Monday, May 26, 2014

Who will direct our football?

You will, like me, have been delighted to have to see the Lions return to the scene of their greatest ever triumph over the last few days. Their wives were even there, something a few of them never got to do first time around. Members of the "Celtic Media Team" followed their every step with pictures and tweets galore. The trip was underwritten by a few choice folk who paid £1800 to join the Lions. It may surprise you to know that they weren't the only ones that they joined as the board and CEO were all along for the ride. Specific instructions were given not to photograph certain members of the Celtic party but a picture slipped out of Brian Wilson, who took time out from abusing anyone who disagrees with his politics, to sacrifice himself for the good of the club. (Which reminds me, I am taking time out of my busy schedule to go to the pub on Wednesday night, please, don't thank me)

Let's have some fun and assume the search for a new manager starts when the plane back from Lisbon touches down shall we?

Like many of you I've not been exactly enamoured with the candidates that have been mentioned thus far. The worst of these by miles is Owen Coyle. It's clear Coyle has been on a mission to raise his profile in Scotland ever since Dave Whelan turfed him out at Wigan. A pal of Dermot Desmond, Coyle was on standby to take over last summer if Neil Lennon had quit then, something that Celtic firmly believed he would do right up until pre-season started. Anyone I've spoke to in and around the game since Neil Lennon stepped down has been aghast that Coyle is even quoted given that he turned down the job in 2009. What concerns me more is that he has none of the qualities required to be Celtic manager. The measure of a man is often in not what they say but what they don't say. Take Paul Scholes as an example, a man who did pretty much everything in the club game but was known as the quiet man of football. So when he does speak, normally complete sense, you listen and you'd be right to. With Coyle, he says so much, so often, you kind of think he'd more suited to replacing Graham Norton not Neil Lennon.

Coyle embodies the kind of stinkin' thinkin' you get at these times, normally fuelled by bookies, which has anyone who knows football just scratching their heads. Put simply the one thing that seems to unite the fans on this subject is: We don't want Owen Coyle.

I know there have been moves in other directions. Davie Moyes was contacted indirectly on Saturday in a "if offered, would you take it?" type way whilst another candidate was asked indirectly whether he'd be happy working under a director of football?

The director of football thing interests, assuming it wasn't Peter Lawwell that was meant, this is a road I'd like to see Celtic go down. It has to be said that whilst success in the league and Europe was there, Neil Lennon's choices of backroom staff weren't exactly a huge hit. Alan Thompson's off the field problems and "friends" were his downfall whilst Mjallby was often at odds with the manager. Garry Parker potters about hoping to be under as little spotlight as possible.

The director of football role in Scotland has a stigma attached and as Celtic supporters we shudder at the Dalglish/Barnes fiasco. Of course it has been in operation, quite successfully, at Falkirk for a few years now. It's a road Hearts have gone down and the current Neilsen/Crawford partnership is due to be replaced from within in around 3-4 years. That's the theory of course, football has many variables and it might not work. That being said, Hearts, living within their means for the first time since the 1970's, have no intention of paying off a whole backroom staff one day and then hiring a new one the next ever again.

Celtic have many coaches who have worked away behind the scenes for years now. Guys like Chris McCart, Tommy MacIntyre, Stephen Frail and John Kennedy are in with the bricks now but does anyone see them as manager material? The last main candidate through the ranks that fans clamoured for was Willie McStay, who never had a hope in hell of getting the top job, and has struggled to get a proper foothold in football since, with it unknown where his latest adventure with Celtic Nation will take him.

I think we could steal a march on a lot of teams by laying down now a structure that is for the long term but from a position of strength. I've said it before but for clarity will do so again, for me the guy tailor-made for the role is Gordon Strachan. In a part time job just now, you give him a remit to set up a structure with emphasis on coaches and players rising to the top then that man will be in his element. He doesn't need to deal with the media, which he loathes, he is able to see out a huge passion he has for coaching and making players better and he can be there to lean on for all coaches at the club, including the top one. He can also deal with the Lawwell/Park dynamic which would take the pressure off a new head coach.

And who should be that head coach?

Many people have said to me "You must want Jackie then?" and I've avoided pleading his case for two reasons, the obvious bias and the fact that he doesn't need me to do that for him. What I will say is that Jackie has a lot of the qualities I'd want from our new man. When he took over at Partick Thistle, he did not think players were fit. After an internal study, he got back that what the problem was was the recovery between games wasn't helping. So he brought in people to deal with it, at his own expense, and, well, you see the difference. When he took over at Dundee Utd the players actually weren't fit. The diet was all wrong and lot of the players were not enjoying their football. He was also told their were no young players worth a game and the club would be saddled with debt for decades. The emergence of young players is obvious, but the increase in crowds due to the type of football played has wiped out the debt. Compare that to the £8m debt Hibs are carrying and the £16m Aberdeen are.

