Friday, 22 April 2016

Beware the Risen People

Beware the Risen People

It didn’t come as much of a surprise that Ronny Deila decided to end his period in charge of Celtic at the end of the season. This immensely decent and likeable man has had a hard lesson in the pressures and expectations which come when you manage a club the size of Celtic. He said in July 2014 shortly after arriving at Celtic Park…

“When you do this, you sacrifice everything. My kids wanted me to do this, though, and I couldn’t say no. They knew I’d regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t come here. But ask any big manager if they made sacrifices and they’ll all say yes. This is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. It’s 24 hours a day, thinking all the time. You can say you’re going home but you’re always doing the job, thinking about it. There are so many decisions to make all the time that it has to be that way.’’

Deila promised back then to develop the players and play a brand of attacking football in keeping with the club’s traditions. In that fateful summer of 2014 when the team played so poorly against Legia Warsaw he was cut some slack by the majority of supporters who rightly suggested that he needed time to construct a team and a pattern of play. The title was duly won 2014-15 after some stuttering performances but in fairness bizarre refereeing in the cup semi-final with Inverness contributed to the loss of a potential treble. This season Europe was fairly disastrous and a resurgent Aberdeen hung onto Celtic’s coat tails for most of the season. Deila has 5 games left and an 8 point advantage and should hopefully steer Celtic to their 5th consecutive title.  Some of the play this season has been poor as he admitted himself in a very frank interview which appeared on Celtic TV. The lack of progress this past six months wasn’t what he or Celtic had hoped for. He said in rather prophetic tones back in 2014…

I am not afraid to lose. I would rather lose than play bad football. We are talking Celtic Park now. When you are away, sometimes you have to be more cautious. We attack and entertain the fans but also we have to be very good in the transition, we have to come back and get together and be compact. At home, though, we will not be like that: we will attack. When you meet the very good teams like Barcelona, I understand you have to defend. But when we play in the league, every time we go out onto the pitch we will play to entertain and you entertain when you try to attack.”

For some fans the 4-2-3-1 was alien to Celtic’s attacking traditions but systems are only part of the story and the players must bear some responsibility for not seeing out some vital games in Europe and at home. Hampden was a problematic venue for Neil Lennon’s Celtic and Deila’s team look uncomfortable there too. Last week’s penalty shootout loss to the new club was in some ways the final straw for many supporters. The team had 33 attempts on goal and contrived to lose the tie. It was typical of Deila’s luck at times but his team simply hasn’t looked convincing and his seeming inability to change things when the team struggle was obvious on many occasions. They don’t carry enough threat up front or possess enough solidity at the back and the midfield is inconsistent and lightweight. There is some real talent at Celtic Park but perhaps it needs a guy who engenders a little fear in the players to bring out the best in them. Paul McStay was close to the mark this week when he said…

“When we were doing badly in the 1990s it wasn’t down to a lack of endeavour on our part. On Sunday, maybe, there was effort there but not collectively, not as a team. I can understand the supporters’ frustrations and they’ll be disappointed, as I was, not just by the fact we lost, but more how the team went about their business. The fitness wasn’t there at all on Sunday. That’s why Rangers took control of the game – because Celtic weren’t pressing. That high intensity wasn’t there. The fitness side surprised me. I was thinking, ‘why aren’t they pressing? Are these part of the tactics, are they sitting off?’ But as the game went on I thought a few of the players looked tired. They looked as if they were dying on their feet and that was after 70 minutes. So to do that high-pressure game you’ve got to be fit so that comes down to what players do on the training pitch. In my experience, you train the way you want to play. If you train and play at a high intensity in small games, I’d imagine you take that into the game. Maybe they are fit. But on Sunday it certainly didn’t look like it.”

That lack of fitness and cohesion mentioned by McStay is a damning indictment. I have supported giving Deila a chance to build his team but after two years he admitted himself in a very honest interview with Celtic TV that progress was not all it should be. I wish him well and I hope we drive on to another title and see him off with a last hurrah. He deserves that much.

