Title credentials

Today Celtic must demonstrate their title credentials by showing the character of title winners. Aberdeen edged closer to them after beating today’s opponents Partick Thistle in a midweek encounter at Firhill.

Now it is the turn of Celtic to pay the Maryhill club a visit and demonstrate to our supporters that they are up for this fight. To quote captain Scott Brown, this team need to “grow a set”, himself included it should be said.

Leadership has been severely lacking on the field at times. Even though Brown has spent a portion of the last two seasons out through injury, he is just as guilty as the rest of the team when not performing.

On his game Brown can be great but he hasn’t been a stand out performer this season. In fact very few have with two or three being the exception.

If that figure of two or three was five or six it would have made a difference to Celtic’s progress. Instead it has been a season where the team have taken a step backwards.

So with ten games left to play it is time to step forward. Not just the two or three key performers or the desired five or six, the entire squad.

Aberdeen have made a case for themselves this season. If they did win the league, then without sounding disrespectful, you would have to say that it was Celtic that handed it to them.

It has been a genuine challenge from the Dons but like Celtic they have faltered. Neither side has stood out as the outstanding performers to be quite frank.

Celtic are favourites for several reasons, one of them being that they are by far the biggest club in Scotland. Even with their chequered form though they remain the benchmark for ALL of Scottish football.

There is also the small matter of 21 years since a club other than Celtic or their deceased rivals have won the league. That dominance rests solely with Celtic, now that Rangers exist only as a reformed club.

Aberdeen were the last team outside of Glasgow’s former “big two” to win the league. That was of course under Alex Ferguson in the 1984-1985 season which was the second of two successive league titles for the Don’s but only their 4th in total.

The sheer dominance by Celtic and their former rivals hasn’t exactly been healthy for Scottish football. There have only ever been 11 teams to have won the top prize which has changed name and shape since it began back in 1890.

2 of those 11 winners no longer exist of course but the titles still stand, even if some of those are tainted. Whichever way the Scottish game goes, Celtic will remain the dominant team for a long time.

To win their 5th consecutive and 47th title over all, they will need to focus on their next 10 games starting with a win at Firhill today. With Aberdeen hot on Celtic’s heels, it is too close to call right now.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Celtic v Inverness Caledonian Thistle

When it comes to giant killing, Caley Thistle have done their fair share. Unfortunately for us Celtic fans, we’ve been on the end of these killings in three cup competitions.

John Barnes was the first Celtic manager to suffer at the hands of Inverness in the Scottish Cup 16 years ago. That was later followed up in 2003 under Martin O’Neill’s tenure in the same competition.

On both of those occasions, Inverness were a First Division club (now the Scottish Championship). In the years that followed, Inverness showed that they were a team worth paying attention to having made the SPL (now Scottish Premiership) in 2004.

They certainly weren’t one season wonders either. After five seasons in the top flight, they were relegated but only for one season.

in 2010 they were back in the top flight and have remained there ever since. Last season they inflicted more pain on Celtic when they dumped the Hoops out of the Scottish Cup for the third time.

They went on to win the cup last year and also made their debut in Europe, exiting the Europa League in the second qualifying round. So far this season they’ve failed to duplicate last seasons form.

However, despite things being slow moving this season, they have still managed to keep Aberdeen at bay for almost a year. The Dons haven’t beaten them this season at all and credit to John Hughes, he has managed to haul his team up the league and into the top half.

In fact, Caley Thistle are only 1 point off 4th spot in the Scottish Premiership. They also have two games at hand over the current 4th placed club, Ross County.

So today will be no easy ride for Celtic I’m sure. There have been a handful of additions to the Ronny Deila’s team recently, some back from injury and some who have rarely featured at all.

Celtic supporters are talking about seeing more of Scott Allan, Ryan Christie and of course loanee Patrick Roberts. John Collins hinted that we may see the latter of the three today, but we’ve yet to see Allan and Christie in as regulars.

Their futures are long-term at the club and it is likely that because of that, they are not been thrown into the team just yet. It seems that with the growing number of midfielders at the club though, we’ll have to shed some of our load.

That is a no brainer of course. You don’t need a crystal ball, the media or John Collins to tell you that.

What fans are also talking about is “who is for the exit door?” At this stage you can only speculate.

Almost every Celtic midfielder right now, has a valid reason for wanting to go or for the club moving them on. It’s a lottery to be quite honest and its anyone’s guess who is for the chop.

After a dire season for him so far, Stefan Johansen is top of some lists. Come the summer he will have been at the club for two-and-a-half seasons and with only one of those seasons being poor (the current one), it would seem rather harsh to sell him based upon that.

