Saturday, 28 January 2017

The X Factor

The X Factor

The plush surroundings of the Kerrydale Suite of Celtic Park aren’t so far removed from areas of Glasgow where deprivation and lack of opportunity linger on. It was fitting then that the club founded to aid the poorest of the poor in Victorian Glasgow hosted one of those charity events which are such a regular feature in the Celtic family. They travelled from far and wide to celebrate the latest ‘Tommy Burns Supper,’ a tradition started by the Herriot Watt and Edinburgh Celtic Supporters Club more than two decades ago. There remains a very deep and tangible affection for Tommy and hundreds of supporters came to raise funds for his Skin cancer charity and the Celtic Charity Foundation. They also came to remember the man who seemed to have an effect on so many who worked with him or knew him.

The evening began with a speech from STV Political pundit and Celtic fan, Bernard Ponsonby who spoke with his usual authority and eloquence of how his family’s Irish roots and growing up in the Garngad made it virtually impossible that he would follow any other team than Celtic. Being born into a Celtic supporting family is something many of us take for granted but isn’t the only route to Celtic Park. He recounted that the actor, David Hayman, came to Celtic later in life after being impressed by both the club and the supporters. ‘This is a political club,’ Bernard said, ‘political with a small P. The people who follow this club won’t just pass on the other side. They’ll help those who need help. It is a club with core values.’

Among the first footballing guests to speak about Tommy Burns were Tosh McKinley, Tom Boyd, Gordon Strachan and Brendan Rodgers. Tosh was asked about the cross he swung in for the winning goal in the 1995 Cup final and said, ‘Makes a change, I usually get asked about sticking the head on Henrik Larsson.’  Tosh knew what that cup win meant to Burns and the wider Celtic support and was rightly proud that a Celtic supporting lad like him played a part in it. He recounted that him time at Celtic was sometimes less than plain sailing. After one match an elderly fan spoke to him outside Celtic Park saying, ‘Tosh, I’d compare you to Roberto Carlos…compared to him you’re shite!’  The sartorially elegant full back was then asked where he bought his sharp suits and replied, ‘It’s amazing what you can get with a crisis loan.’

Gordon Strachan was in top form remembering that epic 2008 championship win and how it was tinged with huge sadness as his great friend and colleague had passed before Celtic won that title. He recalled getting petrol from a garage on the London Road and being asked in the spring of 2008 by the owner who he thought would win the league. Strachan said…

‘I could see by the look of him he was a Rangers fan. I said Celtic will win it to which the man replied ‘naw ye won’t, Rangers will.’ I said ‘well what the f*ck are you asking for?’ In May 2008 as Celtic’s team bus drove back to Celtic Park from Tannadice with the trophy we passed the garage and I said, ‘driver, stop here.’ I went in and asked for the boss and the lassie said ‘He’s not working tonight can I take a message?’ I said, ‘Aye, tell him when he comes in Gordon Strachan said he can go f*ck himself!’

Speaking of his great friend and assistant Manager, Tommy Burns, Strachan recalled one match where the advice he got from his colleague was less than helpful…

‘We were playing Manchester United in the Champions League and they had Giggs, Berbatov, Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez running at us. We were hanging on a bit at the end and the crowd were getting on my back a bit demanding I change it. All I had was Ben Hutchison on the bench. I saw Tommy standing at the opposite end of the dugout watching the team hang on. He comes walking up to me as the crowd think ‘Aye, Tommy will tell him what to do to sort it.’ Well he stops in front of me, puts his hand over his mouth so no one can see what he’s saying and I’m waiting for the tactical master plan, and he said, ‘By the way the blind section and giving you some abuse!’ I looked along and saw a blind guy on his feet waving his arms shouting ‘Strachan yer f*cking useless!’ He canny even see the game and he’s giving me stick! Even his guide dog had its paw over its eyes!’