Whether Ronny jumped before he was pushed is open to debate but a significant number of Celtic fans were not impressed with the style of play or performances in key games. Having lived through some dire seasons as a Celtic fan I was somewhat surprised at the reaction of a small minority online to the developing situation. The semi-final loss seemed to tilt some over the edge and warp their sense of perspective. A sense of entitlement more often seen among ‘rapeepo’ seems to have developed among some and with the team heading for 5 in a row for only the third time in 128 years there was ridiculous talk of walking out of the next home game and even a ludicrous and possibly bogus ‘Celts for Change 2’ Twitter Account appeared. Having been around when Celtic’s board ran the club into the ground and the team went years without winning a major honour, there was a need for real change in the early 1990s. Can we really say such a revolution is required today? A huge change in emphasis from the board and our major shareholder would suffice. Give us a strong manager and some experienced players to lift the side up a level and the support will be much more content.

With season books due for renewal and some holding fire until they see the new manager unveiled, it’s time for the Celtic board to show some ambition and inspire the support again. The new man will need adequate funds to mould the team into one with a tougher mentality. He will also need to be ruthless in showing the door to any underachievers. Celtic supporters have shown before that they will take action if they feel the club is not progressing in the manner it should. They recognise the need for financial realism in the limiting world of Scottish football finance but they are wise enough to know we could and should be better than we currently are.

It’s 100 years since Padraig Pearse warned the British in a very different context to ‘beware the risen people. The Celtic board likewise must not take the supporters for granted or discontent can quickly escalate. We should now push on and clinch our 5th successive title and get a new man in place in order to build towards the Champions League qualifiers in July. Give us some hope Celtic, some signs that the downsizing is at an end. Our passion for the club will always lead to us demanding progress on the field. There are big challenges ahead and the club should demonstrate that they are ready to meet them head on.

I hope the team, fans and custodians of the club unite behind the new manager whoever he may be and demonstrate again that when Celtic and their fans are in harmony they are a powerful force to be reckoned with.

Thank you Ronny for your efforts, we wish you well in the future. The history books will record that you brought honours to Celtic Park. You gave your all and that is all we can ask.

It is however almost time for a new chapter to begin.  Hail Hail

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Coming home to roost

Coming home to roost

The skies darkened over Hampden Park late on in today’s game and it crossed my mind that it wasn’t the Scottish rain on its way but the wings of hundreds of chickens coming home to roost. We all know that under par display from Celtic today has its roots in the asset stripping and downsizing we have endured for the past few years. Add to this a propensity for spending too much money on players who have contributed little or nothing to the team and decline is inevitable. Celtic have allowed good players to go and replaced them with less effective ones, that is plain for all to see even if it is a hard truth to swallow. Of course some players only join Celtic as a stepping stone to the riches of England but we can and should be much better than that disjointed display we saw today. Make no mistake about it we should be streets ahead of the competition in Scotland but poor decision making when signing players and even poorer management of the club has left us vulnerable.

The way ahead looks difficult now and it could well be that Ronny Deila will pay the price for a situation which is only partly of his making. His tactics and team selections have been bewildering at times but his players owe him more than they are delivering. Today’s midfield misfired badly and were outfought and outrun by a hungrier and younger Rangers side. Johansen and Biton slow the play too much and found even basic short passing a challenge today. Brown still looks well short of the player he was before his injury and Roberts was much more effective going forward than he was tracking back. At the back, Boyata came with a good pedigree but often looks distinctly uncomfortable playing against Scottish sides. The positives were again Tierney, Sviatchenko and surprisingly Charlie Mulgrew. Griffiths tried manfully but even he was off form and others looked lethargic and leg weary. Despite this Rangers had a fair slice of luck as the Celtic attack was profligate in front of goal and we saw the ball hit the woodwork twice. However few feel Celtic deserved to win the game and in key areas like the midfield engine room they were far too disjointed.

The team needs to pick itself up and get on with the business of clinching the title. There are useful players in the wings such as Allan, Christie and Simunovic and Deila needs to go for form players as he has been far too loyal to players who have not produced the goods. The Title is now the priority and we will then look to see if the Board has the vision to steady the ship and keep on board an increasingly disillusioned support which awaits season ticket renewal letters with interest. Some feel their loyalty to the club has been taken for granted and are far from happy with the lowering of standards in recent years. From a team capable of reaching the last 16 in the Champions League just a few short years ago, Celtic now look a million miles from such heights. Today a Championship side had 60% possession against Celtic and that says much. The fans need hope, they need excitement levels raised and whether the current managerial team are the ones to bring this remains open to question. We are not asking the club to break the bank or endanger prudent financial practices at the club but we do need some experienced players and an experienced manager who can blend them with the best we currently have to make a decent team.

