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Friday, 26 August 2011

The Gulf Between the SPL & EPL

As a Celtic fan in my mid- twenties, one of my favourite footballing memories is of the night John Hartson smashed an absolute rocket of a shot past a despairing Jerzy Dudek at Anfield to put the seal on a brilliant UEFA Cup victory. Fans of a slightly older vintage than myself hold the 1970 European Cup victory over Leeds in front of 136505 spectators in similar regard. For Rangers supporters, once again Leeds were the opposition in a genuine ‘Battle of Britain’ during the 92-93 season, the Scots were victorious and the images and emotions from that tie are forever ingrained in the conscience of the Rangers support.

Scottish clubs have more often than not, emerged victorious from cross border skirmishes. The Scottish mentality ensures that these victories are both savoured and celebrated, in fact the only time Scottish football fans ever come close to uniting as one and backing their traditional rivals is when the opposition is from south of Hadrians Wall (and I don’t mean Berwick Rangers).

On Thursday evening the latest instalment of the ‘Battle of Britain’ series took place at Tynecastle. In the maroon corner, representing the SPL, stood Heart of Midlothian, in the white corner we had Tottenham Hotspur of the EPL. I shall extend my use of a boxing analogy to say that if the referee could have stopped it he would have. It was probably the finest example of one team outclassing another in every area of the pitch I have ever seen. The 0-5 scoreline, if anything flattered the Scottish side.

Those of us who had dreamed of the glamorous visitors from down south being sent home, if not vanquished then at least with pride wounded were left crestfallen. Many “experts” had predicted a tough time for Spurs, and expressed surprise at the ease of victory. The question is though, should the fact that ‘the best of the rest’ from England’s top division are so far ahead of their Scottish equivalent be a surprise to anyone but the most blinkered of supporters?

If I was informed that Bill Gates has a bigger television in his living room than I do I would not feel surprise, it would make perfect sense, he’s minted and I’m skint. He can afford material extravagancies while I cannot. The EPL is far stronger, far superior to the SPL purely because it has the money to buy expensive trinkets.

Gareth Bale, the Spurs left winger is valued at £40m and is often (rather generously) described as a genuinely world class player, he is in monetary terms the most valuable player in their side. His opposite number at Hearts is also his team’s biggest on-field financial asset, but while Bale would command an astronomical fee, Andrew Driver could probably be purchased for something in the region of £2m.

The thing is though, the two leagues actually share the same problems, the lack of young players making the move from academy, to first team, to national honours is of equal concern either side of the border. Administration is a genuine issue for both EPL and SPL clubs. You could also throw in the ownership and running of clubs by some suspect individuals and the dwindling of match day attendances.

If you are being harsh (and its Monday so I’m going to be) you could say both the EPL and SPL are turds, the only difference being, in England their turd is more aesthetically pleasing having been polished with the Sky Sports billions.

If the SPL continues on its current path, the days of sending the English home ‘tae think again’ are over. The financial gulf is now too prohibitive to ever be bridged. If Scotland could somehow make its club game more competitive and focus on developing home-grown talent then there is some hope that those days could one day return. Until then it should be no surprise when English teams, who can afford to shop at Harrods, outclass Scottish sides whose budgets only stretch to the Asda value range.

Back to domestic matters, and Celtic fans went into this weekend dreaming of a 5 point lead over their Glasgow rivals, however Rangers produced their most impressive display of the fledgling McCoist reign resulting in a 3-0 win at Fir Park, while Celtic to the fury of their manager, missed yet another penalty and numerous other chances before going down 1-0 to St Johnstone. A hoped for 5 point cushion has become a 1 point deficit.

After their European exploits, Hearts will probably be satisfied with their 0-0 draw at Kilmarnock. Dundee United were surprisingly beaten 1-0 at home by Dunfermline, who have made an impressive start to their return to the top division. St Mirren reinforced the belief that Danny Lennon’s men have made real progress this year with a 2-1 win at Easter Road. Aberdeen finally managed to put the ball in the oppositions net (twice!) and were rewarded with the 3 points in their Pittodrie clash with Inverness Caley.

Mid-week sees the second legs of the Europa League qualifiers take place. For what it’s worth I expect Rangers to go through relatively comfortably, Celtic are surely in for a nervy night in Switzerland but I think they may just squeeze through (as long as it doesn’t go to penalties), I think I can say without fear of contradiction that Hearts are going out.