Brendan Rodgers spoke eloquently and with that media savvy he has. He wouldn’t be drawn on any upcoming transfer business and said when asked is anything happening, ‘Not at the moment.’  His thoughts on Tommy were formed firstly as a young fan from Ireland who followed the Hoops avidly. He was thrilled to work as a young coach under Tommy at Reading and found the man to be as decent as he had heard. When asked to describe Tommy in a few words he replied, ‘He had the X-Factor. He was the top man.’ When asked simply. ‘Celtic or Liverpool?’ he replied, ‘I’ve been a Celtic fan all my life so no doubting who I choose. It’s an honour to manage the club I support.’ When Pat Bonner was asked  to sum up Tommy in a few words, he said that Tommy was ‘the personification of Celtic.’ Strachan said simply, ‘He was my best friend.’  Billy Stark spoke of the ‘unbreakable bond’ that the Centenary team had and that Tommy was at the centre of that.

The evening passed with many such anecdotes and now and then the assembled supporters would burst into those chants of ‘Tommy Burns, Tommy Burns, Tommy Burns,’ which used to echo around the stadium. Thousands of pounds were raised for charity and Tommy would have liked that. He would also be delighted that his people still cherish his memory and still remember the flame haired Calton boy who dreamed of playing for the team he loved and made that dream a reality.

There was laughter and tears in the Kerrydale Suite last night but pride also that such a fine man had contributed to Celtic’s history in such a meaningful way. His old friend Peter Grant said movingly, ‘I still talk to him every day.’ For Celtic fans who saw him play or were lucky enough to speak to him, they knew he was special.

Whenever I go to see Celtic play I think of men like Tommy and Jock and Jimmy and know that somehow their spirit is still around the place. To paraphrase Tommy…

‘They’re there and they’re always there.’ 

Monday, 16 January 2017



I try hard to keep the articles I write to matters concerning the club I hold dear. I have no great interest in any other club and find in Celtic’s history all the inspiration I need to write. There have been triumphs, disasters, brilliance and occasional calamity but always it is a story which fascinates me. I tend not to mention Rangers much in my writings for as you all know other Celtic writers follow their fortunes with a mixture of caustic wit and wry humour. Today however I’ll break my unwritten rule of not mentioning the club from Ibrox however you perceive them. Some things need to be said…

Some of our Italian friends, sick of corruption and the self-serving elite who seem to run the country to benefit only themselves, demonstrated on the streets a few years ago. Their cry was a simple one and summed up in one word: Basta! This word means simply ‘enough!’ It is a cry of frustration and anger and a sign that many Italians are heartily sick of corruption in their country.

I raise this word not in the context of financial corruption but in the context of the deep moral corruption which affects a minority in our society. I saw a video online of beer bloated faces in Berlin yesterday grinning as they chanted about child abuse. Let’s not beat about the bush, this reprehensible and debased behaviour is not carried out by social progressives out to save children from abuse it is merely a vehicle they use to further their hatred of Celtic FC and their followers. In the past few years we have witnessed the sight of grown men chanting things such as ‘Who shagged all the Boys’ and ‘The Bears are having a Party, the Tims are shagging weans.’ At the Hogmanay Derby match the Celtic supporters chants of ‘Celtic, Celtic’ were echoed back by thousands of voices chanting ‘Paedos, Paedos.’ What the hell is wrong with so many people that they cannot see how demeaning it is to the victims of abuse it is to use a 50 year old case to point score against a rival football team? Statistics would suggest that at least some of the victims of this type of crime will be standing beside them in the stands as they chant these songs. This isn’t banter, this isn’t a laugh, this is people descending from the gutter into the sewer and every decent supporter in the country should condemn it for the guttersnipe trash it is.

The knee jerk reaction from the brain donors who engage in this filth is to engage in ‘whataboutery’ or rabbit on about offensive Rebel songs or other such items which rip their knitting. Get it clear in your minds, two wrongs never make a right. Others are so steeped in their hate that they no longer care how they are perceived and such people may be beyond reason. I actually had one commenting on my Blogs that I was a ‘Vile sectarian bigot’ for daring to comment on the bigoted songbook aired at a SPFL game. The person involved called himself ‘Captain Black’ which anyone with a PC could soon ascertain was one of the code-words used by a Loyalist Paramilitary group in the troubles to claim ‘responsibility’ for various brutal crimes. That is the level of debate some wish to have: Our side good – your side bad. It’s pathetic and useless debating such people. One cannot reason with unreasonable people.

