Scotland fans celebrated this 0—0 draw like Rangers’ fans invading George Square and mistaking it for the centre of Manchester, where they went on the rampage a few years ago. I got into the spirit by being late into the Albion, drowning my sorrows before I was sorry, and having to play catch-up by downing a pint in a oner (well kinda). It’s thirsty work hating the English. Before the game, we thought Steve Clarke had got the team selection wrong. No Rangers players, the Scottish Champions in a Scottish team. O’Donnell, who I admit has a suspiciously Irish Catholic tang to it, was playing (not that one), the diddy that plays for Motherwell, but played for Clarke at Kilmarnock. My argument was O’Donnell was good at taking shys. It’s not much, but Steve Clarke’s cunning plan was to revert to type and turn Scotland into Kilmarnock. Go long and defend in numbers. It worked great.
Lyndon Dykes won every high ball. In the first few minutes, he and Che Adams was making the English backline nervous by being in their faces. We were on top. Inexplicably, we had the kind of defending that has marked Celtic’s season. At a corner John Stones was left a free header—it bounced off the post.
European Cup winner Mason Mount also slashed across goal after being played in by Raheem Sterling. The ball being given to the European Cup loser by Scott McTominay, who temporarily forgot he was a Scot. He flapped a bit after that mistake, but then upped his game to Kilmarnock levels.
That was about it for England. Harry Kane didn’t feature before getting subbed late on. Phil Foden, touted, and rightly so, as one of the most exciting talents in world football, was outshone by the likes Billy Gilmour (even though he’s an ex-Hun—I’m sure glad he’s at Chelsea and not Rangers).
Even the diddy O’Donnell had us lapping up his performance. He almost scored from a Kieran Tierney cross in the first half. The England keeper Pickford got a block, but the ball went up in the air and it looked as if Che Adams might header it in—but he didn’t.
England dominated the early period of the second-half, and this was the way many of us believed the game would pan out. But Scotland held firm and didn’t look to concede and slowly, like Manchester City in the European final, they began to run out of routes to goal. Dykes shot at goal had us all on our feet (that’s the kind of lie short-sighted people use who can’t see their feet) when he beat the England keeper. But somehow Chelsea defender James got a heel onto the ball and kept it from going over the line. Bastard.
Scotland didn’t exactly pile forward, but we grew more comfortable, and dangerous when getting forward. Adams had a chance to hit the stand or goal, and being an Englishman in a Scottish jersey, he opted for the former. (He did have a good game, although Dykes, with lesser ability was more effective.) No one is the Scottish shirt let us down. Our fans celebrated at the end. And we tried to work out how (a) to get home and what pub was still open (b) how we can just mix out on the qualifying rounds by losing a late goal, or getting a draw when we needed victory. The kind of glorious victory in defeat Scotland as excelled at over the years. It’s been a long time since we went down to Wembley and ripped up the turf and ate it, just to show how tough we were. C’mon Scotland—but don’t expect too much.
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.
Don’t wait for God to put his hand on your shoulder—unless you’re the Virgin Mary—that’s not going to happen any time soon. Start writing now. All you need is you.
Yes, I procrastinate, which sounds like masturbate, or maybe only to my sick mind.
Do something you enjoy with yourself without the need for paper hankies. Having a sick mind is an advantage, because you’re going to have to tell lots of lies. That’s what fiction is, without having to be elected American President. But the nearer the truth your lies are, the greater virtue you create for your characters. Believable characters must roam the land like prehistoric dinosaurs, leaving behind a trail of disruption.
Conflict is where your characters live. If someone else mentions that you must kill your darlings I’m going to hunt them down and treat them to one of my readings. Sincerity is what you find in yourself when you’ve nothing else left. Buried treasure unearthed and you’ve been forced to share again and again until it becomes boring.
Worthless treasure isn’t treasure. Fool’s gold is easy to find. It’s on the page in that first draft. Your eyes glitter. You open the swag bag, ready to pile in the awards.
