What’s in a word?


Words are never mere words. They embody concepts, are charged with historical memories and associations, and shape our understanding of, and approach to, the world.

The new season is upon us and as we all wait in anticipation to see what new signings will be drafted in and how we will meet the challenge of the Whyte revolution over at Castle Greyskull (can I say that?) the hangover from last seasons events remain. There is apparently a new SFA structure to be tried out but the unsavoury taste of the vile abuse suffered by Neil Lennon lingers on and the new season will bring with it more I am sure.  I recently listened to an interview by Eddie Pearson from celticunderground.net with Paul McBride QC (which you can find here and is well worth 60mins of your time) within which they reflect on last year and in particular the introduction of the perceived merits and limitations of the new Sectarian Bill in January 2012.  This piece of legislation has arrived swiftly and, in my opinion, is an over the top, knee-jerk reaction to the events of the Scottish Cup replay in March 2011 following which a summit of Politicians, Police Chiefs alongwith representatives from Celtic and Rangers was convened due to events both on and off the field.  It amazes me how only 2 clubs are ever summoned to such meetings when, as events at Tynecastle at the end of the season have shown, this problem is a national one as opposed to an exclusively West of Scotland one and until this is acknowledged very little head way will be made.  The Sectarian Bill for me is nothing more than a PR, political point-scoring document which due to the haste of its introduction has glaring flaws contained within.  It goes without saying that sectarian violence within the country has brought misery (and sadly on occasions, death) to individuals and their families.  The problem requires to be addressed but is tackling football fans through the powers of the Sectarian Bill the right way to go about this?  There exists 2 main strands to this discussion, both of which I believe stand in isolation so I will discuss them as such.  In order to contextualise this discussion I will consider my own development as a Celtic fan through a generation which extends back to the 80′s and may ring true for some of you reading this.

Unfortunately throughout my younger years images of buildings destroyed and burnt out cars accompanied by the commentary advising of how many were dead or injured was commonplace.  These images, typically being beamed from the streets of Northern Ireland, clearly highlighted the extent of ‘The Troubles’.  My knowledge of the history and origins of these matters was shaped through the media as well as through exposure to Celtic FC and the ‘Pro-IRA’ songs and material associated with the club.  Such exposure, through attending matches or celebrating major victories within local supporters clubs, led to an internalisation of the beliefs that the fight for freedom by the Republicans was right, just and should be celebrated.  Personally, however, I had no association with these troubles but didn’t think twice about inserting an additional line or two within Celtic songs with no consideration for the real-life experiences being lived by those caught up in this war (a defence which will no longer be valid come January 2012).  As I have grown older and hopefully matured I have now shed this youthful naivety and look back with some embarrassment but I would not say regret.  Personal and professional experiences have shown me that a continued lack of tolerance would have denied me many achievements in life.   The practice of singing such songs and celebrating such organisations, however, remains and who am I to condemn those possibly directly involved the right to such expression.  Let us not be fooled into believing that such verbal expression through song is unique to this issue and does not extend into other cultures or countries.  It is when this matter enters the football ground and attaches itself to Celtic that I begin to question its place.  Celtic and Rangers fans have always built the foundations of their differences upon the religious card and as I have mentioned I indulged to a degree.  Those in power within both clubs whilst publicly condemning this behaviour send out mixed messages (for commercial reasons I believe) with the playing of such songs as “Let The People Sing” and annual pre-season friendlies with Linfield. This rivalry has been passed from generation to generation but I do not truly believe that the existence or strength of such hatred remains within the wider context of society with the stigma of sectarianism now standing alongside the likes of racism, sexism and homophobia.  Celtic fans have argued that their right to sing these songs lies within the club’s Irish heritage.  Is such a view, therefore, transferrable to, as Harry Brady from celticunderground puts it, the Orangemens insistence that they will always march on the Queen’s Highway?

Let me now clearly separate out the other issue considered within the interview and one which the Sectarian Bill aims to tackle and that is the general outlawing of what is deemed to be offensive terms which may include the likes of ‘hun’, ‘tim’, ‘orange (insert word)’ or ‘fenian (insert word)’.  Now I am not going to go all literary here and examine the origins and meaning of each word as defined by the English Scholars but would rather consider them within the context of a football match.  Before I begin let me set the scene with this short clip which I found on ‘The Huddleboard’ and which sums it all up nicely for me…..

To this day I still refer to my Rangers supporting family and friends as ‘huns’ particularly around the time of a Celtic v Rangers match with the retort of ‘timmy’ or even ‘fenian’ being commonplace.  I regularly check the fixture list for the next ‘huns game’ or during the title run-in ask “who have the huns got today?”.  These exchanges and the use of this phrase, for my part, takes place within the context of footballing rivalry and is never rooted within intolerance or discrimination of any kind.  As of January 2012, and if I am understanding Paul McBride correctly, my continued use of this phrase could see me in bother under the terms of the Sectarian Bill, something which I don’t think would do my professional career prospects any good!  It is here that this Bill falls down and shows itself up for what it really is and that is an idealistic, vote-chasing piece of legislation which in practice is unworkable and unsustainable.  I would be interested in how such a law will be enforced when we are 3-0 up in a match against Rangers and the stadium breaks in to a chorus of “Go home ya huns!”  I would also be interested to see this law extended to the footballing rivalries which exist down South particularly between Man Utd and Liverpool!  ‘Sticks and stones…’ and all that!

