate the level of pressure Celtic players live under. I spoke to him recently and he kindly agreed to talk to me about his career and the characters who helped him become a Celtic player and indeed an international player with Ireland. We started at the beginning…

Tirnaog: You grew up in Dublin, what was your childhood like there and were you always into football as opposed to rugby or GAA games?

Darren O’Dea:I had a great childhood. I was hyper active as a kid and would never be in the house, always out on the street playing football or getting up to mischief. I never had any grass to play on so all my football was played on the street. As I grew older I became more and more obsessed with football. A lot of times I’d be out alone and would be playing by myself just kicking a ball against a wall. I remember one of my friends parents’ calling round to my house to ask my parents would I stop calling for my mate to come out and have a kick about. It was at the time of exams so studying was important to the parent but for me, I was always out and never indoors. Me and my mates played against other "estates"... I think this toughened me up as we'd play against older boys at times and 9 times out of 10 a fight would kick off. I remember when I was about 12 my dad shouted me to come back to the house. There was 3 parents there complaining I'd given their boys a "doing" earlier on during a match we had. My dad was obviously ready to give me into trouble then realised that the boys were all 13/14 and there was 3 of them against me. I don't have brothers or sisters so I never had anyone else to back me up. And I think that stood me well in my life... I was always asked to play GAA and did so in school and was then asked repeatedly to go play for a team called Kilmacud Crokes. My mum wanted me to play GAA as the players are so well respected in Ireland she thought it would help with getting a good job. Obviously to become a professional footballer was a dream many boys have so GAA probably seemed more realistic to her but I never ended up playing GAA other than when I was in school.’

Tirnaog: Cherry Orchard FC are known for producing good young players in the Dublin area and guys like Willow Flood and John Daly came through their ranks. What was your route into the professional game?

Darren O’Dea: ‘Yeh, Cherry Orchard are a fantastic club but I came from Home Farm which I'd say is arguably regarded as the best schoolboy club in Dublin if not Ireland. It was based on the opposite side of the city to me and twice a week I'd take a train into the city to meet my dad after his work and then He'd drive me to training from there.... I went on many trials with different clubs in England but on a pre-season tour with home farm we went to Scotland. There was a 4 team tournament in Largs with us, Celtic, Preston and a team from Newcastle (Wallsend possibly).... I played against Celtic and we beat them 2-0 and I bagged the 2 goals. It was after this I got invited over to the UEFA cup match against Blackburn and as we say the rest is history.’

Tirnaog: You arrived in Glasgow as a 15 year old. How much of a culture shock was that to you and how did you cope?

Darren O’Dea: ‘Truthfully after my first 6 months I wanted to chuck it. This might sound very arrogant but I hated the matches we played in. We'd win 5 or 6 nil every match and it was no challenge. But the biggest struggle I had was just being away from home. This is when Tommy Burns became so pivotal in my life. He was obviously the guy who signed me but when I was young and struggling he was a guy that could lift you with just a 2 minute conversation. I remember speaking to my dad saying I wanted to leave and as far as I'm aware he rang Tommy to tell him. That night tommy was around my digs. He never mentioned he'd been speaking to my dad. He just came for a chat. By the time he'd left I was focused and ready to go again. Without him I wouldn't have got through the first couple of years there.’ 

Tirnaog: You played in the Celtic youth and Academy sides. Who were your contemporaries in those sides and how do you rate the football education you received at Celtic?

Darren O’Dea: I played with people like Simon Ferry, Paul McGowan, Rocco Quinn, Aiden McGeady, Charlie Mulgrew. There is plenty more that have made good careers as well. We played against the likes of Charlie Adam, Stephen Naismith, Ross McCormack and Lee Wallace.  The education we had was first class. A lot changed the year I arrived. Tommy upgraded the youth side of things and we had the best of care. We were monitored scientifically in every training session and it was great, tough work but great. Also the education I received in how to become a good person was the most important. You have to remember at 15-19 you should be at home learning these things from your parents but at Celtic we were taught right, taught to have respect for everyone. Whether that’s when you’re playing, training or just waking down the street, you've a heavy responsibility of representing a club of Celtic’s stature. Obviously at times you'd do the wrong thing and would be told in no uncertain terms what was expected from you.’

Tirnaog: Your respect and affection for Tommy Burns is well known. What were the qualities which made this Celtic legend so special to you?

Darren O’Dea: I've covered this in one of the last questions. But if you ask anyone who really knew him one of his main qualities was whether you were a first team player, youth team player or canteen staff he could make you feel like the best person in the world. He had time for everyone! (Possibly why his time keeping was horrific)... He just had a great way about him. I always thought I was Tommy’s favourite. That he looked after me a little more than others but I guarantee if you ask any other player they'd say the same. He made you feel like the number one. Just a true legend!

