Celtic Fans Crowdfunded Newspaper Ad On SFA Scandals Is Paid For And Ready To Go

stack-newspaper-pile-croppedBefore we go any further, let me apologise to all of you who were trying to access the site, and this article, before now. Although I should be used to all manner of mendacity and hassle by this point I’m clearly still a babe in the woods.

This evening, after I published this article, this site was subjected to what I can only describe as a “brute force” assault.

First it was a Denial of Service attack and then it was straightforward hacking job, which took down this article and infected the rest of the site with God knows what.

This was a pretty bad evening, and costly too. I won’t go into details. It’ll depress me. But you know something? If they’re screwing with you to this degree you’re doing something right.

Anyway, congratulations to the guys over on CQN, and to the Celtic Family as a whole, for another outstanding achievement.

Today, Winning Captains has announced that the costs of two full page advertisements – one in the Swiss press and one in The Guardian – are now paid for and booked, and good to go for next week.

The Guardian ad will bring the Celtic fan led reform campaigns to the attention of an English based audience and seek to spark interest in the cause in the wider media.

As the ad before last season’s League Cup semi-final got people outside Scotland to look at the Survival Myth, this ad will get the media down south focussed on the way the one up here ignores major issues and the SFA continues to be run by people who think they should be immune from scrutiny.

This is a landmark moment; mark my words, it will have an effect.

The ad in the Swiss press is even more important, of course, because it’s the moment we put this issue in front of the eyes of UEFA.

We can write all the letters to these guys that we want, but nothing we do in that regard will have an ounce of the impact taking out an ad in a newspaper right on their doorstep will have. It’s an incredibly ambitious move.

And it’s a game changer.

In addition to all this, the guys behind this campaign are pushing out the boat one last time, to run a third ad in a Scottish newspaper at a later date.

I can’t overstate how important this development is.

I’d urge anyone who’s able to support them to do so by visiting the following link:

Crowdfunding Campaign

I’ll tell you why this is an amazing achievement.

Celtic fans, and a small but important number of those at other clubs have gone to incredible lengths to bring these matters to light. The whole of Scottish football was hurt by what Rangers did, but it was a small handful of supporters who took the lead in driving reform.

This isn’t to say the majority of fans at other clubs didn’t get involved.

When the moves were afoot to parachute the NewCo into the SPL they rallied as we did and lobbied like mad to prevent it.

But it was mostly Celtic fans who pushed hardest and longest to make sure nothing like this could happen again. With a small handful of fans from other clubs, it was Celtic supporters who laid the foundation stones for sites like The Scottish Football Monitor, which sought and still seeks to engage all supporters, everywhere.

Because of that, there’s a perception amongst many that this remains a “Celtic fan led” campaign and whilst not entirely untrue efforts like this wouldn’t be possible without a greater hunger amongst football fans to see real transparency in our sport.

We should all take heart from the way this war is being waged.

Because when you consider what it must cost to place an in just one newspaper you have to be awed at the commitment from our supporters towards making it happen in two, and actually pushing further for three.

I know, from personal experience, how fantastic that commitment is; this site only continues at all (and some big stuff is coming on it soon!) because of donations and the other support that it gets.

It’s humbling to get that support, but I’ve ceased being surprised by it because our fans (and others) are remarkable in that they don’t just talk a good game … they put their money where their mouths are. They are willing to fund challenges to the status quo. They are willing to push agendas, even when it means dipping into their wallets.

I find this incredible, and what it portends for the future can’t be doubted.

If it comes to the crunch, fans will fund legal challenges to the SFA if that’s what it takes to get justice. It’s a long game we’re playing here, and as we’ve all seen getting the results won’t happen overnight – it never does – but I’ve never stopped believing that it will happen.

Take pride in this development, friends, because this is a big one.

Now I’m going to tell you why these ads are necessary; why, in fact, they are vital to the campaign and why they should be given every support, not only financially.

I’ve been doing this now for five years nearly, and there are guys out there who’ve been doing it even longer. There have been books about this, documentaries, and a small handful of journalists have tried to get it into the mainstream.

None of it has crystallised thinking as it should have.

One day I’m going to write a ball-buster of a book about this period, and I know others will do the same, and they might impact the debate in their own way, as these blogs might grow their readerships to the point where Celtic fans don’t bother with the mainstream press at all … but until we get to that point the papers will always have longer reach than we do.

We’ve worked an absolute miracle so far, all of us, together, in transforming the way the debate over football governance in this country is conducted. There was a time when the SFA would never have had to face scrutiny like this, and the idea, five years ago, that we would be able to hound the CEO of the association into answering his critics would have seemed preposterous.

Guys like Tom English can talk the most lamentable bullshit all day, every day, about “flaws” in the Offshore Game report without once pointing out what a single one of them is, but these people can no longer close off the debate completely by doing that.

Our quest for the big three – governance, accountability and oversight – has been unrelenting.

The impact we’ve had so far has been immense.

But it’s not enough.

This is still, primarily, an internet campaign and these ads are a monumentally important step towards changing that, and taking us into a brand new phase.

When you think about what people like Matt McGlone were able to achieve many years ago, getting Celtic fans interested in taking control of our club, it’s extraordinary to imagine that they did it before this great engine of information was invented.

We can learn huge lessons from what they did and how it was done, because the online game isn’t the only one we can play.

This is a move towards a different way of fighting this battle, and if there’s anyone left in the media in this country (and this move absolutely disgraces them; Celtic fans actually paying to put in their papers what they don’t have the balls to write themselves. Try hiding behind “legalities” now you gutless worms) or amongst the governing bodies who has the slightest doubt about our intent and determination this should erase them once and for all.

We are here to stay, and we’re going to hold you to account no matter what.

None of these issues is going away, no matter how much they wish they would.

We will get the reforms we want. We will get the justice we demand. Because we have all the time and the will in the world, and eventually we’ll bring this wall down, whether it’s by chipping away one piece of stone at a time or finally driving a wrecking ball through it.

Those on the other side better brace themselves either way.

At a time when the mainstream media can’t even be trusted to cover the biggest sports story in the history of this island sites like this one are more important than ever. If you are able to, and you want to help real Scottish football journalism, and not the sort you get in the tabloids, you can make a donation by clicking the link below.

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Celtic Fans Know The Difference Between Bigotry And Political Expression

Celtic F.C.The charity Nil By Mouth has called on Scottish football clubs to accept “strict liability” when the SFA next puts it up for debate and a vote.

The organisation founded by the fiancé of Mark Scott, the Celtic fan murdered at Bridgeton Cross by the psychotic Jason Campbell has long concentrated its guns on football fans and was a vocal supporter of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act which has done little more than criminalise free expression and political singing of a sort much of Scotland doesn’t like.

This statement came on the same day that Stewart Regan is all over the papers trying to push the issue. This suggests more than a little bandwagon jumping going on.

Before we know it, politicians who’ve not been in the papers for a while will be all in favour … just watch.

I want to be clear that I have no issue with Nil By Mouth per se.

How could I have?

The organisation exists to combat sectarianism and hate in our society, but I have a problem with the way in which they and other organisations – including Police Scotland – conflate these matters with legitimate political expression … the kind that supports Irish nationalism as opposed to, say, Scottish independence.

I support Scottish independence, and it infuriates me how some people can make all sorts of allowances for one whilst making none for the other. Granted, that isn’t as widespread as the anti-Irish sentiment which courses through many supporters of the union, but it is definitely there, in small ways, and in big ones too like the SNP’s much hated law.

I get tired of trying to educate people on this.

It seems that some folk just don’t want to bloody well hear it, and I find their attitudes entirely dishonest as a result of that.

Nil By Mouth’s statement was picked up by, amongst other media outlets, The Scotsman, where Andrew Smith’s opening paragraph was “Anti-sectarian charity Nil By Mouth has backed calls to introduce strict liability rules to Scottish football, with campaign director Dave Scott stating yesterday that “people are fed up to the back teeth” with behaviour that the group maintains fuels religious bigotry.

Let’s separate the fact from the fiction here.

First fact: Celtic fans do not engage in sectarian singing.

There is one song – a so-called version of Roamin’ In The Gloamin’ – who’s lyrics are so excruciating, waxing lyrical about how good it is to “be a Roman Catholic” that it’s certainly offensive (especially to Catholics) but even it doesn’t openly stray into hatred although it is mind-numbingly ignorant.

It’s the kind of thing that once passed for wit and which someone probably made up in a pub fifty years or so ago without any thought as to what the lyrics actually mean.

Listen to them if you don’t believe me.

It’s a collection of words with no coherence.

There’s a reference to St Patrick, who was born in the 5th Century, John Knox, who was born in the 16th Century and to King Billy, who was born in the 17th Century. I don’t know how you feel about a song that mentions all three drawing no connection whatsoever between them, but to me it’s the trademark of barely literate goons.

Most people realise this, and find the song crawl-under-the-bed embarrassing.

I haven’t heard it sung, by more than handfuls of drunk arseholes, for years.

There’s a chant you used to hear a lot, but which has also been on the wane for years, referring to dirty orange people of questionable parentage; I recommend those offended by that speak to the Orange Order, to which it’s a clear reference.

They are a sectarian organisation and a secret society, rabidly unionist and affiliated with the far right of British and Irish politics.

That chant is generally used in relation to referees, a number of whom have been proven to be members of said secret society, and whose professional ranks behave more and more like one with every year that passes.

The key term is “Orange”.

Not Protestant.

There is no sectarian connotation to that chant.

Then there’s the H word, which I rarely use and which has never been a reference to any religious affiliation but more about a set of behavioural norms; rioting, nazi salutes, spreading fear and taking part in general disorder … things for which a certain Scottish club’s fans were once famous. It’s also about having no respect for traditions, or loyalty, or lacking a certain moral character.

I have had long brainstorming sessions with people on this subject, and on the etymology of the word itself, tracing it back to Attila and to the Germans in World War I and 2 … and I’m always asked, in the context of Scottish football, who I regard as fitting the bill.

I once answered thus;

I consider Graham Souness to be one, but Trevor Steven not. I know for a fact Maurice Johnstone is one, but never thought Brian Laudrup was. Davie Provan, Charlie Nicholas and Jim Traynor are definitely amongst their number but I never for one second thought Graham Speirs, Alan Davidson or Ian Crocker were. Large sections of the Sevco support fit the bill. A small section of the Celtic support does too, and there are numbers of them at other clubs like Hearts, Motherwell, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Inverness and elsewhere.

I agree with the general sentiment behind Nil By Mouth’s statement, but that organisation is like so many others in this country; it tiptoes around things when it ought to stride forward with purpose.

There is bigotry in Scotland, sectarian intolerance that is both broad and, in some places, deep.

The fault isn’t to be found in football stadiums, although some of its practitioners go to games.

Anti-Catholic and anti-Irish hatred is still a profound problem, and one of the reasons it remains so is that those who practice it often hide behind seemingly legitimate initiatives like this one.

Which brings us to the second inconvenient truth: there was no need to pass the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

Laws already existed to confront those who engaged in sectarian behaviour; the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act changed nothing except that it placed singing Republican songs into the same bracket as someone singing one of the more horrible hate anthems you’d expect to hear from the people who hailed Jason Campbell a hero.

What that law did is created a moral equivalence between the two, and that’s one of the most tragic features of it.

Because there is none.

The issue is bigger than just Nil By Mouth, but they have a high profile and they get a lot of attention whenever they put out a statement like this. They might not want to further the agendas of the very people they deplore, but I’ll tell you what … they do.

