25 de Maio de 1967, Lisboa, the greatest day before my life…


Today marks the 50th anniversary of the most special day in Celtic Football Club’s history. 25th May, 1967, Lisbon. Celtic 2-1 Internazionale. European Cup Champions.

During my studies here in Poland we have spent some time exploring how folk tales can become myths and fables, how fallacies become realities, and how these stories become ingrained and indeed influential in modern day cultures and society.

As a young boy growing up in London, raised by Glaswegian parents, and surrounded by family (my grandfather, aunties, and uncles having also moved down south) originating from Scotland’s finest city, it was not fantasy and fairy tales that captured my imagination. It was the tale of legends. Eleven local Bhoys, led by the immortal Jock Stein, to triumph on the greatest stage of all.

Simpson, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Auld, Lennox.

Their names forever etched into sporting history.


1967. This was not a time when teams from the British Isles dominated European football. From its inception until that sunny day in May, the European Cup had been won by only four sides; Real Madrid, Benfica, Milan, Internazionale.

When Celtic stepped onto the pitch to face Europe’s most formidable defence, most did not give them a chance.

The captivating Bertie Auld recalls those majestical moments in the tunnel, as the Lions prepared to enter the fray, looking across to their dashing, Italian counterparts. The peerless Jimmy “Jinky” Johnstone, turned to Bertie and said, “Look Bertie, they’re like film stars.”

His response was simple, “I know, but can they play?” 

These eleven Celts were not there to make up the numbers, they lived not in fear of their more experienced and renowned opponents, they believed in their own ability. Their style of play was innovative; a team built on the DNA of playing pure, beautiful, inventive football.

It may not have been until around 35 years after the event that I, at last, got to witness our most celebrated day via my old VHS, but even then, watching for the first time, I was filled with excitement as Celtic bombarded the Inter goal with wave after wave of attack. 

Officially the formation was 4-2-4, but with Ronnie Simpson pulling off back heels outside his box, and the full backs continually bursting down the wing, this was a game of complete domination. Inter camped at the edge of their own box.

Their fame and strength was built on holding on to narrow leads. Their defence was believed to be impenetrable. The Catenaccio. A style famous throughout football; synonymous with the Italian art of defending.

Once Inter took an early lead through a 7th minute penalty, most experts would have written Celtic off.

But Lions do not shy away in the face of adversity. 

Before the match Jock Stein declared, “Celtic will be the first team to bring the European Cup back to Britain… we are going to attack as we have never attacked before.” And his prophecy was true in every aspect.

The match statistics highlighted Celtic’s attacking supremacy; 42 attempts on goal, with 24 saves made by Giuliano Sarti. Whilst the scoreline didn’t reflect the nature of the game, this was an annihilation.

Once Tommy Gemmell fired in the equaliser there was only ever going to be one winner.

In the heat of Lisbon those eleven local Bhoys, Jock Stein, and Sean Fallon forever became legends.

This is our past, our present, and our future. The Lisbon Lions are eternal. 

I grew up on the tales of Jimmy Johnstone tormenting full-backs across Europe, the Bernabau watching in awe as he stole the limelight from Alfredo Di Stefano at his own testimonial.

At home on my shelf sits a vinyl record of Pink Floyds “The Wall”, scribed on the inside is the starting line-up from Lisbon, eleven Lions graffitied by my grandfather onto the cover. These are the moments to be appreciated, to be treasured, to be celebrated.

I was not born when Celtic lifted the European Cup, but that does not stop the 25th May 1967 being the greatest day before my life.

Invincible Celts roar like Lions


50 years ago eleven local Bhoys became legends in Lisbon.

In this special anniversary year of Celtic’s finest moment, the current squad have paid their own, most fitting, tribute to the Lions’ magnificent achievement. Undefeated throughout the entire league campaign, a feat never before achieved in a 38 game season.

Season 16/17 has seen the current squad break records for most points won, most goals scored, and of course completing our unbeaten campaign.

Like the Lions before them, they’ve done it by playing pure, beautiful, inventive football.

This has been a truly remarkable season. Brendan Rodgers’ side have written themselves into the history books, and with the Scottish Cup Final to come next week we could be on the brink of just our fourth treble in history.