Too many people see the world in simplistic black and white terms. Child abuse affects all groups, all cultures, all denominations and is one of the scourges of the modern world. It is not and should never be seen as something to be chanted about at a sporting fixture, nor is answering it in kind worth demeaning yourself with. I once heard someone say, ‘For every Torbet there will be a Kincora.’ There is hard truth in that as that is the nature of this insidious problem. It is in all our interests and in the interests of our children to work together to stamp it out.

The idea that a criticism of some in a group is not criticism of all is lost on some. There are many Rangers fans who despise the bigotry and the child abuse fixation of some of their fellow fans, just as there is a broad spectrum of people following Celtic who have different views of a variety of issues. Nor is this battle between different clubs as every club will have its share of fools and knaves. This is about all the decent people who love football and care about their clubs saying, ‘Enough!’ It’s about Hearts fans educating the idiot dressed as Jimmy Saville and wearing a Celtic shirt. It’s about Aberdeen fans telling the fool with the offensive banner that he represents no one but himself. It’s about the silent majority of decent Rangers fans finally growing a pair and claiming back their club from the Neanderthal element who repeatedly drag it through the shit. It’s about Celtic supporters self-policing and being continually self-critical about banners, songs and effigies. It is very easy to become that which we claim to despise.

Football is a passionate, tribal game which raises emotions to levels we don’t normally see in our sedate lives. But some things are too much; some things go too far and attempting to use child abuse to point score is simply beyond the pale. Some idiots may be too lost in their hatred to care but we owe it to the rising generation of young Scots who love football to say: Basta!  That’s enough.

I hope we do and I hope we walk that road together as fans of the greatest sport there is and as decent human beings.

Friday, 13 January 2017

The Invincibles

The Invincibles

As World War One raged on in the summer of 1915, Scottish League football continued to be played officially as it had been suggested that it would be good for morale. The Scottish Cup and International matches had been suspended for the duration of the war but the title was still there to be won. Players wages were capped and most were doing war work of some kind as well as playing football.

Celtic entered season 1915-16 as League Champions having won the title the previous season with a bit to spare. They started well losing just two matches in first half of the season. One of these loses was to a very good Hearts side which had beaten Rangers 4-0 at Ibrox the previous week. That 2-0 defeat at Tynecastle in November 1915 was the last defeat Celtic suffered in a competitive match for 17 months. They racked up an astonishing 62 matches undefeated with 49 victories and 13 draws. They did not lose a single competitive game in the entire calendar year of 1916. Indeed they actually played two games in one day in April 1916 to avoid the need for a midweek game which would have meant players potentially missing shifts in factories and docks deemed vital to the war effort. They defeated Raith Rovers 6-0 at Celtic Park before heading for Motherwell where they defeated the Steelmen 3-1. 

The title was clinched in April 1916 amid limited rejoicing as the war dragged on in Europe and the 1916 Rising in Ireland caused yet more concern to many who followed Celtic. To get an idea of the worries people had then consider the fact that the Herald newspaper gave the week's casualty figures as 92 officers and 1,568 men killed in action. The list of those injured and maimed would be even longer. It seems strange to us a century later that football could continue as the nation endured such losses but continue it did. Celtic, Scotland’s leading Irish club of the time played matches as Dublin burned in Easter Week. Indeed a contemporary newspaper carrying a report on Celtic’s 4-1 victory over Third Lanark also carried a report on the arrest of the ‘Traitor, Roger Casement’ who was arrested while trying to land thousands of German Rifles for the Irish Citizens Army. The Report also quoted Casement as saying…

"Let Irish men and boys stay in Ireland. Their duty is clear before God and before man. We, as a people, have no quarrel with the German people."