Nir Bitton, one of Celtic’s best players has a long-term deal (not that, that stands for anything at Celtic) but he is probably our most profitable midfielder right now. For that reason, it would not surprise me if Celtic tried to cash in on that this summer.

Recently back from long-term injury is Charlie Mulgrew. Now I am a fan of Charlie, but because his deal is due to run out, questions have been raised over his future but with his versatility, relatively low salary and an influential Scottish player, I doubt Celtic would let him go.

Tom Rogić, a player I never thought would wear the Hoops ever again, has been a revelation this season. Even though Europe was a major let down for the club and the domestic scene has been a real slog, Tom has been a stand out performer for me and his Celtic future should be a priority.

Kris Commons has ben on the sidelines recently with injury and illness. He has weighed in with 9 goals overall this season but at the age of 32 and not always a first pick for Ronny Deila, he could be moved on.

It would be a great shame to part with such a gifted player. Last season he was well out of the picture at one point but he still massed 16 goals in all competitions.

I think his experience is undervalued at times, especially for big games. Personally, I would be looking to retain his services as one of the club’s most experienced players but with inflated numbers at the club, he could be on wrong end of the decision making.

Out on the wide areas there are a few players vying for similar positions. James Forrest, Callum McGregor and Gary Mackay-Steven have all seen action this season but Celtic cannot possibly sustain all three, particularly when they have just drafted in Patrick Roberts on loan until the end of next season.

When on his game, Forrest is a nightmare for defenders. He can add goals as much as an assist but he is often let down by injury.

McGregor got his chance under Ronny Deila last season and repaid him immediately with a goal on his debut in Europe. As that season wore on, he faded out of the picture and after getting injured has made it back into the fold this season.

He appears to be one of Ronny Deila’s favourites. In fairness to McGregor, he has made a fair contribution recently as well.

Mackay-Steven has also been out of the picture but he came back onto the scene recently as well. He too has goals in him and plays in a wide area but can support the front man as well.

In this area though, something has to give. And there are other players possibly looking at summer exits.

Efe Ambrose is far from having a CSC named after him (or does he have one already)t. With the defence already beginning to take shape without him, he could be on his way out.

Tyler Blackett is most likely going to return to Manchester United. He hasn’t impressed at all, though to be fair I think he was out of his depth to begin with.

Stefan Šćepović, currently out on loan at Getafe, may not even return to Celtic. Having signed on deadline day two summers ago, he has failed to hit the heights in Scotland.

I thought he had a good chance this season to prove himself but was sent out on loan instead. Whether that was his desire or Deila’s desire, I can’t see Celtic bringing him back again.

Also out on loan is Anthony Stokes. Despite what any fan thinks of his playing ability, good or bad, it would appear it is his off the field issues that are the problem.

There is not doubt that the player has talent but his time is almost certainly up. I am fairly certain Celtic will move him on this summer.

A question mark remains over Nadir Çiftçi though. He got the nod in Europe early on in the season mainly because he had a domestic ban and couldn’t play in the league.

In half a season he hasn’t looked anywhere near doing a job. Will he come back?

I think he probably will. Whether he ever makes it at Celtic though remains in doubt.

Last but not least is Derk Boerrigter. And that’s all I have to say about him.

Good luck to the Hoops today, whoever manages to get a game! Time to open up that lead at the of the Scottish Premiership.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Scottish Football’s Cancer

Scottish football, it’s relationship with the media and more importantly the existence of Sevco, has culminated in another new low. Scottish football as a whole is always a topic of debate but the recent apology to Sevco by the Herald (on behalf of a Graham Speirs column) has left a bad taste in the mouth.

On the one hand, bravo to Graham Spiers for giving his own take on the matter. It was over and above the Herlad apology and as well as putting the truth out there, discredits the ‘official’ statement by the Glasgow broadsheet.

Let’s look at this scenario with some perspective:

A director of a football club claims a song, regularly sung by the club’s fans (and the club whose ashes they arose from), is a “great song”. That song, as it turns out, is by far one of the most sectarian chants heard in Scotland if not the worst.

To admit such a thing to someone in the media, particularly a person in such a position, must either feel completely comfortable with that scenario or are totally stupid. The fact that Spiers prints this is where the fun begins.

Now you have the club getting involved with the paper. A resolution is sought to maintain relations, subsequently dismissing the article and it’s writer.

I get the public relations thing with the media and clubs. Aren’t we avoiding the real subject here which is a bigoted football club director?

Just so we’re clear, that wasn’t a question. That was just a reminder of the issue.

It’s not often I believe or read what a sports journalist has to say particularly when it is to do with Scottish football. Every now and again though something credible pops up on the sports pages that is worthy of our attention.

To this day I am utterly astonished at how blind people are when dealing with sectarianism and bigotry. This subject has been mishandled by virtually everyone in authority from police to politicians and of course our very own incompetent football authorities at the SPL/SPFL and SFA.