So what are the qualities he has? First off, a strong inner belief in what he is doing. There's no bullshit about Jackie and he doesn't get distracted from his goal. He has standards and I like that in a manager, players need to live up to them or find another club. He encourages youth and good football, thinking long term always. Derek McInnes has received plaudits and awards this season but how good has his team actually played? How many times have they hit four or more goals? How long term are his signings?

It is often said that it's "too early" for Jackie but he has far more experience now than Neil Lennon had in the summer of 2010. Hey, it's all about opinions and I just gave you mine.

Speaking of summer 2010, can we not go through the same charade we did back then when appointing a manager? It's obvious to everyone that Neil Lennon caught Celtic on the hop last week (you don't invite a guy you know is leaving on holiday with you) and perhaps it wasn't the best idea for Mr Lawwell to still go on his trip to Lisbon when we sit without a leader. The days of the long summers of 97 and 98 without a manager are long gone and I hope Celtic don't involve themselves in any kind of stage-managed bullshit and just get the job done.

Otherwise even Brian Wilson may go radge at them.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Neil Lennon: Diminishing love

Once all the instant reactions were ploughed through yesterday, the most telling piece of information came from Celtic, not in what they said, but in when they said it. Coming a good five hours after Neil Lennon had announced he was stepping down, this was not the statement-crazy regime we have all come to know. The issuing of a statement is about as low as it gets in terms of PR. Designed to conduct the debate, it often poses more questions than answers but of course is designed to ensure no questions can be asked.

Once Neil Lennon spoke yesterday you can be absolutely assured that all hell broke loose at Celtic Park. "Akin to Wall Street on a bad day" was how it was described to me. So much in the dark were employees that people contacting Celtic on other matters were being asked "Is it true the manager has gone?"

Of course the real question is: Why did the manager go? As far back November 2012, Neil Lennon's mind was drifting. Concerns over the quality of family life were being expressed by his partner, Irene, his son's conditions at school weren't the best and on a trip to Oxford with Garry Parker and his wife, Neil was given a taste of what life could be like outside the goldfish bowl of Glasgow. Whilst the adulation is always there, the abuse remained daily.

It can never be underestimated what Neil Lennon went through to be Celtic manager (although plenty try) and this should never be forgotten either. We live in an era where before it would be newspapers that were tomorrow's fish and chip wrappers, now it's our feelings that move on quicker than a Sevco Chairman.

The other factor is his place within Celtic as manager. Probably the least amount of power a manager has ever had at Celtic, Lennon became increasingly frustrated at decreasingly low budgets and a level of interference that, whilst happening at almost every football club in the world, eventually became the bane of his life. Forget the cosy statements issued or ridiculous notion that Neil Lennon will be involved in the picking of the new manager (I know one candidate who shuddered at that thought), this is a clean break and one that Neil Lennon made up his mind about in January saying that if he didn't get a proper budget to re-build, he was off. 

There were clues of course.

Mjallby leaving, the season ticket literature had no mention of the manager in it, there were the increased appearances in England to build his profile higher and there was the arse covering from Celtic when Samaras let slip that Lennon had wanted to keep him but Peter Lawwell said no.

Ah, Peter Lawwell. A figure who divides more people than a Celtic Park steward. So entrenched are folk's opinions of him that it's impossible to have a proper debate about him in what has surely been his toughest week as 11 years as CEO. The BT/Sevco scandal is not going away and he spent most of yesterday privately seething at Lennon stealing a march on him in terms of releasing the information.

The question most have in terms of Lawwell's power, (the most powerful man by some distance in the day to day world of Scottish football and second only to Dermot Desmond in terms of power in Scottish football full stop) is would any manager worth their salt work with him? The answer is yes. Primarily because Celtic are a huge club, who win leagues, compete in Europe and offer a huge stage. There's also the fact that the days of Alex Ferguson types running everything are over (Ferguson himself was "advised" quite a lot by the Glazers before he left)

With that being said, it is not healthy for a man with no background in football at all to have such an influence on who plays for Celtic (nor is it healthy to have family members also with no background in football acting as scouts for Celtic)

Ultimately though, Neil Lennon had enough of the small budget, enough of players being foisted on him(Bangura, Balde and Gershon were the ones that really drove him mad) and enough of having to toe the party line no matter what he actually felt.

The Joe Ledley transfer summed it up, Joe asking to stay, Neil wanting him to stay and Peter telling both that Ledley was off to Palace. 

Modern football or too much meddling? You can decide but Neil already has. 

Of course Neil Lennon was not without flaws, his record in the cups was pretty dire and it could be argued that the football we wanted to see only really came towards the end of his time at Celtic. 