These were clearly tumultuous times and loyalties were stretched and tested. People were living through one of those great upheavals which history periodically produces. For the Celtic team on the football field though this was a golden era. With players like Patsy Gallagher leading the attack and Shaw, McNair and Dodds defending so well the club was thriving. Jimmy ‘Napoleon’ McMenemy pulled the strings ably assisted by the lightning fast Andy McAtee. They also had Peter Johnstone, a tough and reliable big player from the mining communities of Fife who played in almost any position and was adored by the fans. He was unafraid of the gruff and intimidating Boss, Willie Maley, and would argue his case if he thought he was right. Maley, who undoubtedly admired Johnstone, was distraught when the big man was killed on the Western Front a year later having insisted on ‘doing his bit.’  

For Celtic 1916 turned into 1917 and the side continued their winning streak until, finally, they lost to Kilmarnock at Celtic Park in April 1917. Their incredible run of 62 competitive games without defeat still stands as a record in British football. Indeed it is a record in top class European football although Real Madrid currently sitting on a 40 match unbeaten run after Karim Benzema’s injury time equaliser against Seville this week. It seems incredible to think that Zidane’s Madrid have won more trophies in his tenure than matches lost! (Champions League, European Super Cup and the World Club Championship)

Of course, football and indeed the world, has changed immeasurably since Patsy Gallagher, Peter Johnstone and Andy McAtee drove Celtic on to victory 100 years ago. But those men deserve the respect of Celtic fans today. They did their very best for the club and brought Celtic glory and honour. They won four consecutive championships during World War One and have an honoured place in Celtic history.

Today we see an attacking young Celtic side being developed by a Manager of considerable guile and experience. The hard lessons of European football are being learned and while Rodgers side faced an immensely difficult Group in the Champions League, they emerged from it with some credit given the disparity in income between the Hoops and the sides they faced. Domestically however Celtic remains imperious. In 24 domestic matches in the SPFL and League Cup they have won 23 and drawn just 1. This raises the tantalising possibility of a domestic season without defeat. Even the Lisbon Lions couldn’t manage that distinction but could Rodgers’ side do it?

I’ve never been one to tempt fate but you’d have to say that it is possible. Football is of course a strange game and an error, a bad bounce of the ball or dubious refereeing decision can cost a team a game but you get the impression Rodgers sends his team out with high expectations in every single match they play. He is driven man with high standards and he wants the best for Celtic every week. If anyone can create a new team of ‘Invincibles’ then it is him.  If Celtic return from their Winter break in Dubai refreshed and ready to go again then they’ll take some stopping. They continued to win at home in the first half of the season despite playing in a dozen high pressure European ties which their opponents were spared. They are now free to concentrate on domestic matters. If they hit the ground running and continue winning then each passing week will bring a once in a lifetime achievement closer.

It’s a long shot, a really big ask but you never know. We Celts always have our dreams and our songs to sing.


Sunday, 8 January 2017

Jimmy McGrory’s Boots

Jimmy McGrory’s Boots

The first day at a new school can be a bit daunting but I don’t recall feeling too worried on that bright windy August morning when I went to my third Primary School in as many years.  My Mum called me into the kitchen and held out her hand for one of my shoes. I handed it to her and watched as she skilfully cut a piece of linoleum from the kitchen floor and fitted it neatly inside the shoe. She did the same for the second one and then looked at me saying, ‘There, that will keep the stones out until I get some money for a new pair.’ I nodded and slipped my rather scruffy shoes on before sitting down to a jam sandwich and a mug of hot, sweet tea.

I ran down the hill to the school with the bell already ringing and joined the children of class 7. We lined up in class groups as the Head Teacher emerged into the pale morning light to view the lines made up of cocky old hands and the nervous new recruits.  He quietened us all down before sending us in to face another year at school. I walked up the stairs with forty others to my new class. There were some rather spooky looking religious statues in the corridors, including one of St Roch with his gashed leg and mangy dog which had, what appeared to be, a roll clamped securely in its mouth.  At the top of the stairs I noticed a more reassuring statue of the Virgin Mary which seemed to be smiling encouragingly at me while simultaneously stomping on a serpent.  A scruffy boy in a hideous pink check jacket nodded towards our teacher and muttered ‘She’s O.K big man, she doesn’t like belting people.’ I nodded quietly as we entered the class. Our teacher called us to order and began reading our names from a register.

There were three new starts in the class, a thin red faced girl called Angela, a long haired sleepy looking boy called Mick, and me. The young teacher called us out to the front to introduce us to the class and being rather shy in those days, found it acutely embarrassing. We sat at big old fashioned desks with ink well holes in them, and began our work. The first day flew by and my keenness to join in the rough football at playtime soon broke the ice with my new class mates. We were all Celtic mad and I wanted to be Dalglish in our wild, 20 a side playground game. My new friend Franny was one of those boys who commentated while he played and it helped us imagine we were strutting our stuff at Celtic Park instead of the black tarmac of the playground. All in all I was quite happy with my new school. Sure I was a bit scruffy but there seemed to be plenty like me in those harder times and a few worse off, including one boy whom, I was told, wore wellies all the year round.

After a week or so at school I had a sore foot due to small stones coming in the holes in the bottom of my shoes. I told my mum, who nodded and said she would fix it for me. The next day she went to work on the linoleum as before but cut extra pieces and fitted two into each shoe with some soft material between them to cushion my feet. ‘There you go,’ she smiled ‘that should keep you comfy today.’ I set off for school a little late and despite the rain, I was feeling much more comfortable. However, as I splashed through the puddles on my way to school, I could feel the cool damp water seep into my shoes. As I made my way to the class, I left a trail of damp foot prints on the corridor floor and my shoes were making a strange squelching sound.

I entered the room and was surprised to see that my usual teacher wasn’t there. There was absolute silence in the room and everyone seemed to be staring at me. An older, stern looking lady regarded me with distaste and said, ‘And you are… ?’ I mumbled ‘Eh, Pat, Miss,’ and squelched my way to my seat.’ She looked at me for a while before calling me back out to the front of the class. ’Come here, boy,’ she said in that disdainful manner with which the arrogant addresses lesser mortals. My classmates followed the unfolding scene with mixed emotions; some were clearly enjoying my discomfort, while others looked on in pity.  ‘What is that thing sticking out from the bottom of your shoe?’ I glanced down at my soggy feet and saw that the linoleum and padding were indeed protruding from my left shoe. ‘Well?’ she said, raising her voice. ‘Lino, Miss,’ I said quietly.  She had a look of utter disgust on her face but continued with the ritual humiliation. ‘Take it out and put it into the bin,’ I tugged at the lino and it came free but to my horror I saw that the padding used by my mother was in fact a sanitary towel….  

The teacher’s eyes widened and there was an audible degree of muttering and sniggering in the class as the more worldly pupils spread the news. I dropped the damp, rather muddy, sanitary towel and lino into the bin and stared at the floor, wishing that it would open up and swallow me. ‘Sit down,’ she hissed at me. I went to my seat and we began our work amid a heavy silence.  Later, I felt a tap on my shoulder and a bleary eyed boy whispered to me, ‘Was that a fanny pad in yer shoe, Paddy?’  For once, I was lost for words.

As the leaves turned orange, the school held trials for the football team and as a keen player I put my name on the list. I was told to report with shorts and boots on the following Friday and I rushed home and begged my Mum to buy me football boots. Money was always tight, so the chance of a smart new pair of modern boots, like those which sat proudly in the Greaves sports shop window, was not an option. I had dreamed of swanning around like King Kenny in a shiny pair of modern boots but it was not to be. For the less well-off there were always other places to go. My long suffering mother dragged me through Paddy’s Market, a rough flea market which catered for those of limited means in the dear green City of Glasgow. As a child, I was always impressed by the sights, sounds and smells of the damp old market. Tinny radios blared out pop music and the smell of cooking and greasy food was everywhere. We toured the nooks and crannies of this Aladdin’s cave of junk, looking for a pair of size 7 football boots.

It looked as if we would have no luck obtaining the necessary second hand football boots when fate, in the form of a large, red faced Irishman with wild, unkempt grey hair, stepped in. He had tuned into our discussion about football boots and beckoned my mother over to his stall with a theatrical wave of his large hands. ‘Football boots is it? Sure, I have just the ting fur yer boy, missus,’ he drawled in a broad Donegal accent. He produced two pairs of boots from beneath his stall and I looked on in horror at these antiques from a bygone age. They were large leather boots with uppers which covered the ankle and toe caps which were more appropriate for a coal mine than a football field. To my dismay, the pair of pre- war monstrosities was indeed size 7.  Fifty pence changed hands and the boots were stuffed into a plastic bag and handed to me by the cheery red faced son of Erin. ‘There ye go wee man,’ he drawled ‘you’ll score a few with these tings on, they’ll make ye play like Charlie Tully!’ I somehow doubted it.

