The Elephant in the Room – Part 2

Earlier on in the week I had written a blog piece about there being an elephant in the room surrounding the circumstances that meant the potential game between Linfield and Celtic was unlikely to be played on the dates that were put forward for the tie by UEFA.

The home leg for Linfield was scheduled to happen on either the 11th or 12th July. However, as discussed previously, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have said that they are unable to accommodate the game being played on either of those two dates.

It soon transpired that Linfield wanted to maintain having the home leg of the tie played at Windsor Park and a date of the 14th July was mooted. That date has officially been confirmed assuming Linfield make it past the San Marino champions, La Fiorita.

With the date confirmed, Celtic fans who live in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland were excited by the fact they wouldn’t have to get a ferry or a flight to watch the Hoops. Other fans who also follow Celtic where ever they go were also excited at the prospect of watching the SPFL Premiership champions in Ireland.

Celtic have this evening issued a statement detailing when the games against Linfield are going to take place and also intimate that Celtic supporters would not be able to access tickets for the game at Windsor Park citing ‘safety and security issues’.

The full statement is as follows…

EARLIER this week, Celtic were drawn against Linfield or La Fiorita of San Marino to open our UEFA Champions League qualifying campaign, with the away leg due to be played first, on 11 or 12 July, and the home leg to be played at Celtic Park on 18 or 19 July.

Following security concerns raised by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Celtic has taken part in discussions with Linfield and the PSNI over recent days. While there can be an option to reverse the fixtures if both clubs agree, during discussions, Linfield made it clear that they did not wish to reverse the tie and they wanted play their home leg first.

In addition, as is often the case in football, Celtic’s football management team wished to play our away leg first so that we could benefit from the advantage of playing the second leg at home in front of our supporters at Celtic Park for this crucial European tie.

Following the discussions, it was agreed among the clubs and PSNI and has now been confirmed with UEFA that, should Linfield progress to the Second Qualifying Round, Celtic’s UEFA Champions League match against Linfield will take place at Windsor Park  on Friday, July 14, with a 5pm kick-off.

No tickets will be available for Celtic supporters for the match. The safety and security of all Celtic supporters travelling and attending matches is of paramount importance to the Club.

Should  La Fiorita of San Marino qualify for the next round, the first leg match would take place on 11 or 12 July.

Regardless of opposition, Celtic’s home leg of this qualifying round will take place at Celtic Park on Wednesday, July 19, 2017, and entry to this first home European qualifier will once again be included as part of the 2017/18 Season Ticket.

If the tie against Linfield proceeds, it will not affect the friendly match between Celtic and Lyon at Celtic Park on 15 July – more information on this match will follow as soon as possible.

What are the safety and security issues that Celtic and most likely PSNI have? It is incumbent on Celtic to provide absolute clarity and transparency as to why this decision has been made.

In the statement it makes reference to ‘security concerns’ which led the original fixture dates to be moved. Why can’t Celtic reference the fact it is in the middle of the 12th of July celebrations? Why the reticence to deal with the issue directly rather than talk around the reasons for the fixture being moved. I think the club owe it to fans, who have watched Celtic in Israel, Kazakstan and Russia without having to refuse away tickets, to divulge the reasons why it is not safe for Celtic fans to travel to another UK city to watch their team play a game.

It is not enough to just cite ‘safety and security concerns’. We should be talking about exactly why PSNI think they would be unable to ensure the safety of Celtic supporters. Would the scenario arise if Linfield hadn’t drawn Celtic? As I had shown in my previous blog post, Linfield have played Champions League qualifiers on the 11th of July before.

One other key aspect of this is that now no Celtic fans will be allowed travel, why not have the game on the 11th anyway? I understand the crowd may be larger as the visiting team is Celtic and that is why PSNI have said they don’t have the resources to ensure the game is managed appropriately but as no Celtic fans are visiting now, surely the game would need less of a police presence?

In all of this, the underlying issue is the ‘Battle of the Boyne’ celebrations that take place across Northern Ireland around the 12th of July. It would be interesting to know if the fixtures had been reversed and the home tie was at Celtic Park first, would Celtic fans still be not allowed to travel for the second leg, with that game having been on the 18 or 19th July? Is that why Linfield didn’t want the game moved to Celtic Park first as it would have ruined their own celebrations of the 12th? Is there ever a scenario where Celtic fans would be able to travel to watch their team play Linfield in any circumstances? Because if there are not, that opens up other questions.

Are Linfield going to refuse to take tickets for the game at Celtic Park now or can Police Scotland provide assurances that fans of the Northern Irish team would be able to travel with safety and security? I imagine the security arrangements would not be any more difficult to implement than a Celtic vs Rangers game at Celtic Park.

We should be having a full, frank and open discussion surrounding the reasons why Celtic fans can’t be safely accommodated in Northern Ireland without the diplomacy shown by Celtic. I know Celtic don’t want to draw criticism if they were to detail exactly the concerns they and PSNI have but with Celtic not issuing much clarity to the support, it looks like they will just let the supporters decide the reasons for themselves the reasons and will now face accusations of being afraid to discuss publicly the issues surrounding this fixture.

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The Elephant in the Room

In the second qualifying round of the Champions League qualifiers, Celtic have been drawn against either Linfield (Northern Ireland) or S.P. La Fiorita (San Marino).

Linfield are favourites to come through against the San Marino league champions, and if they do UEFA have scheduled the game against Celtic to take place on the 11/12th July to be held at the home ground of the unseeded team (Linfield), with the corresponding fixture to be held at the seeded team (Celtic) on either the 18/19th July.