There are people who live in this country who would love to see every expression of Irishness outlawed, who would love every Catholic school closed, who blame us for creating intolerance when, actually, it stares back at them from the mirror.

No other religious or social group in this country is subject to this constant sniping and questioning of its values.

We don’t have a profound problem in this country with anti-Islamic sentiment; in fact, in comparison to certain parts of England things are positively harmonious. We also don’t have a serious issue with anti-Semitism.

Anti-Catholic hatred is Scotland’s own peculiar little fixation, and that has long had its roots deep in anti-Irishness.

The difference is that in some ways it’s now public policy.

Listen, I understand full well that there are people who don’t enjoy hearing the Republican stuff in football grounds. But I don’t mind saying I know those songs by heart, and I defy anyone to tell me where one of them – even one – promotes hate.

Supporting a “proscribed organisation” isn’t the same.

The people who do the proscribing once had the ANC on that list.

The Republican movement now plays an active part in government.

The ANC is the South African government.

The difference is, they were never fighting the British.

You get the point?

You understand why one of those organisations is now feted and the other remains banned to this day?

Here’s a challenge I’ve laid down many, many, many, many times and I do so again with no doubt that the result will be the same as it’s been on all those other occasions; if someone can tell me where in those songs hatred is promoted I’ll close these websites the same day.

No-one will answer that. No-one ever does.

So whilst I do understand that people don’t want to hear this stuff, I’d say to them that, sadly, it’s just too bad because one of the prices we pay for living in a free society is that we often have to tolerate things we don’t actually like. I’m not suggesting they go and look the lyrics up and try and understand the context of them … too much to ask, by far.

I’m asking that they actually embrace understanding of another subject; tolerance itself. Because whether they know it or not, their own attitude is profoundly intolerant. It’s close-minded, insular and yes it’s also arrogant; that the freedoms other people enjoy should be stymied and limited because they dislike certain of their opinions and ideas.

Tolerance means embracing diversity. Hammering everyone into the same mould doesn’t come close to the definition of that. That’s called enforced conformity and I don’t think that’s a country any of us actually wants to live in.

My problem with what Nil By Mouth and other apparently well-meaning organisations are doing stumbling into this minefield is that they aren’t really talking about sectarianism at all … they’re talking about shrinking the definition of what they find “acceptable” and if they don’t understand the danger inherent in that I can’t explain it to them.

The third fiction is that strict liability has been a success for UEFA.

It’s not true.

Strict liability doesn’t reflect well on UEFA at all.

It was introduced to combat right wing extremists using football grounds as recruiting posts. I understand why the sport considered that an issue, but in trying to find a way to ban those groups they did what governing bodies always do when they try to ride the middle lane … they overshot the runway and passed rules where any form of political expression was banned.

Except those which suit them, of course.

One of the recent obscenities was their decision to fine Celtic for our fans flying Palestinian flags. I don’t know what our club’s official response to that was but it was a scandal that UEFA ever considered such a ludicrous action in the first place. Another example was the “F*** UEFA” banner the Celtic fans flew, and which resulted in another sanction.

A refusal to allow criticism is one of the defining characteristics of fascism.

It would be different if they actually took the rule seriously, but they don’t because they can’t.

There are a number of overtly political football clubs in Europe who’s very existence flies in the face of UEFA regulations and there are other clubs whose fans have adopted overtly political views; they stretch across the continent, from France to the farthest corners of Russia.

They are openly ideological and UEFA can’t come close to policing them and doesn’t even try.

Not only does strict liability not work, but it’s barely enforced.

Celtic is not an overtly political club.

Our fans reflect a broad sweep of society, and we pride ourselves on being “open to all”.

Yet some of our own supporters consistently fly in the face of that concept, and make a nonsense of it, trying to tell other fans what they should be singing and what flags they should be flying.

I sympathise with them, to a degree.

Because some of it does get the club into trouble, and that’s wrong.

But it’s the regulations I think are the problem here, and whilst I think they should be obeyed, as long as they last, I think our club should be committed, along with others, to changing them to better reflect the reality; football and politics have always been closely linked and always will be.

This isn’t about flares and smoke bombs.

Those are banned for entirely legitimate reasons and don’t belong in football grounds, and I am wholly supportive of any measure that removes them from the sport entirely.

This is about political expression, and existing UEFA rules on it are as wrong as they can be, and Nil By Mouth and the SFA now want those extended to cover Scottish football too, a country where Irish political expression is already punished enough and where the governing bodies and others don’t even try to hide the intent, which is to restrict the rights of supporters to properly express themselves inside stadiums.

Every Celtic fan should oppose this, and let the club know it, not that they have to because Celtic has never been in favour of it and that hasn’t changed.

This is my last word on this subject for a while.

For the record, I don’t expect “strict liability” to pass.

The clubs in the main don’t want it, because they understand that there will always be idiots in any support and the clubs can only do so much to weed them out. Only someone who doesn’t really understand football could believe otherwise.

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SFA “Strict Liability” Proposals Are A Direct Threat To Celtic

JS31156726Stewart Regan. Dear oh dear.

You have to give him his due; he seems to know what side his bread is buttered on, and just who butters it.

Any time there’s crisis or scandal at Ibrox he’s a long way from home, posted missing, silent on the subject.

I’d call it gutless, but he’s never quite so remiss when it comes to tackling Celtic.

We all know that this man will do anything at all to keep the club operating out of Ibrox afloat, whether that’s bending or flaunting regulations; ignoring others; allowing convicted criminals onto the board and even looking the other way as a potential fraud is going on.

That same attitude applies, of course, to the occasional outbreak of illegal singing, like the one against Hibs, which it seems he only discovered yesterday as it was the first he’s mentioned it … and then only fleetingly.

Another club’s supporters were the real target of his rant.

Who knew that all it would take to bring him out of the bunker was Celtic fans throwing a few flares?

Hell, we can’t have that in our national sport!

Let’s change the rules … so that we can punish the club for it!

Yes, whatever you say Stewart.

Except … no.

What balls this guy has. What a brass neck on him.

He and his lawyers are, doubtless, going to be working hard on the proposals for “strict liability” in the next week or two, and if Harper MacLeod can ratchet up the costs a bit who are any of us to stand in their way? They’ve got to make a buck too … but at the end of the day the fruit of these labours will wind up in the bin. It belongs there.

Frankly, Regan can wipe his arse with them for all I care.

If Celtic voted in favour of these proposals – and the chance of it is somewhere between slim and none; there is no way in the world we’re going to do it – then a cold day in Hell it would be, and the problems would mount up down the road until we couldn’t move forward for them.

When I heard he’d commented on this, and said “strict liability” was going back on the agenda I was honestly fuming, and flabbergasted at his brazenness. The statement itself is absurd, and offensive to those of us who’ve been following the backstory.

There can’t be another organisation – except the SPFL – which is so selective in the things it chooses to care about on any given day.

Regan feels he can bang the drum on this one because it was in the Scottish Cup … well it’s funny, as he seems to care so much; he said and did nothing last season when, at the very same ground, Dundee Utd fans did much the same thing.

Now, no-one should misinterpret this as me defending the guys with the flares.

I’ve already written about that over on The CelticBlog this week, and my views were pretty clear. The guys who do this are a menace, pure and simple, and ought not to be allowed inside football grounds.

But see, that’s a police matter. It’s got sod all to do with the sporting authorities. We ought to let the police deal with it, as they have been doing. Let the clubs find the people responsible and ban them, and then allow the machinery of the law to take over.

Football sanctions to clubs for the behaviour of a few neds?

God, why not just punish certain clubs (i.e. Celtic) before the season even starts?

Save time on the disciplinary hearings.

Because these rules will be so open-ended you might as well.

I would be willing to bet every penny I make in the first year of their existence that we would be in front of the beaks more than any other club, and that has nothing to do with our fans but everything to do with a media that would whip up controversy every chance it got and the governing bodies themselves who might even jump at the chance to make the league more “competitive” by deducting us points every so often.

As the rules stand right now, all a club has to do to get off free and clear – see Sevco and sectarian songs – is demonstrate that they’ve taken “all appropriate measures” to discourage that. No-one even knows what that actually means, and that’s very deliberate.

And you know what? I’m content for that to be the position. Because that’s the way these guys work, and I have no doubt that should “strict liability” come into existence the regulations would be no more robust than the current rules, but would morph, instead, into an awful Offensive Behaviour at Football Act written by the governing bodies themselves, one handing match delegates complete discretion over what constitutes an offense … and that’s to say nothing of their famous “compliance officer” and what his own godforsaken role in all this would be.

Uh-uh. Not a chance in Hell.

Someone like Vince Lunny, with the power to deduct points and close stadiums because of what he personally finds offensive? Newspaper media rooms and PR companies scanning YouTube footage deep into the night and submitting it for his “assesment”?

You can see where Celtic might have a problem with this idea, right?

We may as well shut the stadium right now.

Even if the SFA could be trusted (I know, I’m laughing too) I’m not in favour of strict liability anyway, because it’s too easy to extend and amplify and would, eventually, turn all football grounds into soulless cathedrals of consumerism and make the experience akin to going to the theatre.

Regan uses UEFA as his exemplar here, because these rules already exist there.

Ha!

The SFA’s newfound embrace of UEFA standards is heartening but much too selective, and that’s the real problem here and where Regan’s hypocrisy is most clearly expressed.

There are UEFA regulations which do badly need implementing in Scottish football, foremost amongst them the one governing Financial Fair Play.

That it hasn’t already been passed is ridiculous; the English leagues got their house in order on that score five years ago.

But, of course, there isn’t strictly an establishment favourite club down there, one that would fall foul of those regulations every single year.

Quite how anyone could argue that Sevco would not be in current breach of those rules escapes me … which is exactly why they’ve yet to see the light of day, and why I suspect they never actually will.

King’s big talk about “front loaded investment” was always bluff and bluster anyway, but the whole concept has still been allowed a credibility it doesn’t deserve. That we continue to perpetuate this dangerous nonsense as somehow “good for the game” is part of a wider problem Regan and his people don’t even seem to want to acknowledge let alone do something about.

No, this is more typical of them, to focus on a cheap headline, a one day story, to leap onto a passing bandwagon.

This isn’t leadership; it’s deflection.

It’s an attempt to steer the agenda away from his favourite club at a time when the governing bodies are inextricably bound to their fate, and heading for a calamity that will make 2012 seem like small beer.

Regan would have been better focussing on that, or on the certainty that his name will come up over and over again during the trials of Whyte and Green.

If he wants to give the lawyers something to do he can dig out the emails he and Whyte exchanged, and the minutes of his discussions with Green, and others, and get the SFA legal team to investigate whether or not they were party to a fraud, however unwittingly it might have been,

I don’t like this guy; that’s no secret. I think he’s a coward and a charlatan and that he’s been wrong, and his association has been wrong, on every major issue of the last five years except the appointment of Gordon Strachan.

He and those around him can preen and posture for the cameras all day long. They can write all the useless and doomed regulations they want. They can fritter away the remainder of their time in office by pandering to the press and the Ibrox mob. Or they can find ways, even now, to redeem their reputations before it all comes crashing down.

This is partly about that, of course, about legacy shopping; one good deed to try and counter all the years of sitting on his hands. I’m not fooled for a minute, and no-one else should be either.

I’m past caring what choices they make.

But I’m damned if I’ll sit in silence whilst they try to use my club and its fans as a deflector shield when the biggest and most serious issues in the Scottish game can still be traced right to the door of another stadium in Glasgow and to the actions of a procession of dodgy geezers Regan and his people said were “fit and proper.”