A Review of 'The Smell of Football'

I am a massive fan of football in general, not just of my chosen side but the game itself, warts and all. I have also always enjoyed reading, even at school where reading a book voluntarily was frowned upon I often had my nose buried in a book. It makes sense then that my bookcase is packed with tomes on ‘the beautiful game’. One genre that is conspicuous by its absence though, is the footballers’ autobiography.

Usually I find these books fall into one of two categories, either a back slapping, self-congratulatory ego stroking exercise, where the author uses his book to show just how good pals he is with all the ‘top top guys’ in football. Or even worse the guy still in his mid-twenties, broaching such weighty subject matter as whether he should sign a sponsorship deal with Nike or Adidas. Time is finite and there are so many books worthy of your attention that I find it difficult to justify settling down and investing my time in one of these PR exercises.

So when I was asked to review “The Smell of Football” by Mick ‘Baz’ Rathbone as a reward for winning writer of the month at, my initial thought was to say thanks but no thanks. However after conducting a quick bit of research on the book I decided that maybe I should put my preconceptions to one side, and give it a chance.

I have to say I am delighted that I did. Mick (or Baz as he is almost universally known) comes across as an intelligent, articulate and most importantly, self-aware man. His insight into the game, at a wide variety of levels, is utterly fascinating.

Baz started his career as a talented full back at his ‘hometown club’ Birmingham City, his candid account of how he failed there due to his own mental fragility is startling for its frankness. Those of us who have no insider knowledge of footballers and what makes them tick, have often debated how important the ‘mental’ side of the game is. This book gives you a genuine glimpse into the world of a footballer and all the psychological challenges it entails, and the truths it uncovers are not only intriguing but may make you re-evaluate your opinion on some of those players who incur your derision on a Saturday afternoon.

The book covers Baz’s journey from a nervous, at times panic stricken teenager at Birmingham, all the way through to his time as a vital part of Everton FC’s backroom staff (as chief of medicine). There are stops at Blackburn (the peak of his playing career), Preston, a spell in management and his time training in physiotherapy (he also spent some time selling clothes from the back of his car!)

The book is full of genuine laugh out loud moments, some unique insights into the nutritional habits of footballers from Baz’s era (10 egg omelette anyone?) and anecdotes involving everyone from Sam Allardyce to Crstiano Ronaldo. Put together these would make a very enjoyable read, it is the inclusion of Baz’s honesty when addressing his weaknesses and how they almost ruined his career before it began, that make it an essential one.

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to email a few questions to the author, and I must thank him for taking the time to answer my queries. Here is a transcript of that email interview.

1.If you were starting your career now, do you think that your psychological problems would have been addressed/noticed by the club?

If I look back on my time as physio at Everton, then – had I been a player there – it certainly wouldn’t have gone unnoticed. There are so many people around the team nowadays that it would be impossible for something like that not to be detected.

2. How far do you think you could have gone in the game if you had achieved your potential? England honours?

I played at Youth Level for England and was considered the brightest prospect at Birmingham as a 17 year old.
So, looking at it theoretically, full England honours wouldn’t have been out of the question – I certainly had the potential.

However, I think it’s important to remember that not having confidence is just as bigger drawback as lacking pace or technique on the ball. To play international football you have to both of those, plus lots of confidence in your ability too.

3. Did you ever consider writing the book without discussing your mental fragility? i.e just a collection of dressing room stories.

No, not at all. There wouldn’t have been any merit in that.
For me the first quarter of the book – which deals with my struggles at Birmingham – is what really sets it apart. The experiences of that difficult period of my career are what motivated me to write.
4. What is the most significant change you have seen in your years in the game?

I’d have to say the overall speed of the game. Matches today are so much quicker than they were when I first started out in football. That’s reflected in training nowadays too as it’s vital players are prepared for the level of intensity that awaits them on a Saturday.

5. Do you see a move away from the traditional pre-season "run till you drop" approach toward a more structured system?

Oh yes, that happened a while ago already. Most clubs in this country are well beyond that now.

6. As a former player would you be in favour of technology in the game? i.e goal-line video technology.

I would definitely be in favour of goal-line technology as that can quickly tell you one way or the other if the ball’s crossed the line. It’s either in or it’s not. Simple. 