I have read a few articles regarding this potential game between Northern Ireland’s Linfield and Scotland’s Celtic and the underlying theme is that it couldn’t possibly be played on the 12th July. It was ruled out instantly by both clubs as soon as the draw was made. I am from the West of Scotland and I understand why the game couldn’t be played on that day but what of people looking in from the outside?

Where is the critical analysis of why ‘Celtic can’t possibly play in Belfast on the 12th July’?

Is it a Police resource issue? Is it the visiting team? All I have read is that it is going to be a ‘powderkeg’ or there are ‘safety concerns’. Shouldn’t we know the concerns rather than just accepting that there are some? All countries will have certain scenarios that mean sporting events can’t be held on a particular date, like large concerts, also taking place in a city. Is there a question to be asked as to why a team could be paired with Linfield which resulted in a scenario that meant the home team were unable to safely accommodate that team?

I understand the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) will refuse permission for the game to take place on the 12th July due to the amount of Orange Order marches that are happening in the city on that date to celebrate ‘The Battle of the Boyne’. This is the culmination of the marching season in Northern Ireland (and also some parts of Scotland) to celebrate the victory of King William of Orange in 1690.

There has been suggestions that the game could be played on the 11th July but by all accounts that is also a date that PSNI are having issues with as many in Belfast and across Northern Ireland, light bonfires that evening. Would it be an issue if Linfield weren’t playing Celtic? On two occasions, Linfield have played home fixtures on the 11th July in European qualifiers against FC Torpedo Kutaisi (Georgia) in 2001 and again Gorica (Slovenia) in 2006. What is it specifically about Celtic that makes this game a ‘powderkeg’ and a ‘worst possible’ date to hold it?

Linfield it seems have also gone to the trouble of asking Celtic if they could play the home game on Thursday 13th July but looking at the stipulations dictated by UEFA then I am not sure that is a possibility as the UEFA guidelines state games must be held on a Tuesday or a Wednesday.

UEFA

There has also been discussions about whether Celtic should play the home leg first. I am not against this as I think it would be nice for Celtic to put the tie to bed but it also seems Linfield are keen to have the home leg in Belfast to extract as much of the ‘Green and White’ pound as they can. An interesting irony when you want to exploit a club to gain revenue but you can’t host them in your city due to particular religious expressions that are occupying minds around the time the fixture is meant to take place. In all of this though, UEFA could decide when the game was to be held. It is their competition after all but I imagine, Linfield would need to explain exactly why Celtic couldn’t be accommodated in the week that UEFA have decreed the game to take place.

One other aspect of this game, and it should be one that the Scottish media in particular to pay attention to is the way in which Linfield have been forced to apply the ban on any form of the Billy Boys being sung at their ground. If this song is given an airing against Celtic, in whatever guise, Linfield will be in trouble as the Irish Football Association (IFA) have been given directives by UEFA to stop the sectarian Billy Boys being sung at games.   Take note, regardless of whether words are changed or not the song is not allowed.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/27054281

In Northern Ireland, the IFA apply strict liability to their clubs. It is something I have argued should be applied in Scotland.

Last season, Celtic played an Israeli team, Hapoel Be’er Sheva. Some Celtic fans decided to hold aloft Palestinian flags in protest at the treatment of people caught up in the conflict in that region. Celtic were subjected to intense scrutiny as a result of the fans stance. There was critical analysis of why it was done and whether it was the right thing to do in terms of displaying unity with the Palestinians but there were also counter arguments relating to the antagonistic approach in relation to the visiting team. Celtic were duly fined by UEFA, under the strict liability rules they have, as they take a dim view on political expressions of supporters but the issue was spoken about in great depth.

In the current enlightened times where a light has been shone on some of the archaic views held by politicians of certain political parties in Northern Ireland, perhaps it is appropriate to ask why Celtic can’t be accommodated in Northern Ireland around the 12th July without ignoring the elephant in the room.

 

 

 

 

Savouring Success

As I was soaking up the atmosphere at the Hydro the other night at the fantastic Celebrate ’67 concert, the friend who I was with had a discussion about how good it is to be a Celtic fan just now and how our ‘generation’ are the only ones to truly know hardship as Celtic fans.

At the time of writing, I am 31 and he is 33 so we had to endure the 1990s as Celtic fans. We never had any experience of a successful Celtic team who won championships until 1998. I don’t really even remember the 1995 Scottish Cup Final but he does.

That was the first thing he remembers seeing Celtic win.When he was 11.

I maintain the age group who are roughly 28-35 are the ones who savour the success now more than any other because we didn’t see the success of the 80s or earlier or from a new generation who really have only grown up with a successful Celtic team.

I would like to know if people agree.

 

 

The 12 Days of the “Treble”

As there are 12 days left until Celtic compete to hopefully win their first domestic treble since 2001, I wanted to look back at twelve days, or twelve games rather, that have shaped our season in the lead up to what could be the climax of an incredible achievement.

Celtic are unbeaten in 44 games domestically with 40 wins and 4 draws spanning the 3 domestic competitions Celtic compete in. Incredibly, Celtic have only behind their opponent for 111 minutes of the 3240 regulation minutes of premiership football played this season. Furthermore, Celtic have only conceded one goal in any of the 8 cup games played this season when St Mirren took the lead at Celtic Park and held it for 45 minutes before a resurgent Celtic blew the Buddies away in the second half of that fixture.

