Saturday, 27 February 2016

To play football the Glasgow Celtic way

To play football the Glasgow Celtic way

A lifetime watching Celtic imbues one with the idea that Celtic sides have certain qualities which are passed on to subsequent generations wearing the hoops. Fighting spirit, defiance in the face of adversity and of course playing football which excites the fans. The best Celtic sides were not only capable of playing attractive, attacking football, they also battled right to the end of every game and showed the same sort of commitment the fans on the terracing show as they spend their time and money following the team around the country and Europe.  Even in relatively lean years, Celtic sides always fought to the end and on occasion won unexpected victories due to this resilience. From the Coronation Cup and the 7-1 game in the 1950s to the 4-2 game in 1979 and defeating Barcelona in 2012, Celtic demonstrated the power of giving your all for the team and defying the odds.

Currently the team seems to lack the mental and physical resilience to come back from setbacks in games and impose themselves on some of the teams who get in their faces. It’s an old cliché that you have to win your personal battles on the pitch before the team can win the game. Scottish football is a physical challenge as well as a footballing one and the traditional combative style adopted by most teams seems to ruffle the feathers of some of our players. Good Celtic teams like the Lisbon Lions or the Centenary Double winners could play some great football but they also knew how to scrap and grind out wins when the opposition got physical. We remember players like Auld, Murdoch and Hay as cracking footballers but trust me they could look after themselves and their team mates if things got heated. Of course football has changed and officials are far less tolerant of the tough tackling which went on in the past but the physical aspect of football remains a vital battlefield in every game.

Watching Celtic these last few years has tried the patience of even the most patient fans. Yes, there has been success in terms of trophies and this season sees Celtic looking to win the title for the fifth successive season but the quality of player and the quality of the football on view has undeniably fallen. I have always been an optimist when it comes to Celtic, a glass half full sort of person, but the disconnect between the fans and club is reaching the point where in excess of 10,000 supporters with season tickets choose not to attend games. You could argue that the weather or games being freely available on the internet affects attendances but for many the truth is that the football on display doesn’t excite them. Tommy Burns’ side failed to win the league but we filled Celtic Park and roared them on because they gave their all and played exciting football, football in the long attacking, entertaining Celtic tradition. Can we say the same of today’s Celtic side? Bertie Auld famously said that Jock Stein would remind them as they got ready to go out to play that the fans had tough lives and worked hard all week. They come to Celtic Park to be entertained on a Saturday and the team had a duty to entertain them.

Of course the team follow the manager’s instructions and the formation and tactics are his responsibility. Ronny Deila is fast approaching the moment of decision in his tenure at Celtic Park. It would seem absurd to sack him if he delivered another Championship and a Scottish Cup and doing so might just buy him the time required to have another crack at Europe. Celtic fans sometimes have unreasonably high expectations of what the club should achieve in Europe but be that as it may, another faltering European campaign in the summer could be the straw which breaks the camel’s back.

Players too need to step up to the mark too and one hope’s that they are united in their efforts as the Souness experience at Newcastle demonstrates how players can get rid of an unpopular manager by simple dropping their playing levels. I’m not suggesting for a moment that that’s the case at Celtic Park but watching some of Celtic’s lethargic displays in recent months some of the players look a little unsure of what they should be doing. I watched Leigh Griffiths at a recent home game race up the right flank and flash a great ball across the box. No one was there to convert it as the current system of play suggests that Griffiths himself should be the spearhead in the box. Whatever the issues affecting the performance of the team, they need to be remedied quickly. Not only to save the Manager’s job but to rise to the challenges which undoubtedly lie ahead.

In the coming seasons we will see Aberdeen build a new stadium with all the impetus that will give them. Hearts will build a new main stand and raise the capacity and revenue available there and a resurgent Hibs may well return too. The new club playing in Govan will probably gain entry to the top league for the first time and despite ongoing doubt about their finances will present a challenge within a couple of seasons. Celtic should be streets ahead of such opposition given their financial clout but are distinctly vulnerable at the moment. There is no shortage of talent at Celtic Park but there is a malaise about the style of play and the direction the club are taking. The selling of top players in recent seasons has undoubtedly affected the team but the fans can accept the financial realities we operate in but many rightly feel that despite this the product on the park should be much better than it currently is. In all my years watching Celtic I have never seen so many supporters openly state that they are bored by what they are seeing. Celtic of the past could raise us to the heights or see us hold our heads in despair but they were never boring!  Nor have I seen so many of our supporters so ready to turn on the team if something goes wrong on the field and this is a symptom too of frustration at the level of our current performances. Players are human and hear the jeering and this can in turn lead to some going into their shells and lowering the overall performance of the team. However, as Didier Agathe once said that frustrations among the support being verbalised aren’t a sign that some no longer care they’re a symptom that they care too much. For when Celtic supporters sit in silent apathy that will be a real sign that things are desperate.

Whatever the next six months hold for Celtic and their Manager, they can be sure that the hard core Celtic supporters will be there to back the team. Even the most committed supporters though aren’t blind to the issues on the field. They want to see more attacking, entertaining football. They want to see 100% commitment from the players and above all they want to see the team play football the Glasgow Celtic way.

As the Green Brigade banner famously said, ‘we’re in here for you be out there for us.’



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