Real Betis 4—3 Celtic

Celtic lose 4—3 in Seville to Real Betis, after being 2—0 up and conceding four goals in two, two minutes spells, before and after half-time. I didn’t know much about Real Betis. Usually, we struggle against Spanish teams, by Spanish teams we usually mean Barcelona. In the first thirty minutes, we saw more of the ball than we did in all the combined games against the best club team in the world. In fact, I thought we were Barcelona. We ripped Real Betis to shreds and they couldn’t get the ball off us. We played like Spaniards. All over the park, we were better. João Pedro Neves Filipe (Jota) was almost in on goal after only two minutes.

Jota, who played on the right, had a good case for man of the match, before tiring late in the game. He jinked past the full back and flung a ball in. Albian Ajeti nicked in front of his marker to bundle the ball into the net with his hip. It was three goals in two games for the striker.  But the referee blew for handball. A long wait from VAR before the goal was finally awarded with thirteen minutes on the clock. Ajeti had already tried his luck with an easy save from the keeper, but this one counted.

Hart made a couple of decent saves from Fakir before we scored out second goal. Ones you’d expect our captain to make. Ismaila Soro had been booked and he made another wild challenge—he should really have been taken off. Tom Rogic’s magic feet fashioned another chance for Ajeti before the Swiss striker won us a penalty. Bravo wiped him out. VAR checked for Ajeti being offside before he was played into the box by Rogic.

I’m not sure who the designated penalty taker is now that Edouard—the serial penalty misser—is away, but Josip Juranovic stepped up. Playing left back or right back, he seems unfazed. It was one of those penalties where the keeper had no chance. 27 minutes in and Celtic are in—I—wonderland.

Here’s the thing, playing superb, but I don’t think a two-goal lead is enough. We had our own two-minute spell. Jota is picked out again. Coming in from the right, he tries to dink the ball over Bravo, but it falls flat, he stick out a hand and easily saves it. 3—0 and that might have been enough. Even then, Ajeti is first to the rebound, but flaps and mishits. He sends the ball back towards the goalkeeper and not the goal.

A minute later, Juan Miranda hits the Celtic post. It’s a shoot-out we’re winning until we lose. Betis score two in two minutes. The ball ricochets around the penalty box, the Celtic defence fails to clear and Miranda finds himself six yards from goal, the ball at his feet. He beats Hart. 32 minutes gone and Celtic need to knuckle down.

Pellegrini’s team that haven’t been in the match equalise in 34 minutes. Juanmi scores a tap in.  Carter-Vickers fails in his attempt to play off-side, but overall it’s hard to blame the Spur’s loanee. He had quite a good game. I find it difficult to criticise any of the team, even though we lost two more goals.

 Rogic created the best of the early second-half chances. He picked out Ajeti in the area, but he took too long to hit it and was closed down.

48 minutes gone, Miranda is finding a lot of space down Ralston’s right. He sends a ball across the six-yard box. Juanmi slides in, but can’t get a toe to it.

Sergio Canales works down the same flank two minute later. Borja Iglesias is allowed to runs across the front of our defence. There’s enough pace on the ball, he flicks it with the outside of his boot away from Hart at the near post. Five-minutes into the second half and Celtic for the first time are behind.

Two minutes later its capitulation. Juanmi claims his second goal of the night. Everyone knows Celtic can’t defend corners. But I’d classify this as unlucky. The ball is cleared to the edge of the box. Juanmi takes a touch on his chest. He fires in off the far post through a ruck of players. Hart, the Celtic captain, is another who played well. He had no chance, and it was one of those shots he could have taken on 1000 times and only scored once—when it mattered.

There was no surprise with Soro being taken off to be replaced by McCarthy, but the game looked beyond us. But I’m a big fan of the dog’s chance. Ajeti met Rogic’s cross and flashed a great header into the net, but he was clearly offside.

But as with Jota in the first half, the Portuguese winger beat his man again and flung in a cross. Rogic catches it sweet at the back post. Juanmi’s effort goes in. Rogic’s comes off the post.

Twenty minutes remaining, Betis bring on three substitutes, and use their full complement of five. Celtic have no firepower on the bench. Jota plays on, despite showing signs of cramp.  

With two minutes of the ninety remaining, we get a consolation goal. We hope for more than that, but that’s what it proved. Turnbull flings in a free kick. Ralston attacks it and scores. Celtic score three goals, but lose four.