Typical eh?

As for the new manager, make no mistake that he will be Dermot Desmond's choice. Only two managers have been selected by CEO's at Celtic since Fergus McCann left, John Barnes and Tony Mowbray, so Dermot's hand is firmly on the chicken switch for this one. Which is interesting because last season Dermot actually attended Celtic Park the least in his 20 year involvement with the club.

Meanwhile we supporters sit and wait, what is the new chapter going to bring us? If it was me? I'd be thinking long term about a management team that would be here for a decade. One that understood Celtic and the absolute importance of remaining on top for at least the next seven years.

They are out there.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Green Brigade Anti Discrimination Tournament-Seize the opportunity

As the dust settles on another season, and fans gasp in horror when they realise the World Cup is still a month away, you may be aware of the now annual anti-discrimination tournament organised by The Green Brigade, this year in Royston on June 14th.

I've been a bit out the loop in recent weeks spending most of my time in exam halls, study rooms and Doctor's surgeries as old age catches up with me and just getting to grips with the latest toing and froing about the banner that the GB had at the Inverness Caley game.

Let me say now, let's not get carried away with the sentiment of it (except positively) and for Christ sake can we remember two things, what Ultras do and that Leigh Griffiths is not David Duke.

What often happens any time the GB are mentioned is that folk dig in further and positions get entrenched to the point where the whole of McAlpine's would be needed to dig folk out.

Now, this tournament is a noble idea by the GB and should be supported by as many as possible in the main anyway but this is a huge opportunity for a lot of people to meet face to face, meet minds and start digging themselves out the trenches.

Firstly, I think this is exactly the sort of event that fans who want Leigh Griffiths educated on the origins of Celtic and evil of racism, that could be attended by Griffiths. I saw him last year attend a similar type of event, of his own accord, at Saughton Enclosure in Edinburgh so it's not like he's someone who couldn't care less about these type of events. The message coming out of an event like this is exactly the sort of message we supporters want imprinted in Griffiths mind.

Secondly, I do think this is a chance for Celtic to get people along and get mingling with people away from the stadium and in a more relaxed environment so common ground can be found. Whilst Social Media has many benefits, one of its flaws is it is not a medium for the type of discussion needed to get a proper resolution in a situation like this. Similarly, a number of issues always seem to arise out of behind closed doors meetings at Celtic Park and so a neutral venue would be helpful. Apart from anything else, it would do Celtic good to show support from a fans initiative that didn't come from something at their own behest.

Thirdly, there are clearly some people out there who are what I would describe as serial critics of The Green Brigade. I accept that some do this for their own selfish reasons and that even the promise of a limo to the ground, rub down whilst there and enough blog copy to feed them for a year won't change their minds but if you're someone who has been critical of the GB then surely this tournament offers a chance for you to give a first hand account of what the GB are actually like and help publicise a noble cause?

Which brings me onto the main problem I find with the GB. The message is being drowned out. Asking most people about the GB and most will point to Fir Park, broken seats and plenty other negative untruths that blanket all the great stuff done, the tremendous food bank drive at Christmas being one of them. Similarly, most Celtic fans dealings with the GB come with a visit to Celtic Park and assumptions are built upon this. I've no right to dictate anything to the GB but I know that the only resolution to this is a dedicated section that brings the atmosphere you created back to Celtic Park week in, week out. I also know that I will get criticism for this article from those who have no time for the GB and never have. My answer to that is to be part of a solution that works for all. Inform your opinion by going to the tournament and remembering that we are all Celtic supporters and far more unites us than divides us.

That goes for Leigh Griffiths, Peter Lawwell and all with the power of the pen as well.

Friday, May 9, 2014

When Wim's Tims changed the world

I guess you don’t feel as tense right now as you did on the morning of May 9th 1998. I was away early that day, so early that I missed a call from a Hibby mate wishing us all the best. The feeling from the Craig Falconbridge goal hadn’t left me, it felt like my heart had been ripped out my chest as thousands gleefully told us that this would be Rangers year (again) and that we were perennial losers.

Deep down that nagged at all of us.

I went through on the train to Glasgow that day and settled into a Gallowgate full of nervous anticipation. The players had gone to Dublin for a couple of days to get away from it all, us fans just has to grin and bear it all week. Every outcome was played out in our heads, every omen was studied and every escape route planned should we not do it. “It” being protecting our cherished nine in a row record.

As the hours ticked on, beer glasses were drained but the humour was akin to pre court in America when you’ve already had two strikes. As we moved along the Gallowgate, faces were studied nervously and, again, we talked about every possibility “Get an early goal” “Surely Dundee Utd will give them a game” “Christ, I keep thinking we have blown it”

Upon arriving in the stadium I got involved in a silly argument with a mate, it was a something and nothing type where the tension far outweighed the subject matter. It was that kind of day.

As the teams emerged, the noise was deafening. I sat in the back row of section 443 and all around me people clenched fists whilst looking at each other, steely determination exuding from all. If the players match the fans, we are going to be fine.

We barely had time to get nervous when Henrik sailed past two defenders and planted a ball in the St Johnstone net like Dennis Taylor on that last black ball in 1985. An eruption of blanketed Celtic Park and as folk held each other for grim life.

Everybody needed a hug.

We expected the barrage of goals to come but of course, this is Celtic, we don’t do anything the easy way and we settled into the ebb and flow of anxiety football.

Anxiety became The Exorcist type fear as George O’Boyle stalked our goal and missed a header that looked easier to score. We all looked at each other as if considering taking up Rugby as it would be far less stressful.

In the second half, news filtered through from Tannadice that Rangers were two goals up and any slip from us would be catastrophic. We made subs and Brattbakk appeared for a walk on part in the war.
A ball was flitted down the wing, suddenly it was in the middle and Harald found a burst of pace that resulted in the time needed for a cool finish and to put us 2-0 up.

The world just turned on its axis.

Simon Donnelly, just subbed, jumped on John Clark’s back. Tosh McKinlay and Darren Jackson danced in the tunnel. Henrik jumped on Harald and pointed at him profusely.

We were lost in a sea of relief, grown men cried and screamed in equal measure, the realisation dawning: we have done it.

The remaining minutes faded away like the last bath water down a plug hole and the explosion from Tom Boyd on full time matched the explosion from the stands that echoed round Scotland and sent the flag up right round the planet: Celtic are back.

As drained as the players, we left the stadium, our seats not allowing us to join the magical pitch invasion and we met with others, equally lifeless and just stood there in awe. As we moved along the Gallowgate once more, bars had shutters down and the first pub we could get in was The Braemar.
From there we got the train home to Edinburgh, a brief meeting with a clearly miffed ICF as well, and went to The International Bar where folk danced in the streets and long into the night.

The players went to a restaurant in Newton Mearns where Phil and Eileen O’Donnell danced on tables and summed up the mood.

From there the players went to play a game in Lisbon that most could not tell you the score of and the next day it was confirmed, Wim was off and Wim’s Tims were no more.

Thankfully our nine in a row record still remained.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Asterisk Years Film-Update

So folks, a little blast to bring you all up to speed with what is happening.

We have November as a target for a premiere. This will be in Glasgow. Now, we know the difficulties that this presents given that hatred one third of Glasgow will have for this but we will find a venue and the premiere will be there. We hope to make this a bit of a gala event with a party afterwards. After all, this is meant to be fun, right? (Anyone with a darkened room for rent, please get in touch)

But seriously.

A lot of filming, recording, animation and research has taken place thus far. The documentary aim is to be about the length that an hour long programme, with commercials, would be on TV. We want it to be something that tells a strand of the story in a simple and entertaining way that folk can watch and digest in one sitting.

We have deliberately not went down the road of celebrity appearances or publicity stunts because we feel that's the part of the thing we are fighting against. We were actually offered two semi-famous people, one by an agent and one directly and it was a bit bemusing. I think the agent was told by their client that "They will definitely be wanting me for this" and came in with "Ok, how much you going to pay then" attitude. Keep waiting by that phone. The other need clarification of Rangers liquidation so I don't think they would have fitted with the vibe somehow.

A lot of this is done on the hoof. In trying to stay one step ahead of the detractors, we haven't been able to reveal where we would be until we went to Celtic Park last Sunday. I originally had an idea to talk to people in the Kerrydale Bar and thought it would be polite to ask Celtic in advance but was met with a gruff "Whit's it fur?" and thought better of it. Funnily enough, after four hours of filming we went for food to the Kerrydale Bar and not only saw a lot of the folk we had spoken to that day but could easily have filmed in there with no one being any the wiser.

That all being said, the filming at Celtic Park was fantastic and it was great to see such enthusiasm for the project. It's a stressful thing to do. Forget the threats and the begrudgers, you're on a very tight budget, which folk have donated their hard earned cash to give you, and you are filming outside. You don't have the budget to cancel a shoot and start again another day. You need to allow for wind, rain, lorries, folk walking into the shot, folk standing staring and about a million other things.

So when folk show up and take part, on or off camera, it makes you feel good.

Right now, we have lots of stuff and it's time for the Editor to start putting it together so we then know what holes need filled and what needs trimmed.

An important lesson we have learnt in all this is focus on the prize. A lot of people have spent a lot of time trying to derail this and belittle it. We just keep moving forward as we best we can.

If you're reading this, you're the reason why.