Celtic 2—0 St Johnstone

Josip Juranovic comes into the problematic left-back spot, he handled so well at Ibrox. After Callum McGregor’s midweek miss from the penalty spot, it was Juranovic who once again picked up the ball, held his nerve, and sent Clark the wrong way with the second goal in 80 minutes that calmed nerves.

Another clean sheet and another victory. Joe Hart didn’t have a save to make. Celtic dominated the game. St Johnstone had pockets of possession in the first five minutes of each half, without threatening the Celtic goal.

  But the real thrill comes in seeing the Greek striker Giorgos Giakoumakis starting— flanked by Kyogo and Jota. Makes me think back to Celtic’s Three Amigos of the Tommy Burns’ era—Van Hooidjdonk, Cadette, and Di Canio—but hopefully, with a happier ending.

Our new number seven got us and himself off the mark. Jota’s shot is blocked. The ball loops into the air. Callum Booth ball watches allowing Tony Ralston to get the other side of him and fire the ball across goal. It’s taken thirty-four minutes for Giakoumakis to find himself unmarked in front of goal. He finishes with aplomb with a volley.

St Johnstone rely on free-kicks, corners and throw-ins to get them back into the match—it’s worked for them in the past—but even here they fail. Celtic’s defence is a match for them.

Ambrose and Bryson are booked to prevent Celtic breakaways. But bizarrely, the referee books Carter Vickers and Chris Kane, when the latter is clearly seen booting into the Celtic defender when he’s lying on the ground and the ball away from both of them. He should have been off.

Attack against defence, as it often is when teams come to Parkhead and put ten men behind the ball. The difference here was we had so many attacking options. With the game at 1—0 we could take out goal scorer off, Giakoumakis, at the start of the second half and bring on Mikey Johnstone. He was unlucky not to score, hitting the post with almost the last kick of the ball. But it also allowed us to push our icon, Kyogo, through the middle, and it was the Japanese star who won the penalty, being floored in the box.  We can even take him off with a few minutes reaming and the game secured and bring on Abada, who hit the ground running when he first came to the club, with a few well-taken goals. Sympathy vote?  Ajeti for Jota. Attack had by that time created so many chances it was just a matter of how many. We settled for 2—0, clean sheet and next up Hibs away on Wednesday night. Another away win would be nice.

Jimmy Johnstone, Life Stories, BBC Alba

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07xdrv3/jimmy-johnston

James Connolly Johnstone was born on the 30th September 1944. He died on 13th March 2006. We all know who Jinky is. We voted him Celtic’s best-ever player and if you look at the footage of that night, you’ll see a young looking Martin O’Neil and a grinning number seven with dreadlocks called Henrik Larsson. A statue of Jinky is outside Parkhead, but he rests in our hearts. Because Celtic is our religion and he’s one of us.

I’d met Billy Smith in Dalmuir, one of the older guys that used to train our Guild team. He remained remarkably young looking up until he got Motor Neurone Disease.  

‘How you getting on Jake?’ he asked.

‘No bad,’ I said. ‘But I heard you’ve got that thing, like that Fernando Ricksen?’

Fernando Ricksen had been in the Daily Record and the other media. He’d been to his spiritual home at Ibrox, but was in a wheelchair.

Billy was quick to shake his head and correct me. ‘No, no like Fernando Ricksen, like Jimmy Johnstone.’

No statute for Billy Smith, but I understood what he was saying, without wanting to find out what it meant. It’s endgame and part of the Jimmy Johnstone story. Archie Macpherson said it was like being in a room when the walls closed in. But Jimmy didn’t die alone. Agnes, his wife, his son and two daughters were beside him.  His Celtic family were there for him. The team that won the European Cup in 1967 supported him through his illness. Bertie Auld, who was never lost for words, but now, sadly, has dementia visited Jimmy almost every day. When asked why, for once, Bertie was stuck for words. ‘That’s just…who he was,’ he says. Hail, Hail, Bertie.

And a special word, for a special friend, the Rangers winger, Willie Henderson. He was there for Jimmy too. But he said he found it hard. Hail, Hail, Willie Henderson.

My brother Stephen (SEV, may he RIP) told me the story of working for Lawrence and asking this wee labourer to get him some two-by-two planks. Then he realised it was Jimmy Johnstone. Much has been made of Messi’s standoff with Barcelona. The Argentinian was willing to take a pay cut from his annual salary of twenty million Euros (which didn’t include bonuses or image rights). But here was wee Jinky, whom 100 000 Spaniards in the Bernabéu stadium, cried ‘Ole, Ole,’ every time he touched the ball in  Alfredo Di Stéfano’s  testimonial match, following their European Cup win. Jinky, was quite simply, the best player in the world. Yet, here he was working in a building site, after offering to sell all his medals for £10 000 to William Haughey. It’s difficult to imagine Messi doing that.