Below I have listed 12 games that I think suitably show how dominant Celtic are, how commanding they have been and when the going got tough, albeit on only 5 different occasions, we were able to turn a losing position into a draw or a win.

On the First Day of the Treble…

1. Celtic 2 (Forrest, Sinclair) – Hearts 1 (Walker, pen) – 7th August 2016 (Premiership)

The first day of the premiership season saw Celtic travel to Edinburgh to face Hearts. Celtic took the lead with a James Forrest goal before Jamie Walker ‘won’ his team a penalty to even the score. In previous seasons, with Celtic sometimes fragile under Ronny Deila, this game could have resulted in dropped points but Brendan Rodgers was able to call on his new expensive signing, Scott Sinclair, and introduce him as a second half substitute to come on and score the winner to set the tone for the season.

2. Celtic 5 (Dembele (3), Sinclair, Armstrong) – Rangers 1 (Garner) – 10th September 2016 (Premiership)

Before this match happened, a few in the media had thought Rangers could have gone into the game with a lead in the premiership before these teams faced off. That wasn’t to be the case as Celtic won their first three games in the league and Rangers drew their first two and won two and therefore it was Celtic who already had the advantage. This victory at Celtic Park underlined the sheer gulf between the sides in what proved to be Joey ‘Scott Brown isn’t in my league’ Barton final game for the club. Celtic moved 4 points clear of the ‘chasing’ pack after this commanding victory with a perfect hat-trick from Moussa Dembele, another goal from Scott Sinclair and a fifth provided by Stuart Armstrong to demonstrate his value off the bench. A consolation goal was provided by Joe Garner.

3. Celtic 6 (Dembele (2), Forrest, Sinclair, Griffiths, Rogic) – Kilmarnock 1 (Coulibaly) – 24th September 2016 (Premiership)

This was the first time Celtic had been behind domestically all season and, to be fair, the goal was a first class strike. Souleymane Coulibaly scored a half volley from fully 40-yards to beat Dorus De Vries. This goal seemed to shake Celtic into life with Moussa Dembele equalising just three minutes later before scoring again soon after. Celtic went into cruise control and scored another 4 goals provided by James Forrest, Scott Sinclair, Leigh Griffiths and Tom Rogic to record their biggest home victory of the season.

4. Celtic 1 (Dembele) – Rangers 0 – 23rd October 2016 (League Cup Semi Final)

A game in which Celtic were just as dominant as the previous meeting between the two teams without the clinical finishing. An 87th minute Moussa Dembele backheel double nutmeg was the difference between the sides but the match followed a similar pattern to that of the 5-1 game and could have been similar if it hadn’t been for the heroics of the Rangers goalkeeper Matt Gilks. His resolve was finally broken three minutes from time when Dembele continued where he had left off in September at Celtic Park. Celtic had reached the final of the League cup where they would return to Hampden the following month to face Aberdeen. The aftermath of this game was dominated by talk of ‘the gap’. This was because the result wasn’t as comprehensive as the previous encounter but in any of the measures apart from the scoreline, Celtic were just as superior.

5. Celtic 3 (Rogic, Forrest, Dembele (pen)) – Aberdeen 0 – 27th November 2016 (League Cup Final)

Celtic returned to Hampden in November to face Aberdeen in the final of the League Cup which was taking place before the turn of the year for the first time since 1997 due to a revamp of the competition. Celtic were supremely dominant in this game in which Aberdeen had set up to try contain the Hoops. As soon as Tom Rogic scored in the 16th minute, Aberdeen had no answer. James Forrest scored the second and Moussa Dembele wrapping up the victory from the penalty spot. Celtic negotiated the league cup competition without conceding a goal while racking up eleven goals in the process. It secured part one of a potential treble and was the 100th major trophy won by Celtic in their history.

6. Celtic 4 (McGregor, Roberts, Armstrong, Rogic) – Motherwell 3 (Moult (2), Ainsworth) – 03rd December 2016 (Premiership)

Celtic’s biggest challenge to date came when Louis Moult put Motherwell into a two goal lead which meant Celtic were behind for 67 minutes before Callum McGregor and Patrick Roberts levelled the game. Motherwell took the lead once more with a Lionel Ainsworth goal which was quickly extinguished by Stuart Armstrong only one minute later. Tom Rogic completed a sensational comeback with a 90th minute winner to show the resilience of this Celtic side and show how much mental strength Brendan Rodgers had instilled into his squad.

7. Celtic 2 (Dembele, Sinclair) – Rangers 1 (Miller) – 31st December 2016 (Premiership)

Celtic came into this match having gone for 55 points and achieved it and were looking to cement their lead at the top of the premiership. Rangers hadn’t lost at home for some time so the stage was set for another clash between the city rivals. Rangers took the lead through veteran Kenny Miller which they held for 22 minutes before Moussa Dembele unleashed a rocket of a left foot volley into the roof of Wes Foderingham’s net from a Celtic corner. Celtic then went on to win the game thanks to a goal from Scott Sinclair which resulted in wild scenes in the away at Ibrox. Celtic went into the winter break 19 points ahead of the Ibrox club and had all but secured the premiership trophy with this crucial victory.

