In the Spirit for another treble

On Sunday I had pleasure of attending the Spirit of ’67 Worthing Celtic Supporters Club. Given the general accent of those in attendance, it felt like I was back in Scotland.

Tam, Fee and all the Celts there made me and my small crew feel very welcome, laying on food as well as some brilliant banter. We even had a sing song afterwards.

I couldn’t have picked a better place to watch Celtic smash the zombies into the Hampden turf. And that’s just what the Bhoys did.

We’ve never stopped hearing “The Rangers are coming.” If it hasn’t been their fans it’s been the media.

The so called title challenge has been anything but that. Celtic haven’t been as good as they were last season – we know that.

Though this fact has never been taken into account when playing this mob. Even then, Celtic have only been overturned twice though never by our Glasgow rivals.

And this is important to factor in when assessing your own progress. Because when you consider that Celtic didn’t start well in the last game at Ibrox, came from behind twice and eventually won the match with 10 men you have to recognise the difference in quality.

There is no title race and the last opportunity for silverware at Ibrox this season was snuffed out by a Celtic team very much on their game yesterday. Celtic had a few lapses in concentration by those who for me cannot be considered first choice any more.

Still, Graeme Murty’s side couldn’t take those chances. Even if they had, Brendan Rodgers players were in total control throughout and that’s the difference.

So it should serve as a reminder to the blue half of the city, who cheered when they were drawn against Celtic, that they are way off the pace when faced with a fully loaded Celtic side. The evidence was on show for all to see in glorious HD.

So now Celtic have a date in the final. Once again they will face Motherwell in a cup final.

Having wiped the floor with Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen, Stephen Robinson has taken his physical and ruthless side to another Hampden final. There will be further determination to right the wrongs of the League Cup Final at the end of last year.

Motherwell are not a team to take lightly. Celtic may have won the last final, but there is sufficient evidence from previous meetings this season to suggest the Steelmen are a credible threat.

Along with Steve Clarke’s Kilmarnock and Neil Lennon’s Hibs, I rate these clubs to put pressure on Aberdeen and Rangers next season. I’ve been impressed by all three managers and their teams this season.

For now, a place in the final has been firmly established by a clinical performance from Celtic. On Saturday they will travel to Easter Road to try and secure their 7th title in a row.

Hibs will be no pushovers. They’ve already held Celtic twice this season to 2-2 draws home and away. Celtic won the last league encounter as well as beating Hibs in the League Cup.

There’s a confidence and determination from Lennon’s side though. They’ve scored six goals in four games against Celtic drawing blank only once.

So if Celtic are to win the league this Saturday they’ll have to be at their best. Failing that they can always do it at home against our friends from Ibrox the following Sunday at Celtic Park.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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A place in the final awaits

After a short family break, I’m back in time to blog about the Scottish Cup semi-finals at Hampden. Motherwell take on Aberdeen today whilst Celtic play Rangers on Sunday.

These are hugely significant ties for each club. A place in the final awaits each of the ties’ victors.

Aberdeen will be looking for their first top flight silverware since winning the League Cup in 2014. Motherwell have to go much further back to find success when they won the Scottish Cup in 1991.

As for this incarnation of Rangers……well they’ve yet to get off the mark with any of the top prizes in their six year history. They’ve won the lower division titles and even the Scottish Challenge Cup, but have yet to win any of the big three.

All three have appeared in finals in recent years. All have been runners up last time around.

For Celtic this is huge. Not only are they the holders, but to make the final would put them in position for another piece of history.

Their 49th league title is all but tied up. Winning the Scottish Cup would be their 38th.

More importantly, they are going for back-to-back trebles. Never achieved in Scottish football.

Many have claimed this is bad for the Scottish game. Much of that commentary coming from the blue half of Glasgow.

It’s hard for me to comment without a degree of bias. However, Celtic’s dominance is purely a sign of their continued strength.

Until another club steps up and challenges within their means, Celtic will continue in this fashion. There won’t be a stream of trebles forever, but this team ARE making history.

The weekend’s ties will both be worth tuning in to. Aberdeen have been Celtic’s closest rivals since the demise of Rangers in 2012.

Motherwell, despite missing out on a top six place in the league have found a new lease of life under Stephen Robinson. With both clubs being defeated finalists to Celtic in the last two cup finals in 2017, there will be a strong desire to exact revenge.