Tirnaog: You played in Cup Finals, Old Firm games and Champions League matches for Celtic. What are your happiest memories of those times at Celtic Park?

Darren O’Dea: ‘My happiest memories are obviously the cup final I scored in against Rangers, my debut against St. Mirren in the cup and my league debut away at Dunfermline. There was also my Champions League debut at Copenhagen. This might sound clich├ęd but every time I played regardless of results was special. I knew through my knowledge and then my education that to be a Celtic player was special. I look round the world and I think Man Utd is like that. Real Madrid, Barcelona. and Liverpool too and when you represent those teams it's different. You’re special and I knew that. They are the teams with the long histories and great traditions. Celtic is certainly one of them.

Tirnaog: Who were your toughest opponents in Scotland ?

Darren O’Dea: ‘As a team- obviously Rangers. That rivalry was fantastic. I loved it. You'd say as a player we just concentrate on ourselves but it was a lie with Celtic and Rangers. Rarely we'd kick off at the same time so you'd always either know there result or know you had to win to put the pressure on them. It was something I loved. Despite some of the nonsense you get between the fans, it was actually a fantastic rivalry. I enjoyed it. I won some and lost some but the memories from that gave me a buzz that's hard to replicate elsewhere.’

Tirnaog: Living in Glasgow’s goldfish bowl is always tough on players at Celtic or Rangers. How did this impact on your day to day life in the city?

Darren O’Dea: It affected my life completely. I broke into the first team at 18/19 and at that age you’re still young and carefree. I'd go out regularly after games for a few drinks and a night out. And I'd regularly have some sort of abuse thrown at me. It became normal almost. I once was walking into a shop on Buchanan Street when 2 lads started shouting stuff at me. I was with my now wife who got a bit of a fright. I confronted them and warned them if they had anything to say, to say it to my face. When I turned my back to go back inside the shop they shouted abuse again and sprinted off up the street. Now bear in mind these were probably 30year olds. I was 20. So you become a little paranoid, always wondering if the guy staring at you is thinking "Aww there’s O'Dea the Celtic player" or "There's that O'Dea, the Fenian bastard!" (Haha!) But that was the life and I can't say I didn't enjoy some of it. It was part of it all. Obviously, one scrape I got into during a night out was well published in the media. What was meant to be a nice team dinner and night out ended up with me in the Jail. It was 21. All part of growing up and growing up as a person was obviously difficult at Celtic when you’re under a microscope. Once my wife became pregnant I stopped going out. I knew my own character. I'm a lad that can't walk away. I was always advised "just walk away, you have more to lose"... Well my personality doesn't allow me to do that. I'm very confrontational if someone comes at me and I fight fire with fire. But I'm smart enough to know that, so I stopped going out. I knew I couldn't be a dad and be getting into scrapes and the like. I live in Glasgow and I could count on one hand how many times I've been out in the last 5 years in Glasgow.’

Tirnaog: You played for FC Metalurh Donetsk in the troubled eastern part of Ukraine. How did you find life there and was it a tense time?

Darren O’Dea:It was a new experience, completely different type of football, different culture and just an all-round good experience. Obviously with the troubles it was hard at times but it's an experience I'll never forget and learned so much from and I'm delighted to say I have done it.’

Tirnaog: You have represented Ireland at under-17, under-19 and full international level. What does it mean to you to play for your country?

Darren O’Dea: I think to anyone who knew me as a Celtic player knew how much it meant to me and that I always gave absolutely everything I had in every minute I played but playing for Ireland was even bigger than that for me. That was the dream. To represent your own country is something that makes me prouder than anything else I've done in football. I have 20 caps and every one of them is special. It makes me proud. I don't think there is a bigger honour than representing your country.’ 

Darren O’Dea is still a young man at 28 but has packed much into his football career. Representing Celtic and of course, his beloved Ireland, remain for him the high points. That ‘confrontational’ personality developed in those rough street games of his boyhood in Dublin may well have helped forge him into the determined player he became and few of us who saw him wear the hoops ever doubted his commitment or courage. You got 100% from Darren and we Celtic supporters respect that in any player who represents our club. He learned much from his great friend and mentor Tommy Burns about being a player and being a decent man. Tommy cherished Celtic and its ideals and he’d be proud that so many who knew him personally and professionally still strive to live up to them. Darren O’Dea gave his all for the club every time he stepped onto the field and still holds Celtic in his affections.

We wish him well in all he does in the future and know he’ll face whatever life throws at him with the same determination he showed to get on the end of Nakamura’s free kick at Hampden in 2009. Once you’re a Celt, you’re always a Celt. 
Hail Hail, big man. Tommy would be proud of you.