The ugly games

Football brings out the very best and the very worst in people. The dust is just settling another week or so of intolerable bile from a variety of areas in the game.

There are many factors in football that don’t exist in sports like athletics or tennis. You might see football as the sport of the working class and that isn’t far wrong, but it is also a sport for anyone of any race, gender or religion.

Supporters are a huge part of the game. Jock Stein famously said “football is nothing without fans.”

That isn’t just a credit to one of football’s legendary figures. It is also the truth.

Yet there are many in the world football who choose to disgrace themselves by behaving in such abhorrent ways. By doing so, they drag with them their fellow supporters, clubs, newspapers, broadcasters or even the good name of that country through the mud.

The media often take the critical and reactionary route for profitable reasons. Rumours get reported as fact and when neither of those are available, whatever serves the agenda best gets broadcast or published.

In the last couple of weeks we’ve seen Celtic secure the league title unbeaten. In the immediate aftermath, rather than choose to praise Celtic, Sky Sports’ resident Scottish football dick head, Neil “EBT” McCann, plumped for the “Celtic could lose Brendan Rodgers in the summer” declaration. 

I mean, the guy just couldn’t help himself. Its bad enough that he’s a bitter wee prick that owes HMRC money, but he knows every time he speaks negatively about Celtic it is retaliatory. 

Similarly you have other guys like Simon Jordan and Dietmar Hamann claiming Celtic woukd struggle in the English top flight. That Celtic would disappear down to the Championship after a brief spell.

Are these guys on drugs? Hamann I’ll ignore because he’s probably headed the ball too many times, but Jordan I won’t.

The former Crystal Palace owner also claimed Rangers were better than Celtic. I guess that’s what you can expect from a man who walks away from the club he owned after it goes into administration.

He has a lot in common with Oldco. Hr also sounds like he’s been hanging out with Adrian Durham.

The truth is Celtic are missing only one thing to survive in the Premier League – the same income as everyone else. By simply being the Premier League, Celtic would be better off.

Guys like Jordan are regularly beaten down by checking a few facts. Celtic are often placed on the top financial lists by experts which collates clubs operating well within their means and in Celtic’s case, credited that if in a bigger league they would flourish.

McCann got shut down with Brendan signing a contract keeping him at the club for the next four years with money to spend this summer. That was the perfect reply.

With McCann getting a lot of heat from the Celtic support, it is no wonder he’s taken up a temporary role at Dundee. I can’t imagine he’ll be performing any miracles there but it might keep him out of media spotlight for a wee while.

Speaking of which, I see Tom English was getting it tight for his jibe Tweets at Celtic fans. I don’t get Tom English.

One day he’ll write a fair account of a Celtic match. The next time he’ll omit anything that relates to the controversial, such are the ways things go at the BBC.

It isn’t just about Celtic though. Often it is worse.

Recently, Kelvin McKenzie savaged Everton and England defender Ross Barkley in his Sun column in the aftermath of an attack on the player in a Liverpool bar. The content of that column I won’t be quoting, but this piece of shit didn’t stop at unleashing upon Barkley in his column.

He continued to attack the good people of Liverpool. If you didn’t already know, it will come of no surprise to you that this guy was editor during the shameful reports by this paper at the time of Hillsborough.

In fact he is solely responsible for some of the most vile newspaper headlines in British history. He feels no remorse for these acts.

Now Liverpool and Everton stand together against this paper. The Sun is banned.

The timing of his article was an outright disgrace. It was the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster last Saturday.

Speaking of anniversaries, we saw on that very same day Sevco fans holding aloft a banner praising former Oldco player, Sam English. It isn’t unusual to praise a former player on a significant anniversary such as this one especially with his goals to games ratio for the former Ibrox club.

On the 50th anniversary of his death (some days earlier), not something you hear about much amongst the Ibrox fraternity, you might expect to read something relevant to his career. Instead, the focal point of his death and association with Rangers was that “He was a proud young protestant”.

Was it really necessary to hone in on this? Talk about provoking a reaction.

You have to question why one man’s religion is relevant here. I think we know why.