Celtic will have to get there first of course. Rangers will be out to stop them on Sunday.

In one-off games, anything can happen. The last meeting between the two Glasgow clubs ended in a sweet victory for Celtic at Ibrox.

This time it’s Hampden and Celtic will be aiming to complete the match with 11 players on the park and a fitter squad. It’s a huge game where victory would be another step toward history for Brendan Rodgers, his players and Celtic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Getting back to our best

It was good to see Celtic back in action yesterday and take another step closer to silverware. The encounter with Ross County did not pass without incident though.

From the moment the game started, Celtic were all over County. Stuart Armstrong was running the show in those opening 20 minutes.

There were plenty of chances, but no goal to show for it until Scott Sinclair, showing a little more confidence, was fouled in the box. The resulting penalty was converted by Moussa Dembele who is also beginning to look more like his old self.

Just before half time though came a moment of madness from Andrew Davies. The Ross County captain, making his 100th appearance for the club, stamped on the Celtic captain Scott Brown having already being felled by another County player.

No question about the red card that followed. It was an abysmal challenge that only had one intention.

Brendan Rodgers later spoke that some players in some teams are targeting Scott Brown. Given some of the comments by managers and pundits this season I would say that is probably more like ‘team instructions’ but there is plenty of footage to back up the Celtic managers claim.

Broony is not a dirty player. He’s made some meaty challenges in his time and is a physical player but he is no hatchet man.

Yet many see him that way. Or at least their reactions to the Celtic captain suggest as much.

When you see challenges like that one yesterday, you can tell Broony is a target. Two players pursued him as he moved ploughed ahead and after being taken down, the opposing captain stamps on him.

That sends out a message of intent, malice and poor character. It is not the first or the last time we will see that before the end of the season.

County lost their goalkeeper just before the interval as well. He was replaced by former Celt, Scott Fox and had an equally busy afternoon.

After the break, Armstrong imposed himself in the game once more. This time he hit a fine finish from the edge of the box.

Then Tom Rogic got his name of the score sheet. He collected a ball just outside the box, beat his man a put home a fine finish to round off a solid 3-0 win.

Overall it was a good exercise for Celtic without having too much in the way of trouble. 90 minutes for both Armstrong and Rogic as well as a run out for Patrick Roberts and Leigh Griffiths is positive sign at a crucial stage in the season.

Celtic are now three wins away from ensuring a seventh league title in a row. Dundee visit Celtic Park on Wednesday night and then it’s away to Hamilton next Saturday.

As I said yesterday, the earliest we can win this is on the first match of the post-split fixtures. We’ve yet to hear who that will be against and on what day.

Whoever it is I’m sure we’ll have our work cut out for us. There are no easy games after the league divides.

Rangers are in second place for the time being. They managed a comeback at Motherwell yesterday having come from 2-0 down to draw 2-2.

It was a good game, but it left me wondering why Motherwell were lying in 7th place. Having watched that game and the way they’ve played against Celtic this season, I think they’re worthy of a higher position.

They’ve got a very physical side and some talented footballers. I would expect them to be pushing higher up the league next season.

They will entertain Aberdeen on Tuesday night for a rescheduled encounter. They will be desperate to finish 6th though they are running out of matches to do so.

If Aberdeen flex their muscles in that match they will move up into second having beaten St Johnstone 4-1 yesterday. And that’s bad news for Rangers who are also being pursued by Hibernian.

The Easter Road side also won yesterday with a 2-0 victory over Partick Thistle. Like many teams, Hibs have a game at hand to play midweek and victory over Hamilton will put them a point behind Rangers.

So after Tuesday night the league could look a little like one of these:

Makes for interesting reading whatever happens.

Celtic will only be focussed on the visit of Dundee on Wednesday of course. The signs of Celtic’s strength are beginning to show.

Whatever teams are willing to throw at the Bhoys we are getting back to our best. Couldn’t have timed it better.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

In the post match media conference, Brendan was posed yet another dumb question by the SMSM. The put down was sublime:

“Did the Rangers result give you a little lift before the game?”

“No not really. It’s completely irrelevant”

Loving your work, Brendan.

Things could look very different in the coming weeks

Celtic return to action today as they host Ross County at home in the Scottish Premiership. It’s a top vs bottom scenario where both clubs are separated by 46 points and a goal difference of +59.