The need to address this cancer within our society is unquestionable and supporters from both Celtic and Rangers must abandon their ‘whataboutery’ stance if progress is to be made.  Is the Sectarian Bill going to help us in this process?  In my opinion it is a step in the right direction but it is an opportunity glaringly missed given the manner in which it is being introduced and the initial interpretation of what it will mean for us the football fans. Abandoning the bigoted songbook is a must but the attempted sanitisation of footballing rivalry is absurd and unworkable.  Football is all about rivalry and the associated chants and banter – force this out of the game and we will be left with nothing!

Let me know your thoughts on this topic.

Hail! Hail!

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The end of the beginning….


Well the fat lady has sung and we have been pipped to the title by 1 measly point!!  It appears that my fears have been realised with the points we spilled over the month of December effectively costing us this title.  To draw with ICT and Dundee Utd in the manner in which we did was criminal and how these 4 points lost have come back to haunt us.  Yes, the shock defeat away to ICT this month and possibly Samaras’s missed penalty at Castle Greyskull has contributed also to this conclusion being reached but December is the month which cost us most.

The flip side of the coin (and once the disappointment has subsided) is that there is something exciting building at Paradise both on and off the field.  I happened to be watching clips of our early season matches and the change in the team over the course of the season has been for the better.  Comparing our starting line-ups from our first league game against ICT and our last league game against Motherwell does not actually tell you the whole story:

ICT:

Zaluska, Cha, Loovens, Hooiveld, Mulgrew, Fortune, Brown, Ledley, McCourt, Samaras and Maloney (Forrest and Juarez came on as subs)

Motherwell:

Forster, Wilson, Majstorovic, Loovens, Izaguirre, Forrest, Brown, Ki, Mulgrew, Hooper and Samaras (Maloney, McCourt and Juarez came on as subs)

Over the season we have seen the emergence of Mulgrew as an able centre-half, the development of Rogne continue, the technical ability of Izaguirre, the drive and passion of Kayal, the goals of Commons and the partnership of Hooper and Stokes.  This is the foundation of our team and it can only be expected that we will add to this over the summer whilst hopefully holding on to this nucleus.  I wrote in an earlier blog that Lennon has built a young team who should be allowed to grow and win together.  The average age of the squad is around 25 and this years experience, whilst still raw, is an experience which can be used to ensure future success.  Lets hope that none of our “assets” require to be sold in order to balance the books.

Upon his appointment Lennon infamously said that he wanted to bring back the thunder.  With some help from the much publicised off the field matters and the shockingly biased reporting of these matters, there is a definite sense of unity between the club and the fans which was demonstrated clearly in the 50th minute of the last league game.  Although the league was gone the support from the stands was nothing short of sensational with a stadium wide huddle (involving the suits as well) taking hold and those watching on from the media were left open mouthed as two fingers were firmly stuck up to them.  Yes we are disappointed that this title has gone but no we do not lack belief in our manager or his team.  Lennon has brought a style of play to the club which is exciting and free flowing, something which has been missing over recent seasons.  His position still remains uncertain but i would bet my house on him remaining and leading us into next season which on the balance of things will be just as important and pressurised as the one which has just gone. 

 As Lennon has stated though  “This isn’t the end, this is just the beginning!”

Hail Hail

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As They Come Around The Bend….


For a variety of reasons I have not been adding any blogs recently but hopefully can begin to get back on track particularly with what lies ahead as we enter the final stretch of the season.  Whilst I will leave it to others to comment in detail on events which have recently taken place in relation to our manager, Neil Lennon, I feel that to ignore it would be disrespectful towards him.

If STV continue to run their ‘Football Years’ series into the next decade then this season will be characterised by ‘Dougie!, Dougie!’, Hugh Dallas, George Peat, SFA v Celtic and Paul McBride.  Running parallel to all of this, however, has been the disgraceful and consistent abuse, character assassination and threats dished out to Neil Lennon.  With today being Good Friday I will resist the temptation to play the religious card (although it does play a part).  For me the issue with Lennon lies also in the fact that he is committed to Celtic and is a winner who will stand up to any challenge thrown his way.  He will back down to no-one and I do not believe the threats and abuse would have been at such a level had Celtic been failing. Regardless of how this season concludes the admiration and respect I have for this man knows no end.  Lennon, against the backdrop of these threats, has Celtic playing football in the manner which our club has built all of its success.  He has shown he has the mental strength to ensure that he separates his personal issues from his job and the performance on Wednesday night against Kilmarnock was as Lennon’s mentor, Martin O’Neill, would put it, “scintillating”.  I wrote a blog which advocated for Lennon to get the job longer term and I stand by that belief now more than ever.

