One of the reasons I get so sick of hearing how “bad” Celtic’s success is for Scottish football is that our achievements are forged on positives. Indeed, we are the perfect model for how a big club should be run and how one should act. For a start, we operate on a sustainable basis, and in the current football environment that’s a minor miracle.
Secondly, we are not beholden to anyone for our continued success; not to banks, not to “investors”, not to directors or sugar daddy owners. Because of our sustainable business model there’s no need for anyone to bankroll us. We do not have significant debts and the over-draft facility available to us has not been drawn down.
The club is run by professional businesspeople who act at all times in a thoroughly scrupulous manner. Such is their sense of responsibility that it’s infuriating at times; take the issue of the media, where most Celtic fans would welcome a ban for certain newspapers. Our club takes the view that scrutiny is positive and that it shouldn’t be discouraged. They feel banning whole titles would send out the wrong message, but have no trouble pointing out individual journalists who have gone too far and are not welcome in Celtic Park as a result.
I might disagree with them on this, but it’s a classy point of view and quite a moral one.
The way we conduct ourselves is a source of immense pride for me, and that’s especially acute when you realise not every club behaves in such an upstanding manner. Celtic sets a good example to football clubs everywhere and the greatest irony of that is we learned more from the liquidation of Rangers than the club that rose in its place. Sharing a city with them has taught us how not to run a business and yet in spite of seeing how we have thrived in relation to those lessons they have yet to learn from any of them.
And yet Scottish football sneers at us, and many of its commentators and even some of those who run clubs, have openly longed for some sugar daddy to come along at Sevco and fund a “challenge” as if that’s not what got our game into such trouble in 2012.
Last night at Easter Road two teams played out an excellent encounter (which we were all forced to listen to on the radio because of this ludicrous and self-defeating policy we follow from UEFA where the promotion of our national game takes second place to that of a tournament which is now openly and blatantly prejudicing against us), in which Hibs knocked their ancient rivals out of the Scottish Cup. Hearts will be back, because they are a club that has the fundamentals right. Hibs wil be back in the SPL soon enough because they have too.
Hibs, in fact, who went down two years ago and looked to all the world like a team that might well have been crushed under the weight of that, have regrouped in a way that is hugely impressive. They’ve kept excellent footballers like Cummings and added to their talent pool, and have, in John McGinn, one of Scotland’s standout young talents.
Hearts flirted with death not that long ago, but they won the Championship at an absolute canter and acquitted themselves marvellously in their first year in the SPL. They took a real chance on their young manager Ian Cathro, who needs time to get his ideas across. I don’t expect a knee-jerk reaction from Ann Budge and her board, who know that quite well.
Hearts are now run on a sound financial footing and are coming along nicely.
Aberdeen are, I think, still hampered by Derek McInnes, who is nowhere near to being the manager many of his media pals paint him, but he has a squad which is easily the second best in the country and they’ve proved it over the last few years and will probably nail down that spot again in this campaign. Theirs is a club with ambition and big plans.
These clubs and a couple of others embraced the change in the Scottish game, and I suspect they are run by people who can already see the writing on the wall at Ibrox; that club is in death spiral like its predecessor and there is a genuine opportunity here to break the “two club” paradigm forever, no matter how much the media and others hanker after it.
When I hear their managers and directors talk I do not detect any of the incipient bitterness over our position that I see and hear elsewhere. A little envy, perhaps, but not resentment or the kind of misdirected anger that is sometimes evident in other places and in sections of the commentariat, and I sometimes wonder; what did we do to piss these people off so much?
Some of it is undoubtedly just that we exist at all; it still sticks in the craw to know that many of those charlatans who lined up to say Scottish football needed Rangers would happily have danced on our grave had we been in that position. It insults me that they don’t think we know that, although some of them couldn’t make it clearer if they tried.
From others it is less easy to understand, because these people know full well that we earned everything we got, that we did it properly and above board, that we didn’t cheat our way to this or spend what we didn’t have. The taxpayer wasn’t stiffed, the exchequer wasn’t robbed, the game itself was not corrupted by anything we achieved.
Indeed, Celtic fans helped sustain Scottish football – and the SPL in particular- during the years when there was no Ibrox club in the competition. We took our huge traveling support to all those away grounds where the bean-counters might otherwise have forgotten what a full house looks like and all the while we were reviled for it by many of their supporters and royally fleeced by their boards. Now the same people are lecturing us on how unhealthy for the game it is that we’re reaping the rewards of our years of investment and sustainable growth.
There are broadly two kinds of people who talk about our dominance and its impact on the game – and I use that phrase because I want to differentiate them from those who worry about the impact it will have on one specific club – and you can tell which sort they are by the solutions they propose.
One group wants to see Scottish football improve to match us; they are the directors of those progressive clubs I mentioned earlier, and others like them. They see their role as stepping up to us, and giving us a run for our money. They realise, perhaps, what I said last week over on the CelticBlog; it doesn’t take a team to match us with resources, simply one to find a way to win consistently against everyone else. Those people want a more competitive environment by virtue of our success forcing others clubs to get their houses in order and step up a gear.
The other group wants to see us dragged down, and I don’t even include the Sevco fans who I’ll come to in a minute. They coach it in various ways – “redistributing income” (which means taking it from us and giving it to themselves), restricting who we can have in our team, even outright handicapping – but it all comes down to the same thing; punishing us for having done it right, for being responsible and from having benefited from years of hard work.
Some of them loathe us, and their “concern” for the game is nothing but a convenient mask for that. They don’t mind so much that we’re successful; they are animated more by an agitation that we ever existed in the first place. Call that whatever you like, I prefer to call it what it is; outright bigotry from people so twisted in hate they consider Ibrox itself a halfway house who’s leaders long since sold out and don’t have the courage of their “cultural” convictions.
Which brings me to Sevco fans, some of whom are more interested in finding “evidence” that we somehow cheated all of this when they ought to be focussed on the rising damp which threatens to bring down the walls of their own club.
Those who focus on these barmy scenarios talk the talk about being the “most successful club in world football” and about how they will “rise again” (resurrection, to you and me) but you know how convinced they are of this by the way they spend their time, hunting for the means to drag us into their gutter. They know they’ll never rise above their current level, and so all that’s left is to bring us down to some kind of parity where they stand a chance.
But they don’t stand a chance, because they can dig until their hands bleed and the shovels break. There’s nothing to find because we did it clean, we did it right, we didn’t cheat it or steal it or put it all on someone else’s credit card; we earned it, every bit of it.
I know why it burns them.
They were the architects of their own destruction, and for years thought the good times would never end. They lorded it over us, they rubbed our faces in it and never believed for a second that the rent would ever come due for living at other people’s expense; the crash has done nothing to change their behavioural norms. They still expect someone else to pick up the cheque and pay the tab.
In the meantime, we get stronger and stronger and they flounder, waiting for a saviour, hoping he has a plan. It’s a foolish errand, but then we are dealing with fools here.
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