Looking at other areas of the pitch, I’m not sure what else could be introduced that would be as clear-cut and easy to implement, so I’d leave it at that for now.

7. Are there teams in Premier League today that significantly fitter than others, or is everybody at a similar level?
I have a feeling Blackpool may have stayed up last year if they had been fitter and been able to keep their performance levels up for the entire game.

Top players these days are all naturally fit, so generally speaking it is a level playing field in the Premiership.

The difference lies in the fact that teams with less technical ability will have to play with their eyeballs out for 90 minutes just to try and get a result, which obviously means they’ll grow tired more quickly.

I thought Blackpool were superb last season, but they were just maybe lacking one or two players with a bit of the power you find in the squads of the Top Four clubs.

8. Finally, are you optimistic for the future of the game in this country?

Yes, Football’s one of our finest products, which I’m sure will continue to serve us well in the future. The sport’s being going for hundreds of years and is too big for people to let go to waste.

If you look at the national team, then I think maybe a bit more realism is required. The fact that we invented the game has no bearing on anything that happens today, and we’ve got to accept that a leveling-off has occurred internationally.

Population-wise, we’re a comparatively small nation, so I think the stats would probably show that we’re doing OK for a country of our size.

I can only give this book 5/5. I did consider docking a point for some of his musical references (Queen!) but that would be pandering to my personal prejudices. If you have an interest in football, even if you normally steer clear of autobiographies, this book will both enlighten and amuse in equal measure.

Mad Vlad Strikes Again

The good thing about being a fan of Scottish football is that off-field events often make up for the lack of entertainment the actual process of twenty two men hoofing a ball around a park provides. This of course is in no small part due to “Mad Vlad” Romanov, the chairman of Hearts.

After a mixed season last year, Hearts were active in the transfer market over the summer months, bringing in experienced, proven SPL players. Fans of the Gorgie club approached the new season with a cautious optimism, their early displays did nothing to dispel the thought that Hearts would once again gain the dubious honour of being, ‘best of the rest’. What we had all overlooked though, was that it had been almost two weeks since Vlad had done anything a bit mental. You do sometimes get the impression with Romanov that he’s worried we’ll forget just how “Mad” he truly is. The furore over his backing, then sacking, then quietly loaning out to Kaunas (the Lithuanian team he “owns”) of convicted sex offender Craig Thompson had just died down when he decided that after 3 games, and an all-round encouraging start to the season, it was time for another new manager. Anyone questioning this move was apparently a “fool” or an “idiot”.

A new manager was in place, seemingly before Jim Jeffries and Billy Brown had time to clear their desks, never mind organise some goodbye drinks. Paolo Sergio seems to have spent the majority of his career in Portugal getting sacked, so should feel right at home (but would be advised not get to comfy) in one of the ‘hottest’ hot seats in football. Now apparently Romanov has decided he quite fancies winning the title this year, this can only end well.

In Romanov’s defence, Jim Jeffries was nowhere near as popular amongst the Hearts support as some would have you believe, also like all the best of this new breed of “sugar daddies”, Romanov craves “sexy football” from his team and I doubt even their wives would associate Jeffries and Brown with the word “sexy”.

The new regime at Tynecastle got off to a cracking start as they progressed to the final qualifying stages of the Europa League, thus setting up a mouth-watering “Battle of Britain” with Tottenham. Although instead of a glamorous tie against the crème de la crème of the EPL in the nation’s capital, recent events in the London borough of Tottenham (and Harry Redknapp’s obvious disdain for the tournament) have turned it into a trip into a warzone, to get beaten by Spurs reserves.

Rangers crashed out of Europe at the hands of the (not so) mighty Malmo. This game looks like it was Madjid Bougherra’s final one in the royal blue, and he used it to confirm that he had now completed his transition from asset to liability. Steven Whittaker should still be apologising to his team mates, and fans, after his utter stupidity (in getting sent off for retaliation) gave Rangers a mountain to climb that they really could have done without.

In the SPL this week, it was ‘raining goals’ at East End Park as Dunfermline and Inverness shared the spoils in a six goal thriller, at Tannadice an entertaining 1-1 draw between Dundee United and St Mirren was overshadowed by a triple leg break suffered by United captain Scott Severin, Motherwell continued their good form with a win over Paolo Sergio’s Hearts, in a game where both Keith Lasley of Motherwell and Ian Black of Hearts were sent off (more on Black later). Aberdeen’s main objective last season seemed to be providing as much of a boost to Celtic’s goal difference as they possibly could, so they surprised everyone on Sunday by not only losing by just one goal to nil, but by keeping 11 men on the park and not even giving away a penalty. Whilst this signals some progress at Pittodrie, they have now gone 3 full games without even looking like they might fancy scoring an actual goal.

The celebrations of the Celtic support were muted somewhat after news filtered through that last year’s player of the year, Emillio Izzaguire, had suffered a broken ankle that would rule him out for 4-6 months.

The injuries suffered by both Izzaguire and Severin are huge blows to both the players and their respective clubs, and everyone wishes them a full and speedy recovery. One slight positive is that both injuries were sustained in perfectly fair challenges, and there can be no demonising of a guilty party, as is so often the case.

This brings me onto Ian Black, the Hearts midfielder. He was dismissed in the game at Fir Park for a tackle that was a combination of late, reckless and high. Ian Black is a viscous, talentless cheat and has no right to call himself a footballer, there is no place in the game for “players” such as him and the sooner he disappears the better for everyone. If you think I am being unfair then you have either never seen Black play, or are a member of his immediate family.

Adam Gets His Reward

The Barclays (BEST LEAGUE IN THE WORLD EVER!!!!) Premier League kicked off at the weekend. There were many new acquisitions on show, brought to England from the four corners of the globe, from the bargain basement to the eye wateringly indulgent. In amongst them all though was the worlds’ oldest looking 25 year old, a slightly rotund individual hailing from the far flung shores of Dundee, Charlie Adam took his place in the Liverpool midfield as the Anfield crowd welcomed in the new season.

His debut went well, he was one of Liverpool’s better players providing an assist for Luis Suarez to open the scoring. The Kop were appreciative of his efforts and already some feel his presence may be key to Liverpool’s fortunes this season.

Rewind 3 years to when Adam was still at his boyhood club Rangers. Anyone professing the opinion that Adam would one day play for one of England’s most iconic clubs would have been in danger of being sectioned under the mental health act. These days when Adam looks up and prepares to launch one of his trademark 60 yard passes, a ripple of excitement and anticipation flows through the crowd, back in his Rangers days the imminent execution of a similar pass would more often  than not be greeted by groans from the Iborx faithful.

Adam’s confidence was shot in his final months at Ibrox. The pressure of playing for one of the Glasgow giants had proven too much (he is of course not alone in suffering this affliction). Often in these cases the player slides down the Scottish football ladder never coming close to fulfilling their potential. Adam though took a chance on a move to Blackpool with their ‘love him or hate him’ manager Ian Holloway. Holloway believed in him, embraced his talents and accepted his limitations. The decision to join Blackpool has of course eventually led to his place in the Liverpool midfield via a nomination for player of the year in the aforementioned BEST LEAGUE IN THE WORLD EVER!!!

Adam is now a regular in the Scotland squad, Derek Riordan is not, neither is Kris Boyd, Garry O’Conner may one day force his way back in but at this moment his tally of caps is paltry. There are many, many more examples of players having failed to hit the heights their talents could have facilitated. Sometimes it is due to bad luck, sometimes the players’ attitude means they think they have made it when they still have much to learn (I’m looking at you Gary O’Conner). More often than not though, potential is wasted by bad decisions.

It seems that two youngsters, Gregg Wylde from Rangers and Islam Feruz from Celtic may be on their way south to the land of milk and honey that is the EPL. Whether these moves work out or not is anyone’s guess. However any player with a decision to make should consider the case of Adam who made the right move, (despite its lack of glamour) and is now playing at the highest level, then contrast it with the likes of Derek Riordan who now plays in China or Kris Boyd now plying his trade in a Turkish league riddled with corruption. It’s difficult, but young footballers would be well advised to consider the effects tomorrow, of the career choices they make today.

There was plenty of action in the SPL this weekend. Rangers secured victory in Inverness in a game they dominated but required two penalties to see off the Highlanders.” It’s a conspiracy” cry some in the Celtic support, and while at least one of the awards was clearly incorrect, Rangers did have a goal harshly ruled out earlier in the game. Incompetence is more a more plausible explanation than favouritism. Celtic were impressive, but slightly flattered by the 5-1 win over Dundee United who showed signs they should be able to cope with a raft of summer departures. Dunfermline picked up their first 3 point haul of the season with a 1-0 win over St Johnstone. Motherwell’s title charge continued with a last minute winner at St Mirren. The tabloids will be dusting off the ‘three horse race’ headlines not used since George Burley’s reign at Hearts, especially if ‘Well can continue their impressive start when the Champions visit at the weekend. Hearts continued their impressive start under their new manager with a comfortable 3-0 win over Aberdeen, Craig Browns men are sticking manfully to their plan of refusing to engage the opposition goalkeeper in any way shape or form. They may come to regret this. Kenny Sheils won his first game as Kilmarnock manager since taking charge at the back end of last season, the game shown live on ESPN was an absolute cracker and a brilliant advert for Scottish football, the 4-1 win over Hibs was by far the best game shown on British telly over the weekend until Real Madrid and Barcelona, who seemed to have taken inspiration from the Ayrshire sides passing out from the back strategy, provided some competition for that award.

Three SPL clubs are competing in Europe on Thursday, so next week’s column may be less cheery than usual.

The Legacy of Jock Stein

When Celtic took on the might of Inter Milan in a recent pre (mid?) season friendly, it was a tie dripping in nostalgia. Now admittedly our day in the Dublin sun didn’t quite match up to ‘the heat of Lisbon’ but it gives us an excuse to reminisce (not that one is needed) about what was really achieved that day.

Having been born just a few weeks after that tragic night at Ninian Park, when Mr Stein passed away having secured Scotland’s passage to the World Cup, I like many, never had the privilege of seeing that side in the flesh.  And this bring s me to my point, I know there are many of my generation, Celtic and non-Celtic fans alike, who tend to look upon events that occurred before their time with a certain scepticism. There is undoubtedly a feeling amongst younger fans that ‘rose tinted’ spectacles cloud the judgement of those re-calling the events of a previous generation. As someone who has a keen interest not just in the history of Celtic, but the game football itself, I know that in the case of the ‘Lisbon Lions’ and their inspirational manager, that the ‘rose tinted’ glasses can be thrown away, their achievements and legacy, stand the test of time.

We all know the stories of the ‘11 local lads’, their singsong in the tunnel which so unnerved the Milanese, and the image of ‘Cesaer’ halfway up the stand, arms aloft, that magnificent trophy glinting in the sun is one that will outlive us all. What many who were not around at the time of these seminal events are aware of though, is the impact that the manner and style, of Celtic’s play had on, not just Scottish or British football but the whole of continental Europe.

Celtics opponents that day were one of the most formidable club sides ever assembled. Under their fearsome manager Helenio Herrera, La Grande Inter had claimed 3 scuddetti and had won back to back European Cups before they faced the Lions in Lisbon.

Their success of the Italians was not built on free flowing, expressive football, quite the opposite. Herrera adopted, and made famous, the system of ‘catenaccio,’ that the name translates as “door-bolt” probably tells you all you need to know about Herrera’s general approach to the game.

Whilst not exactly aesthetically pleasing, ‘catenaccio’ was efficient, ruthless, and most of all successful. And where others see success, they tend to follow. It seemed that football no longer had a place for expression and individualism, the thought of playing to entertain was fading, efficiency and discipline were the new ‘buzzwords’.

Mr Stein not only defeated the system, he smashed it, and he did it with a style of “football, pure, beautiful, inventive football” he sent his bhoys out with the instruction to “attack as we have never attacked before”.
Italian cynicism was overwhelmed by Scottish skill and flair. ‘Catenaccio’ lost its air of invincibility and its flaws were laid bare for all to see.

The next great side that came along did not practice the dark arts of ‘catenaccio’ as had seemed inevitable before that day in the Lisbon sun, instead it was the wondrous Ajax side of the 70’s that came to dominate. The Lisbon Lions were the forerunners for Rinus Michels and his Cruyff inspired “Total Football”, Celtic showed Europe that while negative football could of course be effective, it was limited and could be exploited.

Barcelona currently set the standard for the world game, their success is of course due to a variety of factors, but two hall marks of their approach in particular would have met with the approval of Mr Stein. The relentless pressing of the opposition, high up the field, allows Barcelona to gain possession in an already dangerous area, Mr Stein talked of there being no better place to win the ball than the opponents penalty box, and the use of the full-back as an attacking force is as vital to Guardiola’s Barcelona as it was to Stein’s Celtic. Dani Alves and Tommy Gemmell may not share many physical attributes, but the similarities in their playing styles are uncanny. Then of course there is the commitment to attacking football shared by the two sides.