With the title run-in ahead it has been suggested that our squad are young and have not been over the course before whilst Rangers have experienced players who have and this tips the balance in their favour.  The squad may not but our manager certainly has and with the mental strength he has shown personally then I do not believe this will be a factor in determining the outcome of the title.

Sunday’s match against Rangers is being billed as the ‘title decider’, however, I do not think it will be should there be a clear winner of the match.  Of course it will give the victorious team a massive boost psychologically but I believe there will be points spilled elsewhere.  Rangers are at home and if we factor in a positive result for us against Inverness Caley then they trail us by 2 points.  The pressure, therefore, is all on them to come out and win this match but do they have the personnel to open themselves up to our superior technical ability – I do not believe they do.  A point for Celtic on Sunday keeps the title in our hands but there are plenty more challenges ahead.

Remaining Fixtures:

Celtic                                                 Rangers

Rangers (A)                                                        Celtic (H)

Dundee Utd (H)                                                 Motherwell (A)

Inverness CT (A)

Kilmarnock (A)                                                  Hearts (H)  

Hearts (A)                                                           Dundee Utd (H)

Motherwell (H)                                                 Kilmarnock (A)

So from the remaining 6 league games we have, 4 will be away from home whilst from Rangers remaining 5 they only have 2 away days.  I must admit that I am pleased not to have been sent back to Fir Park although our recent scrappy 1-0 win on a similar surface at St. Johnstone has shown me that Lennon has learnt as a manager and selected a starting XI which dealt with the conditions.  Rangers will not be pleased with this prospect and the next 2 weeks could be defining as to the destination of the trophy. Celtic’s run of 3 away games will obviously be crucial but there is, in my opinion, a positive side to this scenario. Being away from home may actually help the players as we as a support I sense are of late becoming increasingly anxious in our desire for Lennon to win this title.  With the team being young and inexperienced it is important that the supporters back them 100% regardless of a missed tackle, bad pass or goal conceded, all of which are as inevitable as night following day.  Our role in this run-in is just as crucial and I tend to find that the away support are more supportive and tolerant than those at home which will hopefully help the players.

A concern which I do have is not with the future but with the past and specifically the month of December and the 3 draws in a row, particularly against ICT from being 2-0 up, which may come back to haunt us.  Sunday, however, gives us the opportunity to make sure this is not the case by taking the game to Rangers and playing the same way as we did against Kilmarnock.

Here’s an interesting concluding thought should the League go down to the last day……..Motherwell come to Parkhead the week before the Scottish Cup Final and lets say Celtic need a win.  Should Celtic win the title then it would be advantageous to Motherwell as this would guarantee them European football next season regardless of the outcome of the Scottish Cup Final.  So what sort of team would Stuart McCall (ex-Rangers player) select?  Would the pre-match team talk be as passionate?  Interesting, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that as I don’t think I can go through another last day decider.

So as they come around the bend they are neck and neck, who has got enough left in the tank to get over the line first?

In Lennon We Trust – Hail Hail

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A relationship of necessity?


Ever since Walter Smith in Season 2009-2010 disclosed to Chick Young during an interview for BBC Radio Scotland that Rangers were struggling financially we have been exposed to theory and counter-theory by Celtic and Rangers fans alike about what the future holds for them. The obvious reaction from Celtic fans is to bask in the financial misery being suffered by Rangers and to look forward to the day they go out of business, however, I have always wondered what them actually going out of business would mean for us!!

The term “Old Firm” is one which in the current climate many Celtic fans are refusing to use or acknowledge. There is a feeling that by accepting such a term Celtic then become guilty by association with regards to the crimes committed primarily by Rangers. Events following the recent Scottish Cup tie and the convening of a Political Summit to address the “Old Firm” has only served to exacerbate these feelings given Celtic players and fans behaved well in comparison to their Rangers counterparts. The terms origin lies firmly set within the history books and was adopted to describe the business relationship which was created upon Celtic’s formation coinciding with Rangers displacement of Queens Park FC as the club of the establishment. It has been suggested that Celtic and Rangers were given the label by others in Scottish Football due to their boards realising that the creation of a rivalry between the clubs was financially beneficial to both clubs.

Scottish Football today is very much a different sort of animal than it was all those years ago with the modern world seeing the emergence of Sky TV, the Champions League and the English Premiership all becoming the promised lands with their millions and in some cases billions which has in turn led to over-inflated transfer fees and wages being paid to mediocre players. Financially and competitively this has had a serious impact on Celtic who are left to forage amongst the scraps and be part of an SPL competition which is seen very much as a footballing backwater. Within this context it makes no sense for anyone to plough their millions (or billions) into Celtic in a manner similar to Sheikh Mansour at Man City or Roman Abramovich at Chelsea. Celtic, I believe, would be a completely different prospect for businessmen and women, however, should they be freed from their SPL shackles and be allowed to enter, for example, the Premiership (a dream which I have given up on!). For the time being when striking business deals we remain reliant upon trying to balance the interests of the SPL and our own, something which has not always been in our best interests, for example the failed Setanta deal (agreed to by the SPL clubs against Celtic’s advice) leading us all to crawl back in an apologetic fashion to Sky and be punished by them with a misery offer in comparison to previous deals.