Disappointing, but not surprising. Celtic continue with their away losing streak, but this seems even more unlucky than at Ibrox. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. As the season continues we’ll be able to answer more fully. Still early days, but I can’t see us picking up many points in the Europa league. We’re too open, but we’re in a far better place than under Lennon.  We’re no longer stagnating and going backwards. It’s forward or burst.

Celtic 3—0 Ross County.

We hoped for goals, but in the first-half we didn’t see any. Ross County came with the Rangers’ game-plan, win a corner and win the game. Celtic made several changes to the team that lost at Ibrox. No Kyogo, no Edouard, no Christie,  no Ralston and no Welsh. Taylor came back into the team, but was replaced in the second-half by Adam Montgomery. Kyogo’s goals in recent matches have given us the edge, so obviously he was a big miss. But Albian Ajeti hit two striker’s goals.

Ajeti had a clear sight of goal, a one-on-one with Ross Laidlaw, which he missed after twenty-five minutes. Turnbull also hit the side netting. Abada hit the bar twice and should have scored with a superb pass inside from Rogic. Jota cut inside, after 40 minutes and the keeper made a comfortable save from his shot.

In the first-half, the former Benfica player looked the best of the newcomers. Cameron Carter-Vickers looks comfortable on the ball and he’s a big boy, although not the tallest, which is how we’ve been found out in most of the games last season (and this season at Ibrox). Juranovic played on the right, and Taylor went back to the left-back slot. The Croatian, as he showed at Ibrox, isn’t fazed on the ball and is a quality addition. Starfelt, however, remains Starfelt.

Ross County, like Rangers at our last away game, had around twenty-percent-possession in the first-half, but created three chances—that weren’t corners of free-kicks—and required toe pokes into the net. Breakaways, usually down the left. Their game plan to frustrate Celtic was working.

Albian Ajeti’s first goal, a flying header inside the six-yard box, from an Abada cross on the seventieth-minute, put us 2—0 up, and made sure the game was safe.  

But in many ways, the game hinged on a deflected long-range shot from Cameron Carter-Vickers, which looped over the Ross County keeper, after sixty-four minutes, when the away team were beginning to look comfortable.

Then a save from Joe Hart minutes before our second goal. Ross County forward, Charles-Cook had switched from the left wing to the right wing. He got the better of Juranovic a few times (which hints at defensive worries) and he hung a ball up at the back post. The County forward should have scored, but Hart kept us ahead. We went up the park and got the second goal. Massive.

Hart took the captain’s armband from Tom Rogic—who’d be given it be McGregor—when the Australian went off. Hart wore John Thompson’s name on his back today, in remembrance of the Celtic keeper who died after a head knock from Rangers player Sam English at Ibrox, 5th September 1931. The story of three captains shows who’s who in the Celtic pecking order.

I’m a fan of Montgomery and he created the third goal for Ajeti with five minutes of the ninety minutes remaining. A surging run from the young Scot, a ball into the box. Ajeti with a striker’s finish. He’s holding the centre-forward jersey now, and I’m trying on my old chant for size, ‘Ajeti puts the ball in the net-ti.’

We were exposed at the back a few times. And looked lethargic before the first goal. Jota faded out of the game in the second-half. Cameron Carter-Vickers won man-of-the-match. A good day for the debutants, overall—and Ajeti. Any victory is a good victory. We’ll be more tested in Seville on Thursday, Europa League duty, where, ironically, twenty-one-years ago we lost, but remember fondly.  

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.

Celtic’s Treble Treble.

neil lennon.jpg

There have been disappointing times as a Celtic supporter, but this era isn’t one of them. Celtic defeated Hearts on Saturday to complete a clean sweep of Scottish trophies for the third season running. Out of nine competitions, in three years, Celtic have won all nine. Yet, amid the joy there was a bubble and babble of discontent. Neil Lennon had been appointed the new Celtic manager.

I remember him when he was the old Celtic manager. I remember him playing for Celtic. I even remember watching Harry Hood, who joined Stevie Chalmers and Billy McNeil in Paradise. My da loved Harry Hood, he scored goals when you needed them. Like many older players he retired to become a publican. Future-proof and sorted.

I remember when we got to a cup final against Raith Rovers in Rangers, you spend a fiver, and we’ll spend a tenner era. We lost. But we found the man with the bubble perm, Wim Jansen. Some you Wim and some you lose. Thank god we were winners and that nine never became ten.