But it was a different world then. We used to think that guys like Billy McNeil and Dixie Deans would be alright because they had their own pub. They would always have money and an income, we thought.

My brother and Jimmy had something in common. They were both alkies. No pubs for them. One day at a time.  Jimmy’s son, James, shakes his head, when he remembers what his da had become. Anyone that has been to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings know what happens when the guys that at the top table get competitive and start telling stories of their fall from grace. One guy might say he ate a baby seal pup in front of its mother. And the next guy will tell you he did something similar, but didn’t stop with one seal pup. But Jimmy could say he’d held up the European Cup. He’d done a lot of stupid things and played for teams he didn’t want to, but it was a job, and one he could do.

He played in with San Jose Earthquakes, but he couldn’t be doing with all that American stuff as if it was show business. He wanted to get back to Viewpark, and home. He’d spells with Sheffield United and played three times for Dundee. Tommy Gemmill was the manager, and he was being kind when he said he brought him in to do a job. Gordon Strachan remembers getting drunk with Jinky and thinking he’d hit the big time. Jinky played with Shelbourne and ended his career with Elgin City.

His heart remained at Parkhead. He tells the story of crying in the car park, after Jock Stein had let him go. Archie Macpherson said that if Jock had a favourite, it was Jinky, but Jock Stein was ruthless when it came to our team. He cut Jinky loose and the wee man unravelled. Like Benny Lynch, he turned to the drink, and thought he could sweat it off.

Jinky might have been the greatest ever, but he fancied himself a bit of a singer. When Rod Stewart visited he told him to shut up and give him the microphone. He sung a duet with Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr. Jinky’s daughter remembered Billy Connelly sleeping on the floor.

Jinky believed in UFO’s, and John Clark tells a story of how Jinky wanted him to take him to some godforsaken place to hunt for aliens. But Jinky never strayed far from his home in Viewpark. Like another legend, Tommy Burns (also on BBC Alba), he was devout and was buried in his local parish. Jimmy Johnstone was our Messi. But he was just an ordinary wee guy with extraordinary football ability that worked as a labourer, did what we all dreamed of a kid, played for Celtic and loved the club. Hail, Hail. May he RIP.   

Betfred Cup Final: Celtic 1—0 Rangers

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.   

Tommy Burns, BBC Alba 9pm, BBCiPlayer.

tommy burns.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0000fk0/tommy-burns?suggid=m0000fk0

In the week of another lacklustre Celtic performance in Europe, and, ironically, when Celtic visit Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park on Sunday,  this is a wonderful tribute to the evergreen Tommy Burns who died ten years ago, at the age of 51, of skin cancer, who managed both teams. Why a boy from the Carlton was on Gaelic telly I don’t know, and don’t care, I loved it. Tommy loved his family, who appear here talking about how great their dad was –and I’m not arguing- he loved his fitba and Celtic and he loved his Roman Catholic faith. His life revolved around his beliefs. A true Celtic diehard, but not a bigot.

Former Ranger’s managers Walter Smith and Ally McCoist helped carry his coffin. All the football greats were in attendance of this humble man. Billy Stark his former teammate and assistant manager at Kilmarnock broke down in tears as he talked about Tommy, and how grateful he was to have played for and followed in the footsteps of the great Jock Stein and managed Celtic.

Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain and Davy Hay the Quality Street team of the Stein nine-in-a-row era all loved Tommy. Gordon Strachan stayed an extra year in the gold-fish bowl of Celtic because he knew Burns was dying. Paddy Bonner shared a room with the young Burns and a love of Celtic. George McCluskey talked about signing a contract with Kilmarnock because of Burns, a friend he trusted – to slag him off – but not rip him off.

But to imagine this is a programme about football would be a mistake. This is a programme about family and uncommon humanity. Burns wasn’t the cream of the Quality Street team, but in a new era where we have Kieran Tierney, a boy who is Celtic daft, playing for the Hoops, he would do well to follow in the footsteps of the late-great Tommy Burns, who oozed joy in living and may he rest in peace in Paradise. All Celtic players should be made to watch this programme. Then, maybe, some shysters, like Dembele, would understand, there’s no king of Glasgow, we are a republican team, but the passing on of a true Carlton heritage of Brother Wilfred and helping each other be the best we can be. Hail, Hail, Tommy Burns.