Operating within this context means that Celtic struggle to purchase the players required to compete at a level which we deserve to be at and which our history suggests we belong e.g. Champions League Group Stages and beyond, reaping the financial rewards which come with it. This is not being said with arrogance but I firmly believe that if the financial playing field was level then Celtic would be able to offer more within this competition than we are currently able to do. This argument I realise opens me up to the retort from other SPL clubs of “well the same could be said for us within our domestic league”. This does not hold for me though as in terms of size I do arrogantly believe that Celtic, as a brand, could and would stand alongside the likes of Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea (i’ll stop short of Barcelona and Real Madrid!) with all things being equal, not something which I believe can be said of Dundee Utd, Hearts, Hibs etc in comparison to Celtic.

The scraps that we are fed by the likes of Sky and Sponsorship deals are heavily dependent upon the agreement of Rangers also. The Sky deal is primarily about the rights to show the “Old Firm” matches rather than showcasing the SPL over the UK. Shirt sponsorship deals have also been joint arrangements with the exception of a period during the 90′s (Celtic went with ‘Peoples Ford’ and Rangers ‘McEwans Lager’). Celtic and Rangers share business arrangements when promoting their brands across the UK and Europe – makes sense to send one representative to do the job for both clubs as opposed to each paying separately! During a recent Q&A Peter Lawwell admitted, when asked about the current joint Tennents deal, that the club had looked at going out on its own but offers were not as lucrative just for one half of the “Old Firm”. It made financial sense for Celtic to work with Rangers on any deal.

What then would the outlook be for Celtic should Rangers go to the wall? In the current climate I fear that it would not be good for us. We need every pound that is going just now, we rely on unearthing hidden gems and look to inflate their “resale value”, whilst enjoying these gems such as Izaguirre, Kayal and Hooper we hope that despite their inexperience they can overcome the ever increasing qualification rounds in the Champions League to reach the Group stages and benefit from the millions that come with it. Unfortunately this prospect seems more and more less likely and we are returning to the days of the group stages being a dream as opposed to a given. Whilst every instinct in my body tells me that their demise would be something to celebrate, I also feel that it would have a detrimental effect upon us and would most definitely not be in our best interests – plus who could we gloat to when we gub them ;-)

Hail Hail

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Celtic Fans and The Social Network…

This gallery contains 6 photos.


Being brought up in a Celtic loving family meant that I was continually being told bed-time tales of injustice and prejudice against my beloved club.  The root of these feelings was often the perceived bias against Celtic which existed within … Continue reading

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Steady As She Goes….


Neil Lennon - Appointed June 2010

Neil Lennon continues to find himself on the roller-coaster ride that is the Manager of Celtic FC…………but for how long? In this blog I want to put forward an argument that our club needs stability and nowhere more so than within the post of Manager…..

Firstly here are the figures to give some much needed context – Over the course of Celtic’s first 103 years the club had employed just 6 Managers, 2 of whom had occupied the ‘Managers Office’ for a total of 63 years, namely Willie Maley (43yrs) and Jimmy McGrory (20yrs), whilst Billy McNeill had enjoyed 2 spells in charge. Following McNeill leaving the club in 1991, however, there has been 10 full-time occupants of this post, including Lennon, and 4 temporary occupants (Connor, Stark, Dalglish & Lennon). Over the course of these 20 years around 170 players have signed on the dotted line, an average of around 8 players per season. Lennon himself has seen 13 players off the premises (including Braafheid) whilst welcoming 15 (including Kelvin Wilson) since his appointment was made official in June 2010.  In stark contrast, Rangers have, since 1991, had 4 managers with Smith in his second spell in charge.

The figures above it should be said are not unique within the world of modern day football but it cannot, in my opinion, provide a club with any degree of stability.  Neil Lennon was appointed after Celtic had experimented with Tony Mowbray who in his 45 games in charge won only 23, an achievement reached via an unattractive style of football developed within Mowbray’s relegation battles with West Brom.  Celtic fans were desperate for someone to be appointed who had the club at their heart and who would bring back a style of football known affectionately as ‘The Glasgow Celtic Way’.  Lennon ticked the first box, however, defeat to Ross County led to many questioning whether a “rookie” should take charge.  June 2010 saw the board announce Lennon as Celtic’s 16th manager, an appointment which was met with mixed feelings depending on which fans forum you read!  These feelings of unease were not helped by the board’s apparent mistrust of handing the reins over completely to Lennon with their much publicised botched pursuit of a Director of Football and our early exits from both European Competitions.

Lennon, however, has stood firm and focused on the task at hand with a manner which belies his inexperience.  He has been given the freedom by the board to build his team, something which was desperately required in both senses of the word.  In doing so Lennon has brought us the raw talents of Izaguirre, Ledley, Kayal, Commons, Stokes and Hooper whilst also resurrecting the careers of Wilson, Mulgrew, Brown and Samaras.  Tactically he appears to have learnt from our early formations of a rigid 4-2-4 which failed us in Europe to a more fluid 4-4-1-1 which is sculpted around a mix of style and aggression.  At the time of writing Celtic remain unbeaten in 17 matches and are 8 points clear at the top of the league.  Lennon has gone to Ibrox in a “must win” league match and shown he has the courage to tweak with his team and emerge victorious.  He has instilled in the team a mental strength which has seen them play Rangers off the park with 10 men against 11 and he has most definitely brought the thunder back.  As a Celtic fan I now feel a connection with the manager and the team which has not been felt since Martin O’Neill. 