Talk about contrast. And that’s been a relatively timid season by the Hoops.

Last season Celtic were rampant, unbeaten and of course treble winners. This season they are still out in front and in with a chance of winning another treble, but less convincing.

Now that won’t matter to Ross County today. Anything they get from today’s match will be a bonus.

At this stage in the season though, Celtic will not be slowing down. In fact they need to get into top gear.

Injuries have plagued Celtic all season. With eight league games remaining and everything left to play for, it’s good to see so many players returning for such an important part of the season.

Few in the media have commented on Celtic’s injury blight. Presumably as it gives us an excuse for poor results.

And still, here we are in the hunt for back-to-back trebles. Could be another piece of history in the making.

Assuming that Celtic, Rangers or Aberdeen don’t stuff up any of their remaining pre-split matches, the earliest the league could be tied up would be on matchday one of the post-split fixtures. By that time Aberdeen could have used their game at hand to leapfrog Rangers into second spot.

After today, Celtic have Dundee at home on Wednesday and Hamilton away next weekend. Rangers are away to Motherwell today and it is a potential banana skin for them.

They then host Dundee at Ibrox next weekend. Aberdeen have it a little tougher though.

Today they are at home to St Johnstone, away to Motherwell midweek and away to Hearts next weekend. So despite having a game at hand they also have three hard matches.

There is also Hibs to consider. They also have a game at hand.

They’re at home to Partick Thistle today, home to Hamilton midweek and away to Ross County next week. You might also think Kilmarnock cab put pressure on the situation as they also have a game at hand.

Their next three matches are home to Hamilton, away to Partick Thistle and away to Hamilton again. So the top four spots could look very different very soon by the time the league splits in two.

Celtic’s objective is to start flexing their muscles. Despite still missing five first team players through injury and suspension, they have gained from those returning from injury recently.

Stuart Armstrong, Tom Rogic, Marvin Compper, Patrick Roberts and now Leigh Griffiths are all back in contention. Probably not what the opposition want to hear at this end of the season.

Celtic also boosted their ranks of course with Scott Bain, Jack Hendry and Charly Musonda in January. These are all timely arrivals which so far I’ve been impressed with.

It’s such an important stage of the season for everyone. There are trophies, contracts and history at stake.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

When will UEFA implement a fair game for ALL clubs?

Next season is set to get tougher for certain teams from certain countries. It doesn’t matter how big a club you are or even think you are.

European club football is for the big boys. It’s more about the wealth of your league.

UEFA have been rewarding the affluent leagues for decades now. The rich get richer and the poor stand still or drop further down their rankings.

Under the current system clubs and leagues with high revenue streams get rewarded handsomely. They have stronger leagues and are better funded so in European competition can compete at a higher level.

Meantime, everyone else suffers as a result trying to keep up the impossible task. If it is was a level playing field in football it would be more of a fair fight, but it isn’t.

European countries have a whole range of infrastructure variables which dictate their game such as TV revenue, stadium capacity, population, climate etc etc. There has always been disparity in football between European countries, but the competitions always allowed a team regardless of location or wealth, an opportuntity to win.

You never knew who was going to win the European trophies. Now you can narrow it down to a handful of teams each season, because they are the only ones that can afford it and the gap is widening.

UEFA ensure the wealthy prosper, thus creating a super league. It isn’t exactly what I would call fair play.

Every league winner under UEFA’s wing should have automatic entry into the group stage of the Champions League without argument. Unfortunately that isn’t how the men in Nyon see it.

The seeding system currently employed by UEFA does work, but it is also heavily imbalanced. Why should leagues with less income have to jump though more hoops?

If UEFA want to seed teams over based on the last five seasons I have no problem with that. However, if some teams are having to play anywhere between one to five qualifying rounds just to get there, playing against teams that finished 2nd, 3rd or 4th in their league then I do have a problem.

The continual rewarding of non-champions with direct entry and/or little to nothing in the way of a qualifying campaign is a two-fingered salute to clubs like Celtic. We know Scotland are way behind the times in terms of football, but clubs such as Celtic are suffering by the ineptitude of Scottish football and the greed of UEFA.

Here’s the thing, if you give all UEFA members one winner from each league, direct entry into the group phase then smaller countries get an opportunity not just to experience the Champions League/Europa League, but also to accumulate some wealth which can benefit that club and country’s development. A team from Kosovo, Andorra, San Marino, Gibraltar or the Faroe Islands, currently the bottom five nations in UEFA, are unlikely to every see the inside of the Champions League group phase because them system keeps them down there.