Fan’s will sing what they sing. There is little a club can do to control that but for the love of god, “up to our knees in fenian blood” is NOT repeat NOT okay on any level.

Fine, calls us a bunch of fannies. That’s funny and that’s banter.

The Billy Boys is not banter, a laugh or taken in good humour. It’s offensive, derogatory, abusive and more importantly direct in the face of a living, breathing community.

I mean some people actually live a life steeped in this shit and see no wrong in what they sing or believe. This is a historic debate but we live in a modern world where we know what is right and what is wrong.

This bile is a stain on our football community in Scotland which thanks to the death of Oldco, has been silenced for almost four years. Now it is rearing its ugly head and as you can see we are back to square one where the media bows to the (new) Ibrox club over a matter which is quite frankly disgusting.

Graham Spiers isn’t the first to be targeted by the Ibrox club. Jim Spence, formerly of the BBC, was the target of abuse not so long ago which eventually ended with him leaving the BBC.

The BBC didn’t back him as they should have. The cowardice (or is that collaboration?) shown by the Scottish media when dealing with Oldco/Newco is close to Jimmy Saville standards.

It appears you cannot question, criticise or investigate matters over at Ibrox for fear of death threats to you or your family. Is this really being tolerated in modern soceity?

I say this quite openly, but what harbours at Ibrox, not just now but in the past, is a cancer. Despite having fiddled the HMRC whilst trying to get one over Celtic, they have failed to learn their lesson on any front.

As a business they went caput and couldn’t even muster a singular mindset to use the opporuntity to rebuild a club, such as Hearts did. Instead they avoided all responsibility to their debt and now dare to function as the same club.

The only item high on the agenda at Ibrox appears to be the same sectarian shite that they are well known for and has not been missed since they died in 2012. That is the only thing I can credit them for getting right with Newco.

You are and always will be Scotland’s shame.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Complicit and Corrupt

In this international break there are no Scotland fixtures to torture myself with. So I’ve been contemplating sport in general in this window.

Football is always top of my list but this week news broke about allegations of bribery, corruption and doping in athletics. In recent times athletics has given us some memorable moments with successful Olympic and Commonwealth Games on these shores.

Now an independent commission report details doping cover-ups involving Russia and the IAAF. Russia themselves came under deserved criticism in the most recent Winter Games but this new story has blown athletics wide open.

Compared to the investigations on FIFA, this is said to be larger. No sport is without corruption it seems.

Corruption isn’t new to our world of course. We just live in an era that seems to be exposing it day after day.

Every time I watch the news it is exposing police corruption, political bribery or abuse, government fraud, a religious sex scandal or a historical paedophilia case being uncovered. I don’t know where it will end, perhaps never, but it is fair to say that these issues are a cancer of society and cannot be ignored.

It is an ongoing cleansing of humanity for matters where people have cheated, failed, betrayed, lied and covered up. It leaves you feeling somewhat disappointed with the world we live in today but more importantly are we ignoring what is going on in the present day?

That is another debate and I’m happy to bring that up another time because it has substance. Right now we have to deal with the issues before us so that we can move on but not before justice is served.

One of those matters affecting sport in Scotland is of course the Big Tax Case. Again, another historical matter and one that many are still trying to deflect.

Justice is being sought by the grand masses of Scottish football after the HMRC’s recent appeal was successful. In direct opposition the supporters of Oldco/Newco are banging a different drum.

We’ve been over this debate a million times. In fact it hasn’t died down since Oldco was put to sleep.

As a community of Celtic supporters we’ve been branded as “obsessed”. It’s nice to know they’ve moved on from calling us “paranoid”.

To go from the paranoid to obsessed implies that we were in fact right to act in such a way. With the guilty verdict coming into play there is certainly a case for being “obsessed” as well!

In all honesty though, I got bored with the Oldco story. I knew they were guilty despite the original verdict.

It was still a ongoing topic but I was done listening to it. Only now does it bear any fruit because of the appeal.

To deny such a blatant sporting advantage only demonstrates what sort of club once resided at Ibrox. The one that now resides there are linked in every way possible except the ones that make them one club.

More concerning is that our governing bodies for Scottish football are equally complicit in this matter. They did everything in their power to get Newco into the top flight eventually having to settle for entry level and I even question that.

People involved with Oldco during those years are now in the frame. Today some are present at Newco as fit and proper or even guarding the gates of Hampden.

This is as big a sporting scandal as you’ll get in Scotland. And yet, some still can’t accept it in fact they are defiant.

Personally I would be disgraced if this was my club. You can’t defend it but over at Newco they want no association with the guilt, just the ‘glory’.