Today is the beginning of a special week, the undefeated league campaign has been achieved. Thursday will see a night of celebration of the Lisbon Lions, on Saturday further history could be made, and Sunday will see a return of past legends to Paradise.

Enjoy it Bhoys and Ghirls.

This is how it feels to be Celtic. Invincible.

This is how it feels to be Celtic…

Champions. Unbeaten domestically. Scottish Cup final to come. League Cup secured…


Sometimes in football, everything just seems to be going right. The announcement of Brendan Rodgers as Celtic manager on 20th May 2016 was met with jubilation amongst the Celtic faithful, with almost 13,000 supporters welcoming Brendan into Paradise.

These days a league title is the minimum expectation at Celtic Park, just ask Ronny Deila, and whilst the excitement and anticipation ahead of a new season under a truly top class manager in Rodgers was clear for all to this time last year, I think it’s fair to say none of us quite expected it to reach these ecstatic heights:

Champions League qualification at the first time of asking (the first ever Celtic manager to achieve this).
43 Domestic Matches played. Undefeated. 39 wins and 4 draws.
Progressive, high-pressing, attacking football. 122 domestic goals scored.
Double secured. Potential Treble.
Winning 5-1 home and away vs The rangers (biggest every victory at Ibrox)
Brendan Rodgers 76.36% win rate in all competitions (highest winning percentage of any Celtic manager).
6 in a row.
Rodgers signing a new 4-year contract extension.
And last, but by no means least…

Jozo’s tackle on Kenny Miller.

This is how it feels to be Celtic…

Following the shameful behaviour of a few morons across the city last week; attacking our captain, throwing objects at our players, and most disgusting of all, racially abusing Scott Sinclair, it was a wonderful sight to see the Celtic fans and Scotty in solidarity at the end of the St. Johnstone match yesterday, declaring that racism has no place in our game, in our society, and it won’t be accepted.

Where last season apathy appeared, this year it has been replaced by unity, hunger, and enthusiasm.

The squad, the manager, the fans, everyone at the club is together, on board following the same message in order to drive the club forward.

We have our limits, we all know that, but with a young and passionate squad being directed by a respected, and indeed gifted, manager our potential is there to reach a level we’ve not witnessed in years.

Champions again as you know…

As is always the way in the Scottish media our top performing players are continually linked with moves away from the club: Dembele, Sinclair, Tierney, Armstrong the most frequent to be at the moment. Of course just a few weeks ago it was our manager himself who we apparently wouldn’t be capable of holding onto. Then the 4-year contract extension came.

If big money comes calling for one or two of our stars it will of course be hard to resist, but currently it is clear that Celtic Park feels like home to this squad.

Brendan is in charge of all footballing matters, that much is clear, he has his own plans and ideas of how the club should function and where it can progress to, on and off the pitch. These are exciting times ahead.

… Brendan Rodgers is here for 10 in a row.

 

It’s been a long time coming…

Not since September have I found myself in this situation; it feels strange, and due to the amount of time that has passed since this occurred I feel a little out of practice writing like this…

I am of course talking about the eagerly anticipated return of the blog – I can still label it ‘eagerly anticipated’ even if only one pal has jokingly pestered me about when “are you going to get off your lazy arse and start writing again,” right? (Danny, this one’s for you)

Anyway, back to football, what a season it has been in Brendan Rodgers inaugural year as Celtic boss. The lift the entire club has been given, the football we have played at times, the sheer calibre of our manager and the level some of our players are performing at is magnificent. Everything surrounding the club is glowing right now.

Even in Europe, where we appeared completely out of depth and awestruck by the opposition in our first match, we grew as a team and began to show indications that next season, with some luck in the draws (qualifying and hopefully the group stage), we may be at a level to compete and push for a last 16 place, if not, a Europa League spot.

I made it very clear last year that I was a fan of our previous manager, but things got to a stage where the apathetic nature at the club demanded a changed. We now have a manager in control of all footballing matters; from recruitment, to dietitians. Not only that, but Brendan Rodgers man management skills are at level amongst the best in Europe. Players who appeared uninterested, lacking any confidence, or simply on their last legs, have been re-energised this season. And some of our signings have proven to be inspired ones.