History doesn’t place Protestantism atop of his epitaph. I think we know what might.

You could not find a trace of this story in the SMSM. You’d never be short of reading about anything similar happening at Celtic Park.

Still, this kind of behaviour is expected from some people. It doesn’t mean that when it happens you are any less shocked.

What is being done to address these issues though? The police were investigating the Kelvin MacKenzie’s article but the Sun are the ones who agreed to publish it.

He isn’t sorry and neither are the paper. If ever there was a reason for clubs to be tougher with the media it is this one.

Celtic should take note from what their fans have been telling them for years. With all of the tabloids.

The authorities are equally guilty. Particularly in Scotland. 

The only thing to be introduced in Scottish football was the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. A thoughtless, heavy handed piece of legislation that still fails to deal with issues in the Scottish game in a fair and just manner.

Can we expect much to change? No because that has to come from the clubs.

The game remains ugly and everyone is a particpant. That needsto change for the health of the sport.

Just so I don’t end the on a dismal note on a fine sunny day, I’d like to congratulate local club Brighton & Hove Albion on securing their promtionto the Premier League. It has been 34 years since the Sussex seaside clubhave played in England’s top flight.

They have a magnificent new stadium and a vibrant city status. I’m sure the big guns will be made to feel welcome in the place that I’ve come to know as ‘home’.

Still not forgiving you for selling us Adam Virgo though. Some scars never heal!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Disgraceful…

Is it possible the Scottish Football Association’s referees could be any more incompetent? Today’s red card and penalty decisions by Don Robertson are another shambolic display of officiating in the Scottish Premiership that has gone against Celtic.

This has been going on too long. The matter needs to be addressed.

Honest mistakes don’t happen that often. If they do, then lessons are not being learned or there is an agenda.

Don Roberston, today’s match official in Dingwall, sent off Scott Brown for a challenge which warranted action. This was not a red card though. 

By comparison, the same referee gave a card for a near career-ending challenge on Kieran Tierney a matter of weeks ago against Motherwell. That was a stonewall red card, but Ryan Bowman walked away with a gift-wrapped yellow card.

Incidentally, this barely appeared in any ‘neutral’ post match analysis. I won’t be surprised if the media play this one down either.

It seems as though everything will be done to ensure Celtic are pegged back before the current season ends. Almost to the point where the ranks are depleted for the matches against Sevco, the treble never happens and Celtic fail to go the entire season undefeated.

This would be bad for the SFA apparently. Unthinkable as Celtic march towards 10-in-a-row. 

Ladies and gentleman of the wider world, this is how Scottish football operates. Why do I know this?

Well that’s quite simple. It has always happened.

When Celtic couldn’t compete financially with what came to be known as a cheating Rangers Football Club, they were pinned down. Not just by the alleged financial superiorty across the city or the media, but by the SFA themselves and some (wait for it) horrendous decisions in derby matches by match officials . 

Nowadays that has spread to any team Celtic play. Mainly because the rest of Scottish football can barely compete so other methods are utilised.

One thing should be clear though. The establishment are desperate to have Sevco at the top.

When Oldco collapsed and died, everything was done to get Newco in at the top. Only club and fan power put a stop to that.

Since then the leagues have been restructured, renamed and now they have their new establishment club where the eagles fly. Now all they need are some trophies and some good old bigoted get togethers. 

Am I paranoid? Do I think its a conspiracy?

No, this is happening before our very eyes. I’m just tired of the same excuses and no action. 

It’s over to you Celtic. Act now or lie down to these bastards forever.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

*thanks to Glasgow Celtic Supporters Facebook page for the picture. 

Clincher in the capital

I awoke this morning having dreamt of a Dembele hattrick. Obviously, I’d be over the moon with three goals for the big man, but today all that matters are getting three points.

Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen ensured that by winning on Friday night in Dundee, and in some style I might add, that they did not hand the title to Celtic.

Meanwhile over at Ibrox yesterday there were scenes of jubilation as Pedro Caixinha’s side salvaged a point at home to Stephen Robinson’s Motherwell.

Wow. What a contrast.