I agree with Celtic’s policy regarding Lennon’s 12 month contract if reports that this is rolling are true ala Martin O’Neill’s.  Such short-term contracts are best for all involved and if they are good enough for Pep Guardiola then they are good enough for Neil Lennon.  What Celtic must do, however, is continue to roll this contract along and, as I said in my last blog, allow the team to grow old together under the watchful eye of Neil Lennon.  The big challenge for Lennon, however, will come next year in Europe when he will be challenged at a level higher than that of the SPL but I am convinced that he is the man to lead us in to this adventure and beyond – In Lennon We Trust!

Hail Hail

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We Have Age On Our Side….


With Neil Lennon having built a team effectively from scratch following the debacle which was Ross County it is encouraging to see that the team which is currently making great strides toward the title also has age on their side.  Celtic’s starting XI on Sunday in the 3-0 victory over Rangers had an average age of 25.8 with Majstorovic being the only player in the team who was over 30.  At the other end of the scale six players within the starting XI were 25 or under whilst our substitutes, namely Ki (22), Forrest (20) and Stokes (23) only served to bring the average age of the team on the pitch at the final whistle down further to exactly 25, all of which must be an encouraging sign for our future or is it…..? 

Celtic Squad V Rangers (20th February 2011)

With the gathering of not only such a young group but one which is also showing they possess true talent the outlook for our club is looking as promising as it has done for the past 7-8 years.  The big question, however, which those at the helm must now answer whilst faced with reports of our best players being cherry-picked by Premiership clubs is do we cash in on them or do we allow this squad time to grow together and take the club forward.

As a fan my obvious hope is that Peter Lawwell and the Board do not break this squad up, however, I am also aware of the boundaries within which we are currently operating financially and if a ridiculous bid is made then the “resale value” will take precedent.  I accept the argument that the club should not be run as a business but the current limitations of the SPL as a brand and the recent drop in Scotland’s co-efficient means that the millions being earned in other countries are not as readily available to us anymore.  The statements made over recent months by both management and board members, especially when announcing the club debt has increased, have been that the club will identify and nurture players with a view to maximising their “resale value”.  I do not believe that such statements should be made publicly as they only encourage suitors whose advances may only serve to distract the players in question at a crucial stage of the season. 

Please Mr. Lawwell, allow this team to grow together and bring us the success both we as fans and they as players deserve to enjoy.  Do not allow the balance sheet to dictate the direction of our club (not unless we receive an Andy Carroll-type bid for Hooper!) as we most definitely do have age on our side!!!

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How The Battle Was Won….


This blog has been delayed due to the celebrations on Sunday evening affecting me well into yesterday but it was very much worth it!!!  Last week I concluded that Celtic had more quality within their team than Rangers, however, this had to be proven on the park come kick-off on Sunday.  Bhoy was that done!  As performances go Celtic were fantastic for the majority of the game so in this blog I decided to have a look at how the battle was won…..
Lennon, the manager who could not win a big match according to the media, went into his 5th Old Firm match boasting a record of only having lost once to Walter Smith.  Lennon’s selection sprung something of a surprise with Samaras favoured up front with Hooper in place of Stokes.  Celtic appeared to line up in a 4-4-1-1 formation however this often appeared to be close to a 4-3-2-1 as Commons, Hooper and Samaras interchanged.  Typically Izaguirre also lent his own support to the attacking moves as both he and Commons terrorised Whittaker on the Rangers right.

Celtic 4-4-1-1

Rangers were unsurprising in their 4-5-1 formation with Kyle Bartley, 19 year old on loan from Arsenal, adopting the role usually taken up by Lee McCulloch in front of Weir and Bougherra offering them some protection.  This selection was not that surprising as Rangers had shown their hand in their previous SPL match against Motherwell.  Diouf started on the right but tended to float in-field and over to the left, a move which cost Rangers the first goal.
Celtic – 1 (Hooper, 17mins) Rangers – 0
 
Unsurprisingly it was Gary Hooper who opened the scoring after a pretty unsettled opening 17 minutes.  Kyle Bartley had picked up an early booking following a shocking challenge on Scott Brown.  This was not Bartley’s only contribution of note as he was in the thick of things for Celtic’s first goal.

Diouf has wandered, Whittaker has to cover and Bartley fails to follow Commons...

Following a series of passes Celtic launched an attack down their left.  Diouf and Naismith were both over on Celtic’s right and Mulgrew slipped the ball out to Izaguirre.  Whittaker then found himself having to cover across, however, as he pushed on to Izaguirre, Commons made a run in behind which Bartley failed too match choosing instead to point at him indicating to Bougherra or Weir that they should pick him up.

Bartley has still failed too follow Commons and Izaguirre slips ball down the line past Whittaker....