I am not the type of supporter who calls for managers to be sacked. In fact I’m probably one of Celtic’s more optimistic fans but even the most dyed in the wool Celts can see that progress has stalled and entertainment levels are at best paltry at Celtic games recently. There is too much dead wood kicking around the club and picking up good money. Quality not quantity is what is required at Celtic Park and this summer things will reach a critical mass. Not only will the Champions League Qualifiers be upon us again (should we win the League) but we will face an SPFL campaign with an Aberdeen team who will push us again, a Hearts team who will strengthen and the unknown quantity of a resurgent Rangers who may or may not add significantly to their squad. There are real tests ahead and the club had best take stock and ask itself who is best equipped to lead Celtic into these challenges.

That hurt today Celtic. Your supporters deserve better so sort it out or there will be a reaction which helps no one when the season tickets are up for renewal. I’ll be there next season because Celtic is part of my life. Players and managers come and go but the hard core supporters remain steadfast. But there are many, more strident in their views who remain to be convinced. What happens at Celtic Park over the next 2 or 3 months needs to convince the bulk of our supporters that the club is serious about giving us a team to be proud of. 

There are real challenges ahead both on and off the pitch. It’s up to the club to rise to them and unite the Celtic family.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Prisoners of history

Prisoners of history

In the spring of 1995 I was working in a Primary school in the east end of Glasgow. On the Friday afternoon before the Scottish Cup Final we were preparing to pack up for the day and I called the class to silence for the traditional end of day prayer. As was the norm, I asked quietly if any of the class had anyone at home who was ill or in need of a prayer and a quiet voice at the back of the class said, ‘Oh God, please make Peter Grant fit for the cup final.’ I had to smile. I don’t know if the creator, if you believe in such a concept, concerns himself with sporting matters but that child clearly felt it was worth a shot. As we know Grant played and was man of the match in Celtic’s victory.

In the parochial world of Scottish football, the perceived religious identity of Celtic causes a few among opposition fans to get hot under the collar. It is mostly a central belt issue with perhaps its roots in the Irish diaspora which saw huge numbers leave Ireland to seek work and an escape from hunger and oppression at home. In my years following Celtic I’ve heard Celtic’s perceived Catholic identity used to abuse the club and its’ supporters at a good few grounds but most of it was empty and ritualistic; more of a wind up than serious hatred. Partick Thistle fans for instance used to chant…

‘Hello Hello how do you do
We hate the boys in royal blue
We hate the boys in Emerald green
So f**k your pope and f**k your Queen’

This was clearly a crude attempt to differentiate the Jags from their two huge neighbours who they perceive as too closely wedded to religious identities. For some Celtic supporters the club’s proud history of inclusion in terms of both the team and the support means they get annoyed at being cast as one half of a bigoted duet. History shows that Celtic had no time for exclusivist policies and as early as the 1890s threw out a motion at an AGM to limit the number of non-Catholics in the side. Bob Kelly spoke passionately about the principle of inclusion and the huge number of players from Protestant backgrounds who had played their hearts out for Celtic. Had Celtic chosen to go down the road to perdition Rangers did then I for one would not be supporting the club today.

During one of Celtic’s Champions League games a few years back a young chap a few rows in front of me waved a flag showing Pope Benedict with the words ‘Our God Reigns’ emblazoned on it. This got a few of us chatting at half time about Celtic’s perceived Catholic identity and what it actually means in the modern era. There was agreement that Celtic’s founding community was overwhelmingly from the Irish catholic stock although as recent research shows that Walfrid choice of name for the club may have been partially influenced by the presence of Glengarry Highlanders who settled in Glasgow’s east end in the days after the clearances. Most of the small group discussing Celtic’s identity at that European game had at least some Irish forebears although all of us had strong Scottish ties too. In a sense our families’ integration into Scottish life mirrored Celtic’s. The club had been born in a desperately poor community and had through hard work, determination and occasional footballing brilliance become part of the fabric of Scottish football and society.

Michael Davitt, one of Celtic’s early patrons was certainly an Irish nationalist but at the time he laid the sod of grass at the second Celtic Park was heavily involved in the struggles of farmers and crofters in Scotland and Wales as well as Ireland. This led to what some called ‘Pan Celtic solidarity.’ Davitt urged the Irish in Scotland to integrate into the local political scene and not just agitate on matters relating to Ireland. The huge Irish influence in the early Labour movement in Scotland shows that they did this with great success.