8. Celtic 5 (Henderson, Dembele (3), Sinclair) – St. Johnstone 2 (Watson, Boyata (og) – 5th February 2017 (Premiership)

The last time that Celtic have been behind in a premiership game was in February at McDiarmid Park with St. Johnstone coming from behind themselves to lead 2 goals to 1 after Liam Henderson had fired Celtic into the lead. The St. Johnstone goals came from Keith Watson and a Dedryck Boyata own goal. Celtic were able to restore parity after 22 minutes with a controversial penalty awarded after a perceived handball by a St. Johnstone player. It was never a penalty but Moussa Dembele made no mistake by equalising from the spot. Dembele scored again soon after as did Scott Sinclair but what transpired after that was nothing short of magical. Moussa Dembele completed his hat-trick but only after Celtic completed 24 passes which encompassed all of the Celtic players on the field culminating in a rabona from Mikael Lustig, a backheel from Callum McGregor and the finish applied by the Frenchmen.

9. Celtic 4 (Lustig, Sinclair, Dembele, Griffiths) – St. Mirren 1 (Davis) – 5th March 2017 (Scottish Cup Quarter Final)

Celtic had eased into the quarter final of the Scottish Cup with a 6-0 victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle which came after a routine victory over Albion Rovers in the previous round but they came up against a rejuvenated St. Mirren side at Celtic Park. St. Mirren took a shock lead and held it for 45 minutes before quick-fire goals from Mikael Lustig and Scott Sinclair flipped the game on its head. The victory was confirmed with goals from Moussa Dembele and Leigh Griffiths. After the game, Brendan Rodgers told the media in Scotland that St. Mirren were the best team they had faced domestically all season. This was roundly scoffed at as it was a perceived sleight on the rest of the teams in the country, especially towards Rangers but the way in which St. Mirren showed their own resolve to escape relegation from the Scottish Championship demonstrated that Brendan was merely giving credit where it was due. This victory set up another encounter with Rangers back at Hampden for the Scottish Cup semi-final in April.

10. Celtic (Sinclair (3), Roberts, Armstrong) – Hearts 0 – 02nd April 2017 (Premiership)

Back at Tynecastle where the premiership season had started for Celtic just 8 months before gave Celtic the opportunity to clinch the league title with a victory over Hearts. Celtic ruthlessly went about their business and it was the man who had won the game in August who came back to show his worth with a hat-trick from Scott Sinclair. Stuart Armstrong was also on the score sheet as was Patrick Roberts but it was the contribution of Sinclair, who had set the tone for the season in the earlier game, confirming Celtic as champions with three goals in Edinburgh. Celtic had won the league with eight games to spare and the earliest it had ever been done in the three points for the win era. Part two of the treble was complete and trophy number 101 secured.

11. Celtic 2 (McGregor, Sinclair (pen) – Rangers 0 – April 23rd 2017 (Scottish Cup Semi Final)

Rangers had secured a 1-1 draw with Celtic at Celtic Park in March which meant that the gulf between the two sides had closed apparently. What is missed from that game is that Celtic were as poor as they have been all season and Rangers set themselves up to contain the Hoops. Perhaps that 1-1 draw gave the Rangers fans a false sense of security and renewed hope they could defeat Celtic at Hampden. The cup semi-final was as comfortable a semi-final as I have ever seen Celtic take part in regardless of opponent. Callum McGregor merely confirmed Celtic’s dominance with the opening goal all the while Celtic not having to make one foul in the whole of the first half. At the start of the second half Rangers upped the ante a little but as soon as Leigh Griffiths was felled by James Tavernier and Scott Sinclair scored the resultant penalty there was only going to be one winner. Celtic had secured their third Hampden victory in a row without conceding a goal to set up a final with Aberdeen in May.

12. Celtic 5 (Sinclair, Griffiths, McGregor, Boyata, Lustig) – Rangers 1 (Miller) – April 29th 2017 (Premiership)

Just 6 days after Celtic had completely dominated their city rivals, it was time for them to face again, this time at Ibrox. A lot of pundits were expecting an improvement from Rangers. Surely they couldn’t surrender as meekly as they did at Hampden on their own turf? That wasn’t to be the case and Celtic showed why they are the champions. After just six minutes, Celtic had a penalty which Scott Sinclair converted. Leigh Grifftiths added a second shortly after in a first half that was incredibly one sided. Celtic could have easily scored two or three more in that half and it wouldn’t have flattered them. Shortly after half time, the Hampden hero of a week before, Callum McGregor added Celtic’s third. Dedryck Boyata scored the fourth from a Leigh Griffiths free kick which was the signal for most of the home fans to leave the stadium. Kenny Miller added a consolation goal before Mikael Lustig rubbed salt into the wounds by scoring the fifth goal to consign Rangers to their highest ever home defeat by Celtic. This game was Celtic at their merciless best and demonstrated again that the gulf between the two teams is vast.

That is my list of 12 games that have set Celtic up to hopefully win the treble against Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup Final on the 27th May.

Throughout the season domestically Celtic have scored 126 goals, scored 5 or more goals in a single game 5 times and are on the verge of invincibility with just 3 domestic games left culminating in the show piece against the Dons at Hampden. If you include European goals, Celtic have scored 141 so far and only need another 8 to break their own scoring record of 148 goals set in 2003-04 season and only need another 4 points from the last two premiership games to break their own points record of 103 set in 2001-02.

The last two premeiership games are against Partick Thistle at Firhill this Thursday followed by trophy day at Celtic Park on Sunday against Hearts. I believe Celtic will complete the premiership season undefeated and also break their goal scoring record by defeating Aberdeen in the final to become the invincible treble winners. A feat never achieved before in Scotland. I have only seen one domestic treble in my lifetime, in 2001. If Celtic manage to do it this year, while maintaining an undefeated run in the league, it will eclipse the achievements of that team and propel this team into the realms of legendary status. It would be a fitting tribute to the exploits achieved by the Lisbon Lions 50 years ago this year.