There remains only one more fixture to wrap things up this weekend in the Scottish Premiership. All eyes will be on Tynecastle to see if Celtic can secure the title in the capital. 

Hearts are 42 points adrift of the league leaders and Ian Cathro’s side have slipped into fifth place. So far, Brendan Rodgers Bhoys remain unbeaten in the league and the whole domestic scene. 

Despite the odds being stacked in Celtic’s favour, there is zero room for complacency today. Tynecastle is a tight ground with the fans right on top of the action.

There have been some frantic games there over the years when Celtic have come visiting. The atmosphere adds to the occasion and it is often tinged with hatred.

For Celtic to win the league there, would not go down well with the Jambo hordes. As for the Celtic faithful, well it would be nice wouldn’t it?

Nothing less than a solid victory would make me happier. Oh and if Dembele does fancy a hattrick – I’d be good with that as well!

Here’s to winning six-in-a-row. Today or next week!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Out of position 

We’ve seen it many, many times in football. Players being played out of position as decided by the management team.

Before I go into this in detail, there are actually occasions when this is necessary. For the purposes of this article, that isn’t the case.

What is on the agenda are players who, if played in the right position, will help you to get the best results possible. Performances and scorelines that is.

The reason I brought this up was due to the sudden praise heaped upon Stuart Armstrong. Not for Celtic but for Scotland.

When Armstrong joined Celtic along with Gary Mackay-Steven, he came with the greater price tag. It was GMS that had the bigger impact though – in my opinion.

Armstrong was doing just fine, but he was out on the left hand side. Sure, he kicks with his left, but that was not his position from what I could see.

I never knew much about the guy from his United days. From watching him play for Celtic, I could tell he should be in the middle of the park.

However, he didn’t really get that chance in the 18 months under Ronny Deila. When Brendan Rodgers came to the club he was either listening to the voice of reason or saw for himself what he had at his disposal.

Perhaps with the arrival of Scott Sinclair it wad an easy decision. Neither Sinclair or Armstrong are the same type of player.

One belongs out wide and the other does not. We can all work that out for ourselves.

As I said earlier, this is a common occurrence in football and certainly at Celtic. Particularly with midfielders.

Stylian Petrov was famously played at right wing-back under John Barnes in his not so popular 4-2-2-2 formation. Maybe not the best example given JB didn’t last long. 

Martin O’Neill used to play Petrov wide right on occasion in order to have his best eleven players on the park. In fact when he brought in Junhino he deployed the playmaker at right midfield much to the disappointment of the player and the supporters.

Scott Brown used to get slung out at right midfield under Gordon Strachan. Neil Lennon used to play Joe Ledley wide left much in the same way Armstrong was under Deila.

The thing is sometimes there’s a guy in your squad who is quite blatantly a central midfielder, but is being played elsewhere to little or no effect. Armstrong has had to wait for someone to see sense.

It doesn’t mean he’ll hold down the role forever, but it is finally evident to all that this is the position he belongs and excels in. Petrov and Brown of course got the chance to shine in central midfield as Armstrong now has, but guys like Junhino and to a certain extent, Ledley, spent most of their Celtic playing careers in wide areas when they should have been slap bang in the middle of the park.

I’m really pleased for Armstrong. He’s had a smashing season so far and has an influence in the midfield that could well see him wear the captains armband one day.

He’s taken his first step into the senior national team now with an impressive contribution. Be it Celtic or Scotland – Armstrong is a great player when played in the right position.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Is there any hope at Hampden for Strachan?

Former Celtic manager Gordon Strachan needs to get Scotland’s World Cup qualifying campaign back on track this Sunday. Hampden Park is the venue for the fixture against Slovenia and the match itself is crucial to Scotland staying in the fight.

After four qualifiers Scotland have four points from a possible twelve. A 1-5 away win over Malta and a 1-1 draw at home to Lithuania is the best Strachan has managed in this campaign so far.

The obvious low points are the 3-0 away defeats to Slovakia and England. Any more slaughterings of this nature and Del Amitri can forget about re-releasing their single.

So far this campaign has lacked conviction. Strachan’s team selections are frustrating and puzzling.