The reason for my lack of activity these past months is that in September of last year I decided to take the, perhaps crazy, decision to move to Wrocław, a city in South-West Poland, and begin studying for an MA in Journalism. It was quite a spontaneous move and around 10 days after submitting my application for the course I found myself boarding the plane with my one-way ticket.

Now you may think a sports blog would be the perfect way to practice your written skills whilst studying Journalism. And of course you would be correct. But as you settle into life in a new country… Discover that a beer can cost as little as 80p, it can become difficult to find the time to sit down and write again.

This season has been inspiring in Glasgow, and I hope that now that I have settled into something of a routine (only taking advantage of that beer price a few times a week these days) that this brief sabbatical from the blog will be over… I mean, I’m sure the 10 or so people who read this will be dying to hear more of my nonsense opinions on all things Celtic.

Oh yes, and while we may have dropped points in the league for the first time since September, and it may have felt bad on Sunday considering we appeared to sink close to the level of the opposition. The wild celebrations from the club across the city at their 1-1 ‘victory’ were enough to lighten my mood and a reminder of how lucky we truly are… Though perhaps not as lucky as the Sevco fan who managed to go home with star-man Bobby Madden’s jersey as he launched it into the crowd.

After a slight slip up, I’m certain that minds will now be refocused. Brendan wouldn’t allow it any other way.

The party is just about to get started.

Forget the wounded animal, Barcelona from another planet

We all knew Barcelona would be hurting after their defeat to Deportivo Alavés at the weekend, that they would come out with all guns blazing on Tuesday night ready to prove a point. And prove a point they certainly did.

There has been a lot of talk the past couple of days about the embarrassment of Tuesday night’s drubbing. Some harsh words have been said regarding our place amongst Europe’s elite. Frankly though, there is no hiding from the facts, and Tuesday’s performance, if not the scoreline, was certainly embarrassing.

The biggest point of disappointment was the amateur defending (in all areas of the park) which led to Barcelona’s goals. Having faced Barca numerous times over the past few years we knew what to expect coming into this game. The problem was that this Barcelona side, led by the MSN front three, was like nothing we have ever faced before.

The way we let our hosts stroll past us though was appalling; by the midway stage of the 2nd half Barca didn’t have to be anywhere near their best to cut through Celtic’s defence.

The biggest concern, as has been pointed out by many in the media, continues to be the mentality of the Celtic side. Barcelona didn’t beat us 7-0 because of their brilliance, they beat us by 7 because we were in awe of their brilliance.

Simply put the players looked lost; mesmerised by the ability and technique on display in front of them.

I predicted Cristian Gamboa would come into the side to complete a back 5, and if I’m honest I was quite happy to see this pre-match, feeling this would create a narrow 3 in the middle of defence; with Tierney and Gamboa adding additional protection in the wide areas. This was not the case. 

The obvious risk was in throwing a player into the biggest game of the season for their debut (think Jo Inge Berget in Warsaw), a player who hasn’t started a competitive club match since February. 

Gamboa making his first appearance for his new club at the Camp Nou was a big mistake. As was the formation of 5 at the back.

A 3-5-2/5-3-2 could work for us in Europe. If, and it’s a big if, we had the midfield for it. Three central defenders who stay tight to each other, flanked by full backs willing to get up and down the park throughout the match can work. What they need is a strong, competitive, and composed midfield in front of them. Scott Brown was unlucky on Tuesday, he appeared to be playing in midfield on his own and was the one player willing to try and put his foot on the ball to make things happen. For the formation to work we needed two central players alongside Brown. Central players who were willing to press the Barcelona midfield high when they dictated possession. In Nir Bitton we certainly do not have a central player willing, or capable, to play the pressing game. 

The disappointment of not completing the signing of a “marquee” central midfield was justified on Tuesday night. Besides Nir Bitton and Scott Brown our only central midfield (not central attacking midfield) players are academy graduates Henderson and McGregor. We simply don’t have the personnel in the middle of the park to have pulled off this formation – though perhaps the aforementioned, or the more attacking minded Stuart Armstrong or Tom Rogic, would have been more effective than Bitton.