In twelve days time, I hope Celtic make it a treble.

#LoveCelticHateRacism

The racist abuse suffered by Celtic’s Scott Sinclair at the game at Ibrox last month was a stark reminder that some people haven’t come out of the dark ages and enlightened themselves to a multi-cultural world. It was an isolated incident limited to two idiots who have since been dealt with by the proper authorities as is appropriate. That match had other incidents, not least the pitch invasion by the convicted sex offender, missiles thrown at Celtic players and the obligatory anti-catholic songbook but the racism one has become the most prominent and notable. That should not diminish the other events that occurred just that the abuse suffered by Scott Sinclair has been the focus of comment post match by the media.

Rangers came out and condemned those fans as they should and made reference that any one found to have committed such acts would not be welcome at Ibrox which is to be welcomed. I wish Rangers had tried to confront the issue head on straight away with a public anti-racism drive as that would have given it more traction. It seems to be happening now with their goalkeeper, Wes Foderingham, an ambassador for Kick It Out, the football equality and inclusion organisation making comments condemning the abuse suffered by Sinclair.

Most people I saw after the game on social media denounced the abuse suffered by Sinclair as would be expected from fair minded individuals but that didn’t stop the barrage of whataboutery that followed it also.

Some have argued that Celtic ‘milked’ the incident in the week following the game at Ibrox. Why would Celtic want to ‘milk’ this attention when one of their players has been subjected to vile abuse? What value does that bring to Celtic or Sinclair? Sinclair stated it was the first time it had ever happened in his career, I can’t imagine he would have wanted to embellish it.

Celtic very publicly supported their player with a concerted effort made by Sinclair’s colleagues showing their support for the Englishman. This was echoed by support given to Sinclair at Celtic Park on Saturday after the game at St. Johnstone.

The scenes at Celtic Park on Saturday seemed to set one very prominent Rangers based website/twitter account into overdrive to re-frame the conversation at the weekend with a hashtag that was diametrically opposed to the one Celtic and fans of other clubs had been using in the wake of the incident at Ibrox. A new hashtag of #lovecelticloveracism was trending which proceeded to show incidents where racism has occurred at Celtic.

A quick search of twitter brought up these two hashtags

IMG_2259[1]

They had no condemnation to what had occurred at Ibrox but wanted to ensure if their club was going to experience negative PR, they would try to bring Celtic into it.

A Celtic player was the subject of racist abuse. It was an isolated incident but was very much a topic fresh for debate that was relevant to be in the here and now.

Celtic have had issues in the past. I want to confront them to show I have no problem condemning any form of discrimination where appropriate.

Alexsander Tonev was found guilty of racist abuse towards Aberdeen’s Shay Logan following an SFA Disciplinary hearing. Celtic backed the player until the hearing was completed and after the event, I thought Celtic should have sacked him.

Leigh Griffiths was charged and admitted guilt for singing a song with offensive lyrics aimed at Rudi Skacel. Leigh was very lucky to not be sacked by the club for his actions.

At a Celtic vs Rangers game in 2011, a Celtic fan, Sean Smith made a racist gesture of a similar nature aimed at Scott Sinclair in last weeks game. Sean was arrested, charged and spent 3 months in jail for his indiscretions. He was given a 5 year football banning order and also banned from attending Celtic games for life.

The Rangers website, the Copland Road Organisation (CRO) has claimed that Sean is now welcome at Celtic Park again and they have evidence of this as Sean was pictured at the ground.

I mean no ill will to Sean but I wanted to check if that was the case as I would like to think a lifetime ban meant as such. I asked John Paul Taylor, the Celtic Supporters Liaison Officer about it and he confirmed that Sean wasn’t welcome at the club and also he has never been employed by Celtic in any capacity.

The image appears to be from the time just after Brendan Rodgers was announced as the new Celtic manager. Celtic hosted fans at Celtic Park to welcome Brendan and it appears Sean was present. This was a non-ticketed event. What should Celtic have done in this instance?

Another picture I have seen is from Sean at Ibrox. I have to ask, how are Celtic supposed to stop someone attending a game when a ticket wasn’t purchased by them? That is hardly welcoming is it?

I hope this clears up the claim by those guys over at CRO who seem hell bent on trying to re-frame this argument to deflect from the issue that occurred at Ibrox. Why not focus on that issue instead of this pathetic whataboutery?

I have condemned Tonev, Griffiths and also Sean Smith. It is not hypocritical for Celtic to publicly decry racism. When the abuse happened, were Celtic meant to just say ‘sorry everyone, we can’t complain about Sinclair because of x, y and z’? That is beyond ridiculous.

If racism happens, condemn it. It is what reasonable and rational people would do.

 

 

The Insurmountable Gap

Since Celtic pumped Rangers 5-1 in their own backyard, talk of the gap between the two ‘rival’ teams has arisen again. It is a hard property to quantify as it is subjective. There are a few measures you might use to demonstrate such a gap such as revenue etc but one of the easiest and most logical values to use is the empirical one of points accrued over a season.

As it stands, after 34 games played in the SPFL Premiership, the points gap between Celtic and Rangers is 36.

That differential is the biggest points gap that has ever existed between the two since the Scottish league began in 1890-91.

