When it comes to slogans and soundbites, Celtic Football Club have never been shy in promoting their self-perceived uniqueness.
As the beginning of our most important season in decades, possibly ever domestically, approached, the emotive season ticket renewal campaign appealed to the supporters to “answer the call”.
Our cause. Our culture. Our calling. The branding read.
The “call”, of course, referred to the necessity for season ticket holders to hand over full-fare for access to an online stream, for an unknown, but likely prolonged, period of time.
Before a ball was kicked it seemed inevitable that full stands wouldn’t be seen again throughout the entirety of the 2020/21 campaign, with the best hope being a reduced number of supporters allowed into the stadium on a game by game basis.
The supporters answered the “call” regardless, selling out season tickets in record numbers, proving that even in a virtual capacity, the authentic, hallowed words of Tommy Burns will always resonate more than any marketing gimmick ever could.
Those without season tickets would, however, be locked out of access, with no pay-per-view option made available by the club.
Before the renewal campaign had begun, with the 2019/20 season being called in May, there was also the issue of Celtic’s unfulfilled fixtures to be addressed. Supporters were offered the opportunity to claim a refund on the missing games in an article published on the club’s website. An article containing statements such as, “Clearly, against the current economic backdrop we face, any investment which remains within the Club will be hugely welcome and vitally important to us as we aim to tackle the challenges ahead and ensure that the Club remains as strong as possible.”
Despite the vast and continual PR disasters emitting from Celtic Park over the last seven or eight months, it cannot be argued that they have excelled in pulling on the heartstrings of the fans whenever finances are involved.
It would take too long to list every off-field calamity involving Celtic in recent times, from the Bolingoli incident to the Dubai debacle and the furloughing of the under 18 squad upon our return, however, the recent decision making throughout the club has driven the most comprehensive, and seemingly irreparable disconnect between those with power and influence, and those who simply are there, and are always there.
During the initial restart of football across the major European leagues last summer, Jock Stein’s iconic statement, “football without fans, is nothing” regularly appeared online, in commentary, and in banners displayed across empty stands.
Never have those immortal words felt more emphatic throughout the game than during this last year. However, at Stein’s very home, never have they felt so hollow as when fences were sprung up to surround the stadium following the League Cup exit to Ross County, and shut fans out from voicing their discontent.
Of course the actions of a very small minority of supporters who went overboard is unacceptable, however, it seems clear that the vast majority of fans outside Celtic Park were simply there to express their opinions responsibly, in the only way possible without being able to access the stadium on matchdays.
The narrative that followed shifted from that of spoiled online supporters unable to accept defeat, to one of an unruly mob.
When legitimate concerns of widespread groups of fans are not just ignored, but portrayed as the views of a vocal, crazed minority, it is hard to fathom whether those sat at the big table are truly so out of touch with the fanbase as to believe it, or whether they are simply flexing their muscle as a display of power.
The refusal to make any sort of proactive decision concerning the rapid and accelerating decline across the club has led Celtic to today. From a salvageable position amidst a terrible run of form, to an entire campaign that was effectively finished by the first week in January. 21 points behind our rivals, albeit with three games in hand, and out of every cup competition we’ve entered to date.
The resignation to what was to unfold, back when it still could have been avoided, is as baffling as it is infuriating, and yet that theme of acceptance – a belief that what will be will be, a refusal to acknowledge any responsibility or control over Celtic’s affairs – has been reflective throughout each and every area of the club.
In a season where 5 substitutions are allowed to be made each game, such a number has rarely been seen. As Celtic have stuttered, it’s become expected to assume there will be no changes before the hour mark, and to be pleasantly surprised if there are any then at that.
During the New Year derby at Ibrox, Celtic put in a rare controlled and dominant display before Nir Bitton’s sending off. From that moment, though, there was an instant submission to defeat. Long gone are the days of Dembele and Edouard combining to clinch victory for the ten men of Celtic against our rivals.
On Saturday afternoon, as Celtic exhibited one of the worst displays in memory, it took until the 80th minute for a forward player to appear off the bench. Even then, only two substitutions were made in total. The once lauded, Karamoko Dembele, alongside Cameron Harper and the recently recalled Scott Robertson were unable to make an entrance, as Celtic failed to muster a single shot on target in the second half.
Everyone is fully aware of the mess we have got ourselves into, particularly in the past two weeks with half the playing squad in isolation, and nobody is naive enough to think throwing a few more youngsters onto the park would have signalled the almighty catalyst that ignited some joy into the most disastrous of seasons. But it would have at least been at attempt to influence the outcome of yet another dismal display.
A fear of defending set pieces, an inability to create chances, a lack of tactical structure and shape, and a desperate void of confidence have all been discussed by the management team this season as if they were uncontrollable elements of football.
The Celtic support have witnessed the collapse of our season for months with zero responsibility being taken on and off the park. The stubbornness displayed by all of those in a position of power at Celtic Park through their continual refusal to even attempt to salvage the season (when it still appeared possible), or to now begin planning for next year and beyond is astounding.
There can be no denying that this season has been an unmitigated disaster in every aspect. As a bit-part blogger with an extremely modest audience (hi dad, hi Jonny), I’m disappointed in myself for taking this long to write about the goings on at the club – even more so to look back at my previous post to find I had ‘congratulated’ the board for what I then perceived as a successful transfer window (I suppose that kind of foresight is exactly why I’m a “bit-part blogger with an extremely modest audience”) – but for the thousands of us whose opinions clearly matter so little, with each week that passes, and each new punch to the gut that seemingly comes with it, it has been difficult to even begin to accurately, and more so, coherently, express how and why we find ourselves in the position we do today.
To any non-Celtic supporters whose lockdown boredom has driven them here, this will all no doubt sound ridiculously dramatic following a decade of such incredible success. But the feelings emanating amongst the Celtic support are not simply reflective of winning or losing, it is the manner of our collapse, the club’s refusal to hear fans’ valid concerns, the off-field shambles of which there appears a new chapter each and every week, that has led to such a deflated and devastated atmosphere. The chief executive’s audacity in claiming last week that the pandemic has “affected our club, probably more than any”, off the back of the entirely self-inflicted disaster of flying our whole squad half way around the world as covid infection rates skyrocketed, the latest in a seemingly never-ending line of ignorance and arrogance displayed by the club.
At a time when everybody is simply seeking some sort of joy in life, the season that was hoped to be so special has certainly turned out to be one like no other.