Monday, 1 January 2018

Another year in Paradise

Another year in Paradise

Well that’s another year over and in the footballing sense it was an excellent one for Celtic. An Invincible, treble winning season was achieved and the team enter the New Year with the League Cup in the bag and 8 points clear in the SPFL. The club also made it to the Champions League and once more faced a formidable group which contained two of the top club sides in Europe. Rodgers set the target of reaching the Europa League and despite some embarrassing defeats, particularly against PSG, they finished in third spot having been fourth seeds in the group. So overall the history books will look kindly on 2017 from Celtic’s perspective although the team looked tired and jaded as the year drew to a close.

The last match of 2017 brought the Rangers to Celtic Park and their route one style and hustle made life difficult for a leg weary Celtic side which nonetheless dug in and fought right to the end. Celtic missed the creativity of Roberts and Rogic and looked uncomfortable in defence at times. Kristoffer Ajer looks a real prospect and will flourish in a settled back four. Perhaps the arrival of Marvin Compper will aid his development and push the other centre backs at the club to up their game. Celtic players barely had a fortnight off last summer as the demands of Champions League Qualifiers had them playing their first friendlies in June and the first competitive games in mid-July. Kieran Tierney has played 64 games for club and country in 2017 and others such as Brown, Lustig (58) and Sinclair (57) have played a huge amount of football.

This transfer window is an important one for Celtic and the fans will be well aware on the millions coming in from Van Dijk’s transfer to Liverpool from Southampton and would like to see most of it used to strengthen the side in key areas. If Moussa Dembele decides that it’s time to move on then good and well provided the price is right and at least some of the money is reinvested in the team. It would be fair to say that rotating the strikers hasn’t helped any of them find their top form. There will be comings and goings in January and it is to be hoped the team is rejuvenated when it all kicks off again in three weeks.

The match with Rangers brought out the worst in the away support as it always seems to do. My Twitter Timeline was awash with grown men trying to justify or openly exalting in songs about Paedophilia, anti-Catholic bile from the dark ages and a dirge about the Lisbon Lions dying. I simply can’t get into the mindset which thinks this is acceptable behaviour in the twenty first century. I have commented in the past that if the anti-Catholic songs we hear from the Ibrox fans were directed against Jews, Muslims or black people there would be a huge outcry to do something about it. As it is, the Police look on and do nothing as literally thousands of people chant ‘Fuck the Pope’ yards from them. If the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is to be worth the paper it’s written on then surely such hate crimes should be targeted?

Lord Byron once wrote thatthose who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves.’ I would add to that that those who don’t speak up to condemn it are complicit. There are many decent followers of Rangers who are embarrassed by this poison among their support but their silence is deafening. The Herald newspaper unhelpfully and in my opinion untruthfully trotted out the ‘both sides the same’ nonsense in its report on the game. Journalist Graham Spiers exploded this drivel when he wrote a few years ago…

‘I’ve probably gone further in my accusations with regards Rangers rather than Celtic and that is because I decided to break an age old rule in Scottish football which said, if you’re writing about football and you’re writing about bigotry always make one side as bad as the other. That always struck me as odd. It was obvious to me that Rangers had a far greater problem, the result of which I was accused of being biased.’

I’m not suggesting for a moment that Celtic fans are angels, far from it but the sheer percentage of visiting supporters engaging in these chants at Celtic Park on December 30 is sad and perplexing. Have they no self-awareness? Do they simply not care that they appear to be bigoted red necks wallowing in their ignorance? Times change and people move on but some appear to be trapped in the deep well of prejudice with no idea of how to get out of it.

It would be nice to write about Scottish Football being on the up in 2018. Aberdeen had over 18,000 for their match with Hearts last week. Hibs and Hearts both average crowds around 19,000 and the standard of play is improving. Stadiums are evolving into more appropriate and safe places to watch football and for a country of 5.3 million more people per capita watch football here than any other league in Europe. We should be talking up our game and building for the future not watching as backward, Neanderthal behaviour from a minority drag us down. Alas as Albert Einstein once said, ‘We live in an age where an atom is easier to smash than a prejudice.’ My justifiable condemnation of a moronic minority in our society is no slight on the vast majority of Scots, who remain good, decent and tolerant people. However, if we want a better society for our children and grandchildren then we can’t remain silent in the face of such attitudes. As a good man once said; ‘The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’  This issue goes beyond clubs and football; it’s a deep rooted problem in some corners of our society and it’s up to us all to help stamp it out or at least hold  a mirror up to bigotry’s ugly face.

I hope 2018 is a good one for all of you kind enough to read my articles. I hope the football is good and we see a continued resurgence in the much-maligned Scottish game. I hope too that my writing this year is concerned with events on the field and that the good people who follow all the clubs of Scotland make their voices heard. Be loud, be proud and be passionate about your team but leave the prejudice in the past. It isn’t wanted, it isn’t needed and it tells us more about the bigots themselves than their intended targets.

Now, let’s enjoy another year of blood and thunder in this fine old game of ours. For all its clannishness, faults and failings, Scottish football can still enthral and I’m sure it will in 2018.

Happy new year!

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