Having lived in England for some years the rather childish perception persists among many there is that Celtic and Rangers are basically clubs representing two hostile religious groups. I’ve taken a lot of time and energy to explain the falsity of this situation to some and they do get it in the end. I recall chatting to a Sunderland fan on holiday who said to me ‘I wouldn’t be welcome at Celtic Park because I’m English and a Protestant.’ I almost laughed at this unthinking and rather stupid remark. I put him wise and pointed out our then striker, Chris Sutton and Midfielder Alan Thompson had no problems being accepted and that we had Celtic supporters clubs in Newcastle, Sunderland, London, Coventry and indeed all over England.

Like many who follow Celtic it grates with me to be identified in the same sectarian terms as the more Neanderthal elements of the Ibrox support. It would be equally wrong to equate all Rangers supporters as foaming bigots because that simply isn’t true. I’m sure many of you reading this will have friends, neighbours or family members who follow the Ibrox club and can vouch for them as decent human beings. That being said, historically Rangers as a club have to their shame tacitly approved of the bigotry of some of their followers via their unwritten policy of not employing Catholics. The late Sandy Jardine, a decent player and nice guy, once said…

"When I came here in 1964, we had no Catholics," he said. "Not just the playing staff, anywhere. There was no bit of paper, it was an unwritten rule. David Murray changed that and it moved on significantly in 1989 when Maurice Johnston signed. You cannot clear up 80 years of sectarianism in eight months, but we are a huge way down the road.

As a wee lad living in Govan’s ‘Wine Alley’ I recall watching Orange Parades march into Ibrox and finish their celebration with speeches and songs there. It is a measure of how much Rangers have changed that such an event would be unthinkable today. The club has clearly tried to move on even if some of their supporters refuse to budge from outdated attitudes. It would be churlish to think that a support as big as Celtic’s doesn’t contain its share of fools and knaves but there simply is no comparison when one listens to the songs routinely aired by both supports. Celtic may have an issue of contention with Irish Republican songs being sung by a minority at games but even the crude and transparent attempts by some to re-designate the term ‘Hun’ as sectarian can’t disguise the fact that the issue of sectarian chanting is a much bigger problem at Ibrox. The perception though of Celtic and Rangers being equally culpable is fostered by some and Journalist Graham Speirs pointed out a truism when he spoke of the unwritten rule of Scottish football reporting: When writing about bigotry you always mention both clubs.

In a sense the lad with the Pope Benedict flag at the match is also reinforcing a stereotype about a Celtic support which is still largely Catholic in origin although many have little interest in religion. It is a support which also contains increasing numbers from out-with the progeny of the founding community and I for one think it’s great to see Celtic flourish and open its arms to people from all walks of life, from all faiths and none and from all ethnic backgrounds. The club undeniably founded as a charity by a teaching order of the Catholic Church in Victorian Scotland has grown way beyond any outdated and stereotypical ideas of what it represents.

Celtic today is a product of the club’s history and the foresight of the founding generation to have a mixed team from the earliest years is to be applauded. It would have been easy to stay in the ‘ghetto’ of the founding community and not integrate fully into Scottish society but the club would not have grown to greatness had it thought in such small minded terms. It would be wrong to deny the Irish and Catholic roots of Celtic but equally the club, like the community which founded it, has taken its place at the heart of Scottish society.

They learned very early in their existence a lesson which others only took on board much later: We are products of our history not prisoners of it.

Sunday, 3 April 2016



Walking up Janefield Street to Celtic Park yesterday in the bracing early spring weather, I detected a sense of excitement and optimism among the fans. As the flag sellers wares fluttered brightly in the breeze there was a buzz about the place that is sometimes lacking as we trudge through the dark, cold days of the Scottish winter to cheer on the Bhoys. Perhaps it was the fact that we are entering the decisive period of the season or the fact we were playing a decent Hearts side which brought the buzz back but either way it was a hugely enjoyable day at Celtic Park.  The game was packed with incident, goals, near misses, a near brawl among the players and that competitive edge all good matches need. Hearts started brightly and deservedly took the lead but Celtic showed some fighting spirit and driven on by a raucous home support won well in the end.