As a Celtic fan I am totally biased when it comes to a starting eleven. There is also a perfectly sound reason for my bias as well.

This is currently one of the best group of Scottish players Celtic have had in a long time. Even Strachan didn’t have as good a bunch as this during his time as Celtic manager and yet those guys (McManus, Caldwell, Hartley and Brown) were getting picked for Scotland.

Gordon, Tierney, Brown, Armstrong and Forrest are all on fire this season. Griffiths, albeit not a regular due to injury and that man Dembele, was last season’s top scorer and has still made a great contribution this season.

There’s even a case for Callum McGregor. He is a young squad player, but he is also in his third full season for Celtic.

Prior to that he had a full season for Notts County where he scored 14 goals in 41 games. He has built on that at Celtic and been an effective player for Ronny Deila as well as current manager, Brendan Rodgers.

When called upon he has contributed through goals and assists. Though not all Celtic fans will agree with me on that I am sure.

International management is difficult so you have to get your core team and build around it. That core comes from Celtic.

They are the form club side with a solid Scottish contingent all on top of their game. I mean why not use that to your advantage?

No other team can offer the same amount or quality for Scotland as Celtic can right now. The rest of the Scotland squad would find it easier to work with an established group of Celtic players by adding the remaining parts.

To date, Strachan has decided to go with his own game plan piecing fragments of Scottish players together. This clearly isn’t working so he needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

If he wants to salvage this campaign then he needs to get his head out of the sand. He is missing a real opportunity here.

I’m not sure whether Strachan has an SFA style agenda with Celtic or if he is just being a stubborn bastard – I’ll guess the latter. What I can say is he isn’t having much success doing it his way.

He came into this job and appeared to reinvigorate the national team in a campaign that was already dead. His first full qualifying campaign started well then slid into disarray.

After four games in the current campaign he has one-third of the points that were available. That is how not to begin a qualifying campaign.

There is still time though. Strachan has to change things.

If he picks a Celtic rich team and it doesn’t work out then fine. At least he will have tried which is more than he has done so far.

Just because he selects a bunch of well paid England based players doesn’t mean he has the best there is. Celtic are a Scottish team with the best Scottish performers by far AND with European experience in their locker.

He shouldn’t ignore it. He should embrace it, build around it and use it while he still can.

Got to start getting results, Gordon.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

A return to winning ways

I’ve had a wee bit of time out from the blog recently whilst I adjust to a new job. Since last Sunday, I’ve also had a chance to reflect upon the 1-1 draw at Celtic Park against The Rangers.

Many including myself didn’t think anything other than a win was likely. However, what we got in return was somewhat different.

Much like the Hampden cup clash of 2016, the Ibrox club came out with some intent. On that day they got their reward after a penalty shoot out, but it wasn’t the same outcome this time around of course.

I’ll give them one thing, they came at the Hoops with some real purpose. Tried to put Celtic off their stride and for spells even worked, particularly early on in the match.

The only problem I had with the result, other than dropping two points of course, was that Celtic weren’t up to scratch. There are dozens of factors in play in a football match, but why Celtic weren’t playing their at best I cannot answer.

Similar to the Champions League match against Borussia Monchengladbach at Celtic Park, it was as though Brendan Rodgers’ player’s weren’t firing on all cylinders. On that occasion, Celtic didn’t turn up at all.

Was it psychological, physical or tactical? I’m still trying to work it out, but last Sunday was a reminder of that Champioms League tie, minus Germany quality of course.

Celtic seemed subdued on their own turf. If this was their reaction to a team having a go, as The Rangers did, then I am disappointed.

We all know that results cannot always go the way of the team you support. With the way Celtic have been playing this season though, it remains a difficult one for me to get my head around.

In the aftermath of that match against The Rangers, we’ve all seen the conclusive evidence. Refereeing at its most abysmal once again.

As much as I agree that this level of performance from officials should not be ignored, Celtic blew this match themselves. They were at home, on form and with key players available.

We should not have been hanging on to one denied penalty claim as the soul reason to this draw. Equally, the refereeing throughout the match was shocking and cannot be ignored for professional reasons.

