Nine-in-a-row champions, twice over. Glasgow Celtic.

Kilmarnock was Scottish League Champions in 1965. Celtic won the Scottish Cup that year. In 1966 Celtic won the first of their nine-in-a-row league titles. Rangers won the Scottish Cup. 1967, and Celtic won everything, including the European Cup, with a team of players that lived within a twelve miles radius of Parkhead. Bobby Lennox was the furthest away from Paradise, one of three players, with ‘Caesar’, Billy McNeil, and to have played in all nine Championships between 1965-1974.

Jimmy Johnstone has been often polled as Celtic’s best- ever player, but Stein was ruthless, when his legs were gone, wee Jinky was gone. Celtic also won the Glasgow Cup in 1967. With Rangers in it, the year they got to the Cup Winners Cup final, Celtic had to win it and they did. Nothing has come close to that year, with the added bonus of beating Real Madrid in the Bernebeu, playing in Di Stefano testimonial, but the talk was all of the mighty Jimmy Johnstone.  

Stein had a Quality Street reserve team coming through to maintain standards. Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay, Danny McGrain, Lou Macari. Despite being favourites, Celtic lost the European Cup Final to Feyenoord, after extra-time and having scored first. Ironically at the home of Inter Milan who were first to score and were beaten 2—1.Celtic were also outplayed. Time for a changing of the old guard.

Neil Lennon came in as Celtic manager after Tony Mowbrays’s Celtic team were thrashed by St Mirren and Celtic lost narrowly to Rangers in the league that year. Lennon led us to our first of the current nine-in-a-row titles, but at Rugby Park he looked to be on the way out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtmkHcNlRQQ.

Lennon led us to three league titles in a row and that magnificent win over Barcelona, arguably, the best team ever to arrive at Parkhead.

Ronny Deila was appointed manager of Celtic in June 2014. He was a bright new manager, a gamble on the Celtic board’s part,  who went on to lead Celtic to two consecutive league titles, but never had control of the dressing room. Remember Kris Commons, Scotland’s Player of the Year and a twenty-plus goal a season man, reduced to the bench and flinging his shirt ad Deila after being substituted against Molde in the Europa league, despite having scored. Jimmy Johnstone once did something similar with Jock Stein, he shouted through the door in the manager’s room something—thought to be derogatory—ran away and hid in a dark room for a week, before the other players told him it was safe to come out. Deila was on the way out when Rangers beat us in the Scottish Cup, despite their team being in the First Division. Media talk was of the Rangers being back. (Hibs beat them in the Scottish Cup final).

  In May 2016, Brendan Rodgers was announced as Deila’s replacement and around 12 000 fans turned up at Parkhead to welcome the new manager. He delivered two-and-a-half treble trebles of Scottish League, League and Scottish Cups before turning Judas and leaving for Leicester City. It was no secret he was leaving, but to leave half way through a season lacked Celtic class.

Neil Lennon came in as Celtic caretaker manager and he finished the job of another treble. In his first season in charge he had another treble in his grasp, having won the League Cup, a victory over Rangers. Still in the semi-finals of the Scottish, favourites to win it and 13 points clear of Rangers before being declared Champions once again because of the Covid-19 virus pandemic.

Celitc’s best eleven in the years of Lennon, Delia, Rodgers and Lennon again.

Goalkeeper: Fraser Forster. His European displays under Lennon in his first outing and then as a loan player also in Europe and in the League Cup final against Rangers, where he was head and shoulders above everybody else on the pitch makes this an easy one to pick.

Right back. Mikael Lustig held the spot for most of the nine-in-a-row years. He scored against Rangers a few times and was largely dependable. But his time was up. I wasn’t sad to see him go.

Virgil Van Dijk, European Cup winner with Liverpool. Touted as world player of the year. He oozed class because he was class. Simple.

More difficult to pick who to play beside him. Nobody really stands out. I’ll go with Christopher Jullien, he scored the winner in the League Cup final against Rangers and I think he can go on to great things. Put it this way, I was thinking of Charlie Mulgrew as an alternative.