Stewart Regan, leading reform?

Don’t make me laugh.

His real motivations are more transparent than he thinks.

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A Country That Hates Celtic?

15077224_Strathclyde Police Kettle Celtic Green Brigade fans  16-03-2013 Gallowgate GlasgowYesterday, I posted an article here about the coming Remembrance Day match at Ross County, where our fans will be under typical scrutiny, and where a single mistimed fart will result in forum threads and headlines beyond count, all of them casting a bad light on the whole support and, indeed, the whole club.

Last night I posted an article over on the CelticBlog about how Kilmarnock has announced that it intends to implement the excellent “Twenty’s Plenty” policy for the fans of all clubs.

With one exception. Celtic fans.

It pisses me off.

A few days ago, I watched a video of Celtic fans being accosted by police at Hamilton, police who took away their banner despite them having broken no law.

What came across most in that video was the sneering, contemptuous attitude of the officers who stopped them.

They couldn’t tell these guys what crime they had committed.

One actually asked a guy his age and then, like a mother talking to a primary school kid, chided him with the words “you’re old enough to know better.”

“Know better than what?” I wanted to scream at the screen.

Know better, perhaps, to think Celtic fans can walk Scottish streets these days without official harassment and intimidation.

Know better, perhaps, than to think we can do that wearing the colours and the crest of our football club.

Our supporters are targets; it’s as simple as that.

Of unscrupulous club pricing policies. Of the police. Of hacks who twist everything our players, officials and even ex-players and officials, say to paint us in the worst possible light.

We’re also the targets of other fans, many of whom enjoy nothing more than when a small minority of our supporters can let them smear our whole club.

Am I gearing up for a chorus of “no-one likes us, we don’t care”?

Absolutely not, and I’ll tell you why.

This kind of treatment is reserved for us only here at home.

For a long time we’ve fiercely guarded our reputation as the world’s best fans, but it’s not enough for some people and it never will be.

Here, at home, we have enemies.

Here, at home, there are people who will never wish us well.

That asks a hard question of us; how do we respond to that?

Do we change our behaviour?

Because that’s what some in our society say we should do.

Republican anthems, no matter how much they are part of the culture many of our fans come from – in the same way as the Orange Walk is part of the culture of those on the other side – these offend some people; therefore why do our fans sing them?

Our banners, likewise, are often sharply political and can cut close to the bone, as some political expression is supposed to.

But why do we bother flying them?

Because we want to offend people? No, no and thrice no.

That it does offend people ought to be neither here nor there to us. There is no law protecting people from being offended, and God forbid there ever will be. We do it because … it’s who we are. The banners and the songs are about where many of us are from, and the psychic and symbiotic connection between that place and our football club is strong, and deep, no matter who might wish otherwise.

We’re here, and we’re staying.

But in order to better “fit in”, do we become subservient?

Get in with the “accepted norm”?

What if the “accepted norm” is a lot of hypocritical bollocks?

When they are forcing poppies onto the jerseys of every club in the land they have some brass neck telling us they want politics out of the sport.

When our political class is pushing national identity – both at the UK level and here in Scotland – at the same time as denying some of our fans theirs, it makes you wonder if you can ever bring yourself to vote again.

And when the media is calling for more passion in the stands but wants to condemn us for the ways in which express it … then the whole idea of conforming is a bit of a joke, isn’t it?

Because you quickly realise that what they really object to is simply the fact of us.

They don’t like that we exist at all.

If, tomorrow, our fans stopped singing Republican songs, if we agreed to wear the poppies, if we stopped flying the tricolour the very likely result of that would be … no change at all. Nothing short of a winding up order would appease these people.

Knowing that, I wonder why we’d even bother to try to?

Outside of Scotland, none of this applies.

Few other clubs have such a circle of friends across the sport.

Away from here, we’re loved and respected and honoured.

Outside of Scotland we get awards and commendations from towns and cities.

Police forces usually greet us like old friends, with the notable exception being the one in Amsterdam which seemed to want to add us to the list of supporters they’ve terrorised from all across Europe.

Outside of Scotland people judge us on who and what we are, rather than as a social group who others want to hammer into a mould that suits their own prejudices.

UEFA might butt heads with us these days but we know they don’t regard our banners and songs as a major issue, and let’s face it, being moralised to by these guys at the moment is a wee bit like being given marital advice by the folk behind the Ashley Madison site.

If they’re so serious about removing politics from sport I look forward to them telling the Home Associations to get the poppies off the shirts pronto.

So yes, outside of Scotland we have few issues to deal with.

We are not loved here.

Some dislike us with an intensity that almost defies reason, and this isn’t confined only to Sevco fans either.

I read the same preachy, anti-Celtic bollocks on websites belonging to clubs all over Scotland.

These people have myriad reasons why they say they dislike us, but in truth I don’t think any of them stand up to scrutiny.

They hate us … just because.

A lot of it has to do with social conditioning I think.

I had a debate with someone I regard very highly recently, over Catholic school education, which he said encouraged social division, without even thinking that diversity is something to celebrate instead of condemn.

I reminded him that it’s those people who say Catholic kids grow up different who are doing most to cement that view, and many are simply mirroring their own bias, by thinking of those kids as if they are.

He amazed me with his almost unconscious prejudice.

He was, apparently, wholly unaware that these schools exist all over Europe; it’s only here in Scotland that they are the subject of such outrageous attitudes, even hate, and when I told him that he was stunned, and said he’d look into the issue.

I don’t know if he will or not.

I only know that growing up here in a country which is so narrow minded and prejudicial has impacted on his ability to rationally analyse these things, and that applies equally to expressions of Irishness and Irish identity, and perhaps even more so.

Celtic’s support is made up of many diverse groups, and a number of them are highly political in their awareness and outlook.

Our club enjoys that when it brings good publicity with it; the Green Brigade have been, deservedly, lauded for their outstanding contributions to Glasgow’s foodbanks, but when they show the same political awareness to highlight their opposition to poppies on our jerseys or choose to exercise their free speech to make a point about the Offensive Behaviour At Football act, one of the most backward pieces of legislation ever conceived, our club looks the other way and treats them like the bad-tempered step child.

I can sympathise with their position in a sense; it wasn’t the Celtic board that passed the OBAF bill; in fact, our club’s stated position is in clear opposition to that legislation.

Additionally, when UEFA hands down a mandate they’ve got no choice but to accept it.

So the apparent inconsistency of their position is, to a certain extent, something that’s been imposed on them.

They do realise how our fans feel about many of these issues, which is why there will be no poppies on the jersey for the second year in a row.

They also supported the fans who were arrested in Amsterdam last year, and the last I heard they were lobbying UEFA angrily, seeking a clear explanation for why we were fined for the fans flying a Palestinian flag.

I’ve heard nothing about how that particular enquiry went, so if anyone can update me on it I’d be pleased.

In the end, they too realise what we’re dealing with here, what we have to face day in day out.

They get it, when other clubs release inflammatory press statements about our supporters, as Hearts did some years ago, or when we’re accused of “rioting” in Dundee.

I am the very last guy in the world who’d do the rousing chorus of “no-one likes us, we don’t care.”

Neither part of that sentence is true.

But here, in Scotland, we’re constantly on our toes, and some who’ve worn the Celtic strip in the wrong places have paid a savage price for doing so.

Our younger fans continue to be the victims of harassment today, but nowadays it more often than not comes with official sanction and a police uniform.

It’s almost as if certain people are doing everything they can to stop fans going to games at all.

Over on the CelticBlog last night I asked if it’s time our fantastic away fans stopped doing just that, and I was amazed at the number of “yes” replies the article got on Facebook and elsewhere.

Our guys and girls are getting sick fed up with all this; with away fans who treat us with contempt, with their clubs leeching off of us, with the police constantly on our case and with governing bodies which can’t get their act together.

How long before it becomes a critical mass?

I love Scotland, and I voted for independence. But I’d be a liar if I didn’t say I know there are an awful lot of its citizens who strongly dislike, even hate, Celtic.

Many of them do it reflexively, not even fully aware of the reasons why.

I find that more than a little irritating because I genuinely believe our club has been a force for good in the game.

We were founded on a charitable basis. We continue that tradition today. Since the death of Rangers, we have been more than fair, more than generous, in helping to redistribute wealth down through the leagues.

We did as much as any club to bring forth the new cash settlement which the other sides now enjoy.

I would still like to think that we could yet offer a leading voice towards reform of the whole national sport.

But there are too many who will sneer at that.

We are the best placed and best equipped club for the task, but a lot of others would say we were on a power trip, resorting to the old cliché that it was simply arrogance that was spurring us on.

And so progress is halted, usually at the first step.

I am not asking other clubs and their supporters to bow the knee, because we’ve never been that kind of institution.

No-one will be asked to “render unto Caesar”.

Nor do I expect respect from those who despise us and can’t accept any positive flowing from our existence.

But nor do I think we should change – not one iota – in order to appease them.

That means we’ll always take a little flak.

It means we’ll always eat a little dirt.

It means that in some parts of this fair land we’ll always be thought of as the outsiders.

Fine. So be it.

Let the haters hate, because in the end it’s all they know how to do.

We are, and we’ve always been, so much more than that.

We’ve been here for 127 years, and you know what?

This club, and our traditions, will be here long after many of our enemies and critics have gone the way of the team that was once our greatest rival.

(This site faces many challenges going forward. As you probably gathered, Celtic isn’t the most liked club in the world, and that means I’m constantly having to update servers, protect it from spammers and hackers and various other issues. It’s a full time job, and if you want to support what I do, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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A Strategic Approach: Why Celtic Have To Get It Right This Year

maxresdefaultYesterday Celtic were drawn against the Icelandic champions FC Stjarnan, in the first of the three ties we will have to navigate if we want a place in the Group Stages of the Champions League.

Last season, with a new manager at the helm and a nice style of play to get used to, there was always the danger that things would not work out, that these were tests too great, that the wheels would come off the wagon.

What none of us could have expected was the pitiful way in which our board responded to the challenge, and in particular to the second opportunity which was presented to us when the Polish champions, Legia Warsaw, were correctly disqualified from the competition.

It was appalling, and no two ways about it.

In fact, if we’re being honest the last two Champions League qualification campaigns have been equally shocking.

Neil Lennon must have known the gig was up in his final season, when he saw the side weakened three times in a row before major games.

No manager would have stood for that for very long, and it was an insult to expect him to.

I knew he would leave when the board did that. When they made it clear that there would be no continuity, no attempt to build and develop a squad, no sign even that the money he raised from player sales would be reinvested in the team.

Ronny Deila arrived here seeing the Celtic job as a major step up in his career.

But this guy has grown in the job, and the better he does the more he will insist on doing things his way.

He, too, will see the writing on the wall before long, and if it continues to look like this, he too will walk.

Ronny Deila can be forgiven for what happened last season in Europe; not the defeats, but his failure to fight for the sort of players he knew were needed to take the team forward.

He has to show the strength this time, the self-regard to get what he wants and what the team needs, and the board has to learn – and they have to learn fast, because, it seems to me, that they haven’t learned so far -that in the absence of a domestic challenge (and we don’t look likely to get one of those for years) that the only thing that will make fans buy season tickets in large numbers are signs of life in Europe.

The deterioration in the attendances at Celtic Park has been blamed on a lot of things; the recession, the absence of competition, the club’s “political stance” and a general dissatisfaction with their perceived lack of real action on the Rangers-Sevco shenanigans amongst other things.