Forgive and forget yourself. Write like a dog running after sticks. Slabber if you like. Nobody cares. Don’t let your smooth baby brain slowly harden into a border guard. You just need to get that stick to mix metaphors with it and beat back your inner critic. You need to get words on a page pronto.
Don’t interrupt yourself with somebody else. When you’re having an affair of the heart, the worst thing you can do is pick up your phone. Listening to the siren calls. That’s like saying ‘I do’ at your wedding, then sloping off to fuck the entire front row, and some of the back row too. We don’t want to seem too picky. We want to be nice. Yeh, we’ve all done it. Social media owns us, but not completely—yet.
You only live once, but in writing you can live as many lives as you like. You can do what you want, you can be what you want. Being believable is Sir Gawain setting out to find the Holy Grail. It will always be over that next hill. You’ll make mistakes. Go the wrong way. Other knights will challenge you to duels. Chancers will spring up and tell you they know the way, the true path, all you have to do is follow them.
Imagine being like Ted McMinn (the Tin Man), the Rangers’ winger, who wrong-footed himself and wrong-footed defenders by not knowing himself what he was going to do with the ball next. It doesn’t matter. I played football for over forty years and was rotten. But write as if every game matters, because it does at the time—I’ve not got the medals to prove it—and it might be your last. You need to turn up, with your three quid dues in your hand.
My characters aren’t rich or famous. I’m not going to be rich and famous either. And I wouldn’t know what to do with it, but I might feel less guilty about leaving the bathroom light on overnight and wasting electricity. I’d still be guilty of causing global warming and deforestation in the Amazon, before Amazon owned the world.
Take responsibility. You know your work is finished when you can’t bear to look at it one more time. You’d rather spit it in someone’s face and apologise for how terrible it is. Given half a chance you’d be quite willing to sell out to a huckster with a shivering monkey on his shoulder turning the handle for an organ grinder offering peanuts, and then by sleight of hand taking them away.
Humility and humanity don’t rhyme except in the heart. There’s nothing wrong with you when you listen and see. When you don’t listen, you don’t see. Buddha is just a jade statue of a fat guy sitting about doing no work, while you’re banging away on the keyboards ready to produce The International New York Times bestseller that everyone really needs to appreciate now.
Pour yourself into who you are and your writing, not what others think you should be. Writing is meant to be fun, but I played football mainly in the rain and freezing conditions and on gravel parks that took away the skin of my legs and scarred me. I’m not going to say I loved it, but when I think about it now, it makes me smile. I am going to say I loved it, because I can change my mind. I can therefore claim maturity, even wisdom.
Writing gives you a sense of achievement. For a somebody that’s nothing much. We’ve all heard it before, the media figure that lists their achievement then at the end adds, blithely, I just thought I’d write a book.
We all know about Alexander the Great visiting Diogenes with inked parchments of his International New York Times bestseller tucked under his arms. And Diogenes asking him to stand out of his sun.
Yes, us writers own the sun, moon and are but fragments of stars. Get your parchment, pens or keyboard out and make great use of them. Do it now.
The world doesn’t need another post-script—but here it is.
You’ll be a lot better prepared for existential questions like when a neighbour, Frances, was complaining that her grandkids got too much, and that children in Africa haven’t got any toys, or even enough to eat:
Alfie (aged seven) said, ‘Doesn’t Santa go to Africa gran? You said he goes everywhere’.
It’s your job, as a writer, to make sure Santa gets to Africa. Write on.
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.
I’ve an ongoing joke with my mates. Celtic are a goal down and it’s the ninety-second minute: ‘I’ll take a draw now,’ I admit defeat. Diego Laxalt scores to make it 2—2. That’s a point gained rather than two lost. Neil Lennon will come out with the usual guff about showing character. Or even great character.