The reason so many left Celtic Park buoyed up by that vital victory was the fact that it was achieved against a decent team in a genuinely competitive game. I asked an old Celt beside me at half time if he was looking forward to the Ibrox club, however you perceive them, playing in the top league next season. He shrugged and replied, ‘I suppose you want all the bigger clubs in the top league but I haven’t missed them at all. They bring a lot of baggage to football.’ That ‘baggage’ he referred to wasn’t just the poisonous songbook many of them still seem to air with impunity at games but the whole fabricated sense of persecution they have built up as the narrative about what actually happened to the old club in 2012 has been twisted beyond any sense of rational truth. The death of their club was a psychological blow of such magnitude that it was too much for some to accept. Aided by a press which has flip-flopped on the issue to the point of openly contradicting themselves and footballing authorities who have proven themselves to be unfit for purpose, the myth of survival was born.

Those of you who study these things know the facts and some fine Celtic bloggers have exposed the agenda led narrative for the worthless invention it is. The fact is though that barring a major catastrophe the new club will come calling next season and they will be received with mixed emotions. Talking to followers of the blue side one is struck by the prevailing ‘revenge’ agenda they spout. They were ‘kicked when they were down’ they were ‘relegated’ to the third division because others were jealous and hated them. Now it seems they are ‘coming for us’ and I for one think the fact that they are turning their considerable negative energies onto other Scottish clubs and supporters is troubling. Few of them stop to consider the people who actually destroyed their club with a tsunami of hubris and greed.  Few of them consider the damage Rangers have done to Scottish football with their side letters, tax evasion and financial doping. I’m not given to hyperbole or unthinking prejudice about the Ibrox club but as I often say to their followers; ‘think about what you would be saying if Celtic were guilty of those things?’ Usually they go quiet and shrug because deep down they know the truth about just how disgracefully their club has behaved in recent decades. 

The damage they did to our game goes beyond the liquidation of the club, it infected the Governing bodies of the game who bent and broke the rules to try to accommodate the new entity in the top league. They passed them fit to play in European football despite them not meeting the criteria laid down by UEFA. They passed as ‘fit and proper’ Directors who were involved in the board room shenanigans which killed the old club and allowed them to sit on the Board of the new one.  They attempted to bully smaller clubs into allowing Rangers into the First Division and it took the courageous intervention of the late Turnbull Hutton to out their hypocrisy and halt the injustice of a new club jumping the queue simply because they wore the shirt of the old Rangers. Add to this toxic brew some of the so called ‘Journalists’ of our discredited Scottish sporting press warning us that 5 clubs would be dead within weeks if The Rangers weren’t in the top league. Anyone who pointed out the absurdity of these views was of course labelled as ‘obsessed’ but the majority of decent supporters from Annan to Aberdeen know the truth.

The whole thing stinks and played right into the hands of the fantasists who created the persecution myth which is current among many Rangers supporters. So they will roll up to grounds in the top league next season with their agenda of revenge and cringe worthy songs and the saddest part of it is that they will have learned nothing from the past 5 years. The same old mentality will still be there, honed by their humiliations in the lower leagues and the fantasies of the ‘Journey’ back to their rightful place in Scottish football; a journey in which the second highest paid players in the country often struggled to defeat the joiners and plumbers of our lower leagues.

Some at Celtic Park may look forward to a full stadium when they arrive there next season and there is no doubt those who manage Celtic’s finances will not be too unhappy about the new club being in the league. I’m ambiguous about the whole thing. I haven’t missed them one bit but the reality is they will be showing up in the future like a boorish guest at a party. In most countries the arrival of a club with a big supporter base into the top league is a welcome thing but this particular club brings with it some unique baggage and a propensity for discord. I genuinely want a competitive league in Scotland which will hopefully drive standards up and perhaps in the longer term the new club will help achieve this. It will come at a price though as old attitudes reassert themselves. For some though it is too high a price and they’d echo the words of Ian Archer who said a long time ago…

"This has to be said about Rangers, as a Scottish Football club they are a permanent embarrassment and an occasional disgrace. This country would be a better place if Rangers did not exist."

In a very real sense the old Rangers don’t exist anymore and Charles Green missed an opportunity to bring to birth a new club with a new ethos in 2012 and dispense with the poison of the past. Instead, in the name of mammon, he pandered to the ‘No Surrender’ mentality and fostered the victim narrative. He did Scottish football and Scottish society no favours.