Whilst it is great to see the best teams in Europe all slug it out, it isn’t a fair system. It certainly isn’t a Champions League.

A Champions League consisting of 54 of the 55 members plus the previous seasons winners of the Champions League and Europa League would give you 14 groups of 4. Seems like a lot compared to the 32 you get in the current group phase, but considering 79 teams competed starting back at the qualifying stages in June 2017 why not just expand it and if required lengthen the whole competition for all nations?

For Celtic, another round of qualification this season is quite frankly, insulting. Once crowned the Champions of Europe against all odds, though in with a fair chance, we now face oblivion against a wealthier team before the group stage is in sight this summer or indeed one that didn’t even win their own league.

There was no rewarding the big clubs or ensuring direct entry back in those days. It was a fair fight on every match day and of course a knockout competition.

In order for Celtic to ever win the Champions League, they’d have to break the bank. With financial fair play rules in place that isn’t going to happen.

So Scottish football would have to get its house in order and that isn’t going to happen any time soon either. The bottom line is if your league is poor you’ve got no chance.

Celtic have all the right things in place as a business, but we are let down by the environment run by the SFA and the SPFL. UEFA aren’t going to change the rules unless there is some kind of stance taken by other leagues across Europe.

In the mean time, Brendan Rodgers will just need to keep plugging away and build on these last two seasons. He can’t go beyond a certain budget, but to be fair he has been patient and prudent so far but it’s beginning to look more and more like his team.

There will come a point when he can go no further, but as we’ve seen so far during Brendan’s reign, there is still much left to do. He’s here for three more seasons and there’s still time to see an improvement.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Paddy Power Betfair Shame

When I heard about the details of Celtic club captain Scott Brown’s testimonial match, I was blown away by the gesture. We all know these kind of matches are rare in the modern-day so it has to be somewhat justified.

With the proceeds rarely finding their way into that players pocket, as they did in years gone by, it takes something special for the match to attract people and serve a purpose. However, sports bet company Paddy Power Betfair employed one of their columnists to write a piece on the upcoming occasion.

Now it must be said that Paddy Power Betfair are well-known for courting the controversial. They have a penchant for ruffling feathers and there appears to be no sign of that ever-changing given how long they’ve maintained this practice.

On this particular occasion though, it isn’t an insensitive advertisement or a controversial odds offer. Instead, Limerick freelancer, Andrew Cunneen wrote a critical piece on the planned testimonial match.

It’s worth noting that the guy clearly isn’t a big Celtic fan. If he was, he’d be over the moon at his country playing a club he supported.

However, Cunneen sees this Celtic v Republic of Ireland match as a blatant opportunity for a republican, political sing-song. Not to mention that Scott Brown has no links with the Irish national side or that Martin O’Neill’s links are barely “credible.”

Well, I’ve been to a fair few testimonials over the years, particularly when they were more common. Even in back then there were generally no links between the player and the opposition.

In all of the Celtic hosted testimonials dating back to 1909, only two featured teams where the player of honour played for both teams at some point in their career. Pat Stanton (Hibs) and Paddy Bonner (Republic of Ireland).

Like Bonner, Jackie McNamara also had his testimonial against our friends across the Irish Sea. Does it really matter about personal links though?

Celtic have played Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United in several testimonials without any of the celebrated players having played for them. Even Newcastle United, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Nottingham Forrest have been guests or hosts at one time or another.

The point is Celtic have been invited to many a testimonial and friendly when they’ve had no links with the player. What has been counted on is the support that they bring with them.

Cunneen even suggested that if Brown was to play any international team it should’ve been Scotland. It sounds like the obvious choice, but it’s also the wrong choice.

I doubt many Scotland fans would turn up for that one. Particularly the blue half of Glasgow or any of those Scotland fans whose clubs have suffered at the hands of Broony on domestic duty.

If Cunneen can’t quantify that then I have to assume that his football knowledge (particularly in Scotland) is fairly basic. The fact that he has branded this meet-up as a “cringe-fest” and a “PR exercise that will backfire brilliantly” makes you wonder if someone shat in his pint of Guinness on St Patrick’s Day.