The following week in school dragged slowly by until Friday, and the football trials arrived. There were more than twenty players trying to get into the team and we all changed in the school gym before heading up to the black ash pitch behind the school. There were a few sniggers at my rather outdated boots and my classmate, Phil, looked at them and said ‘You do know it’s a fitbaw trial, don‘t you?  I mean it’s not rugby’ I made no reply and sprinted up the hill to the pitch in a clumpy sort of way wearing my monstrous boots..

A few unemployed local men had come to watch the practice game. Some were swigging from bottles of wine and shouting encouragement to boys they knew.  I was playing in defence and waited for some time for my fist touch of the game. At last a long through ball came towards me, chased by the aforementioned Philip. I hit it back the way it had come with all my might. Much to my surprise the ball flew fully sixty yards up the field. My stout old boots were not only superb at launching the ball long distances, they were also, as I discovered, useful in the tackle. Later in the game, Philip came at me with the ball at his feet. I waited until the time was right and lunged in to try to dispossess him. There was a heavy collision and a cry of anguish rent the Garngad air. ‘Aaaghh, you’ve broken my toe, ya mad bastard.’  Philip appeared to be in some distress; I on the other hand, didn’t feel a thing.

The local wine drinkers were soon in on the act, ‘Hey ref,’ they shouted at our teacher as Phil writhed on the ground ‘It’s not fair, he’s got Jimmy McGrory’s boots on.’ At this they descended into raucous laughter. Now, Jimmy McGrory was the greatest goal scorer in British football history. He scored more than 400 goals for Celtic and Scotland in the twenties and thirties. He also went to my school as a boy and had lived in the local area.  To be compared to him was an honour indeed, but alas only my ancient boots were receiving such praise. 

Phil hobbled off the field and the trial continued. I must have done enough that afternoon to impress the teacher in charge as I was later included in the 14 players selected to represent the school. Phil was too and the teacher responsible for the team, grinned at me and said, ‘Remember to save your aggression for the opposition, Patrick.’ I smiled nervously and glanced down with a little satisfaction at my dangerous looking boots thinking that the game must have been tough indeed when all the players wore these.

Monday, 2 January 2017

The Virtuous Circle

The Virtuous Circle

Twelve months ago Celtic entered 2016 with a performance against Partick Thistle which was sadly typical of many that season. The Scotsman newspaper summed up a game won by a last minute Leigh Griffiths goal when it stated…

‘’Leigh Griffiths papered over the cracks of another substandard performance by Celtic as his 90th minute winner took Ronny Deila’s side three points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership.’’

It had been a wretched performance from Celtic compounded by Nir Biton being sent off and only Griffiths’ winner turned jeers into cheers as the full time whistle sounded.  Fast-forward 12 months to Ibrox on Hogmanay and we see a Celtic transformed. Six of the team who played against Partick Thistle a year ago played at Ibrox but they look like new players. They are organised, passionate again and have a strong leader off the pitch who ensures they are improving and learning as players. Whatever your thoughts on Ronny Deila, there is no doubting that Celtic under Brendan Rodgers are a side going places. They play fast, attacking football in the Celtic tradition and there is an obvious rise in confidence and organisation on the field. The supporters have fed on this and are backing the team in numbers and vocally in a manner seldom seen in the Deila years.