Even with the changes that were forced throughout the match, I am still disappointed Celtic didn’t demonstrate their superiority. There is no doubt that they were the more dominant team but chances were few.

This was a massive shot in the arm for the Ibrox club. For them, any celebrations were a massive boost to their well being, even if things continue to limp along for them behind closed doors.

What does this mean for Celtic, Brendan Rodgers and his squad then? Well it is a gentle reminder to stay on top of their game.

A better side might have inflicted more damage on Celtic that day. Just as Borussia Monchengladbach did in the Champions League.

Getting back to winning ways is number one priority today against Dundee. Celtic may not have lost a domestic game as yet but the season is far from over if they want to remain unbeaten.

Perhaps the draw with The Rangers was a timely reminder for the Celtic players to maintain their ‘A’ game. I’m obviously not worried about the league, but this should be and still can be a treble season for the Hoops.

Grabbing the triple crown has evaded Celtic on a number of occasions. If Brendan Rodgers wishes to cement his name in the history books at the club and in Scottish football then this is the time.

Let’s get back to winning ways Bhoys.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

In Gord we trust

Who would have thought that Craig Gordon would ever be Celtic’s number one? I mean, the guy was outstanding in his Hearts playing days and when he went south of the border I never expected him to look back.

Of course everything changed with multiple injuries sustained during his time at Sunderland. Even after making comebacks, his knees remained troublesome.

With historic injuries and then a period of time out of the game I would never have thought that he would be on Celtic’s radar. In fact, even when he was training with Celtic, I didn’t envisage him between the sticks for the Hoops.

Fraser Foster was Celtic’s number one when Gordon signed a contract with the club but the rumour mill was, as it always is with Celtic players, awash with stories about yet another Celtic player moving south. This time it turned out to be true and Foster was gone, leaving Gordon to fill those big shoes of la gran muralla.

It was no easy task. Even though Gordon himself had found early fame between the sticks, he had been out of the game for a while.

As it turned out he did a fine job for Celtic in his first season. So much so, he was automatically forgiven for a howler in a key European match.

In the season that followed, cracks were beginning to show in Gordon’s performances though. These of course were not isolated to him but rather the whole team and former manager, Ronny Deila.

So when Brendan arrived in the early summer of 2016, he brought in a keeper he knew well after running the rule over Craig Gordon. Many of us thought Dorus de Vries was going to come in and show him how things were done, but that was far from the case.

Even though Brendan had dropped Gordon, de Vries wasn’t faring any better. Brendan had claimed de Vries knew how to play a ball out properly and not just lump it up the park.

Maybe he did, but to be quite honest he was pretty crap in goal in general. The bottom line here was that de Vries was brought in to put the wind up Craig Gordon and at a very low-cost.

He had nobody challenging him for the number one slot. Forgotten man Logan Bailly was barely seeing any action as it was before falling to injury so Brendan needed something or someone to jolt a reaction.

That was the real reason de Vries was brought in. Some have said that it was Brendan’s first mistake and I was of the same opinion initially but I’m more of the opinion that this was a master stroke to get Gordon playing better and if not he knew what he had to do.

And it has worked because since he reclaimed his spot he has been in fine form. That has brought about a new contract for himself which he signed today.

Chelsea were supposedly keen to bring him in during the January transfer window and I could understand his interest if true. The thing is he would only be back up and having spent so long out of the game, he would want to be playing.

The only thing I was a little surprised at was the length of contract he received. I know that goalkeepers can potentially have a much longer playing career at the top than outfield players, but I was expecting a year or two not three.

If he is still doing a job at that point – 37 years old – then great, but I’d like to think there is some long-term planning for his replacement. De Vries and Bailly are both contracted until 2018 and by the time those deals expire they would be 38 and 33 years old respectively.

Removing de Vries from the equation, does Bailly have the potential to replace Gordon. Or will Leo Fasan make a return from Port Vale and take up the reigns at some point?

I’m not even sure who is second choice at this stage. All I can say is that for the immediate future I am glad to have an in form Craig Gordon between the sticks.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac