Scotland 2—2 Austria

Watching Scotland play is a duty rather than a pleasure. I was brought up in an era when fitba was on the telly you watched it. If Celtic was playing Clydebank at Parkhead I’d go to the game and rush home to see if I was on the telly with the other 17 000 crowd haunting Paradise. I didn’t go very often. Obviously, watching every single game when Scotland played in the World Cup in 1974 and 1978. We beat Brazil and there was that Archie Gemmill goal against Holland when we nearly qualified for the next round.

It was great being on the road with Ally’s army. I didn’t go anywhere, but the idea was a good one. I’ve only been to one Scotland game at Hampden. I was accompanying some adults with Learning Disabilities. They were looking at me and I was looking at them. And I know what they were thinking…

Obviously, I’m a Celtic man. So I gave David Marshall the once over. Celtic flung £5 million at a Greek keeper that couldn’t catch a pound coin if you handed it to him. So signing Marshall on a free transfer takes me back to Hampden with those Learning Disability adults. Marshall made a couple of good saves here. But he was at fault for the first goal.  Grillitsch hit it from about 30 yards.  Marshall palmed it to his right. The six-foot-seven Austrian powerhouse, Kalajdzic, swooped and scored from the rebound in the 55th minute. Kalajdzic had another goal disallowed two minutes later for a push on Tierney. Scotland got lucky there, because there was little contact.

Tierney was Scotland’s best player. Captain Andy Robertson plays in front of him. I don’t think that works. Both are full backs. I think it’s either/or, not both. And Tierney is simply better. Celtic rather that wasting £20 million on duds should have kept him for another season. He’s sorely missed.

On the other side of the defence, we had the Belgian phoenix Jack Henry. Playing Henry allowed Clarke to push McTominay into central midfield. The Manchester United played had not a bad game. Henry in comparison is Mr Potato head, six foot five and he can’t head a ball. He’s not one I want to keep at Celtic. But he’s good enough for Scotland. Strangely, a Scotland team without any of the Champion’s players. We even had my namesake, O’Donnell, playing at right back (I’m better than him, but slower, a lot slower, and can’t take shys). O’Donnell proved his worth by taking the free-kick from which Hanley equalised on the 71st minute.

The Austrian backline played high, the ball scooped in behind. The Austrian keeper, Schlager, had the option of coming for the ball but hung back. Hanley didn’t. Schlager also made a basic goal-keeping mistake on the cusp of half-time. He passed the ball to Lyndon Dykes, perhaps time-wasting, knowing Dykes doesn’t score many goals. But Dykes found Christie and the Celtic forward hit the keeper with it. It’s not been a great season for him either. I’ll miss Christie when he leaves Celtic.

I’ll mention Stuart Armstrong because he also played for Celtic. Scotland are good at draws and the game looked to be petering out to a 1—1. Then a nothing ball was thrown into the box and Kalajdzic from the penalty spot, with the ball slightly behind him, powered it into the net. Marshall had no chance with this one.

I didn’t rate Scotland’s chances. With ten minutes to go it looked like another defeat. Armstrong played his part by going off a substitute. This allowed Celtic stalwart McGregor to come on and John McGinn to push forward and play up front with Adams (an Englishman winning his first cap for Scotland).

Kalajdzic’s goal was a beauty. But John McGinn’s was even better. You may remember that Celtic let McGinn go to Aston Villa. And he’s a Celtic die-hard, his grandfather player with Celtic. And I played with his McGinn’s uncle, Johnny Gibbons, in the school team. (I may have peaked too early here). Gibbons’ sister and McGinn’s mother played in the netball team. Some thought that’s where I belonged. The goal McGinn scored was probably offside, but even Scotland needs a bit of luck. Another bog-standard cross into the box. It wasn’t very high. McGinn did an overhead kick and it soared into the corner. The kind of winning goal that you dreamed about when playing school fitba—even though it wasn’t the winning goal. Scotland had to hang on for a draw. I wonder what the odds are for Steve Clarke being the next Celtic manager?

Clarke brought on ex-Rangers player McLean to run about for thirty seconds, which was an improvement on bringing on McBurnie. Next up Israel (again). We play them every second game. That’ll give me a chance to sympathise with El Hamad for not being good enough for Celtic. And to call for Bitton to be give a free transfer. He’s nearly as bad as Henry. If I’ve missed mentioning any Celtic player let me know (James Forrest doesn’t count. And we all know where Griffiths is at, but whose box he’s in is anybody’s guess).  

Why we blew ten-in-a-row—answers posted on the internet.

As Jock Stein was fond of reminding us, ‘the game is nothing without fans’. One of the compensations of Celtic blowing the league and Rangers winning it is there’ll be nobody there to see it. Winning the league during lockdown or even the quadruple treble was just another day. No going to the pub with your pals. No mass celebrations. No mass street parties of the kinds we remembered after stopping that mob from winning ten-in-a-row all those years ago. Back pages of the tabloids will be filled with players celebrating, but the next day moving on to the next weather front. It didn’t have so much resonance. I won’t say let Rangers’ fans enjoy it, I’ll say, ‘fuck them as usual’, but it’ll soon be over, just as this season has been over since December, and it’ll be relatively pain free.

The other aspect of there being no fans is would we have won more points with the much quoted 60 000 in Paradise and the multitudes that follow, follow to every away ground in Scotland?

The simple answer is YES, we would have won more points. Nobody doubts that. But Rangers have had an exceptional season. So to compare like with like, it’s not that that killed our dream.