But at the root at much of it is something the fans believe in implicitly; a distinct lack of imagination and ambition at the club.

I hate writing these articles you know.

This message – that we don’t get everything right – is one few people on our side of the fence want to hear, but they are even more necessary than the Sevco pieces this site puts up, because it’s hypocritical to highlight the failings of that club without acknowledging our own.

It’s also dangerous, because like with politics when you make those at the top immune to criticism you foster arrogance, you let things stagnate and you make it impossible to fix (or even acknowledge) mistakes.

Remember, Sevco didn’t hit the rocks and shatter overnight; it drifted towards those rocks for years before it ran against them.

That is what happens when fans stop asking hard questions, when they cease to take an interest in the direction of their club and place unlimited faith in those running it.

At Celtic we’re better than that. Smarter than that.

Now, it has to be said before I go on that I am not knocking The Strategy; not all of it anyway.

But whereas some people may want to rewrite history on, for example, the Temu Pukki signing, there were those of us who, at the time, expressed serious disquiet about us going for a player without a proven goal scoring record when a proven goal scorer is what we were crying out for.

The same applied to Amido Balde, and these two have cost somewhere in the region of £3 million for no discernible return … which is the consequence of “experimental” signings or “projects” or whatever you want to call them.

Sometimes you just need to bite the bullet, and go for quality.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; the modern transfer market is insane, and the cost of players is sky high. No-one expects us to compete in that market, but it says a lot that this club has spent £6 million or thereabouts on players three times; Sutton, Hartson and Lennon.

They all played in the same team and that team reached a UEFA Cup Final.

The last of them, John Hartson, was signed in 2001.

That’s fourteen years ago now and we have never come even remotely close to matching that signing in terms of cold hard cash since.

So even as costs have gone up in football, across the boards, including what fans have to pay for tickets, and whilst revenues have continued to increase from Champions League income and other areas, we’ve actually gone backwards and stopped even trying.

I am not advocating spending £10 million on a footballer. When Rangers spent that kind of money on Flo it was clearly sheer insanity.

But to haggle over a £4.5 million deal for Alfred Finnbogason was lunacy, and to have left a proven finisher like Aron Jóhannsson at AZ when £3 million would have sealed the deal is just a nonsense.

Those players would have excited the fans.

They would have got the blood pumping.

And in cash terms, for the fees, they would have cost only marginally more than the disastrous Balde and Pukki, who were stupid signings and proved it, when they couldn’t even manage to score goals in the SPL.

So no more experiments. No more “projects.”

Quality, proven goalscorers are what we need from now on.

And the need for it is as pressing as ever before.

The top drawer finisher we were looking for is still not in the Celtic squad. The board did a wonderful job in securing Guidetti on loan; the deal didn’t work out the way we wanted it, but it was the right move at the time.

His leaving his left a hole in the squad which someone needs to fill, and I’ll feel a hell of a lot better when we fill it.

Stefan Scepovic, by the way, does not represent a risk at all. He is a good player and will do a good job in the Celtic shirt and everyone knows how I feel about Leigh Griffiths; he will score goals in Scotland for fun.

It’s Europe I worry about.

Because neither player has thus far proved they are out of that top drawer, although I have a sneaking feeling that Griffiths could score anywhere.

Until he demonstrates that, he’s not the high calibre we are looking for and have been for quite some time now.

We also need at least one more central defender because if something should happen to Van Dijk (like getting sold) or Boyata then we’re desperately short in a crucial area of the team.

That might stand up reasonably well in Scotland, but in Europe we’ll be in big bother.

None of this is exactly new information.

We knew we’d be losing Denayer, so we brought in young Boyata.

But we also knew we’d be losing Guidetti and we all suspect that we stand to lose Big Virgil as well.

Nobody is suggesting that we spend crazy money on signings, but the fans need a reason to believe we’ll settle for more than just being in the Champions League draw this time around, and no-one ought to be fobbed off with John Kennedy rolling out pre-determined lines about Armstrong and Mackay Steven being “this season’s” signings who were brought in early.

That’s not going to cut it at all, I’m afraid.

In the final analysis, no-one is asking us to compete with Man City or Chelsea or sides from the big leagues.

Because it was a team from Poland who knocked us out at the second hurdle last year, and when we were allowed back in it was a team from Slovenia who finished the job.

The year before that, we got the fright of our lives against a team from Kazakhstan.

Let’s not kid ourselves that our failures have been simple matters of economics and our inability to compete with the top sides.

We didn’t compete with sides who we ought to have been miles in front of, and the reasons for that were obvious beforehand.

Let me repeat; Neil Lennon had to navigate three rounds of Champions League football in his final season with a weaker side in every round than he had the round before. That’s just scandalous.

Last season Ronny Deila had to attempt the same with a makeshift team bolstered by loanees.

That’s simply unacceptable. That’s failure at every level.

Last year there was an alibi, however weak, for what transpired.

This year … there will be no excuses.

The Strategy needs to deliver this time.

Lawwell and the rest have to prove that we’re about more than just money in the bank.

Robert Browning’s famous poem about ambition says that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?

Is the height of ours really only to hear the Champions League music?

We used to be so much more than that.

It’s time for us to be that again.

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Flying The Flag

celtic-green-brigades-pal-flagThis article was originally intended to be about the transfer window, but I wasn’t looking forward to writing it as it left me decidedly underwhelmed, in spite of Celtic signing the strikers we’ve been crying out for. It feels like too little, too late.

(Especially as one of the deals is hanging in the balance. I don’t even want to go there.)

I am glad I found something else to write about, but I’ll tell you something; I’m sitting here, right now, and I am absolutely furious about what that something is.

UEFA has decided to warn two Scottish clubs over the conduct of their fans, the clubs being Celtic and St Johnstone, because their supporters had Palestinian flags at recent European games.

This, says UEFA, is a breach of their articles on political expression.

I am staggered by this notion, and I hope to God that neither club stands for it. Not only is it a nonsensical position for UEFA to take, but it is hypocritical and itself politically weighted. It defies belief that they would actually argue such a thing, and it will be an immoral disgrace if the clubs simply roll over and accept it.

Palestinian flags have long flown at Celtic Park. It is an expression of solidarity with an oppressed people, and an expression of support for the cause of establishing a fully-fledged Palestinian state, a cause supported right across the world. It is not anti-Israeli and it is not a flag of war. Indeed, in 2012 the United Nations granted Palestine the status of an observer state. This is one step away from giving them full recognition as an autonomous nation. It is the same status as is held by the Holy See and it was the legal position of Switzerland until 2002.

Is UEFA saying it would not recognise the Vatican City State flag as that of a nation state, but would consider it a “political statement”?

UEFA is based in Switzerland, where it presumably flies its national flag. Did it refuse to do that before 2002? Because surely that would have been a political statement too, right?

I’ll go even further. In 1999, the European Union itself recognised the right to a Palestinian state, in the Berlin Declaration. Palestine is a signatory to a number of international treaties, including the Convention on War, the Geneva Convention and the Vienna Conventions on Treaties and Diplomatic Relations. The nation state is recognised by 134 United Nations members.

The Celtic and St Johnstone fans were not holding up a political banner. The clubs have been prosecuted because their supporters held up a national flag, one that is recognised by almost every country on Earth, the European Union and the United Nations.

Furthermore, Palestine is a recognised nation in football too. They are member of the Asian Football Confederation and are recognised by FIFA.

There are no words for the contempt I feel for this decision.

According to reports, UEFA deem the flag a political symbol because of the on-going struggle in the Middle East, and it’s this notion I find most offensive.

Because how can they deem a national flag a political symbol, unless they themselves are viewing it through the prism of political ideology? There are only a few countries which do not recognise it as the flag of a nation state. The UK is one. America is another, and, of course, so is Israel. UEFA’s refusal to recognise the flag, even as the European Community does, is a blatantly political statement and a blatant taking of sides in the conflict.

No-one would ,or should, suggest that Israeli clubs do not fly their own national flag. Yet they are on the other side of this conflict. To label one side in a certain way and not the other is, itself, a profoundly political decision. It stinks to high heaven that they reckon they can do this kind of thing with impunity, as if the contradiction is not obvious to any right thinking person.

The Green Brigade were sanctioned last year for their Wallace and Bobby Sands banner shortly before UEFA ordered every club in every member nation to observe a minute of silence to remember the life of the great Nelson Mandela. People within the Celtic support were asking how one could be alright and not the other. They pointed to the similarities between these three men and this was further borne out when Sands’ contemporary Gerry Adams was chosen by the Mandela family as part of his funeral guard of honour.

UEFA ties itself in knots when it does this stuff and it doesn’t even appear to realise it.

The promotion of anti-racist organisations is a profoundly political statement. Their awareness campaigns on homophobia are political statements. I agree with them on these particular political issues, but that’s not the point.

They allow Scotland, England and Wales, as well as the north of Ireland, to compete in their competitions as separate states, although all are members of a single political, social and economic union. This is a political decision, and it could be argued that at the moment Scotland fans have less actual right to fly the Saltire at football than to fly the Palestinian flag, as the nation state of Scotland doesn’t presently exist on the world stage, at any level, far less that for which Palestine has recognition.

Where does UEFA get off here? Are the SFA really going to stand for this? Are the two clubs going to let this pass? This impacts especially heavily on Celtic, as we’ve had a pull for political expression before and with our fans propensity for flying the flag it may well not be our last warning in this regard. In fact, it almost certainly won’t be.

Peter Lawwell has a seat on the SFA board. This would be a good time to put it to use, to stand up for both of our clubs and their supporters. UEFA ought to be made explain this one, publicly, to argue the reasons why they deem a national flag as something else and this verdict, which I predict will become a notorious one, reversed.

We should be using social media to promote the hypocrisy of this to other clubs and their fans. We should get the idea of flying that flag out there, and get it to go viral. Widespread condemnation and public opinion should be brought to bear on this issue.

I hope to God we don’t remain silent here. This one has to be challenged. Peter Lawwell gets a hard time on this blog, but he will go up in my estimation enormously if he takes this one on, on behalf of the two clubs and their fans.

This can’t be allowed to stand.

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Halfway to Paradise

JS9406424Who in their right mind would have thought two weeks ago that Celtic would be just one game away from qualification for the Champions League Group Stage?

Tonight’s match against the Slovenia champions will not only yield millions for Glasgow’s only cash rich club but will be absolutely pivotal in moulding Celtic, and manager Ronny Deila’s, season.

But we’re only Halfway to Paradise. So near, yet so far away.

Celtic will win the league, of course. Of that I no doubt. If they pick up a cup along the way, Ronny will have achieved a huge amount in his first season. But I want to be dining out with the Barcelonas, the Real Madrids, the Milans and Bayerns of this world. Life will be a lot duller without it. The stakes are indeed high.

After a good, steady professional performance at the Stadium Ljudski it would be a living nightmare if Celtic did not progress. Unthinkable.

It was a total transformation from the two ties against Legia Warsaw, but before I talk about that I have to condemn Sky Sports, who decided to run a poll all day – on the matchday itself – on whether Celtic should have been there or not. It backfired and to be honest, they should be treading carefully considering a huge amount of subscribers in Scotland will be Hoops fans.

Back to the real football matters.

Deila and Collins got it right and a few eyebrows were raised as Commons sat on the bench. I would have perhaps brought Commons on to replace Stokes later in the game as he holds the ball up better than anyone else in the team, but overall we had few complaints. It was a good performance and a fine result.