Left back, easy, easy, Kieran Tierney. Celtic class. His only opposition would come from the man he largely replaced. Emilio Izaguirre under Lennon in his first shift as manager was outstanding.

Scott Brown is the Brownie. He’s had his critics, including me, but against Rangers and everyone else in general, he’s that clichéd 110% man. Leads on the field and off it. He’s been in every Celtic team that won nine-in-a-row and captain for most.

Callum McGregor has played almost every outfield position in the team, because he’s so gifted. Best midfielder in Scotland by some distance. Long may it last he signs another five-year deal. Gives you goals too.  Outstanding.

James Forrest, I’m being a bit hypocritical here. Like Scott Brown he has nine league medals to his name. Neil Lennon used to tell us what a great player he was. We’d watch the match and say, what the fuck? But Forrest scored in big games; he’s got pace and is always a threat. He does the doggies, getting back and helping to defend too. Underrated.

Two strikers up front. Number one striker, Moussa Dembele. Pace, strength, goals. He’s the beast that bullied Rangers. Top class.

Odsonne Edourad can do everything Dembele can do and more, but hasn’t got his strength. It remains to be seen which of the French strikers will go further. We have little chance of keeping Edouard, he’s only 21. But he’s been a joy to watch. Player of the Year in waiting.

Rodger’s played Olivier Ntcham behind the strikers in some matches. The French trio, as you’d expect, were outstanding. But here I’d go for Ryan Christie or Tom Rodgic. Ironically, neither of these two is guaranteed a start in the current team.

Picking between Lennon and Stein is quite a simple choice Jock Stein is the best football manager Scottish football has seen. That includes Alex Ferguson, his understudy in the Scotland job.

Celtic’s nine-in-a-row team under Stein weren’t great for goalkeepers. Ronnie Simpson, John Fallon (never saw him play). Evan William and the rest were distinctly average.

The best of both nine-in-a-row teams.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster.

Right back is an easy pick: Daniel Fergus McGrain. The best full back in the world was sometimes moved to left back to play for Scotland and give Rangers player Sandy Jardine a game. Danny McGrain could play left back almost as well as he could play right back.

Virgil van Dijk and Billy McNeil, what a central defensive pairing that would have been. In reserve, I’d have Pat Stanton, who was a truly elegant sweeper.

Left back pits Kieran Tierney against Tommy Gemmell who scored in a European Cup final to win the trophy. Need to go for Gemmell. Like Tierney he could defend and get forward and had a bullet-type shot.

Lennon, Auld, Murdoch and Johnstone would fill the midfield slots.

Kenny Dalglish, the best of the Quality Street Kids (apart from McGrain) would also be in the team.

Striker, I’d go with Moussa Dembele and not Stevie Chalmers or Dixie Deans. If I could play Henrik Larsson the pick would be easy. Henrik is King of the non-nine-in-a-row teams. Long may it last. Waiting for ten or more.    Hail, Hail.

Scotland’s Game, part one, Playing for Money. (Missing Person report: Where is David Murray?)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07pqpfp

missng Murray.jpgThe best thing for me about the Rio Olympics was it was on in the middle of the night because I didn’t need to watch it. Not that I would have. I couldn’t give a toss of your caber how many gold medals Britain racks up.  There’s only one sport, one club that I follow and one team I support, Glasgow Celtic. And I’m bigoted and bitter enough to remember comedians with eighties punchlines Loadsamoney and the mantra Greed it good, and David Murray, the darling of the media, the darling of the Ranger’s masses drawled that for every fiver put down, he’d put up  a tenner.

But let us not forget he met his match with the biscuit-tin mentality and the man with the checked bunnet, done it. Fergus McCann reminds us here, Celtic were 105 minutes away from extinction and the banks were calling in their loans and cashing in on Celtic’s assets of which there were two, Celtic Park and the gravel parks of Celtic’s training ground up the road at Barrowfield.  McCann had a plan and he’d the money to back up his rhetoric, £11 million in an account to shore up Celtic Public Limited Company. That was enough to save Celtic, ‘The Rebels have won’ (no pun intended) proclaimed Brian Dempsey in front of the stand at Parkhead.