With Bartley still pointing at Commons but failing to make any effort to follow him the ball played down the line by Izaguirre allows Commons to attack their back line.  As I mentioned in my last blog, one major weakness for Rangers is the ageing Davie Weir, however, McCulloch has afforded him a degree of protection which Bartley has failed to do here.

Bougherra now gets dragged over, Bartley is still lost and Hooper is in space....

With Whittaker caught upfield Bougherra now has to come across to Commons with Bartley still appearing uncertain what to do.  Hooper intelligently hangs back in the space vacated by Bartley.  As Commons slips the ball inside, Hooper takes a great first touch which I believe would have evaded any defender before steadying himself and slotting the ball under the advancing McGregor.

Celtic – 2 (Hooper, 27mins) Rangers – 0

Celtic appeared a lot hungrier following them taking the lead and as has been typical of recent weeks the midfield trio of Brown, Kayal and Ledley dictated the play and tempo with assured touches and passing combined with a high level of energy.  Celtic players appeared both technically and physically superior to Rangers, a conclusion which was highlighted in abundance with Celtic’s second goal.  A throw in from Whittaker to Jelavic saw him take a poor touch and allow Izaguirre to nip in and knock the ball to Samaras.  Rather than be content with his lot Izaguirre then bombed past Whittaker who was left in his wake.  With Whittaker again caught upfield the space in behind was there to be exploited.

Hooper and Izaguirre are both behind Samaras but start out on a foot race with Rangers defence...

Samaras holds on to the ball a bit too long for my liking but releases it just in time to Izaguirre who is played (just!) onside by Weir who fails to step up in time.  Both Papac and Bartley have a start on Hooper but fail to match the strikers desire to get in to the box and as Izaguirre squares the ball there is only going to be one winner.

Hooper has beaten Bartley and waits in anticipation for Izaguirre's cross....

Celtic again reap the rewards from Whittaker being caught out of position and Bartley’s inexperience in matching Hooper’s run allowing Celtic to take a 2-0 lead.  The energy and pace in the attack for the 2nd goal was in contrast to the patient build up before exploding forward of the 1st but show the versatile nature of the players.

Celtic – 3 (Commons, 70mins) Rangers – 0

Over the course of the game Rangers had offered very little threat to Fraser Forster with only a couple of half chances for Jelavic and a weak attempted chip by Diouf worthy of note.  Rangers stuck to their formation and were reluctant to push on despite trailing in an important match.  Walter Smith surprisingly remained by Ian Durrant’s side in the stand leaving the touchline management to McCoist and McDowall much to the fury of many Rangers fans.  The icing on the cake for Celtic came after a weak Papac clearance was collected by Celtic’s ever-running midfield.  The ball was shuttled to Commons who sidestepped Bougherra before hitting a shot with his weaker right foot which made McGregor look silly but had the Celtic fans embrace in a 50,000 strong huddle!!!!

Rangers were very much outplayed and out-thought by Celtic who deservedly extended their lead at the top of the league to 8 points.  Talk of the title has rightly been played down but if the team continue to play the way they are and key players remain injury free then the potential for this is high.

Hail Hail

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Ding! Ding! Round 4……


With the 4th Old Firm game (and probably the most important for our title aspirations) on the horizon I wanted to take a look at both squads and compare them at this stage in the season.

As we arrive at this juncture in the season both sides can claim that they have lost important players.  In particular, Celtic have lost their talismanic goalkeeper, Artur Boruc, and influential winger, Aiden McGeady, whilst the huns have lost their goalscorer, Kenny Miller. Additions to the squads have been heavily weighted in Celtic’s favour seeing Forster, Majstorovic, Izaguirre, Cha, Mulgrew, Juarez, Kayal, Ledley, Ljungberg, Hooper, Stokes and Murphy all sign on. The dark side, however, have added ‘Spit the Dug’, Foster, Jelavic and Bartley. Rangers squad is small but settled whilst Celtic have gone through another rebuilding phase but where are they at now.

My predicted line-ups for Sunday (withstanding injuries) are:-

Celtic:

Forster

Wilson Majstorovic Mulgrew Izaguirre

Brown Kayal Ki-Sung-Yeung Ledley

Commons

Hooper

Rangers:

McGregor

Papac Bougherra Weir Whittaker

Bartley

‘Spit the Dug’ Davis Ness Weiss

Jelavic

Goalkeepers:

As I mentioned above Celtic lost Artur Boruc to Fiorentina in the summer via a deal which was part business, part players desire to leave. Filling the shoes (or boots) of ‘The Holy Goalie’ was always going to be tough and Celtic tried for a recognised keeper with the likes of James and Given being approached. After failing to get their men Celtic turned to Newcastle’s 3rd choice keeper, 6’7″ Fraser Forster, who arrived with a glowing reference from Paul Lambert at Norwich where Forster spent last season. So far Forster has shown, as expected, glimpses of both potential and inexperience. A mix of fine saves have been peppered with a clumsy appearance when the ball is at feet and a limited command of the 6 yard area despite his size. My opinion on Forster has always been that we should not be developing a goalkeeper for another club. Forster can do well in the game, that I am sure, but we should not be providing the playground within which he learns.