The idea that these kinds of things go in cycles makes a kind of nonsensical sense. It’s a bit like believing in fate. Before Jock Stein Rangers were dominant. We won nine-in-a-row, twice. But they did it too. Wim Jansen brought in a little-known winger from Dutch football, and the rest as they say is history. Rangers were the dominant team, with loads of money, and yet, somehow we found a way past them. As Rangers have done this year.

Having the right manager in place is a good starting point. Neil Lennon came in and won the league, completed the treble, but we were already on the slide. It made sense to appoint him as a stop-gap manager. He didn’t cost anything. He had the tools having been at Parkhead before. He knew what it was all about. But many of us weren’t sure. When he did the job and won the league and completed the job, it was obvious even to us doubters that he would be the appointed one.

Anyone that’s looking at John Kennedy and seeing played one, won one, will see a familiar pattern emerging. When Lennon’s team went on a winning run of five games, it was hardly scintillating, but then we got the usual pish about us being back on track. We’ll get that with Kennedy. He’s our Graeme McMurty. A backroom re-shuffle that doesn’t take us any further forward. When Celtic win a few games and especially if we beat Rangers (which I think we will) then we’ll hear the usual stuff about the players being fitter and more tactically aware. I don’t really get it, as if full-time professionals who are wired up and every breath measured and every kick quantified are hardly going to be unfit. There’s nowhere to hide nowadays. Jim Baxter on his benders or wee Jinky in his rowing boat – these guys trained every day, but they couldn’t hack it now. But you’ll hear it every time. They’re unfit. Or they’re fitter with the new manager’s regime.  

Celtic lost so many games because they can’t defend. I don’t think it surprised many of us when Ross County scored with a header, again. We’ve got a goal-keeping problem. A left-back problem. A right-back problem. And the central pairing is so bad we brought in Shane Duffy. This didn’t happen overnight. It’s been that way for years.

Biscuit-tin mentality. We’re a selling club. Buy cheap. Sell and prosper. You know the players I’m talking about. Kieran Tierney is the obvious example. But we recently sold a player for £11 million and I can’t even remember his name. He was no great loss. I look across at Ibrox and don’t think there are many big sales that would keep them afloat.

The promised land of Champions League is one sure-fire way of paying all the bills. By making the wrong choices, and buying in players that just can’t cut it at Celtic, we’ve opened a door for Rangers and invited them into the promised land. They’ll be able to pay their bills and have that wee bit extra to pay their debtors. They might even do what Celtic did and splash out on their falling apart infrastructure, upgrade it and make it venue for other sporting and entertainment fixtures. Rangers were almost totally reliant on the fans coming into the stadium, even with lockdown, and season book sales.

It’s all about the money. We were so far ahead we didn’t spend the money we should have spent. Now we face a mass player clear-out. I’ve not got a problem with that. Teams always evolve or they die. Ours is already on life support. We need a new manager and six or seven new players. We’ll probably get John Kennedy and one or two new players to fill the gaps left by others leaving at the end of the season.  We’ll think small again and remain small.

Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong this season. I sometimes think managers, like players need a bit of luck. Lennon’s luck had run out a long time ago.  I wasn’t the only one to say he should be sacked in November last year, or even before that with anther Champions League qualifying debacle. I don’t even think that would have made much difference, but it would have allowed a new manager to come in and prepare for next season  (Judas, Brendan Rodgers’s argument).

For Rangers everything that can go right has gone right (apart from losing to St Mirren and being put out of the League Cup). That won’t last. As league champions they’ll need to play their players more money. There’ll be unrest. They’ll even start missing penalties. Wee niggley things.

It wasn’t that long ago that Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was quoted for the England job, in the same way that Stevie G is quoted for the Liverpool job. Let’s not forget his Rangers team before lockdown were losing home and away to teams they were expected to beat. Same team. Same players. What’s different? I’d say, quite simply, they’d all the luck going and the biggest factor by far is they don’t lose goals. They defend well. Ironically, John Kennedy who was appointed to sort out our defence (on the basis he’d played centre-half for a few games all those years ago and has a few coaching badges) has helped oversee a shocking number of goals lost. Most of them at free-kicks of corners. Bad coaching? The wrong kind of players? All of the above.

Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for a reason, when we had a chance to invest in a squad of players we blew it. We cut corners on quality. You get what you pay for, or in our case, don’t pay for. I guess to end on a high-note, the one that didn’t get away, David Turnbull. We could build a team around him. And we’ll need to dig up a Wim Jansen – pronto.

The Ibrox Disaster, BBC 1 Scotland, produced and directed by Craig Williams

Sixty-six Rangers’ fans died and another 145 were injured in the Ibrox Disaster after the New Year’s Day Old Firm game ended in a 1-1 draw. Rangers’ equaliser came at the end of a game watched by 80 000 supporters. Fans on the way out of the ground on Stairway 13 heard the crowd roaring and turned back to be met by a surge of jubilant supporters leaving the ground. Barriers gave way in the resulting crush. Thirty-three of the sixty-six dead were teenagers. Five of them teenage school friends from the town of Malkinch in Fife. One of the victims was a girl, eighteen-year-old Margaret Ferguson. The youngest was Nigel Patrick Pickup of Liverpool, age nine.

Mist was falling and ambulances, police and fire engines were delayed by the crowd leaving the stadium, unaware of the tragedy. Eye-witness accounts such as eighteen-year-old, First-Aid assistant, Ian Holm told us he wasn’t even sure what happened and he was inside the stadium.

Spectators helped police carry victims onto the pitch and pavilion. A general appeal went out for first aiders. Fifty-three bodies, still in their club’s colours, were laid out on the pitch.

In the aftermath, Lord Provost Sir Donald Liddle wept at a press conference. He declared, ‘It is quite clear a number died of suffocation’.

This wasn’t the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989 with ninety-six deaths and 766 injured were the police and ambulance services were culpable.

Kenny Dalglish, brought up a Rangers’ supporter, but part of the Jock Stein’s  Quality Street gang of youthful player replacing the ageing Lisbon Lions, was in the stand that day. He was also a player-manager in the Heysel disaster in 1985 and manager of Liverpool at Hillsborough  

A Rangers’ director did use the tactic of victim blaming, something Dalglish as player and manager never did. Stairway 13 ‘was an accident waiting to happen’ concluded one spectator at the game, but no worse than you’d see at Falkirk or Tannadice.

2 died in a crush in Stairway 13 in 1961, 70 fans injured; in 1967, 11 injured; 1969, 30 injured.

Rangers were cleared of culpability in a public enquiry. Sheriff James Irvine Smith was said to have lost friends when he concluded:  ‘The said accident was due to the fault and negligence’ of Rangers F.C. and paid damages to a victim. Sixty other civil cases were brought and settled by the club.  

Aberdeen 3—3 Celtic.

I know we’ll get that old line, for the neutral this was a cracking game. A great advertisement for Scottish football. I’d have taken a bog-standard Celtic victory. I know 27 league games to go. We’ll get the standard fare of no need to panic. I’m not panicking. Listen, I was at Love Street that day when Celtic needed to score four or five and we needed Albert Kidd to dig us out of a hole of Heart’s own making. Even early in the ten-in-a-row season, we’re looking at dog’s chances.

Rangers, from what I’ve seen, aren’t going to roll over this year. We need to be better and we need to be better fast.

Be careful what you wish for. Scott Bain in goal was a good start, but like Barkas, he didn’t make a significant save. Two of them were penalties, just before half time, and the extra-time of full-time. You don’t expect keepers to make saves then, but you kinda hope. The other goal, the second for Aberdeen was another Shane Duffy moment. You know the script and we’re getting the jokes, Shane Duffy is an Effie Ambrose waiting to happen. But we’re not laughing. Bring back Effie.

McGregor was in for Scott Brown. And McGregor gave us hope, when we were one down, with one of those dancing feet goals that dragged us back into the game. Good to see Rogic involved. Good to see the Australian back in the team.

Elyounoussi, after his cameo, against Milan, started here. He’d a poor game. But let’s look at the positives, he did get on the end of a cross and got us a penalty. A winning penalty- I’d hoped.

Come back Johnny Hayes (I’d have kept him and played him). He’d Frimpong in his pocket until the ninetieth-third minute when the Celtic youngster finally ran past him.

In a four-four-two and with Frimpong playing full back, we hoped he’d be able to run into space. But although he got lots of the ball, again and again he came inside. Leaving us no width.

Just when we seem to have the left-back position sorted with Laxalt, the right-back position is our weakest point in attack and defence.

McGregor might have dug us out of a half-time hole, but it was the return of the Griff that fired us ahead –and had us thinking we’d win.

Ajeti is a goal scorer, but he needs to hold the ball. He didn’t. He mumped and moaned, looking for fouls.

Griffiths, came on, as he did in the game against St Johnstone, before the international break, and turned the game. He made space for himself in the box. And his strike into the top corner was a thing of beauty.

Game over—I wish. You’ve got to allow for Duffy, wandering out to the left, like a cow returning to pasture. Still in control of the ball. Then that flick. We all make mistakes. But what was it we kept saying about Effie, in the big games, then the Irish Ambrose came to the fore. Ryan Hedges, who was Aberdeen’s best player, scored from a rebound. An almost save, we seem to plagued with almost saves.

Aberdeen’s first penalty—which was a penalty—was a clumsy tackle, that wasn’t even a tackle by Ntcham on Ferguson. Ironically, Ntcham was having one of his better games before that incident.

There was talk, after the international break of the games against Rangers, AC Milan, Aberdeen, Lille, Aberdeen and Motherwell defining our season.

We all know what happened against Rangers. AC Milan was a defeat, but it wasn’t total capitulation. Aberdeen today.

We’re 3—2 up, going into added on time. We’ve dropped back, but we’re patting ourselves on the back, thinking we’ve been lucky here. All teams need a bit of luck.

The game against Lille doesn’t matter than much. I think we’ll beat Aberdeen, comfortably, at Hampden. I’m not sure about Motherwell away. I’m pretty sure Rangers will keep on winning and winning.

I hate saying it, but we look far more less likely to win than them. Here’s hoping, we take any dog chances we get between now and the end of the season. Shane Duffy has been a nightmare. The Greek keeper, an empty jersey, but here’s hoping he turns it around. Frimpong is only eighteen and showing signs of insecurity, taking the easy pass, going backwards in so many ways.

The return of the Griff has been great (anonymous against Milan, but I don’t mind that). Rogic has class. We need more of class. We have the best players in the league—by far—but we make so many amateur mistakes.

In the games that define our season, we’ve lost two and drawn one. Commentators were already adopting that gloomy voice and telling us the last time Celtic lost three games in a row was under Neil Lennon. Ten-in-a-row? I’ll use another cliché. A big ask.     

Celtic 1—3 AC Milan.

AC Milan came into this game as favourites on the back of a twenty-game, unbeaten, run. Make that twenty-one. After Celtic’s capitulation to Rangers on Saturday, Lennon started with a front-two pairing of Ajeti and Griffiths. But the Celtic manager stuck with a 3-5-2 set-up. The big talking point was no Ryan Christie.