I have listed below all of the points differences that existed between Celtic and Rangers spanning back to the start of Celtic’s 9 in a row and then culminating in the last season a Rangers named entity competed against Celtic in the same league.

For seasons 1965-66 until 1993-94, teams were awarded two points for a win and one point for a draw and as such I have recalculated the difference in points if three points were awarded to make a consistent comparison with the current set up.

Season Points Gap Team Ahead
1965-66 4 Celtic
1966-67 5 Celtic
1967-68 4 Celtic
1968-69 7 Celtic
1969-70 20 Celtic
1970-71 24 Celtic
1971-72 25 Celtic
1972-73 1 Celtic
1973-74 7 Celtic
1974-75 16 Rangers
1975-76 8 Celtic
1976-77 14 Celtic
1977-78 28 Rangers
1978-79 6 Celtic
1979-80 13 Celtic
1980-81 22 Celtic
1981-82 20 Celtic
1982-83 29 Celtic
1983-84 24 Celtic
1984-85 23 Celtic
1985-86 22 Celtic
1986-87 10 Rangers
1987-88 17 Celtic
1988-89 15 Rangers
1989-90 27 Rangers
1990-91 21 Rangers
1991-92 17 Rangers
1992-93 22 Rangers
1993-94 15 Rangers
1994-95 18 Rangers
1995-96 4 Rangers
1996-97 5 Rangers
1997-98 2 Celtic
1998-99 6 Rangers
1999-2000 21 Rangers
2000-01 15 Celtic
2001-02 18 Celtic
2002-03 0 Rangers
2003-04 17 Celtic
2004-05 1 Rangers
2005-06 18 Celtic
2006-07 12 Celtic
2007-08 3 Celtic
2008-09 4 Rangers
2009-10 6 Rangers
2010-11 1 Rangers
2011-12 20* Celtic

*Rangers deducted 10 points for entering administration

Not once in the last 50 years, have either Celtic or Rangers been more than 30 points ahead of one another so we really are in unprecedented times.

If Rangers are now thinking this is their ground zero moment, they only have to look at where Celtic were at our own. In the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons, just after Fergus McCann had completed his takeover, we were only 15 and 18 points behind Rangers in the league respectively. As good as that Rangers team were, this current Rangers team are now double the points deficit Celtic were in 1995.

Celtic closed the gap in in 1998 to stop Rangers winning ten in a row but only after a highly successful share issue gave us the platform to embark on a massive infrastructure rebuild. This culminated in Celtic closing the gap on their rivals just three years after the points gap was 15.

Rangers have had their share issue, in 2012. As it stands they are unable to get outside investment due to legacy issues and are currently at loggerheads with their retail partner. They also don’t have the ability to increase the capacity of their stadium. I read last week or so that for this season, they sold as many season tickets as their ground allows to comply with ticketing arrangements. In essence, their current revenue is at a maximum all the while Celtic will turnover close to £90 Million this season.

A financial disparity of ca £60 million, coupled with a points deficit currently sitting at 36 and with Celtic looking to strengthen to try ensure continued Champions League entry the gap doesn’t look like it can ever be closed.

Even in the midst of Celtic winning 9 in a row in the 60s and 70s the gap was never as big as it is now. All of this evidence points to Celtic coasting to 10 and beyond. The gap is truly insurmountable.

A Salute to the Champions

It was the 5th April 2015 and the visitors to Ibrox were Heart of Midlothian. Hearts had just been crowned winners of the SPFL Championship and were given a guard of honour by Rangers in recognition of that fact. The game was actually meant to have taken place in the January of that year but was abandoned due to adverse weather. The rearranged game had then been scheduled after the Jambos league win was confirmed. I distinctly remember a bit of defiance at that point over whether Rangers would afford Hearts a guard of honour but in the end they duly obliged as is the sportsmanlike thing to do these days.

Fast forward a year and the shoe was on the other foot. Rangers won the Championship title and most teams who they subsequently played granted them the distinction of a guard of honour apart from Hibernian who point blank refused to do it. Again this caused some furore and for good reason but at least they had been consistent. Hibernian head coach Alan Stubbs refused his team permission to perform the tribute a year previously when both Edinburgh clubs were in the Championship and the Gorgie team had been victorious.

In the aftermath of Rangers being honoured by teams apart from Hibernian, James Tavernier, the Rangers full-back was quick to reprimand Hibernian for their lack of sportsmanship.

After Alloa, and apart from Hibs, all of the teams that Rangers played in the league that season performed the salute, including Livingston and St Mirren.

I sincerely hope he maintains the same level of sportsmanship this Saturday when Celtic face Rangers at Ibrox in the last Glasgow Derby of the season. There is no reason why they shouldn’t perform this tribute to the Champions of Scotland. The reaction from some quarters at the mere suggestion that this might be the case has been met with staunch defiance and has made me all the more keen for it to happen…

I hope someone from the press is able to ask Pedro and his paupers if they will maintain a level of dignity with which they normally are so boastful about and conduct this salute, as they did with Hearts, to the all conquering champions of Scotland.

For those saying ‘Celtic didn’t form a guard of honour in 2010’ you are probably right. It seems to be a very modern addition to the game that the champions of a country are saluted by all the remaining teams they play in the league that season. In fact, in the last 17 years 2010 would have been the only year in which it would be appropriate for Celtic to perform this honour. Since 2000, Old Rangers won the league on the last day in 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2011. Contrast that to Celtic who in each of the championship successes they have had since the turn of the Millenium, only once was the league title won on the last day, in 2008. Since the emergence of this tribute to the league winners, Celtic have won the league before a final ball is kicked and from what I can recall, no team has refused to bestow the accolade on the hoops. Lets hope new Rangers follow suit.