The huns, on the other hand, have a keeper whose behaviour off the pitch has grabbed the headlines just as much as his performances on it. Allan McGregor established himself as No.1 following the glorious Le Guen era :-). He has undoubtedly improved over the years as a keeper and plays with a confidence and a swagger that is required for that position. Often in Old Firm matches he has made saves which have prevented us from grabbing more than we have got. Whether they can hold on to him is another matter but whether established clubs want to bring a player with his character to their team is also up for debate.

Due to the fact that McGregor is an established player and a good shot-stopper then I would tip the balance in the huns favour within this position.

Defence:

An area of the park within which Celtic have struggled to develop for the past few seasons. McManus, Caldwell and Loovens were never accepted by the fans due to their shaky performances whilst at full-back we lacked quality. The first step in the right direction for me was the appointment of Johan Mjallby. We needed someone on the training ground who had the character and the passion whilst knowing what it took to play in that position. Mowbray unfortunately lacked the character and the passion whilst Grant was surprisingly subdued.  Majstorovic and Rogne have, until recently, been the pairing of choice for Lennon.  The signing of Rogne, who has shown potential, must be credited to the Mowbray regime although he is not yet the finished article. Majstorovic was blatantly a signing made in an attempt to sacrifice the technical for the physical and has been met with some success.  In the modern game both these players, however, are open to being turned and ran at but will rarely lose a header or a 50-50. Recent injuries to both these players has seen Charlie Mulgrew deputise at Centre Half and so far he has equipped himself well with composed performances belying the limitations he has shown when playing left-back.

Whilst filed under the category of defenders Wilson and Izaguirre have proven in recent weeks that they are very much attack minded with their marauding runs down the wing.  Izaguirre has been an outstanding addition to the squad showing real class with the ball at his feet and an engine sponsored by Duracell.  His link up play with the wide midfielders has given opposition players food for thought as he can deliver a great ball in to the box.  Mark Wilson is like a veteran at the club although his appearances to years with Celtic ratio has been greatly affected by injury.  At present Wilson is also showing a quality in his play which has saw him force his way back in to the Scotland squad as well as chip in with a few goals to the point he is currently ahead of Lafferty in the scoring charts!

Rankers rely heavily upon this area of the field looking to soak up pressure and hit teams on the break.  Weir and Bougherra are their partnership of choice at centre half with Papac and Whittaker as full backs.  Weir brings experience to the team, however, as the season goes on his boots appear to get heavier as he struggles to cover in a manner which he did 20 years ago!!!  A consequence of this ageing player is that the other defenders are worried about leaving him without a carer, therefore, limiting their attacking forays.  Bougherra does still enjoy a dribble (as does Weir but not in the same sense of the word!) and a charge forward which can bring about some degree of success but I am not sure what the huns think when he loses the ball and is caught upfield leaving Old Father Time watching the shop.

Papac signing a new contract was met with a degree of joy from the huns and I know from blue-nosed family and friends that he is well thought of within Castle Greyskull.  Having not taken in many of their games my knowledge of him is limited but I can see what is appealing about his play. He appears to be quietly effective in his role and brings something to the defensive side of their team.  Whittaker, on the other hand, is a player I do rate particularly around his attacking play.  Whittaker appears to be able to run at pace and go past a man whilst chipping in with a few goals through his apparent “If you don’t shoot, you don’t score” mentality.

Defensively both teams have their strengths and weaknesses making this area of the park even in my opinion.  Celtic have addressed an area of the team which needed stabilised, however, the pursuit of other players suggests this is not the finished article.  The Dark Side have built recent success on their defence but must surely be concerned with the obvious effect on the cornerstone of this area through age and regular matches.

Midfield:

Without a doubt the key battleground for the match on Sunday and I will try and remain balanced in my opinion but please forgive me if I wander off into expressing my love for the Celtic midfield.

Scott Brown, Beram Kayal, Joe Ledley, Kris Commons and, latterly, Ki-Sung-Yeung have brought a mix of both physical and technical attributes to the party and formed a partnership which has been mouth-watering at times.  The arrival of Ledley, Kayal and Commons appears to have freed Brown of whatever shackles he had been playing with and brought his performances back to the level which made him a £4.5m signing.  Kayal (alongwith Izzy) has been the signing of the season.  He chases the ball around the midfield like a jack russell chasing a wind-floater and snaps into tackles with aggression and effectiveness.  Opposition players and fans hate him (remind you of anyone else who played that position?) and are continually moaning to refs about his style.  Ledley arrived with a reputation and the well-publicised nature of the chase for his signature weighing heavy on his shoulders.  Initially he appeared unsettled and not the box-to-box midfielder we had seen on BBC1 on a Saturday night for Cardiff.  Recently, however, he has began to dictate the midfield and play passes which are direct and effective (Exhibits ‘A’ and ‘B’ are 2 assists in the last 2 OF games).  Kris Commons won the hearts of the fans with his Nacho Novo-esque “I said No!” proclamation.  That is where the similarities between those 2 ends, however, as Commons has settled immediately and shown that he could be a great addition to the squad with his goals and assists belying the £300,000 transfer fee paid to Derby.  (Only just learnt that Sunday’s game will be Commons home debut!-surprised)