In fact, we should have won the game, and we had the chances to, but like most I would have taken a score draw over there. Chances by Mulgrew, Van Dijk and Johansen could have gone in on another night but they didn’t. Celtic’s tactics were spot on though. They knew Maribor played a counter-attack system and, in the main, nullified it.

Following the Legia matches Celtic were heavily criticised and rightly so. But fair play to the management and the players. They stepped up to the plate, pulled their socks up and got on with it.

What most of us are tending to forget  is Deila has picked up Neil Lennon’s side and we expected instant results. Once we had wiped the egg from our faces and taken the early season wake up call courtesy of the Poles, we look that bit better. As I travelled to the Dundee United match last week I had serious doubts about Celtic’s ability to chalk up a win. How wrong I was as United were slapped about like a red-headed stepchild.

It’s been a crazy start to the season.  Reyjkavik were never going to be a challenge and Warsaw proved you take nothing for granted. Inverness was a bad result, but with a weakened team, with this game in mind, and before it Celtic had scored nine league goals in two games, conceding just one.

The green shoots of recovery are sprouting.

I firmly believe Deila is gaining a true understanding of his players abilities. Young McGregor put a shift and a half in. He has ernomous potential and looks like a good old-fashioned winger with the ability to pop up and score. On top of that Deila has form for bringing youth through and developing them well.

I’m buzzing ahead of tonights game. All the signs are good and I wasn’t particularly impressed by any of Maribor’s players in the first leg. The front man Tavares looked decent and is clever on the ball but for a counter-attacking side, they lacked pace.
Despite my confidence, I do have some concerns over our defensive abilities. Van Dijk is one hell of a player but at times his positional sense lets him down. He wandered aimless which allowed Maribor the cut the defense open easily.

That’s why I think Celtic’s approach may be a little more cagey. Maribor will definitely try to hurt us on the break. The more we pressurise them in their own half, the more chance we have of scoring from corners and free-kicks. They looked dodgy at corners and had Johansen not been on the line Van Dijk would have give Celtic a lead for the home tie. Mulgrew and Lustig also had chances from corners.

In saying that, Maribor must take the game to Celtic at some stage and this could leave them vulnerable.

The Group Stages are within touching distance and the Solvenians are there for the taking.

I don’t care about how much money is at stake. It’s the prestige. I want to hear Zadok the Priest ring out at a packed Parkhead at least three times more.

The player’s showed their mettle in Slovenia, as well as their class against United, and they will be backed by a partisan crowd who love nothing more than taking on Europe’s elite.

We’ve witnessed bigger and better teams crumble in the intesity of the Celtic’s Green and White Arena. Let’s crank it up for the vistors. Let them know we are there.

Give the player’s that extra backing that will carry them on to the next episode.

Then, and only then we can close the Legia Chapter.

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Arguments From Ignorance?

 

article-2615509-1D6F646000000578-844_634x497This website has its second birthday on 3 October, and I’m very much looking forward to celebrating that with a couple of friends. In the time since we started, we’ve published nearly 150 articles, on various subjects dear to the hearts of football fans, but there are a couple of recurring themes, and it would be crazy if there weren’t.

The shambles at Ibrox continues to fascinate. The strategy at Celtic Park continues to divide opinion. The future of Ally McCoist is as up in the air as it ever was and the kind of SFA reform that would drive real change is as distant as it was then.

Through all of it, the media has been useless, and it continues to be useless, and it should no longer surprise us when they write ill-informed garbage. Yet, they still have that capacity. They can still leave me scratching my head in wonderment, and contempt.

Yesterday’s papers contained at least two (I stopped reading after the second one) pieces where facts were twisted or misrepresented, lies were told and reality was denied.

First, Keith Jackson wrote a piece on why Celtic was correct to pursue a Champions League place against Legia Warsaw, even if it went against our former statements on “sporting integrity.” The article has so much wrong with it that it’s difficult to know where to start in pulling it to bits, but taking it on a purely emotional level, I found myself shaking my head and thinking “this guy just doesn’t get it at all, does he?”

He should get it. They should all get it. Yet Jackson’s line of logic appears in any number of media outlets as well as on assorted Sevco blogs. It’s almost as if they’re all singing from one song sheet, because it is hard for me to believe that so many people, all across the country, have completely misunderstood these matters. Once more, the press is indulging in its favourite game.

Jackson appears either not to know, or to be content to ignore, the fact that Celtic played no part in this at all, and nor should we. This was a matter between UEFA and Legia, and we did the right thing and left it to them. There was no lobbying from Parkhead, no campaign to get us into the draw.

There was also no provision in the rules for us to refuse the tie, or to agree to a one-off match. These fantasies were floated by a desperate club who’d manufactured their own disastrous exit from the tournament, an understandable enough reaction in itself. What isn’t so easy to understand is why our media ran with them as though they were serious propositions.

This notion of “doing the honourable thing” is a piece of sheer nonsense. Even if the “honourable thing” had been to leave the competition and allow Legia their place, it would not have been in keeping with the regulations … and that’s what counts here.

Jackson and others spit out the words “sporting integrity” like it’s a curse. They’ve never liked the phrase and long ago suspended critical thinking on what the point of it was supposed to be. Their view on it has long been that Celtic invented the phrase as a hammer to hit Rangers with. It’s not true, and it’s never been true. Our position on “sporting integrity” has not changed one iota from the first time the phrase was used, and our understanding of what the phrase means was our guiding light in the Legia situation as it was in the EBT case and other affairs.

Football is supposed to be a level playing field. It is supposed to be a sport decided on merit, and this, say Celtic’s critics, is why our failure to “do the right thing” goes against the sporting integrity principle. But Celtic’s historical argument is more exact than that, and essentially iron clad.

You can only assure that every side is treated the same way by having regulations in place covering as many aspects of the game as possible. When you find gaps in those rules, which allow one side to secure an unfair advantage over others, you plug those gaps. At all other times, for the good of the sport, those rules must be adhered to exactly as they are written, and applied without fear or favour, neither bent not broken for anybody.

In the article, Jackson petulantly accuses Celtic of blocking a league extension in 2008 to prevent Rangers winning the league and the UEFA Cup. This is absolute garbage. The league season had already been extended once. Celtic’s objection was based on the governing bodies attempting a second extension to it, and one which would have severely impacted on the Scottish Cup as well as the league. Our objections were based very specifically on the rulebook, and when this was pointed out to the SPL the idea was dropped.

All Celtic did was insist that the rules be followed. Nothing more and nothing less. The phrase “sporting integrity” came out of that time, with Celtic’s demand that it not be compromised to assist one team ahead of all others. Rigorous application of the rules as they existed were all that Celtic asked for, and no more and no less.

When Rangers died and the league authorities tried to shoe-horn the NewCo into the SPL, Celtic came out against this, again using “sporting integrity” as our catch-all. Once more, the primary concern for our club was that the rules be followed exactly as written. Rangers had died. The SPL and the SFA had no provision for a transfer of shares or membership to a new organisation. Celtic demanded that Sevco Rangers be treated like any other NewCo.

This, once again then, was principally about the application of the rules. Those who have spent time trying to knock us for it would do well to consider that the alternative – which was effectively that our league bodies wanted to state that the club out of Ibrox was “too big to fail” – would have destroyed all respect and faith supporters had in that what they were watching was clean. How could we ever believe that a club for which rules had been bent and broken, for which the whole of our national sport had been brought into disrepute, would not get other advantages?

We knew this was more than possible. What if, stripped of their top players as the Ibrox side was, they were facing relegation at the end of the next campaign? (A virtual certainty at that time). Would rules have been changed, again, to keep them in the league? You bet they would. Celtic were determined not to allow it. We drew a line in the sand, and we were not alone.

One man, Turnbull Hutton, spoke for us all when he stopped on the steps of Hampden to call the governing bodies “corrupt” for daring to force the issue on the clubs.

The issue of sporting integrity rose again when Lord Nimmo Smith delivered his scandalous and baseless EBT verdict. Celtic clearly thought the SFA’s lax regulations had allowed Rangers to get away with murder, and they demanded more robust rules be put in place for the future. We’re still waiting for that to come to fruition, but once again, Celtic had mentioned “sporting integrity” in the context of the rule book.

It is very clear what Celtic think the phrase means.

Celtic believe sporting integrity comes from the rigorous application of the rules, and we have not shifted our position on it one bit. There is no hypocrisy here. There is only consistency.

If the rules are not followed exactly, if clubs can bend them and break them, ignore or conveniently forget them whenever they like, and the authorities allow this, then we don’t have a professional sport at all, do we? Where is the meritocracy? How can we be sure we’re not watching a rigged game?

It’s the very reason guys like our Auldheid of CQN and the Scottish Football Monitor continue to chase the issue of the SFA’s decision to grant Rangers of old a European license at a time when they clearly had debts liable to HMRC, which the club knew full well were in breach of the rules. It’s why the issue of EBT’s refuses to die, despite a decision having been reached nearly two years ago.

UEFA takes rule-breaking seriously enough to act. Here, in Scotland, depending on who’s breaking the rules, we have a much more lax attitude, and it is wrong.

What Jackson and others are doing is promoting a general contempt for the rules. Their assertion that the verdict was “harsh” on Legia is nonsensical. The verdict was the only one there was any provision for. This was not, as the press likes to make out, “fielding an ineligible player”, which in itself could have seen the match result voided, something they conveniently forget. This was fielding a banned player, for which there is only one punishment, written down in black and white.

Is the punishment, as set down, too harsh? I don’t think it is. How do you differentiate between a clerical error and a deliberate decision to chance your arm? You can’t. Those who say that because the player only came on in the last three minutes of the match it shouldn’t matter are missing the point. Had this been allowed he’d have been declared eligible for the next two games as well, a situation that would have disadvantaged whoever Legia got in the draw. That’s something the media chooses not to focus on, if it’s dawned on them at all.

It would have over-turned UEFA’s regulations on Champions League registration too; namely that a ban has only been served when a player is registered in a squad. This rule exists for very valid, very specific reasons and no-one at all would deny that they are solid and just and that erasing them would have opened all kinds of loopholes.

The idea that clubs should be allowed to ignore regulations and settle matters between themselves would have created a fundamental and deep rooted problem with all UEFA’s rules, something that’s escaped the attention of our Scottish press entirely, although a rhesus monkey who’d spent long enough studying the game would surely have been able to work that out.

Jackson and those who have somehow sought to compare Celtic’s call for “sporting integrity” with our perceived silence on these issues are revealing their own stupidity, making arguments from ignorance.

Why don’t these people understand objective reality? Why do they ignore past precedent? Why do they pretend the rules are something elastic, something that can be bent? Where did it come from, this peculiarly Scottish contempt for what’s written down?

Perhaps from reading their own publications, or those of their rivals.

Last week I wrote a piece called Bitter Tears, about Neil McCann’s comments in the wake of Celtic’s win at Perth last Wednesday night. He was not alone in attacking the Celtic winger Derk Boerrigter for what he perceived to be a dive. Some of the other media outlets ran similar stuff. What made McCann different was the extent of his over-reaction, an almost farcical explosion of anger and outrage, which gave lie to his status as a “neutral.” Indeed, to have listened to the panellists after the game one might have thought it was Celtic who’d only had one shot on goal, who’d had roughly 45% of possession in the match.

Celtic won the game by a comfortable margin. They were the better team on the night, as our own possession and eight shots on target testifies to.

In the article, I said we should ban from Celtic Park those journalists who allow their inherent bias against the club to come to the fore, or who write lies or mistruths about us.