What is your ‘Second’ Team?

You might hear the phrase ‘second team’ banded about a lot.

Everyone has the team that they support. For me it is Celtic. It always has been since I can remember. I am a Glasgow born and bred local who grew up supporting Celtic.

I never had to justify my support for Celtic until I was accused of being a ‘glory-hunter’ when I moved to Edinburgh from Glasgow at 17. A fresh-faced chemistry undergraduate had taken on the ‘establishment’ or Cameron Toll Shopping Centre.  I was called a ‘weegie’ which I took to be a compliment. My explanation of why I am a Celtic fan was, and still is, enjoyable.

I am from Glasgow. I am aware of the rivalry challenges in the city as I grew up with it.

What makes you a fan of a particular team? I am a Celtic fan. They are my ‘first team’. What are my second team?  If I am honest, I don’t have one.

Growing up in the 90s, I liked Manchester United but that was because they were the team that I saw on TV. I also had a Liverpool top in the late 90s too.

As things stand, I don’t have a ‘second’ team. I look out for particular results of teams that friends of mine support but really have no passion about it apart from whether Celtic win or not.

For some people they may have decided to follow another team if they move to a different city from the club that they originally had supported but as I moved to Edinburgh, I was never going to just become a Hearts or a Hibs fan but if you moved country then I understand why you may decide to follow someone else.

What are your ‘second’ teams?

The Celtic Connection

At a recent question and answer session for Celtic fans, Brendan Rodgers was asked his thoughts on the Celtic Academy and about if he feels it can become an integral part of his plans going forward and the answer he gave was very enlightening. He talked about how if he got one player a season to make the transition from the youth set-up to the first team that would constitute a positive contribution.

In the current team, James Forrest, Kieran Tierney and Callum McGregor could be classed as genuine products of the youth set-up with Liam Henderson around the periphery but not a guaranteed starter. We have seen examples of the ‘conveyor belt’ being productive for Celtic in the past with players such as Aiden McGeady, Shaun Maloney and Charlie Mulgrew, who left and came back, high profile examples who have gone onto have distinguished careers at Celtic but also performed well once they left.

One other part of the Q&A session he also said something even more interesting. He talked about how Celtic, as a club, have a responsibility to produce not just players for our own first team but be involved in the production of players who may never play for Celtic but will find themselves at other Scottish teams. He said Celtic play an integral role in this and that contribution to the wider Scottish game should not be overlooked. I had a thought about this and more often than not, a team that Celtic may be playing in Scotland can often contain a player who has played either for Celtic or someone we have developed in the academy.

As such, I thought I would do a little analysis of all of the teams in Scotland to see how far reaching the Celtic connection goes.

The list below was constructed using data available either on clubs websites, wikipedia or soccerbase. Some players may have had a Celtic connection and not been included but I have been extensive as the sources allowed.

Loan denotes players contracted to Celtic but on-loan at a fellow Scottish Club; Youth donates players who have spent some of their career at the Celtic Academy; All other players have played for the Celtic first team with some developing from the Academy.

Premiership

Aberdeen – Niall McGinn, Ryan Christie (loan)

Rangers – Kenny Miller, Michael O’Halloran (youth)

Hearts – Viktor Noring

St. Johnstone – Chris Millar (youth), David Wotherspoon (youth),

Dundee – Darren O’Dea, Paul McGowan,

Kilmarnock – Kristoffer Ajer (loan)

Hamilton – Eamonn Brophy (youth), Massimo Donati

Partick Thistle – Gary Fraser (youth)

Inverness Caledonian Thistle – Iain Vigurs (youth), Jamie McCart (loan)

Ross County – Scott Fox (youth), Marcus Fraser, Jim O’Brien, Michael Gardyne (youth), Chris Burke (Celtic Boys Club)

Motherwell – Stephen McManus, Joe Chalmers (youth), Scott McDonald, Stephen Pearson

Championship

Hibernian – Dylan McGeouch, James Keatings (youth), Jordon Foster (youth), Efe Ambrose (loan)

Dundee United – Lewis Toshney (youth), Willo Flood

Falkirk – Lewis Kidd (youth), Robbie Thomson (youth)

Greenock Morton – Michael Doyle (youth), Jamie Lindsay (loan), Aidan Nesbitt (loan), Michael Tidser (youth), Luke Donnelly (loan)

Raith Rovers – Mark Stewart (youth)

St. Mirren – Gary Irvine (youth), Rocco Quinn (youth)

Dumbarton – Grant Gallagher (Youth)

Ayr United – Gary Harkins (youth),

Queen of the South –  Joe Thompson (loan), Connor McManus (loan), Callum Tapping (youth), Dom Thomas (youth)

Dunfermline Athletic – Ryan Williamson (youth), Paul McMullan (loan), John Herron, David Hopkirk (youth)

League One

Airdrieonians – Adam Brown (youth), Ryan Conroy

Albion Rovers – Theo Archibald (loan)

Alloa Athletic – Jason Marr (youth), Calum Waters (youth), Jim Goodwin, Kevin Cawley (youth), Greig Spence

Brechin City – None

East Fife – None

Livingston – Michael Miller (youth), Shaun Byrne (youth), Mark Millar (youth), Declan Gallagher (youth)