On the other side we have Davis, Ness, Spit the Dug, Edu and Weiss.  The loss of ‘Elbows’ for the season is just as big a blow to that lot than losing Kenny Miller was.  McCulloch epitomises their philosophy on football by kicking everything that moves and protecting Grandad at the back.  What’s the difference between him and Kayal?  Kayal is firm and fair, McCulloch is dirty and cowardly.  Davis is the pick of the bunch within that area for me. He can play a pass and offers support to the attack.  Unfortunately for them, however, his impact in these matches has been minimal primarily due to the limitations of those around him.  ‘Spit the Dug’ was a signing only they would make given the players reputation.  The January window was closing and Spit was being touted around clubs like a well rode whore.  Everyone said ‘no thanks’ but Rankers said ‘yes please!’.  Don’t get me wrong Spit can play a bit but his temper and attitude curtails this and his antics off the park make him unattractive to those with morals. Rankers selection of Jamie Ness has been met with widespread fanfare within the Scottish media.  Credit has been given for “throwing a youngster in” (Forrest? MacGinn?).  Ness has shown some nice touches in his 2 OF matches and can obviously be pleased with his strike in the 2-2 game.  He has, however, been swamped by Celtic’s energy and hunger in this battlefield and tired before disappearing towards the latter end of these games but who else do they have – Fleckaldinho? Vladimir Weiss is a player who was as confused as a 13 year old trying to work out their sexuality when he signed for them.  A week before signing Celtic were the only club he wished to play for (heard that line somewhere before!) yet after signing HE apparently turned Celtic down in favour of signing for the Dark Side.  I prefer to believe that Celtic had a look and concluded that we had the same if not better already at the club.  Weiss as a player enjoys to get the ball and run and run and run and run and run and run and run and…………..you get the picture.  He appears to be a frustrating player who has the potential to do something but flatters to deceive.

Celtic, for me, win this area hands down and have far superior players both on the park and in reserve who can change a game particularly in McCourt and Forrest.  The possession play when with the ball and the hunger to retrieve it when not is a style of play which I welcome and so far has brought with it some success.

Forwards:

If ever a transfer showed how much Rankers are skint it was the sale of Kenny Miller.  Despite my own personal feelings of hatred towards him he knew where the goal was and single-handedly kept them in the title race.

Gary Hooper arrived from Scunthorpe with a pedigree for goalscoring and a small price-tag which had many in the media quipping ‘can he do it at a big club?’.  His reply has been an unequivocal ‘yes!’.  Hooper hit the ground running and initially filled a void in the team which had been missing – a poacher.  He was not interested in getting involved in the midfield or out wide but would just stay between the posts and in the box and feed off the scraps.  His impact was such that when he was stretchered off injured in December his loss was mourned and concern shown for how long he would be out.  Fortunately this was not as bad as first feared and he appears to have returned just as strong and hungry as before.  Hooper, however, has also been well supported in matches this season by both Stokes and Samaras.  Hooper and Stokes in particular appear to have clicked and are linking up well and complimenting one another but it appears Stokes may be the one sacrificed in these matches to accommodate an extra midfielder.  Samaras, on the other hand, continues to frustrate with his level of performance in the recent 2-0 victory at Ibrox not being seen often enough.  That said he appears to be someone who the huns do not know how to handle and who Grandad hates to be isolated with.

Miller leaving the huns was very much welcomed and quietly sniggered at by myself.  Jelavic was purchased in the summer by all the money they could find stuffed down the back of the couch.  He is not a similar type of player to Miller, therefore, has required them to change their counter-attacking ways.  Jelavic will not play on the shoulder of the last man and run away from him ala Miller but will run the channels and appears to have a nice touch for a big man.  His impact has been limited by an ankle injury early into the season and it is yet to be seen whether he will be the replacement for Miller which the Establishment are praying for.  Lafferty and Healy are Plan ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ for the huns, both of whom do not exactly strike fear in to the heart of defenders.

Miller’s departure has shifted the balance of power in this area towards Celtic.  Hooper, Stokes and Samaras V Jelavic, Lafferty and Healy is a no-brainer for me in terms of who has the better quality but as we know this does not win you matches and that quality must be shown on the day.

Conclusion:

Celtic go into this game the form team and are at home, therefore, will be the bookies favourite, a label which I am not always comfortable with. The huns will come and play their usual game knowing that avoiding defeat is much more important than winning.  I expect Lennon and his staff to ensure that the players do not get caught up in the fans desire to slaughter the huns and play in the manner which we have done since the turn of the year.  Rankers are a wounded animal who, as my analysis above has hopefully shown, do not possess any greater quality than us but do have a squad that know how to win titles.  Here’s hoping that quality shines through on the day!!

Hail Hail

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ETims Online Celtic Fanzine – Ronaldo “My biggest regret…”


ETims Online Celtic Fanzine – Ronaldo “My biggest regret…”.

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