Faithful through and through
Most aficionados of Celtic FC will tell you that only Dundee United managed to defeat Celtic in domestic football during that marvellous 1966-67 season. Both games were lost to United by the same 2-3 score line and those results caused some ripples of consternation among the Hoops faithful. A few years later, Stein oversaw that incredible 4-1 defeat from Partick Thistle in the 1971 League Cup Final. Celtic, European Cup Finalists and conquerors of Leeds United a year before, astonishingly trailed Thistle by 4 goals at half time! Indeed, Stein's final season at Celtic (1977-78) was a disaster as Celtic lost 15 league games and finished fifth and out of Europe. We understood though that the loss of Stanton and McGrain to long term injury coupled with Dalglish leaving greatly affected the side. Martin O’Neil’s Celtic defeated Liverpool at Anfield before heading north to face Inverness in the Cup and losing 1-0. Lennon’s Celtic side had some awful cup displays including defeats in semi-finals and a final by teams Celtic should normally beat. Where is all this leading I hear you ask? Well these examples merely serve to illustrate that all teams, even very good teams, can lose football matches and no one has a divine right to win.
Celtic currently sit top of the SPFL despite not playing particularly well for periods this season. They have played 18 games won 13, drawn 3 and lost 2, scoring 45 goals and conceding 14. Celtic’s form is remarkably similar to last season when they finished the 38 game League Campaign with 92 points. Having lived through the traumatic times of the 1990s when Celtic failed to win a major trophy for 6 long years, I don’t consider this season’s record as poor. We suffered defeats, humiliations and disappointments in the 1990s which although painful at the time actually helped us celebrate the championship breakthrough when it finally came in 1998 with more gusto. As a poet once wrote…
‘For what in life is pleasure if we do not consort with pain?
It’s the rod by which we measure the prize we seek to gain.’
There was a real camaraderie among Celtic supporters in those days, particularly the faithful supporters who travelled all over the country to support the team with passion and humour. In those days I was a regular on the Celtic Cross CSC and we had some great trips despite suffering many disappointments. Those hungry years strangely enough bonded us more closely to the team as we could see that guys like McStay, Grant and Burns were playing their hearts out for the club. In the end we got some reward for sticking with the team as the McCann revolution levelled the playing field and made Celtic more competitive. The new millennium has seen Celtic win 10 of 15 Championships played. It has also yielded 6 Scottish Cups and 4 League Cups. That is 20 major trophies in 15 years. However you judge the standard of the football the team are playing, the last 15 years have been very successful for Celtic. Indeed since the demise of Rangers there has been an increasing tendency to judge Celtic’s progress on European terms rather than any domestic successes. This mind-set has been fed by elements of the media who trumpet loudly Celtic’s European misfortunes while concurrently playing down their domestic dominance. Ronny Deila had a decent first season winning the SPFL title and the league cup. Indeed only some mystifying refereeing in the Cup Semi-Final against Inverness denied him at shot at the treble. His European results have been mediocre to say the least but it was accepted last season that he was building a team and a style of play and required time.
This season began with him losing the rock at the centre of his defence when Virgil Van Dijk and Jason Denayer left the club and that is a considerable hole to fill. So far this season the various combinations tried at the back have been shaky, especially in Europe, but good defensive lines need to play together for long periods to develop an understanding. Despite this, Celtic sit top of the table and still in all the domestic cup competitions. We accept that in the great cycle of football we aren’t particularly brilliant at the moment but when you follow a club you accept that you’ll have to take the rough with the smooth and stand by the team through thick and thin. We argue, row, debate about the way forward but are always united in our desire to see the Celts progress.
There is a vociferous minority however who make social media an utterly depressing place when Celtic lose or even just play badly. The negativity and insult poured out by some onto the Manager in particular is well out of order. I find it hard to recall a Celtic Manager in history who won two trophies in his first season and sits top of the league in his second and has had to endure sustained calls from a minority to have him fired. There is almost a sense of entitlement among a small minority of our supporters which mirrors that of ‘Rapeepo’ and it is not edifying to watch. Saturday’s loss to Motherwell was undoubtedly poor but all teams, all people, have a bad day at the office now and then. That makes 2 defeats in 18 league matches, hardly a crisis. How would these folk have survived the early 1990s when Celtic’s finishing positions in the league (1990-95) were as follows… 5th 3rd 3rd 3rd 4th 4th ? All I can say is thank God Social media wasn’t around then.
Today I noticed a petition had been started online to have the Manager sacked. This is rock bottom for me, one of the most clueless things anyone claiming to be a Celtic supporter has ever done. What purpose does it serve? It’ll be lucky to get a few hundred signatures and will be totally ignored by the club and most fans. It states the following…
‘’Ronny Deila has tarnished the reputation of the club in Europe with poor performances in both the Europa League and UCL. Winning the league and domestic cups are no longer enough for a club like Celtic looking to expand and become bigger and better. Celtic need to perform at a much higher level than they are under Ronny Deila. #SackRonnyDeila’’
So it’s all Ronny’s fault, not the board who year on year sell off of the best players? So it’s all Ronny’s fault, no blame whatsoever for the underperforming players who continue to make schoolboy errors on the pitch. So it’s all Ronny’s fault that players he didn’t even sign are performing poorly or not at all and that his Captain and leading scorer are injured? There are no doubts elements of Ronny Deila’s tactics and man management which have been suspect but he is the Celtic Manager and deserves better treatment than this silly petition which may or may not have been created by a Celtic fan. It certainly has those with no love of Celtic, in the media and elsewhere, gloating. Deila himself stated that media is having an unhealthy influence on things…
"There are always ups, very high and very low, it's never something in between. But if you see the overall situation when you are leading the league, into everything (League Cup and Scottish Cup) then I cannot understand everything is so unbelievably bad. It's about getting clicks on the internet and it's about selling newspapers, because it is unbelievable. There are hundreds of media and everybody needs a story and everybody gets caught into this and it affects everything. It affects the players, it affects the club and we need to stay calm inside. That is the most important thing. We need to be together and that's what I feel. I feel united with the players and with the staff and the people in the club.’
Celtic supporters are savvy enough to know the media mind games but also savvy enough to know that when things are not quite right on the pitch that is when the team needs them most. Whatever happened to loyalty? Whatever happened to faithful through and through? The simple answer is that some have developed an unhealthy sense of entitlement and that really is something new among Celtic supporters. Victories need to be earned and the big prizes are given out in the Spring not December. We win together, we lose together but above all we stick together. We also need to see the big picture and have a little patience.
I know many are struggling to see progress under Deila but the vast majority of them would, despite their reservations, never turn on a fellow Celt. Celtic Managers such as Brady, Mowbray, Barnes, Macari and yes even Billy McNeil and Tommy Burns went through rough patches in their careers but were never subjected to the sustained flak Deila is getting. Perhaps that’s because social media is a relatively new phenomenon and offers a forum unavailable 10 years back or perhaps some people just have less patience these days. I’m not saying criticism of Celtic players, Management or board is unacceptable as healthy debate is good for any club. However some of the nonsense spouted, including on that petition, are just not the Celtic way.We are surely better than that.