The song asks “if you know the history” and when you do, it turns out it’s even more impressive than you ever dared imagine.

Incidentally while I am too young to have seen the ‘Lions’ play I did, as an awestruck teenager have the honour of meeting, Tommy Gemmell, Stevie Chalmers, Bobby Lennox and Berti Auld. I can still remember the pride I felt as I lined up amongst them for the obligatory photograph, unfortunately I can also remember doubling over in pain, as Tommy Gemmell grabbed me (firmly) by the balls just as the camera flashed! Oh well I suppose as a goal-scorer in two European Cup finals I can forgive him.
Hail Hail.

What Price Success?

What Price Success?

Being a football supporter is by its very nature a divisive pastime. Tribal loyalties separate us from each other. There is one thing that unites all fans though, irrespective of the team they support, be it Manchester United or Accrington Stanley. All football fans share a dream of success. No matter how deeply in the doldrums your club currently resides, there is always a time when you allow your mind to wander, thoughts of administration are cast aside and you imagine your team popping champagne corks on the Wembley turf. It is the same trick of the mind that lets you believe that with just a little more luck you would have ‘made it’, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

“I would give anything for just a taste of success”. We have all uttered words to this effect at some point during our tenure as a football fan. When you’re watching your side of over-paid prim-donnas struggling to string two passes together, with the rain lashing down and the irritating fan that sits next to you having turned his obnoxious dial up to 11, a glimmer of hope would be seem a fair trade for your (footballing) soul.

The thing is, the Devil is out there, and the deal is on the table.

No more mid-table mediocrity, the transfer window will cease to be a time of depressing departures, instead it will be a time of exhilarating arrivals, Tuesday and Wednesday nights will be more Champions League than Carling Cup. The question is though, what is the price tag on these promises?

Manchester City fans are currently basking in the glory of an FA Cup win, along with their entry into the most exclusive of clubs, Champions League contenders. It is certainly an exciting time if you wear the sky blue. The triumphs of Man City however, are in the eyes of many, tainted. Many of the jibes aimed at City, and their wealthy owners can be attributed to jealousy, however, I wonder, are there some City fans who feel that in amongst all the excitement and celebrations, something is being lost? Is the club they associated themselves with changing beyond all recognition? If so does that lessen your emotional attachment?

Chelsea fans may feel a similar way. The Abramovich reign has brought unprecedented glory to the Bridge, however it must have been galling for those who have stuck with their side through the good times and the bad, to see Ray Wilkins, a man they hold in the highest esteem, discarded so casually by the Russian, and the treatment of a thoroughly decent, and successful, man in Carlo Ancelotti certainly did not cast the club in a positive light. Defenders of Abramovich say it is his club, he paid for it, and can therefore conduct his business in whatever way he sees fit. Now that may be technically correct, but the fear that a football club, steeped in history, is now little more than a plaything for a mysterious oligarch is a very real one.

Reservations about the conduct of whoever runs the club are one thing, what may be more relevant is the lengths clubs are now prepared to go to, to increase that ever important revenue stream. Man City now play at a stadium named after the national airline of the United Arad Emirates, Leicester City play at something called the ‘King Power’ stadium (no I have no idea either and can’t be arsed googling it). They are not alone, while stadiums were previously named after the area in which they, and their core support were resident, now they are named after whoever writes the biggest cheque. Protests against such moves have been noticeable but not exactly vociferous, we will learn more about how much fans are willing to accept, in the name of improving the ‘bottom line’, if for example, the new owners of Liverpool decide they have to sell the naming rights to Anfield. Would Liverpool’s fans awareness that times have changed, that they have fallen behind their rivals be enough to over-ride their sense of history?

The drive to maximise a clubs income won’t stop at re-naming the stadium though, how about changing the name of the club itself to incorporate the name of a sponsor? Maybe commercial potential could be increased by changing the teams’ colours? In fact how about re-locating the club somewhere else entirely? The new breed of football club owners are not in it for the love of the game, they are motivated by profits and profits alone. It is up to the fans to decide how much of their traditions they are happy to let slip away in the name of success.