But this is a Celtic team full of doubt. The best teams have that arrogance. They turn up expecting to win. And they do. We do. We’ve done it for the last couple of seasons. Treble-treble. And counting. We’ve not turned into a bad team overnight.
The first half at Easter Road. Nothing much in it. Celtic had more of the ball—as you’d expect. Elyounoussi had two chances. Boyle for Hibs had an equally good chance when Laxalt misjudged a cross ball. The Celtic goal scorer doesn’t do that very often. Pile on the clichés about him being the one saving light. A cameo from Rogic with his dancing feet and that’s about it. We go in even and the game ends up even.
There was symmetry about the goals scored and conceded. Biton, fresh from his victory for Israel against Scotland, gives away a needless free-kick near the halfway line. Scott Brown bundles into Martin Boyle on the edge of the penalty box, near the corner flag. The Hib’s player was going nowhere, and the best he could have expected was a corner. Hib’s penalty. Kevin Nisbet misses it, or Scott Bain saves it, but it doesn’t matter. Jamie Murphy, Ranger’s loan player and man of the match, follows up to score.
Roles are reversed for the next Hib’s goal. Murphy rises unchallenged, flicks it on into the Celtic box. Kevin Nisbet powers it low into the corner.
Edouard comes on for Ajeti. Another poor match for the Swiss striker. Elyounoussi, who is either great, or invisible, was also replaced for Shane Duffy. That’s what you call having a bad game. Porteous missed an easy header to take Hibs 3—0 up. Hibs cruising.
Porteous handles the ball in the box. Edouard scores but there are only around five minutes of normal time left. Griffiths is on. Ntcham on for Rogic on the ninety-second minute, which looked like time-wasting from the Celtic manager. But hey, I always knew we’d score.
A scaffed clearance from a cross and Laxalt put it into the top corner. We couldn’t nick a winner, could we? We can’t win the league, can we—?
Every team that plays against Celtic scores. Sometimes more than once. Nir Biton looks, like he is, a midfielder playing in defence. Duffy is a bad loan signing who we can send back now. Pity we can’t send the Greek keeper back. Great that we can play Laxalt. This is the same Celtic team that ran riot against pretty much everybody in Scotland—including Rangers. Certainly, we have the players to beat them. But not if we keep beating ourselves, as we did today. Before this game we hoped Aberdeen would do us a turn. Now we need them to.
Whatever we do on Thursday doesn’t really matter. We’re in the last chance saloon and it’s still November. We’re waiting for Ranger’s luck to turn, for those little things that happen in a game to go against them and turn the tide and title race. But we’ve got to be ready. I’m not sure what the answer is. The sure sign of an idiot is to keep doing the same things and expect a different outcome.
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.
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.
Toxic levels of hate should go through the roof when Celtic win on Sunday. Because of the corona virus I don’t think there’ll be much hand shaking at the end. But perhaps Scott Brown can give Morelos a little friendly pat on the head. Rangers outplayed Celtic in the last two games and won at Parkhead. That latter game, in particular, there was a lot of talk about Celtic not being able to play as badly as they did at Hampden. They played worse at Parkhead and got nothing. Rangers deserved to win.
Fraser Foster, apart from that blip at Livingston has been arguably, Lennon’s best signing. He’ll need to deal better with cross balls. As will the Celtic defence, in general.
There’s nothing worse than defenders getting beaten in the air and losing a goal from a cross ball. Niko Katic’s winner for Rangers at Parkhead, could, ironically, mean no place in the team for Jeremie Fringpong, who was probably our best player in the two games against Rangers in December and January.
If we go with three at the back, as I expect, then Nir Bitton is the one holding the jersey. I’m not a great fan of Bitton, but in the last few games he has looked composed on the ball. An outside bet for this position is the Israeli, Hatem Abed Elahamed. He was outstanding when we last visited Ibrox and for most other games before his injury. He’s came on as a substitute recently, but I reckon he won’t be match fit. He won’t start.