Out wide we never stood a chance. Isolated and starved of possession it was a big ask for our wingers to contribute to the match. Scott Sinclair, however, showed plenty of promise in the early stages of the game, driving at the Barcelona defence at every (rare) opportunity. One positive from Tuesday night was that while Scott didn’t see anywhere near enough of the ball (along with his teammates), he did indicate he has the talent to compete at this level, provided we have the correct set up.

It has been said in some quarters that we have to accept the reality of modern football, that we simply cannot compete with the big guns; while in others it has been stated that Celtic should never accept defeat as a formality. Both are true. We cannot compete with Barcelona, it is as simple as that. But we can perform with the mindset that we are their match. That we will fight for every ball and not stand back and simply admire their ability. This Barcelona team is potentially the best I’ve ever seen. Let them play us off the park, show them the respect they deserve after the game, but during it treat them as our equal.

Changing the mentality amongst the squad at Celtic Park was never going to be an overnight fix. It’s one factor in a wider, long term project to lift ourselves on the European stage. Even then, we won’t be able to match the likes of Barcelona, but we will be able to compete for the ball and have belief in ourselves when we do regain possession. It’s a cliche in football for a manager of an underdog to bemoan the ease in which they allowed the favourite to dictate a game. But that cliche is precisely the feeling after Tuesday night – we had to do more to make Barca break sweat; to force them to be at their scintillating best. 

The best way to describe our performance in the second half was that of shock. Simple 5 yard passes became an impossible task. It would have been like watching children facing a side of uncompromising adults – only we never displayed such energy or belief.

There is no shame in losing to the best, not even in being anhialated by them. The disappointment lies in the inability to handle the occasion. In effectively throwing in the towel, taking a step back, and applauding the opponent off the park.

Tuesday will have hurt the players; defeat is one thing, but records have now been broken for all the wrong reasons. The squad must learn from Tuesday and ensure they never have that feeling again. Losing is acceptable, despondency is not.

If we’re not up to the task mentally we could see more records broken over the next few months.

Barcelona may be from another planet to us, but Tuesday should be the last free ride.

Beware the wounded animal

After an embarrassing defeat a team will always focus all their attentions into bouncing straight back. The newly promoted side’s performance shocked everyone at the weekend. And an animal is at its most dangerous when it has been hurt.

I am, of course, referring to Barcelona’s shock defeat at home to Deportivo Alavés on Saturday evening. They will be out to make a statement on Tuesday night and remind the world how good they really are. For Barcelona to suffer a shock defeat at home is rare enough, for it to happen twice in a week is unheard of. The impossible task may have just got that bit harder.

With global superstars Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi likely to return to the Barca side we face up to the most gifted attacking trio in world football (with Neymar completing the trident).

Off the back of a quite sensational start to the season ourselves, and a 5 goal rout of our own newly promoted neighbours, we couldn’t be in a better place to face our most difficult task (apart from the injury to Griffiths).

Brendan knows the job at hand tomorrow. His detailed analysis of football has been a standout attribute of his early Celtic reign; clearly studying how the opposition play and identifying their weakest areas. He’ll have a game plan and the players will each know their role. Perform both to perfection and maybe, just maybe, we could nick something.

Following our horror show in Israel our defensive frailties were brought to the fore. We stumbled our way through the majority of the match, but once Erik Eviatchenko was introduced to complete a back 5 we saw out the dying stages with relative comfort (although it felt anything but that at the time).

Christian Gamboa could be in line for the debut of his life tomorrow night. I expect Lustig to tuck inside to complete a narrow back 3, with Gamboa and Tierney’s pace put to the test as the rampaging Barca full backs push on. For me, James Forrest is the man to miss out. While his pace could provide us with an outlet to relieve pressure I feel the importance of maintaining possession when possible is vital to any hopes we have. Tom Rogic is the man for this; with Sinclair off Dembele completing our attack. (Forrest on to exploit any tired legs late on).

Not many give us a hope in hell tomorrow night. I don’t give us a hope in hell tomorrow night. But this is the Champions League. It’s where we want to be. Let’s enjoy it.

Beware the wounded animal, and you never know.

Early shopping delight, yet disappointment lingers

Okay, so I’m no fan of transfer deadline day – the whole thing has become another Sky Sports gimmick centred around Jim White and his yellow tie, frantically reporting on the news that one average Premier League footballer may be moving to another average Premier League club according to “Sky Sources”.