But the rebels did not win at Rangers, or poor wee Gretna, or to save Livingstone, Hearts, Dunfermline, Motherwell or Dundee twice, from administration. The banks are always a banker to win.

Mc Cann’s plan was quite a simple one, put in £10 million and take out £60 million. He was quite upfront about that. And he was quite upfront about ‘never paying £10 million for a £5 million player’. Tore Andre Flo springs to mind. And for the record another damning statistic.  The league match between Celtic and Rangers on 04 October 2003 featured only one Scottish player in the two starting line-ups: Jackie McNamara. Maurice Ross came on as a substitute for Rangers. Celtic won 1-0.

But all the familiar faces of yore were here Archie McPherson, Graham Sour-ness, Walter Smith, former England captain Terry Butcher—and a memorable shot from the archives of what it was all about, in the dressing room after a cup win,  selling Ranger’s shirts, belting out in a scrum of other players that old Ranger’s anthem about ‘being up to your knees in Fenian blood, Surrender or you’ll die, For we are the Billy Boys. Hallo. Hallo. We are the Billy Boys’.

Journalists such as Stuart Cosgrove, Kevin McKenna, Graham Speirs and Jim Traynor were onscreen to offer a bit of journalistic colour. Programme makers even gave Alex Salmond a platform to talk about saving his beloved Hibs. Walter Mercer, of course, of Hearts Public Limited Company was intent on buying Hibs Public Limited Company and turning Easter Road into a car park, or better still housing for the rich, who can never have enough houses, never have enough assets. Dundee United planned to do the same to their Dundee rivals and was a coat of paint, or the fingertips of Rab Douglas’s gloves away from success. But these are backstories, because it was Rangers that changed everything. ‘You can’t have ying without yang,’ said Alec Salmond, ‘you can’t have Rangers without Celtic, you can’t have Hearts without Hibs and you can’t have Dundee United without Dundee.’ Yes, you can, as has been shown in recent years.

The irony is that Sebco Rangers are in the same position Celtic were all those years ago. Celtic going for ten league titles in a row. They currently stand at six and with a potential surplus of £80 million to play with in comparison to Ranger’s £15 million. No other team in Scotland stand close to Celtic’s sales potential, there pre-season tour matches bagged them more money than they would get winning the treble in Scotland, but Celtic cannot stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the teams in the English Premier League and struggle to match the spending power of First Division English League teams. Money talks. And those in the Champions League have a plan in place to bar those not in the top four paying countries, not playing countries. Scotland, and it’s Celtic that interest me, doesn’t even merit a footnote as fourth-pot fodder.

Scroll down the big names that have been mentioned. Who’s missing? David Murray. Legend has it that we went to buy Livingstone but got turned down. Those were the days when fitba players were over the hill at thirty and after a testimonial they bought a pub in the city they played fitba in and that was them supposedly set up for life. Think Dixie Deans, who missed a penalty in a European Cup semi-final. Imagine a time when Sir Alex Ferguson was trying to mastermind a win at St Mirren against his closest rivals Clydebank. Then there was Gothenburg and Aberdeen thrashing Real Madrid. And wee Jim MacLean barking like a Scot’s terrier and taking his Dundee United  team to Barcelona and winning in the Nou Camp, and deservedly so, I watched it in a bar in Paisley. Hopefully, I’ll be watching another Scottish team winning in the Nou Camp very soon. But those were the days when someone that had enough cash to buy a house in London could instead wander in and pick up a cheap fitba club like Dundee. David Murray went one better than Dundee, he bought the great Glasgow Rangers. Like Sir Philip Greene with his luxury £100 million yachts and his offshore life, David Murray sold a Glasgow institution for a token payment of a pound. ‘I Play for Money’ does not feature David Murray, but it really, really ,should. He, more than anyone else, epitomise all that is, and was, wrong with Scottish football. That man should be in the dock, never mind on the telly. As, incidentally, to show I’m not biased,  should Sir Philip Greene, but there’s another story, which involves former Rangers Chief Executive Charles Green standing in the dock and waiting to find out if Rangers were legally bound to pay his £500 000 defence costs. I write fiction, but you really couldn’t make it up.