In the first ten minutes, Celtic were the brighter of the two teams. Loan signing, Diego Laxalt looks promising. He gets stuck in. Gets forward. And throws balls into the box. They don’t need to be perfect, but at least he goes in the right direction, towards the opposition goal.

But a  goal after 14 minutes, undone Celtic’s defence. The ball was swung in from the wide area and fell between Duffy and Welsh. Krunic had a free header and tucked it away. Zlatan didn’t score a goal, but he simply strolled this game. The first-half fell into a familiar pattern of Celtic players falling back to their own box.

A second goal from Brahim Díaz, just before half-time, had commentator Chris Sutton suggesting that the best thing the Celtic manager could do was pray.

Neil Lennon took off Griffiths and Welsh. He brought on Elyounoussi and Christie. Celtic began to come more and more into the game. It was great to see the return of Rogic, who came on for Scott Brown.

Elyounoussi scored with a header from a corner in the seventy-sixth minute. Milan’s keeper, Donnarumma, was booked for time-wasting. But substitute Jens Hauge put the game beyond Celtic, by sneaking into a pocket of space behind Duffy and slotting home. Game over.

Positives for Celtic- Laxalt, he tries to get us on the front foot. Elyounoussi looked great, but he does that. Appears and disappears. Ajeti, will put the ball in the netti, if you give him chances. Great to see Tom Rogic back. I’m a fan (but see the remark about Elyounoussi). We looked a lot more cutting edge with Rogic on the park.

‎We want to win every game, but Pittodrie is a must win. Ironically, Europe, in a straw- poll of my mates, doesn’t matter that much. I wasn’t happy with the score. But the second-half performance…well, you know what I mean.  

Ten-in-a-row—No, No, were you at the game caller?

Ten-in-a-row—No, No, were you at the game caller?

Nah—and neither were the Celtic team. It was that bad we’ve even got Barry Ferguson sympathising with Neil Lennon. 

Martin Powell, the only MP I trusted, used to go for long walks when Celtic were playing Rangers. That was during the Martin O’Neil era.  I thought that was crazy. But he might well have had a point. I’m old enough now to take up golf.

During Scoreboard, Hugh Keevins  asked a Celtic die-hard, are you seriously saying that the league is finished with 28 games to go? 

Let’s go for a long walk.

Football management is like a game of poker.

Lennon went incandescent because his team was leaked before the game. Kenny Miller is being fingered as villain-in-chief.  He shouldn’t have been. Lennon should know who was going to play for Rangers, in what positions, and what they could do and couldn’t do. And what opportunities it offers Celtic. You’re only as strong as your weakest hand.

No surprises for Celtic. No surprises for Rangers.

Celtic played exactly how Steven Gerrard expected. They were predictable and pedestrian.

Rangers didn’t play well. They didn’t need to. Morelos was petulant, off the pace, and should have been booked earlier than he was for flicking his hand in Scott Brown’s face. Barker ran about, like the majority of the Celtic team, with little direction or purpose. Stevie G said in the post-match interview they needed to stay humble. They’ve a lot to be humble about.

Stevie G knows what cards to play and when to play them. In a game of poker, he’s called Lennon’s bluff and won twice at Parkhead. At Hampden, Stevie G can count himself unlucky.  No posturing at the final whistle for the Ibrox manager and players. They know they’ve got the beating of Celtic now.

Goalkeeper makes saves.

We used to have this conversation that no Rangers’ player would get in the Celtic team during the Martin O’Neil era, and more recently. Obviously, we didn’t include Rab Douglas and whether he cost us the final in Seville is a moot point. Goram, the flying pig, Kloss, McGregor and an older and wiser McGregor again are so much better.

If there is still reserve-team football during lockdown, it’s difficult to imagine the current Celtic keeper getting a game in Rangers’ reserves.

Celtic let Craig Gordon leave. The management team kept Scott Bain as back-up. There was talk of signing Scotland, and ex-Celtic keeper, David Marshall. We went for a Greek internationalist, Vasilis Barkas, and paying premium rates for a keeper than doesn’t  make saves.

The problem left back spot

Money wasted on buying a dud who flies to Spain and doesn’t tell Lennon.

Taylor is not a dud, neither is he Tierney. Neither is he Andy Lynch, Tosh McKinlay or Anton Rogan. He’s a mixture of the good, the bad and the Anton, I’ll kick everything for the cause, because, but Taylor doesn’t cut it.

We brought in Laxalt on loan because Lennon knows that.

Johnny Hayes, like Craig Gordon, has left the building? Why?

Celtic’s loan-signing policy.

Rangers had no loan signings in the team that outplayed us.

Loan signings are a try before you buy. In, for example, Charly Musonda and another few nameless faces. It’s been great business because you can just return them to their parent club. 

Craig Bellamy, Paddy Roberts, and Fraser Forster were guys here in the short-term that made a positive difference. Players we would have kept in a heartbeat.

In the Fergus McCann football business, you don’t have an extra Celtic jersey. Loan signings are giving other teams money. Or in Fergus’s case, other financial institutions.  Rangers had no loan signings playing in the Old Firm derby. Glen Kamara only cost £50,000 from Dundee and helped run the show. Remember Didier Agathe £100 000 from Hibs? Bargain basement. Rangers had Steven Davis playing. He was a loan signing that was made a permanent deal and cost zero.  Fergus would have liked that. Nobody was slating him because of his age, in the way Scott Brown is hounded. Steven Davis was another that didn’t have a particularly good game, but he was in the winning team.

We’ve come a long way from Jock Stein and the 1967 European Cup winning team. Eleven players that lived within a twelve-mile radius of Glasgow (Bobby Lennox, furthest away in Saltcoats). But Jock Stein wasn’t a cuddly bear that was lucky. He was ruthless. Jimmy Johnstone when his legs were gone was sold. Stein was hesitant to let Johnstone play in a pre-season friendly, and have a final hurrah, before he was sold to Dundee. That too was a must-win Celtic game. As Scotland manager, he told Ipswich player, John Wark, if you can’t go box to box and score goals, you’re no use to me. It’s not difficult to imagine what Stein would have said of a Celtic team that never managed to have a significant shot on goal in an Old Firm derby.

Shane Duffy v Connor Goldson.

We all know how this went Goldson scored two goals, early in the first and second half—game over.

Neither Duffy or Goldson are great passer of the ball with their feet. Duffy had more touches of the ball than anyone else on the field.  Their strength is in the air. Duffy was a marquee signing for Celtic. Loan fees and paying his wages was a gamble Celtic were willing to take.

Goldson was the cheaper option. Straight fee. Pennies by Celtic standard. His wages would be laughable. Fergus McCann would be asking hard questions about value for money. Why didn’t we buy the cheap option, sooner?

Why with Celtic’s superior resources, reserve team football and money in the bank do we need loan signings?

Goldson was lauded (not by me, obviously) but it could and should have been different. Elyounoussi easily rolled Goldstone and should have made it 1—1 after twenty minutes.

Elyounoussi is, of course, another loan signing. Is he any better than what we’ve got? Is he better than Rogic? David Turnbull, top midfield scorer for Motherwell, came off the bench, so I was told? Paddy McCourt? Obviously not as good as Paddy. But hey, you’ve got to laugh.

Celtic’s signing policy is related to their resale value (that’s not news)

Virgil van Dijk. That’s all I need to say. He was promised the dream and then he was sold for what we thought was buttons. That will never happen again has coloured our thinking. Players that don’t want to be at Paradise should be sold— not immediately, that’s bad for business, and we are a business, but sooner rather than later.

The French trois. Edouard didn’t play. That wasn’t much of a shock, but a setback. It was mitigated by his form—any scouts turning up looking for a £35 million striker would have been baffled. Sell.

Ntcham wants away and has been engineering a move for the last two seasons. Take the hit. Again, missing in action—let him go.

Christopher Jullien rag dolled by Lyndon Dykes and, more recently, the Kilmarnock centre forward. We bought him for £7 million, hoping for a standout and sell-on profit. His is a longer term deal. And I think there is a player in there. Whether it is as a Celtic player, I don’t know.

Ryan Christie would have started. I think he’s the best midfielder in Scotland (well, apart from McGregor) but he wants away and has been, like the rest of the Celtic team, ineffectual against Rangers in other Old Firm meetings. Keep.  

Nir Bitton wants away. See you later, pal.

Tom Rogic. I’m a big fan. I was scared when Brendan Rodgers left he’d come back and take Rogic. Now I’m texting Judas Rodgers,  Rogic’s number. The love affair with Celtic is over. Lennon doesn’t fancy him. Ironically, Rodgers might be at the club longer than Lennon. New managers have a different vision.

The game is nothing without fans.

Chris Sutton, former player and pundit, suggests that having no fans favours a Rangers team that are serial bottlers. Stats from the locked-down Bundesliga showed that playing at home wasn’t as much an advantage. Away teams won more. Bayern Munich kept winning. Class tells.

Rangers are not the Barcelona of old, but they’ll win pretty much every week. Celtic seems largely incapable of that. The Old Firm team that won the first game went on to win the title in four out of five seasons. That’s not us. We didn’t even look as if we could manage a draw. Only one team looks like bottlers. Here I hope I’m wrong.

Is it time for Lennon to go?

I’ll put it another way. Stevie G has his number. A novice manager has got the beating of him. As Lennon said, coming second in Glasgow is coming last. Jock Stein or his apprentice, Alex Ferguson, would have had the hairdryer full on at half-time. At full time, well, we know the story. We’re hit with the same managerial clichés.

Will Celtic win ten-in-a-row?


Celtic 0—2 Rangers

Connor Goldson scored a double, early in the first and second half in a game which Celtic never had a shot on target. The Parkhead team were pedestrian and predictable in a comfortable Old Firm victory for the Ibrox club. After Goldson’s eight minute goal, Elyounoussi missed the kind of sitter, which you’d expect your granny to score.

And at 2-0 down, substitute Griffiths had a one on one with McGregor, knocked the ball by the Ranger’s keeper, and should have scored. Or as commentator Andy Walker suggested went down for a penalty. He did neither and the chance fizzled out. Two noteworthy moments that could have changed the momentum of the game, but probably wouldn’t have.

Because, let’s face it, and I hate saying it, Rangers were better, bossed the match, and deserved to win.

Abject failure, all over the park for Celtic. Man for man and, in terms of a team, Rangers were better. Ten-in-a-row? I don’t think so.

Sure we came back from a winter break and shutdown, rejuvenated last year. This Celtic team looks jaded. Shite.

No Celtic player gets pass marks. Our goalkeeper is the kind of dud easily overlooked. Why send a plane to pick him up, if he doesn’t make saves? Is he any better than the keeper we let go, Craig Gordon? Obviously not. Is he any good. Probably not. Is he any better than the two Ibrox goalies? Definitetly not. I’m really not sure what to do now. We’ll get the usual messages, we’ll come back stronger.

On this showing AC Milan will beat us. And it wouldn’t surprise me if Aberdeen win next week at Pittodrie, or at least take a point. League over. We’re chasing a Rangers team that doesn’t look as if they’ll implode. I hope I’m wrong. But I wouldn’t put even bad money on Celtic. None.

 Anybody that watched this game knows how dreadful Celtic were. Big build up. Big let down. I’m even sober, which makes it worse. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Best just to not read the papers or social media.  Social isolation has its strong points.  Gutted.  

Kevin Woods 10/3/1967- 15/10/2020, R.I.P.

Mark, Lynn, Jack, Kevin’s Auntie Cath, Kevin’s Auntie Heather (RIP) and Kevin

I couldn’t find my phone, and I asked Mary to ring it. And I’d a message from Laughing Boy, Craig—telling me his older brother, Kevin, was dead. My thoughts were Kevin’s poor old mum, Lynn. But Kevin always kept an eye out for Laughing Boy. And when he hooked up with Carla and her son, Aaron, they were part of the family. When Jack was born, Kevin taught him how to fucking swear. These were the kind of life skills he had to learn, pronto, or even bastarding, fucking pronto, because he was from Dunn Street, starting Dalmuir Primary School soon, and he didn’t want him to get fucking bullied.

Kevin knew about these things being a fully trained juvenile delinquent. If they locked him up on Inchkeith, Edinburgh’s leprosarium, he’d have found a way off the slippery rock.

The 58 000 ton Queen Elizabeth 2 came down the slipway on the Clyde, the glorious year Kevin was born, 1967. The Daily Record cost 4d.  The Prisoner was on BBC.  And Hogan’s Heroes was on STV.  They were always escaping from folk in uniforms, mainly Germans, but sometimes stooges and snitches. You’d need to rent a telly from Radio Rental, which made you mental, to watch them and make sure.  

Kevin was adaptable. He’d an on-off fling with Eddie Lynn’s ginger-haired sister in Durban Avenue. Ironically, Kevin moved to a granny flat in Durban Avenue, his dream home, and he’d a grey beard, many a granny would have been proud of.  

He didn’t mind living in Clydebank. His mum was here, his stepdad, Mark, and Laughing Boy. I sometimes forget they’d another brother Dougie (the quiet one) who lived just thorough the Clyde tunnel.

‘Train,’ said Kevin.  

He wasn’t daft. He was always thinking ahead. But as a fresh-faced boy, when he visited his mum in the early hours of a Friday night, he knew she’d ask, and he’d have all the answers to life, the universe and everything ready—as we all do—and was half cut to lubricate his brain,  because she could make a carry on about it. He’d anticipated that too.   

 ‘And taxi,’ he added, because Kirkoswald Drive wasn’t near any train stations. He didn’t have any change in his pockets, but he did have a pair of scissors.  

Three bedrooms. Laughing Boy had his room. Kevin now had a room of his own. He went to bed before the police chapped him up. They might even breathalyse him. They were asking question about a double-decker bus stolen from an Edinburgh garage. Life lessons from The Prisoner and Hogan’s Heroes: never admit anything to men in uniform. A pair of scissors could start the engine in those old buses.  Kevin swore he didn’t ken anything about it. They might have believed him, but that had been the fourth weekend in a row with a bus parked outside with the engine running. Yawn.  He needed to walk a thin line.

Kevin told me about the time he and his pals had climbed along the ledges and dropped in through the skylight of Leith Glass. He wasn’t naming names, but since I’m a snitch, Yogi Hughes that played for Celtic was in the gang. Laughing Boy, because he was youngest, was lookout. Kevin pulled an unlocked drawer in the office, and it held riches, the pay-packets of the workers. The brown enveloped with wages inside went up inside his jacket in the alphabetical order they were arranged. He’d never dressed better, or richer.

His neighbours in the modern balconied tenements they live in were all complaining about not being paid that week, because some bastard had stolen the payroll money.  They’d heard it was an insurance job.  No one was talking.

The pubs at the Haymarket had been serving Laughing Boy since he was twelve (and had hair – he said, but there’s no evidence of follicles) and they collected the insurance. The brothers were veterans. They’d done their time, stuffed into their da’s parked car with a bottle of lemonade and salted crisps, waiting for the British Legion to close. Da came out pissed and drove them home. If they were stopped, he’d work his magic with the Masonic handshake and they’d be back on their way – home.

Kevin spent most of his life in pubs. When he acted as an independent ganger for a scaffolding firm working all over Scotland, Kevin got the money and paid the wages to Dalmuir folk such as Jaz Cunningham that worked for him. Kevin didn’t invent the Clydebank Blitz, but he did like to blitz jobs, with no tea breaks or dinner breaks, finish early and go to the pub.

When he spotted a van that suited me and went up to the auction and bought it, we celebrated by going to the pub. Kev was big on cars. He’d probably want to drive the hearse. And he’d worked with Walker long enough to know that even though he was dead, DVLA probably wouldn’t know about it yet, so, technically, he could still drive. That would be good enough for Kevin.  If he was willing, Walker would be too. Watch closely to see if the driver of the hearse is wearing shades, and check to see if the hearse has Walker’s number plates over the old ones.

Kevin never gave up working, even when he was ill. His oesophagus was held together with medical paper clips, he’d stomach and liver problems. Sssh, whisper it, he liked working, he just wasn’t going to tell the government his business. He liked it even more when Walker, eventually, paid him. That usually involved a bit of argy-bargy. Threats and promises. When Walker never came through with his wages Kev was known to take a car worth thousands being transported for auction to the scrapyard and scrap it for ready cash. Walker could go and fuck himself. That’s the way his life was. Winners and losers.

Kevin, like his brother Laughing Boy, had worked offshore with their stepdad, Mark. Kevin didn’t like being locked up. He liked going to the boozers at night. And sometimes during the day. He didn’t really like staying at home, even though his mum still brought him food and cooked his meals. Sometimes it was with not-so-fast-Eddie, having a few pints in the Mountblow Bar before lockdown. That’s where I last saw him. Sitting at the table joking. Who’d be first to go? Wandering outside for a fag. Both pointed at the other and laughing.

When he was hanging about with George Ramsay (RIP) it was mainly the Drop Inn and nipping to the bookies. Both of them could tell by the spin of the reel in the pub, when it was going to pay out. That was their game theory. Just another fiver or tenner would ensure the jackpot.  I’d seen them getting it. But even young Jack would swear like a fucking trooper when you watched them sticking it back in the machine.

Laughing Boy and Kevin. Kevin and Laughing Boy One diminished without the other. As we all are. Same old, same old, until one goes and one remains. They were a Leith version of The Proclaimers. None of them would walk 500 miles or more to be at your door. Why bother, when you can drive a double-decker? But they’d go that extra mile for you. I ken that. If you knew man or boy, you’d ken it too. Kevin Woods, R.I.P.

John Mitchell 16th July 1965—21st September 2020. RIP.

I live in Dalmuir, but my brother who lives in Falkirk phoned me to tell me that John Mitchell was dead. Then the house phone went and my partner’s niece, Caroline, phoned to let me know John Mitchell was dead. I dropped in on old John Brady, he’s in his eighties and the first thing he told me was John Mitchell was dead. I parked at Parkhall shops on the jaggy lines you’re not meant to park on, but it was OK, cause I was only going to be a second and I painted my van invisible to cops and traffic wardens, but then Rab McLaren parked (illegally) at the bus stop and hurried over to tell me John Mitchell was dead. Big Pat Facebooked me, to tell me John Mitchell was dead. I know what you’re thinking, that’s the kinda hoax John Mitchell would pull and you’d hear his slow laugh, and he’d spark another can.

John was the Dean Martin of Dalmuir. If that was as good as you were going to feel all day, then another drink would help you on the road, or up the road, or to find a wandering lift-button and watch it settle like a bingo number to the floor you stayed on. I used to laugh at John when I met him in the Horsie or sometimes Macs—his da, Old Joe settled in the bar and that was the last pub I saw him, about a year ago, my brother Bod was with me—and I’d test him, ‘how long you been on it now?’

He’d laugh and take a swig of lager and be able to tell me to day. And there’d be a lot of days. I think he was trying to break some kind of record. That was before—but there’s always different kinds of befores and different kind of afters —when he talked about getting back with his partner and their kids. That gap got longer too and before he moved into the flat at the bottom of Mountblow Road. The one where he phoned his da from to tell him he had chest pains.

That’s what I heard from the Dalmuir beehive. Old Joe told him to phone an ambulance. John had a massive heart attack.

Heart attacks are always described as massive. Especially ones that kill you. You never hear about the tickly heart attacks that give you the munchies.

John could surprise you, because although he could read big PC like a comic book, or tell you what Army Mick had in his rucksack without needed to check, the second eldest Mitchell, whisper it, liked real books. Some people would suggest that as a mark of intelligence, but with John you could never be sure. He’d just slag you. He knew about Tom Sawyer—tickled pink, tackling a garden fence and not allowing his good mates a shot at painting his aunt’s fence until they begged him. It was such good fun. Like a tickly heart attack you can laugh about later. Even though there’s no later.  

Now there’s only his da, Old Joe and his elder brother, young Joe. His mum died. His brother Stevie, about fifteen years ago. And Stevie’s daughter Kerry. All the numbers. The years get mixed up like slow-melted slush. She died about two years ago. John helped put the ramp into Helen and his niece’s house, when she came to visit her mum. He’d worked with old Joe as a roughing joiner, which was a different kind of rough. Then, of course, Mikey, the youngest Mitchell died first, all those years ago, while working with Stevie, which meant to have knocked Stevie off the rails. I liked Stevie, but Stevie seemed to able to knock himself—and most other folk—off the rails without any help, especially if a pool table was involved. John was the mellow one.

When John was born in 1965 a Daily Record cost 4d. I’d have been watching Captain Pugwash on the telly, only we didn’t have a telly. They were too expensive. And we didn’t have a fridge, because we weren’t snobs. We kept the milk bottle on the window sill and margarine never melted. The Mitchell’s came with the same Irish heritage.

In 1965, Charlie Tully left Celtic.  14 were arrested in a ferry blockade in Skye about Sunday opening.  The Wee Frees weren’t for it, not just pubs (obviously) but ferries too.  John Mitchell was lying in his cot, chuckling. But the Wee Frees got their own back and all the pubs shut earlier and earlier now.

John paid attention and took the government’s advice and spent most of the hours of daylight outdoors were it was safe to talk pish. In fact, he encouraged it. His brother Joe, could play the guitar and sing. His brother Stevie had magical feet and was one of the best players I played with. John had the ability to look like a swarthy skinned Italian and his face became as weathered as his jacket.  I once saw him, Clank, Brownie and Tam Collins (senior) going for a bracing walk up Duntocher Road and a circuit down Mountblow hill, without any of them having a can. That’s called the exception to the rule-rule.

The shop at the bottom of the hill served the discriminatory drinkers that were thinking of venturing inside the public park, or public golf course, or public canal path. John was very public minded. He’d put his empties in public bins. And he’d always have a laugh and tell you the truth, which was always a worry, but you’d think he was kidding.