This year, however, I did take a keen interest. Not to the Sky Sports feed per se, but the actual news of the day at Cetic Park – constantly checking for updates. Early on in the evening it became clear that our business was done for the window as various media outlets reported Celtic were shutting up shop for the day.

For years now I have been crying out for us to do our business early; to bed new players in at the soonest possibility; to give ourselves the best chance we could of qualifying for the Champions League; our Holy Grail.

This summer there were a number of key goals set on our to do list: bring in a manager to energise the club and excite the fans; to allow the new manager to structure his own backroom staff, to be in control of all footballing matters; to provide said manager with funds to bring in his own players; to qualify for the Champions League. All these boxes have a large tick next to them.

Yet why the sense of deadline day dissapointment this year?

In Moussa Dembele, Kolo Toure, and Scott Sinclair I’m delighted with our transfer activity. Dorus de Vries and Cristian Gamboa are unknown quantities to me but I look forward to seeing them in the Hoops – Brendan’s done alright with his recruitment until now after all.

The issue I have, the feeling of dissapointment that I can’t shake, simply comes down to the fact that Brendan Rodgers knows we needed another player (possibly two). We came so close to the perfect summer, and while still a very good one, we fell just short of excellence – after previous summers I know it’s crazy to be anything close to dissapointed this year, and in a few days, on reflection at just how far we’ve improved over the past few months, there will be no despondency.

The issue at the moment, of course, is central midfield. Having improved every other area of our squad over the summer we enter our first Champions League campaign in three years with the middle of the park being probably the weakest area in our team. This is where games are won and lost at the highest level.

The away tie against Hapoel Be’er Sheva confirmed beyond all doubt that we needed some real quality in the centre of the pitch. A calm, composed figure who can maintain possession in pressurised situations; that, or a true defensive ball winning midfielder, the kind of player we haven’t had since Victor Wanyama left for Southampton. (Ideally we would sign both).

Brendan Rodgers knew we needed this – he sees what’s happening on the pitch and is quick to analyse sitautions. While Brendan took a huge risk in Israel by leaving Saidy Janko on the park much to every fans dismay, he has since signed a new right back and allowed Janko to leave on loan. Efe Ambrose was given an early chance against part-time Lincoln Red Imps, he failed, and he hasn’t been seen again since.

For Celtic fans the delight of qualifying for the Champions League was shortly followed by the exciting prospect that we were now going to flex some muscle and bring in a player of real European quality. We had the funds, we had the manager, we had the attraction of Europe and the glamour ties that came with it: but we didn’t act on it.

Celtic will toe the line, that “we worked hard – and couldn’t quite get anything over the line”. But we had a full week after guaranteeing an extra jackpot of approximately £30m to secure at least one central midfielder – we had all summer to line up targets in the possibility that we would qualify.

A week ago Brendan Rodgers seemed confident of improving the squad before the deadline – certain, almost.

Try as I might to quell my own conspiracy theories, I can’t help but feel our manager has been let down by the club this week. That once those European superpowers were drawn alongside Celtic we decided to stick with what we have – we weren’t going to progress through the group, and we’ve got enough to dominate domestically, why spend any more?

I’m sure I’m being daft but after recent evidence of how our business is run it’s a lingering thought I cannot rid.

It’s not all about the money – I promise. But the money was there, and plenty of it.

Transfer targets come and go, deals do break down. If the media is to be believed we targeted Andre Wisdom for most of the summer, once that deal broke down we moved our attention to Gamboa. Rodgers allegedly was looking to bring in former goalkeeper Michel Vorm, Spurs wouldn’t sell, so we moved on to de Vries. 

I do believe that the club will have been working on trying to secure targets over the past week. They must have been. But if these deals hit barriers why was there not a bigger target pool for an area of the pitch we so clearly needed to strengthen? 

I never want us to make signings for the sake of making a signing. To appease fans. I agree with this summer’s approach. That we should only sign players that will come into the side and improve us. Perhaps we really just couldn’t get a deal over the line. I just can’t help doubting that there wasn’t a single central midfielder available who could have come in and improved our squad.

I’m over the moon with this summer as a whole, and I’m not normally one to be greedy, but at the moment a slight disappointment lingers.