Celtic’s domestic record this season reads Played 24 Won 23 Drew 1 Lost 0. This incredible consistency came during the first five months of a season which saw Celtic play 12 high pressure European ties and reach the Champions’ League Group Stages. The League Cup was also won without conceding a goal. This transformation has been brought about by the appointment of a Manager who understands not only Celtic’s history and traditions but also understands the Celtic support and what the team means to so many. Deila’s ideas of a fit mobile team playing a high paced pressing game were laudable but whether through cultural differences or player intransigence, his side seldom played the sort of football Celtic supporters crave. He may well have left wondering what he had to do to please some supporters. Hadn’t he won two successive titles and a league cup?  Fans in Scandinavia would have considered this great success but in Scotland the circumstances are very different. The truth was, despite the trophy wins, Celtic had stumbled through a lot of fixtures in an unconvincing manner and the fans were often distracted at games. There was a rigidity to the team’s approach which he seemed unable to change even when things were going wrong. Looking back his managerial style, his philosophy was similar to Mark Warburton’s who once said, ‘If plan A isn’t working we just do plan A better.’   The Scottish Cup Semi-Final penalty shoot-out loss to Rangers in March 2016 effectively sealed Deila’s fate. Dermot Desmond saw for himself that day that progress wasn’t being made and that coupled with the behaviour of some Rangers Directors made up his mind that change was required.

The arrival of Brendan Rodgers in the summer of 2016 changed the whole course of events at Celtic Park. Here was a manager with gravitas and the sort of presence which would have made the whole squad realise that what they offered under Deila wouldn’t be acceptable now. Standards would need to improve and everyone had to pull in the same direction. It was however, also a new start for the players and some who had flitted in and out of the first team were finally allowed to flourish in their best positions. The change in players such as Stuart Armstrong and James Forrest has been there for all to see. Getting the most out of the squad and augmenting it with players such as Dembele and Sinclair has led to Celtic becoming more like the sort of side the fans craved for. Rodgers purchase of Moussa Dembele for £500,000 may perhaps be one of the best pieces of business Celtic had done since they signed a sallow skinned Swede called Larsson from Feyenoord for £650,000 back in the 1990s.

Celtic now play a high tempo attacking game which is proving to be successful. They players understand their jobs and the boss has a knack of picking the right team and making the necessary changes when required. Rodgers prowls the technical area watching games unfold and is unafraid to alter things if the game isn’t going as he likes. His talk of helping players to ‘manage games’ and ‘problem solve’ on the pitch implies that he is also educating them off it in the nuances of the modern game. That is why watching Celtic lose the first goal at Ibrox didn’t cause the same anxiety it might have done in the past. Supporters knew that Rodgers’ team would eventually impose themselves on the game and that Rangers couldn’t sustain their early energetic approach for 90 minutes. Whatever the manager said at half-time had the desired effect on the players. Celtic ran Rangers ragged and created numerous chances in that second half. This was a side which had crammed 9 matches into 28 days and had played 13 more games than their opponents in the first half of the season yet they were full of running, invention and, most importantly, belief that would prevail.

These are good days to be a Celtic fan. The club is hurtling towards a sixth consecutive title and look to be a side on the rise. A year ago we were told that the ‘Rangers are coming’ and that Celtic’s days of dominance were numbered. This was fuelled by the euphoria some felt at the Ibrox club winning the lottery of a penalty shoot-out against Celtic. In the excitement of that win many failed to see that even playing so poorly Celtic had 33 attempts at goal to Rangers 9 that March day at Hampden. Fortune favoured Rangers that day but over the slog of a league campaign the best side usually rises to the top. Celtic currently sit 19 points clear of second placed Rangers with a game in hand having already beaten the Ibrox club three times and in three different stadiums this season. That combined with imperious form in Scotland demonstrates clearly that the Champions have no intention of relinquishing their grip on Scottish football.

Rodgers may be costing the club a reported £2.5m a year in wages but that has already been recouped in rising season ticket sales and of course the revenue from the Champions League which when ticket sales are taken into account will be worth over £30m to the club.  The virtuous circle the club is creating will mean increased revenue available to bolster the squad and this in turn will make success at home and in Europe more likely.  Rodgers demands high standards and the players are responding. Going to watch Celtic is once again an exciting prospect as the team is playing fast, attractive football. The fans are back on board and enjoying what they are seeing.

Someone once said that nothing lasts forever in sport; not success and not failure. These are good days for those of us who love the green. Cherish them and let’s see where they take us in the days ahead.

Happy New Year and Hail Hail!