I remember the coming of the Sainted Martin O’Neil. Henrik and Lubo were already there, all he had to do was dominate Scottish football. And we’d a glorious trip in a friendly to play Man Utd, half of Clydebank was there and we gubbed them. The whole of the green side of Clydebank was in Seville. Glorious defeat, our speciality. Our season in the sun.  Maybe we should arrange a friendly against Man City and the treble winners in England should play the treble winners in Scotland? We could call it the Get it Right Up Yeh, cup.

We’ve already played Man City in the Champions league. Drawing two of the games. The second game didn’t matter to Man City, but it mattered to us. Every game matters when Celtic play. The jersey doesn’t shrink to fit the player.

We had wee Gordon Strachan, who contrived to lose the first game 5-0 to a team in Europe nobody had heard of. Oh, dear. Remember Nakamurra’s free kick against Man Utd. Home win.

Tony Mowbray and us getting scudded 4—0 at half time by St Mirren. I’d good memories of Paisley. I was there that magical night when we won 5—0 and Dundee and Walter Kidd beat Hearts. Glory, Glory.

I was there when that Murdo MacLeod rocket hit the back of the net and Ten Men Won the League, tra-la-la-la.

Remember when we beat one of the best teams of all time, Barcelona at Parkhead, 2—1, with a Tony Watt goal, and we only got to kick the ball twice than night. Neil Lennon was the manager. Glory, Glory.

Remember all the media shit about a certain Celtic centre half ripping it up in Scottish fitba but never being worth £10 million? Neil Lennon’s protégé did OK, as did Victor Wanyama. Celtic are no longer contesting European finals, but former players showcase the hoop’s mentality.

When Lennon felt he could go no further, we had the interim and experimental manager, Ronnie Deliah. He was a nice guy, but the job was too big for him. Rangers beat us in a penalty shoot-out at Hampden and Deliah was done.

Then we had Brendan Rodgers. Let’s not forget he delivered eight of those nine trophies. In his first season he could do no wrong. When playing Rangers we used to cheer their players because they were so awful and a four or five goal gubbing was pretty standard. We were football gods.

This season has been a slog. We used to be four or five steps ahead of Rangers. This year we were one. Rodgers walked into mediocrity for ‘professional reasons’ in the most unprofessional way. If he had seen the season out nobody with any sense would have batted an eyelid. It would have been the honourable thing to do, the professional thing to do.

Lennon stepped in and it’s like that film somebody up there likes me. He left Hibs or Hibs left him. Nobody cares. Then he gets the Celtic gig. Lennon goes with the old guard to get us over the line. Jozo Šimunović, number 5, scored that goal in 67 minutes that helped us finish first. Every goal we get seems to be a last minute effort. Even on Saturday, we get a penalty and then a late goal. The stars align.

The question now, of course, is what happens when the stars don’t align? We need five players, maybe six. We need a massive clear-out. Unlike our indebted Glasgow neighbours, we’ve got the money for the job. Is Lennon the man for the job?

Well, there’s money and there’s money. Champion League winners (Spurs or Liverpool and I don’t really care which it is) will pocket around £6 million. Aston Villa win £170 million, going up to around £300 million in the first year of the Premiership. Celtic won about £3 million in prize money. If they make the Champion League you can factor in another £30 million. You can pay for a better quality player.

Brendan Rodgers had a run in with Peter Lawwell and there was only one winner. Neil Lennon in his first incarnation did the same. Peter Lawwell runs Celtic. John McGinn, who scored the second goal that took Aston Villa to the money- tree of milk and honey, would have been a Celtic player if Brendan Rodgers had his way. He didn’t.

Neil Lennon is smart enough to know who is in charge. You might not need to shrink from fitting the jersey, but you need to shrink from questioning the logic of the money men. In Lennon we trust. You can bank on it. You can bank on the supporters, but please don’t patronise us in the way that Rodgers did, with the bullshit I’d like to return some day. Fuck off and follow the money. Lennon is a genuine Celtic supporter.

Can he do the job? Well, he’s got a head start. Every manager needs his share of luck, I just hope Lennon hasn’t used all of his in these end of season fixtures. They sure weren’t pretty. Winning is simply enough, but not so simple. At Celtic we demand more. We dream of more. Money can’t buy that. Our dreams are not for sale.