Kristopher Ayer and Christopher Julien are certain starters. The latter got bullied at Livingston recently, but is a goal threat from corners. Even Ayer is scoring goals. But both lost personal battles in the last Old Firm fixtures to Moerelos. Let’s hope the Ibrox striker continues to miss easy chances against the Celts. Jozo Simunovic, whose howlers have led him to being dropped from the squad, may reappear on the bench here. I don’t expect him to start.
Greg Taylor looks to have tied up the left-back/midfield slot. After a good start, he’s not been great recently. Against Livingston he kept bringing the ball backwards and was very poor. Only when James Forest switched wings with Taylor, after the former Killie player was taken off, did a Celtic player run by the Livingston full back on the left hand wing and reach the bye-line.
Neil Lennon has the option of Boli Bolongoli Mbongo. But he’s a dud. Sell him now. I’d go with Jonny Hayes, who can now be classified as a veteran. Ironically, the two players that have been brought in to fill this spot—haven’t—although Taylor might get to the level of being a regular on merit, rather than necessity.
James Forest is a certain starter. If he’s ineffectual as he usually is, then Lennon likes to bring Fringpong for him. But Forest gives you goals. Fringpong, usually, doesn’t.
Calum McGregor will play in the middle with Scott Brown. The Celtic captain usually bosses it against Rangers, but that’s been missing recently. McGregor is the best midfielder in Scotland. He can play anywhere and do everything: defend, attack, dribble, pass, and score goals. If it wasn’t for Odsonne Edouard, I’d be saying he’s the best player in Scottish football.
Here’s where it gets a bit confusing when we try and second-guess Lennon. The Celtic manager was brave playing Mikey Johnston at Parkhead. Johnston is an old-fashioned winger that is so talented he goes by people for fun and can score goals. But against Rangers he’s been awful. He’s injured anyway.
If we’re going with only one up front—by that we mean Edouard—then Mohammed Elyounoussi is likely to start. He started against Livingston, instead of Griffiths, but the Southampton player here on loan did not stand out and was subbed. Griffiths, as we all know, scored a hat trick against St Mirren. The Paisley team did not make a tackle and simply conceded, Rangers are far more likely to make it more difficult. If Lennon does go with two up front, Griffiths gets his place on merit.
But here we go with the wildcard. It might even be, whisper it, Vakoun Issouf Bayo. With the Ibrox pitch a mud patch, the big target man, might get a sniff. As unlikely as Rangers winning the league, but you never know.
Tom Rogic was given a game in the stroll against St Mirren. He’d be a certain starter if Brendan Rodgers was still talking about loyalty and picking the Celtic team. He isn’t and in this kind of battle Oliver Ntcham looked a stick-on to start, but since his injury that looks far more unlikely.
Ryan Christie looks to have the position by default. He’s scored twenty-plus goals this season, never stops running, is a great passer and great at free kicks. He’s good in the air too for his size. The downside, like many other Celtic players, was he was rotten in the other Old Firm games. That’s always a worry. But I think he’ll play in front of Rodgic and possibly Ntcham. He might even play on the right in Forest’s place, with Forest going to the left in place of Taylor.
That would leave no room, not just for Taylor, but Griffiths, Rogic, Elyounoussi. Edouard is our ace in the pack. Whoever plays with or against them, he’s better all-round. If we can defend our box, that’s why we’ll win. I’m not going to say we can’t play as bad again. We’ve proved we can again and again. We’ve got better players and should win. I’m repeating myself. Let’s prove it.
I think Celtic will go with Forster, back three of Biton, Jullien, Ayer. Forest on the right, Taylor on the left. In the middle of the middle, McGregor and Brown. Christie playing behind Edouard and Griffiths.
