Dreams and songs to sing
Watching Celtic playing so well in that first half in Trondheim against Rosenborg gave us a glimpse of what Brendan Rodgers is trying to achieve at Celtic Park. He wants a slick passing, mobile side which presses high when not in possession and attacks with pace when they have the ball. A one goal lead barely reflected how far ahead of the home side they were. Of course, Celtic being Celtic you always had that nervous feeling that a one goal lead could be lost in the blink of an eye but the defence did well and held out a big, athletic side who were reduced to lumping high balls into the box and hoping to feed off the scraps. It was a deserved win for Celtic though and you had to feel happy for those loyal supporters who travel all over Europe to back the team and are more often than not rewarded with a poor display. At last they saw Celtic play well and cut out the soft goals, which so often costs them dearly in these matches.
That win combined with Red Bull Salzburg defeating RB Leipzig in Austria means the Hoops now require just a point from their final game to qualify for the last 32. That would be no mean feat given the standard of opposition Celtic faced. Leipzig are going well in Germany and sit near the top of the league, Salzburg are on a roll in Austria and well clear and undefeated in their table while Rosenborg were crowned Champions of Norway at the weekend. There was an embarrassing moment when Leipzig midfielder Stefan Ilsanker was being interviewed after his sides defeat in Salzburg. He said, ‘It was a disappointing result but it could have been more bitter had Celtic won in Rosenborg.’ When he was told Celtic had won and that the scoreboard in the stadium showing a 1-0 win for Rosenborg was in error his face fell and he responded, ‘In that case we are in a really shit position in the group then!’
It remains undoubtedly a tough task for Celtic to get the point they so dearly want against a very good Salzburg side but the Hoops are energised in those games by the incredible backing of the best supporters around. As Filip Benkovic said after the victory over Leipzig, ‘The supporters gave us wings to play.’ That being said, Jock Stein wryly commented many years ago after being asked about the noisy backing Celtic get from their fans, ‘Aye they’re good but I’ve never seen a supporter score a goal.’ He was correct in that as much as the fans will be right behind the team, it is up to the players to perform on the night and pull off what would be a notable achievement by qualifying out of a group which wouldn’t look out of place in the Champions League.
After watching Celtic winning in Norway, I watched some of the Rangers v Villareal match. It was more to check the home side’s form and style of play as Celtic head to Ibrox in a few weeks than any real interest in their European journey which despite just one win in 5 matches in the group is being talked up in the press as almost miraculous. It struck me as the ‘Billy Boys’ rang out in the damp Govan air followed by the predictable and dreary; ‘We hate Celtic - Fenian Bastards’ that this support’s song book has barely altered in decades and it simply not credible to say it’s a minority singing these songs because it clearly wasn’t. I stuck it for about ten minutes before turning it off.
Of course any mention of these distasteful songs will bring the knee jerk response of ‘physician heal thyself’ if we don’t recognise one or two issues in our own songbook which require some serious thought but the scale of the problem at Ibrox is of a different dimension. I want my team’s supporters to celebrate what we stand for and not what some hate. I want us to celebrate Celtic and the players past and present who bring us so many great memories. I want us to be proud of the club’s roots but also proud to welcome Celtic supporters from all backgrounds, all faiths and none and all walks of life. When I see Celtic Park booming out its support for the team it fills me with pride that this community of supporters have kept faith with the past and still back the team with the same passion which they always have. Still honour the club’s charitable and inclusive ethos and be a positive force in society.
December will be a pivotal month for Celtic and it all begins with the League cup final on Sunday. Celtic has the opportunity to win seven consecutive trophies and that is an astonishing statistic which not even Jock Stein’s great side can match. Leagues are usually won by the best team over the season but cup ties are less predictable. The fact that Brendan Rodgers has yet to lose a domestic cup tie after two and a half years speaks volumes about the consistency and attitude of his team. With trips to Fir Park, Easter Road, Pittodrie and Ibrox to negotiate, Celtic will require the whole squad to be focussed and ready for a huge effort during the 9 games in 3 competitions in 27 days they now face. It all begins tomorrow at Hampden and another shot at glory for Celtic and hopefully another little piece of history.
These are great days to be a Celtic fan but in sport as in life nothing worth having comes easily. It’s up to the players to play to the standards our excellent manager demands. The supporters will be right behind them roaring them on and when the team and fans are as one it is a powerful combination indeed.
We have had much to sing about these past few years and much to be proud of but then we’re Celtic fans, we always have dreams and songs to sing.