Imagine my surprise when one such report was in yesterday’s Sun newspaper, concerning the Derk Boerrigter affair and trying to make some facetious and irrelevant comparison between it and the Legia Warsaw situation.

The article was written by former referee Kenny Clark, who will need no introduction to many supporters, and although it masqueraded as a piece of “journalism” it was so shoddy, blatantly biased and anti-Celtic that it should have made the sports department at even that scandalised newspaper blanche.

The piece accused Celtic of hypocrisy in wanting to see the rules applied to Legia but not to their own player. The piece stated that Celtic had “not accepted” the SFA’s disciplinary panel decision to bring the winger in for a hearing.

He then went on to seemingly accuse Deila of lying to the press when he promised that he will not abide cheating from his players. He actually wrote the following, in black and white, stating as a fact that which was patently, obviously, not:

“Clearly Boerrigter is in the wrong yet Celtic are now insisting they won’t accept the offer of a two match ban. It is staggering. Delia has talked a good game but his player is bang to rights in this instance.”

I read this in some astonishment. I was aware that the SFA had called the player to account for the incident, but I was not aware of any word from Celtic regarding it, either officially or under the radar.

But, Clark’s piece left no room at all for dubiety. The club was “insisting” it would not accept the SFA’s view of the incident. To me, that seemed stonewall, but I kept on wondering when the club had made such a statement.

Of course, the club had done no such thing. There had been nothing at all out of Parkhead on the matter. Our spokespeople hadn’t uttered a word on it. Ronny Deila had said nothing since his statement shortly after Wednesday’s game. The player had given no indication as to his stance either. Not until today, when the club and the player sent word to the SFA and the media that they were, in fact, satisfied with the SFA case and were accepting the ban.

The basis for Kenny Clark’s whole article had been demolished. Indeed, it had no basis in fact to begin with. In order to justify his column and its attack on Celtic, he had invented our “position”, and to me that is unconscionable.

This is the kind of gutter hack-attack we should be acting against.

Celtic has emerged from the last few weeks with our reputation being hammered at from all sides, but in actual terms it is more than still intact. Our position on issues of “sporting integrity” and of respect for the rules has been hugely enhanced by these two matters.

Whatever arguments from ignorance the media makes, that remains a fact.

Nevertheless, the people who consistently misrepresent facts and who are not averse to simply making stuff up have spent the last few weeks trying to lecture us on doing what is right.

The irony of it all is certainly not lost on me.

(On Fields of Green badly needs your support as we enter our own transitional period. If you can make a donation, we’d appreciate it. You can do so with the Donate button at the top or the bottom of whatever device you’re using. Every support we get is massively helpful.)

A Pale Horse

32978-celtic-chief-executive-peter-lawwellI used to have mixed feelings about Oliver Cromwell. I once admired him somewhat, whilst realising there was much I found distasteful. Overall, I believed him to be a hero for democracy, a man who stood against the hereditary system this country is still ruled by, and who stood up for a lot of things that were positive and good.

That was before I learned to reject out of hand the sanitised versions of history we get from others, and I started to dig into these things on my own.

When I did that I learned that he’d ordered pogroms against the Catholic populations of these islands, and had effectively run the areas in his charge as a dictator. I reversed my original views and now consider him an early fascist and war criminal.

I was thinking about Cromwell tonight, and it inspired these questions.

Do the bad things a man does eventually overwhelm the good? Is there a scale, a balance, by which we measure them, and how do we judge that?

I had sweated over what to call this article today. I settled on the name above because it was better than the name I was going to give it, which was “Go, And Go Now.”

The given name is a reference to the Book of Revelations, and will be familiar to the fans of Celtic, even those who’ve not picked up a Bible in years, from the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” banner which was flown to mark the Death of Rangers.

The Four Horsemen were the first of God’s judgements against man, and they each rode a horse of a different colour, and had a different divine mandate. The first horse, he White Horse, has mistakenly been referred to as Pestilence. This is not the proper translation though, because in the original form, in the Greek, the White Horse was called Conquest.

We’ve had our years of conquest since Peter Lawwell was made CEO. He’s been here 11 years and we have won seven titles; one under Martin O’Neill, with an expensively assembled squad, three under Gordon Strachan and three under Neil Lennon.

It seems impressive, but something stands out. How quickly, and how far, we fell.

In 2003-04, the season after Seville, the season he took on the role, our total transfer spending was £400,000. That was the sum we paid for Stephen Pearson, and we signed Michael Gray on a free. We had secured automatic qualification for the Champions League, and that was the sum total of what we spent, back in the days before the financial pinch and when attendances at Celtic Park were 50,000 plus.

With Martin still at the helm, we were to win the title. We went out of the Champions League at the group stages, but we’d reached the UEFA Cup Quarter Finals as a consolation prize.

We had done well. Unfortunately, Martin had proved he could work with a lesser budget and the limits of his ability were to be sorely, seriously, tested.

The following year was a disaster. Those who don’t remember it are well off, but I suspect that’s not a great number. It will live with us forever, for all the wrong reasons. Henrik Larrson left our club, after seven glorious years. Given the success of the previous year we had every right to expect a replacement of quality. Instead we got Henri Camara, on loan, and later in the month we brought in Juninho on a free transfer.

As well as losing The King, we’d also lost Johan Mjallby and a young Liam Miller, who had looked destined for stardom and a long period of success in a Celtic shirt.

In the January window that year we brought in Stephane Henchov, on a free, and Craig Bellamy, on another short term loan. After losing the single greatest footballer to grace Scottish pitches since the departure of Kenny Dalglish, we spent … nothing at all.

We paid for it too, as we’ve always paid – and will always pay – for lack of investment.

Boy, oh boy, was the paying expensive. A Champions League campaign characterised by glaring problems saw us win one game out of six, losing three and drawing two. It was humiliating, and yet that was cake compared to what was to come in Scotland, as the league slipped away on the final day. We call it Black Sunday.

Martin O’Neill left at the end of that year.

Peter Lawwell’s start was truly horrendous. But if you’re expecting a straight line between the strategy of that year, and the zero spend, despite losing Henrik, and the appalling ineptness of our start to this season, then think again.

There’s no connecting road between the two, and that should give us pause for thought.

The following year started in disastrous form when Gordon Strachan’s side succumbed to a thrashing at Artmedia. Yet for all that, Gordon Strachan was given money. He was given a lot of money. We spent £8 million on his team, without making a penny back in fees, bringing in the likes of Zurawski, Boruc and Nakamura.

The money was not wasted. We re-captured the league flag, and the League Cup, but more importantly, Strachan had laid foundations.

The following year we added to the squad with guys like Graveson (can you now believe he cost us £2 million?) Evander Sno (who eventually replaced him in the team), Derek Riordan, Jan Venegoor of Hesselink, Lee Naylor and, eventually, Paul Hartley.

At the same time, we’d sold Pearson, Hartson, Varga, Maloney, Ross Wallace and, most alarmingly, Stan Petrov, for whom we got £6,500,000.

Nevertheless, it was a net spend and those two years of investment brought rewards.

They brought big rewards.

We stormed to the title. We won the Scottish Cup. Most importantly, that investment, upwards of £10 million in just two years, had not only rebuilt Martin O’Neill’s squad but elevated us to the big time. We qualified from a Champions League group including Manchester United and Benfica, and reached the Round of 16, a feat Martin himself had not been able to achieve.

Martin O’Neill’s tenure had proved that investment brings rewards.

Gordon Strachan had been given money to spend and he had proved the same. For the second time in a decade, the club appeared to be going in exactly the right direction.

Something special was in the air, and Peter Lawwell was right there, steering the ship, and reaping the plaudits … and he was right to.

We were reaching into foreign markets. The signing of Nakamura had made us credible in the Far East, and his goals, in particular against Manchester United, were winning us friends and admirers across the global game. The signing of Hesselink and Graveson had made us look like an attractive and ambitious football club, one that knew where it was going.

They brought credibility to Celtic. They installed a swagger in our team and our fans. Every player knew he was surrounded by talented names.

We were respected in Europe again, and at home Rangers quivered in fear at the mention of our names. These were glory years, and no mistake.

The following season we added yet more quality, bringing in Scott Brown, Scott McDonald, Barry Robson, Massimo Donati and Andreas Hinkel.

Yet, oddly, Kenny Miller departed for £3 million, causing a brief spark of outrage amongst fans who had heard the manager say what a valued member of the squad he was shortly before he was punted.

Who was really making those kind of decisions? It was the first time – but it would not be the least –when that question was asked aloud.

Nevertheless, you could not shake the feeling that we were still showing ambition and intent. Those signings had built on what was already there, and made us seem stronger than we’d been in decades. We won a third title, qualified for the Round of 16 again and appeared on the cusp of being accepted as a European club of prowess once more.

And we deserved to be because we were acting like one.

Then everything went wrong. We made a colossal mistake in the 2008-09 season that haunts us today, and marked the point when some of us stopped believing.

Let me nail a couple of things before I start. Celtic spent money that year. They spent a good sum of money, as it turns out. We spent roughly £8 million in the summer of that season, and a further £2.1 million between 1 December and 31 January.

On the back of two Group stage successes, we ought to have had it to spend.

We signed Glen Loovins and Shaun Maloney for a combined total of nearly £5 million. We spent £1.5 on Georgios Samaras. We spent £400,000 on Marc Crosas and another £500,000 on Paddy McCourt. That was before December, where we spent £800,000 on the combined talents of a kid called Niall McGinn and a left back called Milan Misun. Remember him?

We brought in around £1.7 million on the sales of Sno and Derek Riordan.

So, in that god-awful year there was, in fact, a significant net spend, and I haven’t even included the player who’s signing, on the last day of the window, characterised the peculiar madness of the time, that of Wilo Flood, who cost us over £1 million.

The fans, the manager, the players on the park, were jaded though. We weren’t playing well, not converting our chances, and we’d been crying out for a proven goal-scorer.

We felt the boat could have been pushed out for one. We might have got Fletcher of Hibs for a little over what we paid for Flood and with another Champions League pot of gold waiting for the title winners, it didn’t seem like a lot to ask.

The striker was never delivered. Flood’s signing padded out an area of the team where we were already well covered. Was that when everything changed? Who knows? Somewhere inside Celtic Park the machine had broken down. We spiralled to a disastrous championship loss, failing to win ten games after the turn of the year.

The following year, it all collapsed for real.

People talk about that period as though Mowbray was backed as Strachan had been. Let’s knock that on the head for a start. It’s simply not true. For every penny Tony Mowbray is alleged to have squandered, there was a sale, or sales, to offset what he’d done. The problem is, without a sustained investment in the team we were scrambling to replace those who left, and the trouble was that we didn’t replace like with like. As big names, like Nakamura and Jan were removed from the wage bill the quality to replace them was simply not there.

We had started to stagnate, at the worst possible time. The appointment of Mowbray was a disaster for which Peter Lawwell later personally apologised.

It was too little, too late. The club was in freefall. We failed to win a trophy for the first time in seven years, and when the manager was sacked we replaced him with an untested coach, Neil Lennon, who steadied the ship but still crashed out of the Scottish Cup.

The following year, with the rookie Lennon in charge, we spent £10,000,000 on players but brought in £16,000,000 in transfer fees, with a staggering 18 members of the first team squad, and 37 players in total, being shown the door. The wage bill dropped like an anvil. £6 million in profits from player trading were posted in addition.

Sixteen players were brought in. Of that number, just five are still with the club. Fraser Forster and Tony Watt left earlier this year, and Gary Hooper left the season before.