[McGregor and Griffiths to score. We’ll win 2—1 (I hope]
I’d a gut feeling Celtic would lose today and a gut feeling they’ll lose the Championship. Hope I’m wrong, of course. Last year we were behind Rangers and went on to win it comfortably. I remember being 13 points behind Hearts a few years ago. No need to go overboard and get bogged down in hype and hysteria. Rangers not if, when, they win their game in hand, will be a point ahead in the league.
In terms of performance this was on par with the League Cup final. Lennon went with his strongest eleven. Johnson in for Ntcham showed attacking intent. All over the pitch Celtic had pace. That was the theory.
In reality, Rangers outmuscled us. You can’t blame Fraser Forster for any of the two goals. Scott Brown was the only Celtic player that turned up. Jeremie Frimpong decent enough without doing anything. Most anonymous player, James Forrest. I’d call him dreadful, but he didn’t have enough touches to be dreadful. Mikey Johnson is a truly gifted player, but not today. Starting him was a gamble that didn’t work. Odsonne Edouard talent wasn’t on show, no better than Lewis Morgan. Ryan Christie missed another penalty. I knew he was going to miss. Decent height for the keeper, but great save. That would have put us 1—0 up. It didn’t. We were chasing the game, after Ryan Kent’s superb strike.
Rangers second goal, Kristopher Ajer, six-foot-six or six-foot-seven, outmuscled and outjumped at the back post by Katic at the back post. Centre-halves especially in Scottish football need to be able to win their headers. This is something Ajer seems incapable of.
Christopher Jullien won us a penalty and had two headers cleared off the line and was unlucky not to score. But he kept giving away fouls by knocking over Morelos. He’s prone to that basic error of pushing over the opposition centre-forward and helping the opposition team up the park. His passing is also erratic. The Rangers outball always had us scrambling backwards towards our own goal. Morelos didn’t score, but he got the better of our centre-half pairing.
Boli Bolingoli wasn’t the worst, wasn’t the best, and was distinctly below average, which just about sums him up.
Calum McGregor scored a deflected goal off Edouard’s hand and got us back into the game coming up to half time. Terrific player, but not today. Not in the last match at Hampden or Ibrox.
Nine out of ten Celtic players—the exception being Scott Brown—lost their person battle with the opposition players. At home, remember, where we should win games.
Neil Lennon was fond of reminding commentators that Celtic bossed the last game at Ibrox. Ranger bossed the game today and the game at Hampden. If they boss any more Old Firm games Lennon won’t be the boss for much longer. He’s wise enough to know that himself. We can win at Ibrox, but let’s put talk of winning the Europa Cup on hold. The team that Lennon built isn’t good enough even for Scottish consumption.
Betfred Cup Final (what we used to call the League Cup Final before the rights were sold for hard cash).
I know how Steven Gerrard must feel. I had two quid on Julien for first goal and lost the bookies line. Going further back than that I remember when Celtic used to play Rangers off the park during the Tommy Burns era, only for Brian Laudrup to gallop up the park and score the winner and the flying pig, Andy Goram, to make save after save. Here we had Fraser Foster save a penalty from Alfredo Morelos in the second half, and a world-class save from Ryan Jack in the first half. He also made a fistful of other top-notch saves. Fraser Foster might well have been Neil Lennon’s best signing.
The strange thing about the aftermath of the final is both mangers can feel quietly pleased. Julien was offside when he scored. Rangers did batter Celtic from the first to the last of the 96th minute. By some margin this was Celtic’s worst performance against Rangers in years. Worse than the 2—0 defeat at Ibrox last year under Rodgers. Worse than the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat at Hampden to a Rangers team playing in the First Division. Craig Gordon, Scott Brown, Nir Biton, and Leigh Griffiths played in that game. Callum McGregor and Tom Rogic came on as subs. I was looking for James Forrest’s name, but it was missing. You’d be hard pushed to have noticed he was playing yesterday.
Neil Lennon brought Forrest into the Celtic team and he’s been a consistent presence since then and in the ten domestic trophies won in the last three seasons. He’s added goals to his game and managers such as Rodgers were quick to tell us how hard he worked. But we’re not digging up bags of coal. Our eyes don’t deceive us. He was rotten yesterday and not much better in the last home game against Hamilton. But his performance was hidden in a team display that never reached the level of mediocrity. Ironically, the miss of the game was not Morelos from twelve yards of the penalty spot (and yes Forster did move off his line) but Mikey Johnston’s. He was played in by Odsonne Edouard and had a one-on-one with McGregor, but put it by the post. That would have given Celtic a 2—0 lead and game over signs would have flashed around the stadium. And despite Ranger’s defenders missing some good chances to score from corners and free kicks, the biggest miss of the afternoon was Kris Ajer’s free header, six yards out, and all he had to do was score.
I was surprised to hear Lennon praising Ajer. I think he must have had on his James Forrest specs on. At one point he tried to play Morelos offside, got nudged aside by the Ibrox psychopath as he ran down the touchline. We knew what was coming next, because Ajer does at least one of these Inspector Gadget tackles every game. Stick a long leg out and hopes to hit the ball. He didn’t, Morelos was in on goal. Only for Fraser Foster to start laughing at the Columbian striker and put him out of his stride. Morelos should have been sent off for kicking Scott Brown, Julien and any other Celtic player within spitting distance when the ball was at the other end of the park.
Lennon had a big call to make before the game, whether to play Edouard or not. Player power. He let the French man decide. He was on the bench and came on to do everything that Lewis Morgan did not and could not. Connor Goldson is not the best centre half in Scottish football, but having Lewis Morgan as an opponent was like having a day off yesterday. Morgan’s not a centre forward and not even the best winger at Celtic. He’s probably fourth or fifth choice. Vakoun Issouf Bayo, who does not play as a forward for Celtic because he’s either injured or not good enough (probably the latter) wasn’t fit to fill in for Edouard. Neither was Leigh Griffiths deemed not sharp enough or fit enough for a place on the bench. In contrast, Mohamed Elyounoussi was deemed fit enough to start despite missing a few games, but was subbed at half time when the score was 0—0. To use the argument he wasn’t the worst is to invite comparisons for the race to the bottom and there you’ll meet James Forrest, who’ll outpace you and show you his winner’s medals.
Only three Celtic players deserved to pick up a winner’s medal, because individually all the others lost their battles all over the park. Fraser Forster is the giant in which stand the shadows of Edouard, who came on in the second half to cause the Rangers defence problems and Jeremie Frimpong. Little Pingpong might have been the smallest guy on the pitch, he might have given away a penalty—Julien and Ayer sleeping as Morelos got in behind them and Pingpong was the wrong side of the Rangers’ attacker—but the little full back was Celtic’s best defender and attacker. Apart from Forster, Celtic’s best player full stop. He’s a gem of the Kieran Tierney variety and the right back position that was once so troublesome looks sorted.
I’ll take any kind of win over Rangers, whether it’s darts, ludo or pingpong. Yesterday’s final was the tenth on the trot. A marvellous achievement. We have the luxury of a Europa tie against Cluj that is a practice match for Sunday when we play Hibs. I expect us to win there and for Young Boys to beat Rangers and Motherwell to win at Fir Par against Rangers too. Wins like yesterday give a bit of breathing space, but the next game and the one after that are the only ones that matter. Old glory is no glory. Yesterday’s news. Celtic need a replacement and back up for Edouard. Simple. And if they can’t put their foot on the ball and play football, which they didn’t manage yesterday, then the players shouldn’t be at Celtic. Simple. The pleasing thing about yesterday was the win and not the manner in which we won. Quite simply, we didn’t deserve to, but yesterday’s fixture also knocked about twenty million quid off the over-inflated price tag for Morelos. He was that bad yesterday he should have been wearing the green and white hoops.