John Mitchell’s dead. That’s a real shocker. He’d a massive heart attack. We know about that. But never think it’ll happen to us. Another Mitchell gone. Another funeral, I can’t attend. That’s the least of my worries. Spare a thought for his ex-partner and their kids. Spare a thought for old Joe and young Joe. And if you’re the praying kind don’t chain yourself to a fence to keep the pubs closed. The governments doing that for you. And you can’t afford to drink in pubs anyway. For John Mitchell that would be a kind of sacrilege. Live life as it should be lived. That’s the sacrifice. I just hope he’s not buried in that jacket he always wore.  And say a wee prayer, for one of us. RIP John Mitchell.     

Barry Brennan R.I.P.

Barry on the left, Eon holding the beer, in Seville 2003.

Barry Brennan  7/5/2020 RIP.

I last saw Barry Brennan at Charlie Mac’s sixtieth. I hadn’t seen him in years. He was sitting with his wife Christine. He a bit of a gut on him and his blonde, teddy-boy quiff had retreated into his head, but he’d a big fuck-off beard. Looking at me out of the side of his eyes it seemed he wanted me to do the same. But I sat down anyway and shook his hand and Christine’s.

I guess he was still pissed of about a stupid Facebook post—I’d stuck him in at left back in the worst Dalmuir team ever, but really he could have played anywhere. As I explained, it was nothing personal. We only really had one good fitba player and that was Stevie Mitchell.

‘You still writing books?’ he asked.

‘Aye,’ I said. ‘But nobody wants to publish them, or read them,’ which seemed to satisfy him. That was us even.

‘You no drinking?’ I asked.

He made a face, and said he was driving. He was better at driving than fitba. Barry drove lads from the pub: Gary Forbes, Danny Doc, not to mention, Charlie Mac, and me to Seville in 2003 for the Uefa Cup Final. His co-driver was his brother Eon. Barry was no longer manager of the Drop Inn, but a customer. It was hard to keep up with the number of new managers we had with the number of few customers. But none of them were reckless enough to employ the bell as a sales gimmick.

Barry was more of a speed drinker than a marathon drinking man—with endless lock-ins—and that suited his style.  If you wanted to drink responsibly you could fuck off to the Park Bar. Barry’s innovation was the Crazy Half Hour. He’d dink a bell and suddenly drinks were half price. In economics there’s a good reason for this involving the laws of elasticity and price. At a lower price people will buy more than they would normally leading to increased sales and an increase in profit. Good idea, wrong pub, wrong planet.

Then there was the pub-till dip. A bit like the church scrambles you used to go to when you were younger. Eon would empty the till. Barry would empty the till and at one point, Elaine wandered in …who thought she had a half share in the pub would try and take her half share. Cash float? We were fucking steaming. No way to run a business, but a great way to run a pub, living from Dial-a-Keg to Dial-a-Keg. Borrowing money from customers to buy beer. And in Fiona, Fi-Fi’s, case taking money from customers to buy drink for herself, which seemed a good deal then. It was the only pub where the bar staff where drunker than the customers. Barry was ahead of his time inventing the idea of the social enterprise.

As Ernst Hemingway put it in his novel about the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls (it tolls for you). All we see is the past speeding behind us.

We didn’t know that when we set off on the mobile home Barry had hired from Yoker to take us to Seville. After a few drinks we set off from the pub, with loud jeers from those left behind. Protestants to a man, even though they included Agnes Pickering.

The camper van made it 100 yards along the road and we came to a stop. We fuelled up with enough drink from the off sales to take us over the Sassenach border into France and Spain, just-in-case cases of beer in case good Catholic countries ran dry.

When we got underway we quickly established some ground rules. Charlie Mac should shut up. And nobody should use the chemical cludgie on board for a shite. That lasted to Scotstoun when I’d an unlucky run of the skitters. And Charlie Mac never shut up from Dalmuir to Seville and back again, unless he was unconscious, which wasn’t often enough. We’d a stopover in a car park in Spain, while Eon watched and I tipped the contents of toilet into a Spanish field and made it forever Dalmuir. Ready to go again.

We’d a few other stop offs, but it was pretty smooth sailing. I was surprised when we hit the over 100 degrees tropical heat of Seville I could speak Spanish, ‘Hola’.  But it was unnecessary, Clydebank had been tipped on its edge and everybody had fallen out of planes and trains. Glasgow Airport reported its busiest day in decades. Banks ran out of Euros.   We took over the town, squares, pubs, with not even enough ground to pee on. T-shirts with the Road to Seville and the Hoops was a must wear. Barry found us a camp site and we were good to go.

Food wise we went continental, picking oranges that were superglued to trees for us to try. Danny Doc went into a restaurant, pointed and jabbered and ended up with a bull’s balls.

‘I’m no eating that,’ he said.

‘A bit chewy,’ I said, after scoffing it.

We went to the square to watch the game with thousands of others. Henrik did the business and Bobo Balde and Rab Douglas let us down. The same Porto team went on to win the European Cup the following year, but that was no consolation. Barry picked up a few strays, Sonny and Lynn Carrick on the way back. She remained sober enough to cheat at cards and win Danny Doc as a consolation prize. Everybody loves a ginger.

Back to the pub for a few beers and ‘Fuck the Pope’, Wullie Dalziel, back to a sense of normality. Barry’s death came out of the blue.  Seventeen years ago in Seville. Time moves faster when you got older. I’d have liked to have gone and paid my respects at Barry’s funeral. To drink a few beers with friends and catch up on old times. That’s not to be, we live in strange times.    RIP.