I mean did someone in the Celtic boardroom do a number on one of Cunneen’s relatives or something? I’d normally out him for being a closet hun, but I think he’s just got a few issues or trying to endear himself to the Paddy Power Betfair hierarchy.

With the Republic of Ireland there is of course a huge link to Celtic and its foundations. That’s a fact nobody needs to pedal, except perhaps to Cunneen.

He clearly abhors the idea of Celtic and Ireland in the same stadium. Perhaps he should set-up a blockade preventing all Irish people from going to Celtic Park on match days.

The most significant feature of his March 26th column was the fact that he failed to mention one of the key beneficiaries of this forthcoming celebration. The family of one of his very own countrymen.

Liam Miller represented both Celtic and the Republic of Ireland. He died last month just days before what would have been his 37th birthday.

Despite cutting his ties with Celtic so soon after gaining first team success, his career continued without the progression he might have experienced in Glasgow. Many a Celtic fan felt bitter about his decision to leave (myself included) having been supported by the club through tough times.

Any residual bitterness simmered when it was announced he was seriously ill. Upon Liam’s death, all animosity was gone forever.

That’s football. That’s the reality of life and death.

Of course, Cunneen fails to mention any of this. Or the fact that Brown and Miller have each played for Celtic and Hibernian, albeit at alternating times.

Yet they still faced each other on several occasions. They played against each other for both clubs in 2003-2004 and 2009-2011.

They had their final meeting in the summer of 2011. Miller had just recently moved to Perth Glory from Hibernian and Celtic were on a pre-season tour in Australia.

So is this really a cringe-fest or is it a gesture worthy of a little bit more respect? For two players who served the same clubs and match days, but ultimately carved out different career paths.

It is a tremendous touch by Scott Brown, Celtic and the Republic of Ireland to honour a fallen player. A young fella who was taken from his family and friends so early in his life.

Shame on you for trying to sour the occasion, Cunneen. Shame on Paddy Power Betfair for promoting it.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Scotland must suffer the consequences, sadly so must we

I’m a Celtic and a Scotland fan. Obviously, Celtic come first every time, but that doesn’t stop me having a degree of passion for the country I was born and raised in.

Yet I have never felt quite so much contempt for the national side as I do now. Many Celtic fans have had issue with the national set up going back decades, but for me this is current and unresolved.

Firstly, there’s my ongoing desire to see the SFA disbanded (as well as the SPFL) in favour of a new progressive governing body that works for the future of the game including the clubs and the supporters. Secondly is my distaste at the appointment of Alex McLeish for a second time.

In light of the EBT scandal at Ibrox before, during and after McLeish’s reign at the now liquidated Glasgow club, coupled with the SFA’s allowance of the activities by key individuals, this reunited partnership is a stain on the Scottish game. There will be many out there saying it is time to move on, but have we even resolved this matter?

Not in the eyes of many. Myself included.

McLeish himself admitted to a sporting advantage in an interview around the time of the story breaking in the media. The scale of this scandal and lack of action by our governing bodies has been poorly covered by the SMSM in general.

Those who are employed by the SFA or SMSM appear happy to let it go because they are towing the company line. The appointment of McLeish isn’t so much about his managerial credentials (whatever they amount to these days), but it is a blatant two finger salute to those still seeking justice in the Scottish game for the actions at Ibrox and Hampden.

Our governing bodies in Scottish football are up to their knees in cheating blood. McLeish has no shame and any respect I may have had for him disappeared a long, long time ago.

Because of this I am resigned to hoping that McLeish has a short reign through a continual lack of success or an accumulation of fan disapproval. Some people may be looking to move on, but I and many others are not.

Reform is the only way out of this and that must begin and end with defeat for Scotland. I don’t want cheats running our game or even managing our national side.

It only goes to show just how much the SFA does not respect the fans of the clubs or the country. There is no commentary or dialogue on the SFA’s involvement or knowledge with the EBT scandal except for the so called internet bampots.

What chance do you stand in getting a fair hearing when a story such as this has the SFA with full knowledge of the matter and now even to this day employs people who were involved in it as well? There really is no hope for Scottish football that I can see.

I’ve long wished for change but there is no sign of it materialising. I won’t watch another Scotland game as long as McLeish is in charge.

To dismiss fans’ contempt for this issue purely as bitterness only defelcts from the truth. We’re on a road to nowhere.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac