Sunday, 7 August 2016

Badge kissers, bead rattlers and WGS


Badge kissers, bead rattlers and WGS

Celtic Chairman, Brian Quinn attended a rather gloomy meal with Martin O’Neil and others in the aftermath Celtic’s narrow loss to FC Porto in the UEFA Cup Final of 2003. The Board had tried very hard to fund Martin O’Neil’s dreams of building a Celtic side which did justice to the magnificent support the club could boast and the excellent stadium the team played in.  There is no doubt that O’Neil’s side was perhaps the best Celtic team since the Stein era but in the limiting financial world of Scottish football it was expensive to bring players of quality to the SPL. Quinn noted Martin O’Neil’s incredulity when he told him that the 2002-03 Season would see Celtic lose around £7m. O’Neil was stunned, ‘You mean we’ve made it to the UEFA Cup final and we’re still losing money?’ he asked Quinn. The Grey haired Chairman told him that the wage bill was the root of these loses and while it was a collective responsibility that it had gotten so high, it was now their duty as custodians of the club to try and live within their means. During Martin O’Neil’s 5 seasons with Celtic the combined loses were around £50m and that was simply unsustainable. The fact the club were committed to rebalancing the books in this era would see the days of spending £6m on players as happened with Sutton and Lennon in the past. Martin O’Neil left in May of 2005 after losing the title in agonising manner at Fir Park. A Cup win the following week was little consolation to the Manager or the fans who knew that sloppiness had thrown the title away in those last few games. A fine 2-1 win at Ibrox was followed by a 3-1 home defeat by Hibs and the jitters set in. The last few moments of the SPL season saw Scott McDonald punish Celtic for not nailing down a title they really should have won. Change was in the air and the Celtic support wondered who would lead the team through the challenges ahead.

So it was that Gordon Strachan took the helm at Celtic Park in 2005 and in truth the support greeted him with mixed reactions. Some recalling his playing days at Aberdeen when he was a fierce competitor and occasional tormentor of Celtic, waited to be convinced that he was the right man for the job. Nor was Strachan the type to curry favour with the support by giving any soundbites to the media he didn’t think were 100% true. His straight talking style irked some but was in equal measure refreshing to others. He said once…

‘You hear Managers say they can relate to the fans. That’s bollocks! I don’t know what it’s like to work all week in the pissing rain or down a mine or in a factory that’s crap. When they spend money to watch a bad team, well I’m sorry I don’t know what that’s like. I wouldn’t start that nonsense- ‘I’ve always loved this team-’ because I didnae, I was a Hibs fan till I was 14 and that’s it.’

Such a forthright approach was always entertaining but many sensing that cost cutting was in the air wondered what Strachan would be able to do with a diminishing quality of player and far less money to remould the squad than O’Neil had at his disposal. His opening match away to Artmedia Bratislava was an utter disaster as the players performed dreadfully and Celtic lost 5-0. The following week in a bizarre game at Fir Park they drew 4-4. Few if any Managers in Celtic’s long history could boast they had shipped 9 goals in their first 2 games! Despite this Strachan moulded an efficient side which won the SPL and League Cup. He brought in players such as Boruc, Zurawski, Nakamura and even an ageing Roy Keane. Passing them on the way out the door were stalwarts of the O’Neil era like Sutton, Agathe, Valgaeren, McNamara and Lambert. It could be argued that as the wage bill came down the quality of the squad also fell. However as Rangers continued to spend way beyond their means and dabble in tax avoidance schemes, history shows that Celtic had made the right financial decisions in that era. The stock market crash of 2008 led to a financial crisis of the type unseen since the 1930s and clubs with big debts began to feel the heat.

Gordon Strachan won 3 titles, 2 League Cups and 1 Scottish Cup in his 4 seasons at Celtic. By any measure this would be considered a successful spell in charge. He also led Celtic to the last 16 of the Champions League on two occasions and his sides defeated teams of calibre such as Benfica, Manchester United, AC Milan and Villarreal. To do this at a time of cost cutting was no mean feat and if the football wasn’t as free flowing as it had been under O’Neil at times at least it was successful. Despite Strachan’s success some supporters were vocal in their disapproval of the style of play he was adopting. It wasn’t the ‘Celtic way’ of playing some suggested and some in the media suggested Celtic fans were ‘spoiled’ and ungrateful. In one scurrilous article in the Herald Celtic fans were taken to task for their lack of appreciation of Strachan and the job he was doing at Celtic Park. However the reporter in question went too far when he suggested…

‘He was handicapped from the outset by not being Martin O’Neil, his predecessor but when he started to respond to criticism with a snarl and an evasive shrug they just made up their minds that he’s not Celtic class, whatever that means. Some fans would probably rather have a bead rattling Hoopy the Huddle hound than Strachan.’

Such reporting is at best attention seeking and at worst stereotyping nonsense. Strachan’s unpopularity with a minority was rooted in the perceived quality of play and his often sarcastic and cutting style in interviews. It is fair to say that Celtic, in common with all big clubs,  have among their support an element who never seem to be satisfied but to suggest any criticism of Strachan was linked to his background is nonsense. Fans can argue about the quality of play but what is a matter of record is the fact that Gordon Strachan led Celtic to considerable success at home and in Europe at a time of cost cutting and down-sizing.  That was no mean achievement. Yes, there were defeats which hurt or occasionally embarrassed the supporters during his tenure (Artmedia and Clyde come to mind) but there were memorable nights in Europe too and many of us would dearly like to taste those occasions again.

Strachan’s title successes showed that he could instil a pattern to the team’s play and add some fighting spirit. Many had given up on the title in 2008 when he pushed the side to an unexpected and memorable triumph in the wake of Tommy Burns’ death. The playing resources he had to work with were undoubtedly less strong than in previous years and he was pragmatic about the way he set his teams out to play. There was no Larsson to lead the line, no Moravcik to open the opposition defences and no Mjallby marshalling the defence, Strachan dealt with the daily realities of trying to build a team with less gifted players and maintain some modicum of success in in Scotland and in Europe. The records show that he succeeded.

Often we see things more clearly in retrospect and this is true in the passionate and heated world of football. Strachan was a successful Celtic Manager by any measure and brought honours to the club at home and gave the support some good nights in Europe too. All of this was done at a time of financial difficulty for the club. I found his honesty refreshing at times and one quote sums this up perfectly…

‘I couldn’t be turning around kissing badges- that just wasn’t me. I see players kissing badges, saying ‘I love you’ and then I see them sneaking out the door instead of signing autographs for people who have been standing outside for an hour.’’

What you saw was what you got from wee Gordon and he’d seldom sugar coat his opinions. Today he talks up Celtic during his TV work and shows that the club made a lasting impact on his life. He said with typical honesty at the time of his leaving in 2009…

"I wasn't going to pretend I came here as a Celtic supporter. I don't believe in kissing badges to get your support. I didn't know the words of Athenry. But I now know what it's like to be a Celtic supporter, because I am one now."






11 comments:

  1. A very honest and true read. That's exactly how I saw that transition but as you mentioned within your writing, there are many people who didn't see it that way.

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  2. Enjoyed that , and you are correct that WGS wasn't a firm fans favourite. I did struggle to like him at first but I was win over by him. I think a sizeable amount of fans were the same. His honesty was a large part of winning me over. Still enjoy him as a pundit. Btw loved watching him play at Man.U and leeds.

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  3. Didnt like GS as an Aberdeen player neither did T B didnt much like the style but he was a winner and thats the modern celtic way since big Jock so he couldnt be called not a Celtic man see 2012 rangers liquidated but im wrong cause the smsm say it didnt happen but i have as much respect for Them as WGS H H

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  4. This is brilliantly fair, warmingly nostalgic, unbiased and accurate. I'd love to read more honest, reflective and candid football articles like this but the Scottish print media is a soulles, manipulative, political desert for football fans who want to read with the same joy that they support their club with

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  5. I found Strachan's honesty very refreshing and loved the way he dealt with the media.A successful Celtic manager without a doubt and a decent human being.

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  6. @unknown 7th August 2016 11:49.
    That's it in a nutshell. Me, I loved WGS, his honesty & frank comments were so refreshing.
    IMO he left because of the negative Celtic fans, who prior to WGS were spoilt by MON's success. Also as the article states he was a great player for Aberdeen. He tormented us & some fans just didn't like him for that. Cutting costs, attempting to downsize the squad was all blamed on WGS, but in spite of that, his time at the helm was successful. Would take him back in a heartbeat. HH.

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  7. Wee Gordon had a tough job, basically brought in to dismantle the previous team of high earners, and drastically cut the wage bill. The fact that he did it and still won trophies and had the results he had in Europe, speaks volumes. I might not have enjoyed the way the team played on many occasions, but I certainly enjoyed the success, and if a man like Tommy Burns classed wee Gordon as a great friend, then that tells you all you need to know about him as a man.

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  8. An excellent piece of work. Honest, descriptve and informative. Very well written.
    (From @turtleheed)

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  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  10. Brilliant read, I thought WGS was a breath of fresh air at Celtic and done a fantastic job while there. He treated the press the way they should be treated. He got results, not always pretty but at that time it was about winning.

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