We failed to win the league. We secured a paltry Scottish Cup for our efforts, after a season of transition and downsizing which is probably unrivalled in our history.

The trend continued. We were now in a state of permanent flux, and we have been ever since, reducing costs at a rapid rate. The following year we won our title back as Rangers began their slide into the abyss, on a net spend of a little over £500,000. We spent £3.1 million during that season, and we brought in £2.65 million.

Actual investment in the team? Virtually nil.

The following season we brought in £8.5 million in player sales, and we spent less than half of it – £3.9 million, to be exact – in a season where the downszing of the previous year had gone into overdrive.

Yet something clicked. Our rookie coach had proved he had some game.

We won the title and we won the Scottish Cup with a team built on a cash surplus, and we went one better than even that when we, once again, reached the Round of 16 in the Champions League.

It was a modern footballing miracle. Lawwell swaggered around Europe’s footballing cities as if he himself had picked the team. All talk was of the success of “the strategy.”

Yet Lennon had paid a high price for the mistakes of previous regimes, all of which had been signed off on by the CEO.

Despite the cutting, Lennon had come good. He’d made something out of nothing.

We all know how Neil was rewarded. In his three full years in the job, his transfer balance sheet was almost £10,000,000 in the black. Was he given that money to spend? Of course not. He wasn’t even offered improved terms on the contract he’d signed.

I have long said that Peter Lawwell should have gone with Tony Mowbray. That high priced mistake had been a shared one, and an apology hadn’t cut it. With the Mowbray experiment in ruins, our club forced on Neil Lennon the policy of doing more with less. Lawwell was lauded for the success we had under Gordon Strachan, at a time when our club had ambition and balls, and was spending money and looked to be on the path to real European credibility. Those were the good years, those when he rode the White Horse of Conquest.

He has never been as good at taking the blame.

The years 2008-09 and the cataclysmic year 2009-10 saw him riding the Red Horse of War.

The Red Horse symbolises the spilling of blood. Whilst the White Horse signifies victory in war – Conquest – the Red Horse is the symbol of civil strife and civil war. Those were, indeed, years we’d like to forget.

What happened to us during those years? Were they the years when the strategy shifted? I ask this because, as I said at the start, people have called it “the strategy” as if it were one thread running all the way through the Lawwell tenure. As I’ve demonstrated, this is actually far from the truth.

See, the loss of Larsson and the abject failure to replace him happened early in Lawwell’s term, and it’s probably easy to blame him for that, and many people do. Yet what happened in the next couple of years gave lie to the whole idea that we were going backwards. We spent money, big money, real money, on players. Gordon Strachan was allowed the resources to build his side, and in those three early years Peter Lawwell really was the Man With The Midas Touch.

I have never grudged him the plaudits he garnered in those days. His performance in the job, up until season 2007-08, when that first breakdown in communication between the manager and the CEO popped up over Kenny Miller, and which was repeated the following year with the sale of Massimo Donati and the failure by the club to sign a striker in the January window, was exemplary. Back then, I thought the guy walked on water.

When that window closed, the blinkers fell off. We had failed at the moment when Rangers was at its weakest point in a generation. Overloaded with debt, with the world banking crisis hitting full force, with MIH on the brink of total disaster, they were teetering on the edge of the abyss, and had we acted, in that window, with resolution and conviction, and the will to give them one hard push, I firmly believe they’d have been in administration that summer and dead by the end of it, because they were floundering in a sea of red ink and with the financial world in chaos there would have been no saving them from their deserved fate.

The millions we’d have banked from the Champions League would have allowed us to build on what was already a very good side, and with an astute tactician like Strachan at the helm who knows where the club might have ended up.

I have never accepted those who said that the survival of Rangers was a consideration inside Celtic Park, and I still hold no truck with anyone who claims we “threw” the league that season to keep them alive. I think the idea is nonsense, the product of a febrile imagination.

What I think happened was one of two things. We were either gun-shy, and we bottled out of administering the coup-de-grace, or the people in charge of our club simply missed the historical significance of the moment. I find both hard to believe, but when the alternative explanation is to believe that we wanted them to survive and so handed them a title I have to accept one or the other. If I had to guess, I’d say we lost our nerve and decided it would probably happen anyway – we were still top of the table going into that window – and it would sit better if we weren’t quite so blatantly trying to shove them into the grave.

Whatever the explanation, that was the point where I stopped believing. That Rangers won another two titles on the bounce, securing them something in the region of £50 million over the three years, money they’d certainly have been dead without, still haunts us today.

Of course, that is the same period covered by the twin scandals of the Discounted Options Scheme and the SFA’s granting of a European license. If Legia has taught us anything at all it’s taught us that there are parts of the footballing world where breaches of the rules on player registration and on full disclosure are still taken very, very seriously.

Some feel Celtic have never pursued these matters as robustly as they should. I point to the CEO on that, and I ask him why this is the case, and I’d also ask anyone who’s waiting on justice, now how they think it can be delivered whilst he sits on the SFA game board? Sevco Rangers will claim any pursuit of these matters, at this juncture, is tainted … and they’d be right. Our club is never going to be able to pursue them whilst Lawwell’s in that post … and I darkly suspect that this was part of the “trade off” that put him there. Our silence was the price we paid for his elevation.

Our reticence on these matters – matters involving tens of millions of pounds – is staggering, and this, as much as what followed those two Years of War, poses questions to Lawwell he is not placed to answer, and count in the negative column against him.

The Third Horseman of the Apocalypse is the one that stalked Neil Francis Lennon every day of his tenure as manager, and the one I believe brought that tenure to its end.

Having rode the Red Horse of War, Lawwell positioned himself on the Black Horse of Famine.

Let’s go over, once again, the stats as they were at the end of Neil’s full third year in the job. He had secured two titles. He had gotten us through to the Round of 16 in Europe, and he had done this without having spent money. Neil Lennon’s three years at Celtic had resulted in a transfer surplus of £10,000,000 when that season came to an end.

Whatever anyone might argue otherwise, Neil Lennon was never backed by Peter Lawwell and the board, and I do not care what anyone says in mitigation. It is not borne out by the facts. The scandalous way in which he was treated by those inside our own club shames them, and could have cost this man his reputation in the game.

Neil Lennon was willing to give more than any manager in Scotland ever has. He faced death threats and physical assaults. He was the victim of a terrorist attack – I will never accept it as anything else – which also went after other prominent figures. He gave everything to Celtic and a lot more, and he was never given a fraction of the support handed out to O’Neill, Strachan or even Mowbray.

Whatever happened during the Years of War had changed the direction of the club. Whatever strategy we had been following, the one that had seen Lawwell so coveted that Arsenal were said to be ready to offer him a job, it was dumped and a new one put in place.

Lennon paid the price for it, and at the end of that third full season, having accomplished miracles with less than pocket change, he must have felt fully entitled to the respect – and the rewards – that went with that. Instead, what happened?

The team he’d built was ripped apart. The £10,000,000 transfer surplus doubled. He spent £11 million on players, but the club brought in £23 million on outgoing fees in the same season. Neil Lennon had delivered profits – on player sales alone – of £22 million in four years, yet at the end of last season he saw Joe Ledley leave after he was denied a better contract, he saw Samaras treated with contempt and not even offered a deal and there were dark hints that Virgil Van Dijk and Fraser Forster would be the next big names to go. Kris Commons, who the manager wanted to sign up on an improved deal, has not been offered it yet, and it’s rumoured he’ll leave despite winning last year’s Player of the Year awards at a walk.

Lennon walked away. We replaced him with a manager from Norway who had originally been mooted as his assistant. Fraser Forster’s transfer out of the club leaves the five year transfer surplus at a breathtaking £32 million. Despite this, the new coach has spent no money, signing four players, one on a free transfer and the other three on loan.

He maintains that the money for signings is there, but the problem is wages. I’ll get back to that subject presently, but for just a moment let’s marvel at the blatant contradiction in those who tell us that modern football is now so expensive we cannot compete.

Celtic’s transfer record of £6 million was set fourteen years ago, when the market value of players was a fraction of what it is today. A comparable fee today would be around the £9 million mark.

Now, even average players can fetch that price. In the year we signed Sutton, year 2000, Luis Figo set the world transfer record with a £37 million move. Today the record stands at £85 million, the deal that took Gareth Bale to Madrid.

In those 14 years, as football prices have escalated insanely, as the cost of attending games has gone up and up and up. At the same time, TV revenues have increased, prize money has gone up and the Champions League has become a multi-million pound bonanza no-one could have dreamed.

Despite all that, Celtic’s desire to spend the market value has actually evaporated. The closest we have come to spending anywhere near our own record is the £4 million that brought Scott Brown to Celtic Park in 2007.

Today our manager talked about us not being willing to spend £5 million on one footballer, and so it looks as if the £6 million price tag Chelsea put on Sutton is higher than we’ll ever go again, under the present board, and as prices continue to rise the quality of what you can buy for that kind of money goes down accordingly, locking us permanently into a vicious circle of mediocrity.

We have been going backwards, as a club, for six long years now, perversely the very six that Graham Speirs chose to highlight in his recent article as proof of the “success of the strategy.” In that time of appalling downsizing we have crashed out of Europe before the groups in one of those seasons and in four of the other five turned in displays that humiliated us and undid much of the reputation building for which Lawwell was being praised only a few years before.

In that same timeframe we have competed in twelve domestic cup competitions, and won three. We have contested six league titles and lost half of them. We won one after Rangers had thrown away a fifteen point lead and we secured the other two following their liquidation. The football in that time has veered wildly between the ridiculous and the sublime, and Ronny Deila is our fourth manager in the cycle. Continuity has been non-existent.

Forget competing with the European big boys and the cash rich EPL. But for the collapse of Rangers, we would barely be keeping our noses in front here in Scotland, and that, my friends, is the real indictment of Lawwell, the strategy and the board.

The strategy has been a shambles for years, but somehow people don’t want to see it. The spectacular success Lennon achieved in his third year in the job was in spite of the board, not because of them, and as we’ve seen, it was swiftly, shockingly, undone.

What happened here? Where did everything start to go wrong?

Did Lawwell’s ego, and his influence, grow out of control after Strachan’s team had twice secured qualification out of the groups? The overture from Arsenal came around this time, and he turned it down. His remuneration rose accordingly, but did his authority increase too?

The evidence is there, in the treatment of Miller and Donati, players the manager had praised only to sell shortly thereafter. Did Lawwell start believing his own press and his own hype? Who can forget his turning up for the Robbie Keane loan deal press conference, grinning like a Cheshire Cat, at a time when Rangers were already out of sight in the league race and we’d just pocketed £3.5 million for our top scorer, Scott McDonald?

Lawwell’s salary and bonuses have gone up every year since. At a time when Celtic fans mock Sevco supporters mercilessly over the money being leeched out of the club by Ally McCoist, our own CEO is probably the most handsomely compensated person in Scottish football. His salary topped that of the man in the dugout at Ibrox, and was nearly twice that of Neil Lennon.

Today our manager spoke of the wage ceiling at Celtic Park, the one which forced Ledley, Samaras and others out the door and which effectively blocks any significant signing who will markedly improve the team. At a time of vastly increasingly salaries across the game we have capped player wages at a level which will never allow us to grow our squad.

Yet the number is more than a mere quirk of the strategy, because it assures something else. It assures that there is no player at Celtic Park now, or likely to be in the immediate future, who will earn more for putting in a shift than Lawwell himself. He is the best paid person at Parkhead by miles, and there cannot be any CEO in the country who earns such a wage running a comparable organisation in terms of turnover and staff.