There is a further problem though, this deal that was offered at the start of this blog isn’t as straightforward as it seems. The Devil has played a trick on us all. Now his side of the deal has changed, to sooth the pain of watching the club you hold so dear being stripped of all its integrity (Blackburn Rovers anyone?), guaranteed success is no-longer on the table, it has been replaced by an offer of status quo. As it becomes ever harder just to stand still as a football club, soon enough, our footballing soul will no-longer be sold for success, but mere survival.

It is a heavy price to pay for such a scant return, but it is the inevitable consequence of footballs transformation from sport, to business.

This article first appeared on

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Dr Reids Tenure at Celtic Park

Dr Reid Cannot Depart Soon Enough

On the 14th of October a cloud that has darkened our great club is due to be lifted. That is the date upon which Tony Blair’s “attack dog,” Dr John Reid shall step down from his position as chairman of Celtic.

During my years supporting the ‘bhoys’ I’ve known some dizzying highs, along with some crushing lows. Despite the trials and tribulations that are associated with following any football club, the depth of my feelings for Celtic have never faltered. The reasons for this dedication are more than just ingrained tribalism. As a Celtic fan I do not just identify with the athletes who sport the four leaf clover on their chest, I also feel a great connection to the roots, or even the very ethos, of the club.

The knowledge that the conception of Celtic was fuelled by notions of compassion, and charity, should be a source of great pride to every member of the Celtic family. The fact that charity is still at the heart of the club, even in this age of balance sheets and bottom lines is a credit to directors past and present.

That one of those directors is Dr John Reid however, has been a source of unease to many of us since his appointment.

In its formative years, Celtic as a club was concerned with the support, and protection of the oppressed Irish Catholic minority in Glasgow. As the years progressed, Celtic became ever more inclusive (unlike some others) and the bonds many fans of the club felt with oppressed peoples throughout the world grew ever stronger.

With Dr Reid in position as a high profile Chairman, the public face of a club that had always stood with the downtrodden, was now the face of the oppressor.

In my expression of this viewpoint I am often lazily cast as either a bigot or an Irish Republican sympathiser. My disdain for the former Defence Secretary and his association with my club has nothing to do with the politics of the ‘Emerald Isle’. Rather it is my sincerely held belief that someone who was the very epitome of a “hawk” when it came to the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, has no place at club that’s values and traditions were so greatly offended by those incursions.

In June 2009 Reid received his honorary degree from Stirling University “for his contribution to public affairs”. While the news outlets covering the event described him as ‘Dr John Reid Celtic Chairman’, the placards of the protesters derided him, as ‘Dr John Reid War Criminal’.

To see a club such as ours, so closely associated in the eyes of the world, with a man who played such a pivotal role in taking Britain into two conflicts that will go down in British political infamy, was an affront to the noble beginnings which define our club.

Many of you reading this may dismiss my thoughts on the ‘not so good doctor’ as irrelevant, that what goes on in the boardroom should be of no concern to those on the terraces, that it is on the pitch matters that count, or maybe that I am allowing my political ideologies to cloud my judgement. While I accept that at the vast majority of football clubs these points would be entirely valid, I genuinely believe that at Celtic, things are different.

The charitable beginnings, the encouragement of tolerance and inclusiveness, that runs right through the history of the club right up to the present day, is what sets us apart from others. It is what keeps us ‘faithful through and through’, irrespective of trophies collected and titles won. When we can find no hero’s on the pitch, it is enough to know that the club itself is assured of its hero status. That it is why as fans we must fight to keep Celtic grounded in its noble and admirable roots, and to my mind the presence of Reid ran counter to those.

The reason I am writing this article now is I believe it ties in with the soul searching currently going on amongst the Celtic support. While issue of sectarian/offensive singing has been tiptoed around by many Celtic fans, recent articles by the excellent Irish journalist Phil MacGiollaBhain seem to have brought the matter to a head. I am not here to draw up a list of which tomes I feel are acceptable, and which are not, I have faith that with proper debate and discussion the right conclusions will be reached.  What cannot be allowed though, is that in (the utterly essential) cleansing of the song list, our traditions our uniqueness are also washed away.

It is imperative that Celtic remain in touch with the core, founding values, established in St Mary’s Church hall by Brother Walfrid. With Reid’s departure, the club will move ever nearer to those values we hold so dear.