Peterhead – Craig Reid (youth), Simon Ferry (youth), Nicky Riley (youth)

Queen’s Park – Aidan McIlduff (loan)

Stenhousemuir – Colin McCabe (loan)

Stranraer – Mark McGuigan (youth)

League Two

Annan Athletic – None

Arbroath – Rab Douglas, Bryan Prunty (youth)

Berwick Rangers – None

Clyde – Jon-Paul McGovern (youth)

Cowdenbeath – None

Edinburgh City – Craig Beattie, Derek Riordan

Elgin City – None

Forfar Athletic – None

Montrose – Matty Smith (youth)

Stirling Albion – None

As can be seen from the lists above, all of the clubs in both the Premiership and the Championship contain a player who has either played for Celtic, developed at Celtic or is on-loan from Celtic. Of the 41 other clubs in the SPFL, only 8 don’t have a player with any Celtic connection from the data readily available. That is 33 clubs who in their current first team have some form of connection with Celtic.

What Brendan said about Celtic’s responsibility to the rest of Scottish football is shown clearly here by the amount of players who have once they have left Celtic, gone on to have a future career at a Scottish club. This for me is a positive legacy of the Celtic Academy and one that is often overlooked by people who are quick to criticise the lack of players making the progression from youth to first team at Celtic. That step up is challenging especially when the clamour for success is so high.

As an extra update to demonstrate just how far the Celtic connection spreads, there are currently nine managers of Scottish clubs who played for the Celtic first team in their career. They are as follows: Jim McInally (Peterhead), John Hughes (Raith Rovers), Mark Wilson (Airdrieonians), Barry Smith (East Fife), Neil Lennon (Hibernian), Jim Duffy (Greenock Morton), Paul Hartley (Dundee), Jim Goodwin (Alloa Athletic), Jon-Paul McGovern (Clyde).

 

 

A Little Respect

I have noticed a few Celtic fans on twitter starting to question why some Celtic fans are interested in goings on at Rangers. It isn’t enough that the ‘obsessed’ patter is the standard response for fans of the newco, when some fans of Celtic begin to argue that way you know there is a disconnect between some who care and some who don’t.

If you don’t care what happens at that basket case of a new club, who are never out of the news for all the wrong reasons, that’s fine but don’t lecture people who reserve the right to be wary of a team formed out of the ashes of the previous occupiers of Ibrox.

The reason some Celtic fans, and fans of other Scottish teams, pay attention to the goings on at Ibrox is that there is still a perceived bias that they got, and still get, an easy time of it in the media.

One argument I have read recently is the comparison between the coverage their new manager, Pedro Caixinha, has received and the coverage received by Dr. Jo Venglos back in 1998. Dr. Jo was criticised for being a nobody much like Caixinha. A few have argued, however, that things have changed in 20 years. That may be so but football fans have long memories and it isn’t a stretch to be critical of coverage received in one era to a change in reporting now. That would be like saying, ‘Margaret Thatcher’s reign was over 20 years ago, surely Glasgow can move on and begin to trust the Conservatives now?’ Of course they can’t because that legacy was so toxic and so far reaching that myself, who was born in the mid-80s, would never vote Tory based on the experiences of my parents in the 80s under Thatcherism.

I don’t understand how the media works. I am the first to admit that as I don’t work within it but that doesn’t mean I can’t make judgements about what I see and what I read. I saw the media in this country perform the ultimate U-turn when it came to the reporting around the formation of the new Rangers. Some people might not like that assertion but everyone knew at the time what each aspect of the demise of Rangers meant and the inability of them to achieve a CVA. Since 2012, those who don’t believe the ‘survival myth’ are treated with disdain amongst those in the media so is it any wonder why those media outlets are questioned at all times?

I have read the argument also that media companies in Scotland will pitch their news stories for Celtic fans to react. We should stop falling for it is the advice and to concentrate on our own team. I do concentrate on my own team. I consume as many Celtic articles, blogs, podcasts as I can but I also read articles about other Scottish clubs. I wouldn’t want to apply an absolute filter to my news feed to only see pravda-type news articles about Celtic. If I wanted that, the only account I would follow would be Celtic. I want to be enlightened more about what is going on in Scottish football as a whole and that is my prerogative. My twitter account is mine and I choose who I follow and what I comment on. As I said earlier, I don’t care if you aren’t interested in the goings on at Ibrox but don’t criticise those who do want to know.

The downfall surrounding that club was one of the biggest stories in the Scottish sports media and it is still an ongoing saga. The outcome of the ‘big tax case’ decision in the supreme court is one I hope brings some finality to that side of the story. Some Celtic fans may not care that the club out of Ibrox used tax avoidance schemes to achieve an unfair sporting advantage but I do. I want the SFA to apply the rules of the scottish game without fear or favour.

I am as excited as the next Celtic fan that we are on the verge of six-in-a-row. I am so proud this year that we are able to celebrate the winning of the ‘Big Cup’ 50 years ago. I hope we can win the treble. An international weekend without Celtic is so boring and I can’t wait for domestic football to return next week. I am extremely positive about this team that Brendan has built and how we are progressing both on and off the park.

All of these things will be shared by all Celtic fans but just because some do glance at what is happening across the city, at their convicted criminal chairman who seems ‘obsessed’ by Celtic, it does not make you any less of a Celtic fan than one who isn’t interested at all. We are not a homogeneous support and there is space for all manners of views to exist. It is disrespectful to question the credentials of a Celtic fan if they decide to comment not just on Celtic.