Peter Lawwell is, quite simply, vastly over-paid and hugely over-rated when one examines where we were only six or seven years ago as compared to where we are today. The quality of our management team, and that of the team on the park, has plummeted in direct proportion to his own recompense, and the piling up of cash from profitable transfer deals.

When Celtic was regularly punching above its weight in Europe, with a squad of high quality, exciting footballers and big name signings, with our reputation largely restored and our club beginning to explore foreign markets, Peter Lawwell was earning half of his current salary and doing a vastly better job in delivering what the football club required.

Somewhere along the line, everything changed. We are now failing at every level, and the gaps in the stands, which some put down to the absence of a club called Rangers, are, at least partly, to do with a realisation that we’re presently a club going nowhere.

In the space of the last four or five weeks, the rot at the very soul of our club has been exposed for all to see, with a match promoter threatening legal action because we cashed their cheque and sent a bunch of kids to be roundly thrashed by Spurs.

On the back of a calamitous Champions League campaign last year, we weakened the team, replaced the manager with someone with no European experience, and forced him to travel the world in meaningless games, for money, and then we were destroyed over two legs against the Poles, before being reprieved by UEFA.

We then let the shame of our defeat and the manner of our reinstatement be multiplied tenfold in the eyes of people all over the world with our abject failure to take the initiative in an escalating PR war with Legia Warsaw.

It does not matter that we were right to leave it to UEFA. The publicity, on top of everything else, has been horrendous and we did not get on top of it quickly enough.

The reputational damage these events have done to us, outside of Scotland, where it really does matter, in terms of lucrative invites to play matches, to being considered a big team, with knock on effects in terms of our ability to attract good players, is very nearly incomprehensible, and someone ought to carry the can for that.

This cannot be allowed to continue.

Peter Lawwell now sits atop the Pale Horse, the Death Horse, as the CEO of a ship on its way towards the rocks. The failure to invest in the team has already resulted in one drubbing in Europe this season, and if another follows it the knock-on consequences could send us into a truly terrifying downward spiral in which fans stop coming to games, the team loses focus, the balance sheet starts to dip downward and the manager and the playing squad pay the consequences for failures way above their heads.

Does the good a man does become overwhelmed by the bad? Does early success offer an alibi for later failure? When does one begin to cover the other? Ego and arrogance have brought down empires. Greed has brought down more.

I said at the beginning that tonight I’ve been thinking about Oliver Cromwell, and what got me started on that was a speech of his, one he gave in the House of Commons, and which was repeated in that House by the MP Leopold Amery, and levelled at Neville Chamberlain, during the Phony War of 1939 – 40. I offer it now, to the Chief Executive of Celtic.

“You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

On that note, I’ll say no more on the subject … for now.

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The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Luis-SuarezWell friends, have you all been enjoying the World Cup?

I think it’s been as good a competition as I’ve seen for many, many years. We’ve seen some wonderful football, some spectacular goals, some magnificent individual displays and team performances which have taken the breath away. We have seen colourful fans and superb stadiums.

We have seen so much that is good that it seems awful, genuinely awful, to have to focus on the bad, but the bad has come through loud and clear too.

So, unfortunately, tragically, has the ugly. This has been a World Cup of contrasts.

Football is a wonderful game. I know of no other sport where there is such drama, where there is such excitement, which requires such a high degree of skill from its players or can generate such emotional investment from its fans.

I watch other sports, and I even enjoy some of them although many leave me baffled and unmoved. Football is the supreme game, the one that will always be my favourite, the one that will always have a place in my heart.

It offends me to see men like Sepp Blatter treat it with such callous disregard. You cannot watch the rulers of our sport and not feel disgust and contempt. The decision to award a World Cup to Qatar is a travesty, and so palpably corrupt that it it is almost unbelievable that they’ve gotten away with it, and would now bend the whole game to support their dishonest decision. The sheer scale of what has happened here is hard to quantify, and with so much money on the line it is hard to argue against it being an act of gross criminality.

Yet even as the game was still reeling from the pre-tournament revelations about bribery, Channel 4 dropped another bombshell with its documentary on match-fixing. I watched it with the same stunned anger I’m sure many of you felt, and asked myself the same question. How long have we been watching a rigged game?

Here, in Scotland, we had years of it, and some of the people directly responsible for it remain in post. Never has it been so apparent to me that reforming the game is a task requiring action way beyond what happens on our doorstep. If all of Scottish football’s guilty men walked off the stage tomorrow, leaving in place the kind of leaders we deserve, then it would be a step in the right direction but no more.

The higher one goes on the football ladder the more the stink makes you want to gag. For years we have asked why FIFA and UEFA have not stepped in and taken some of these matters out of the SFA’s hands. Watching the behaviour of the governing bodies over the last few months you get the distinct impression that these are the last people we want coming to our rescue.

There is too much graft in the game. Too many little favours being done behind the scenes. The more you look at the bigger picture the more you come to suspect that the reason we’ve never had FIFA or UEFA intervention is that they can’t do it, because then they’d risk exposing their own malfeasance and their own hypocrisy.

Scottish football, and UEFA, lost David Taylor recently, when he had a heart attack in his office. Taylor was not a trailblazer or a radical. He was a bureaucrat, an administrator, a box checker. He did as he was told, and he wasn’t there to rock the boat, although this boat is in serious need of some rocking. He was an uncontroversial figure, maybe because during his time here there was so much that was still under wraps.

Those days are gone. There are no secrets anymore. We know who the guilty men are and what they’ve done.

If his replacement comes from Scotland it will probably be someone mired in the scandal of the last few years, and, as such, it will probably be someone who will fit in nicely with the UEFA and FIFA culture of back-door deals and contempt for the ordinary fans.

Whilst the sport has never been more loved, when the spectacle has never been better, when the game itself has never been this good to watch, I have to remind myself that it’s still waist deep in scandal, that the barbarians are not at the gates as much as they inside the walls having a Hell of a party. There is no sign of it coming to an end.

What it makes me realise is that our battles here in Scotland are only the start of the fight we’re facing on a wider front. The game itself has never been this good, but its governance is broken at every level, and no revolution in the way the sport is run can be won or lost in a single nation. Changes are needed on a much larger scale.

The Augean Stables of Nyon and Zurich, and the regional HQ’s in Miami, Kuala Lumpur, 6th of October City, Luque and Auckland too probably, need cleaning out every bit as badly as those at Hampden Park, perhaps more so, because if our supporters revolution in Scotland ends up in their hands I want to know, we all want to know, that those hands are clean.

That’s the bad, the bad of this World Cup, along with heavy handed policing.

Which brings us around to the ugly, and we’ve had our share of that too.

There is a truly gruesome YouTube video going around of a vicious biting incident, one that turns the stomach to watch.

I refer, of course, to the England supporter attacked inside a ground, apparently with a racial motivation. What makes this worse, what makes it raise the hackles even more than it otherwise would, is that it was carried out by a fellow England fan.

Truly there is no place at all in football for the kind of person who would do this. A biter and a racist. Either one should have you drummed out of the sport forever … but a combination of both? Which club would want him associated with it? Which nation would want him to walk around underneath its flag as a representative?

We all know the answers, because this mindless thug’s behaviour off the pitch has been mirrored, in ghastly fashion, by the fallen star of this year’s competition, Luis Suarez.

As last season wound to a close I think it was impossible for any true neutral not to have gotten swept up in the drama at Liverpool and their quest to win the title for the first time in decades, and coming during the poignant Hillsborough anniversary commemorations.

Everyone connected with the club, from their charismatic and brilliant young manager Brendan Rogers to the captain Steven Gerrard, who had one of the finest seasons in his career, pulled together in an effort to get the club over the line, and they came agonisingly close to making it.

Luis Suarez was one of the driving forces in the team, and his presence was the only reason I felt mild disquiet as I cheered the club on through the final series of games.

When Jose Mourinho and Chelsea snatched three points by virtue of some of the most negative football I’ve ever seen in my life my anger was intense, and real, and I shared Suarez’s frustration. I didn’t bite anything. When, against Palace, they shipped three goals and blew a golden chance to regain momentum, and I watched Suarez and the other players looking genuinely devastated I mustered a little human sympathy for him, but not much more.

His World Cup goals ought to have been the crowning glory in a season where he took giant strides towards rebuilding his shattered reputation, but today it’s in ruins again.

Some have labelled it a personal tragedy for the player, but they appear to be largely ignorant of how little impact it will actually have on the life of someone who’s wealth is in the tens of millions at present, and who knows full well there are clubs out there, including his own, who are willing to increase his fortune by millions more.

Liverpool and Uruguay have come out in defence of the player. Kenny Dalglish has said the club has to hold on to him. There has been an eruption of anger against the governing body for taking what many see as draconian action. Everyone involved in this outpouring of support for someone as disgraced as Suarez ought to be ashamed.

On the day Leigh Griffiths signed for Celtic I posted an article where I expressed my delight at the move, but I posed a question as to how much football fans will accept from their heroes.

When he was caught signing the Rudi Skacel song in an Edinburgh bar just a few weeks later I was torn between wanting Celtic to aggressively protect the player from the firestorm the media was trying to whip up and wanting him read the riot act for what he had done.

There was no point where I was in any doubt that his behaviour was idiotic at best, and I finally accepted the media’s coverage as something unpleasant but necessary, because regardless of what people think of the press those who were trying to excuse Griffiths behaviour by pointing the finger of blame elsewhere were only kidding themselves on.

The Green Brigade took appropriate action to let the player know what the feeling in the stands was, and I thought it reflected well on them, and on this club, that Leigh was well and truly put on notice by the supporters themselves, and told to screw the nut. The club should have gone further and sent him to every Kick It Out workshop going, and he may yet face criminal charges for what he did, but all that is by the by. The people who count most – the fans – have drawn the line, and it has answered the question I set for myself in that article.

Liverpool is a greater club than the one that is grubbing around after an idiot who has disgraced their jersey. It is sad to see so many of their supporters refuse to accept that it is Suarez – not FIFA – who has damaged their club and brought shame to it.

It is shocking to see them pander to such a low-life.

This is football though, this is the dark side of the Beautiful Game, one where we excuse people anything as long as they can kick a ball.

On the night Suarez was given his ban I watched, with fascination, as Gordon Strachan shot down an entire studio of talking heads as they tried to label the player an aberration and the behaviour of the Uruguayan FA as out of touch for continuing to support him. Gordon pointed out, and rightly, that it is sheer hypocrisy for anyone in the game to accuse these people of behaving outrageously when, as he put it, this is a sport that had defended adulterers, drug abusers, wife beaters and all.

The problems are not confined to Luis Suarez, but to the whole culture that swirls around the game, which glories talent with the ball above the moral side of the sport, above social responsibility, a game which forgives domestic violence, blatant criminality, which has convicted criminals pulling on jerseys on the pitch and sitting in the stands, in charge of clubs.

It is the game that forgives debt dumping on a grand scale, which lets a rapist emerge from his disgrace and his imprisonment and finds him a club, revealing an utter contempt for the supporters which takes your breath away. It is a sport whose leaders are corrupt, whose players are greedy and overpaid, a game run on money and what keeps the taps pouring it out … a game I love more than I ever have.

This World Cup has been wonderful, and it’s shown the Beautiful Game in a more beautiful light than I’ve seen it for years.

Yet with the good, we must take the bad, and with the bad we must accept the ugly.

If only it wasn’t so, but it is. And you can live with it or you can try to change it.

Full credit to everyone out there who’s trying to do just that.

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