It didn’t happen. Blah, blah, blah…we’re not listening.

You want the history and the titles but you don’t want the debt? Well tough because Scottish football clubs and their supporters simply will not allow it.

Like I say, we don’t live in an age of corruption. It’s the age that exposes it.

We’ve been reading about in blogs for many years now what the Scottish media failed to report. Now the truth is out and we’ll be running with this despite the media’s efforts to try and ‘move on’ after a brief acknowledgement.

Few in the media have reported heavily on it. When they have they have received abuse of the highest order.

What sort of society do we live in where that his deemed acceptable? A Scottish society apparently.

I’ve been saying for years that it would take Scottish football to fall on its knees before it saw any improvement. A golden opportunity was missed not to far back where their was a chance to make wholesale changes to benefit the whole game.

Our governing bodies showed their true colours with a very weak effort at re-branding and restructuring. When Henry McLeish got involved I thought that intervention was going to be the start of a regeneration but it wasn’t.

That moment faded faster than a Newco investment. Now, Scottish football limps on once more due to the people who run it.

Some folk will tell you that you need a strong Rangers at the top because the game needs it and that Celtic need them to help them (insert any excuse that gets them into the top flight). Is that what Sir David Murray was doing for over a decade with EBT’s – helping the Scottish game by cheating the arse out of every other club?

He hobbled away taking no blame or responsibility in the end, not even from the Rangers fans. The SFA and SPL did not investigate thoroughly because they carry the same guilt for being inept, gutless, giving a helping hand and turning a blind eye when required.

It is simple. Nobody in Scotland will rest until justice is done.

You don’t do walking away. You don’t surrender either apparently.

Good for you. I’m glad your still around to watch your club(s) crumble before your very eyes.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

And now the split

Very rarely has the SPL/SPFL league split at the tail end of the season had much significance. In fact I think it may only have made an impact on one or two occasions.

This season, the five remaining fixtures will provide a tough test for the the two title challengers. Before the demise of Celtic’s Glasgow rivals, there were always two clubs battling it out.

Sometimes, one was having a rather bad season, sometimes both teams would take it down to the wire. Then there would be those occasions when the league was decided before the split.

The concoction of such a format was to enhance the level of opposition. I suppose you could say there might even have been a desire to make things more entertaining as well but I think I am offering too much credit to the grandmasters of Scottish football.

Still, this seasons Premiership title has not been decided. As last nights 2-1 away to Dundee demonstrated, Celtic will not be thumping their way to another Premiership trophy without experiencing some challenges.

My question is, are the players beginning to feel the pressure or perhaps even the exhaustion of a hard season? Despite bad refereeing on Sunday against Caley Thistle, not all of Celtic’s players were at the races that day.

The same can be said of last nights performance as well. Though I have to say that Efe Ambrose put in a decent performance throughout the match.

I’m not the first to offer praise for the Nigerian defender. He has let us down on countless occasions but he deserves some credit for last night (I think!).

Dundee made things a little nervy for Celtic when they pulled back a goal. It was another sloppy one for Celtic as far as concentration in defence goes but it wasn’t a disaster.

Celtic avoided that and to be fair could probably have had more goals in this game. They played the entire match on the front foot, but the players are looking a little tired to me.

The motivation for the squad though is five tough games and the prospect of the league title. Two matches at home and three matches away.

With seven points between Celtic and Aberdeen, the Don’s have never been in as good a position at this stage of a season since the 90’s. They’ve got there on merit and they remain a threat to Ronny Deila’s hopes of winning the title in his first season as manager.

The Hoops will need to pick up points on the road if they are to have any chance of winning this title without any assistance. Tannadice is the first port of call this Sunday and that will be a tough one.

Jackie McNamara may have slid on the title challenge but United are more than capable of unsettling Celtic. The Bhoys will need to be on their toes.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

A new chapter.

With two of Celtic’s best players having now departed the club, it is time to move on. Like many Celtic players before them, Gary and Victor have been subject to transfer speculation for some time.

Things will settle down now and the team will be able to focus without the uncertainty around their team mates. Furthermore, there are positives to be be taken from these departures.

Firstly, Celtic have done some sound business. They’ve stood firm on the valuation of each player and when met, granted them freedom to talk.

There is a substantial profit in both of these transfers. That money can be used in a number of ways as well.

Any profit made will be used to improve the clubs circumstances on and off the field. Not all of it will be used on transfers as some usually expect though.

Many have argued in the past that Celtic have not spent the money earned. Some still seem oblivious to how a club is run but hopefully the penny has dropped on that one.

Geting back to the positives though, credit is due to our scouting team. Having sourced such talent in the first place only goes to show what can be unearthed at good prices.

Hooper and Wanyama were not ready made stars but Celtic helped to make them the players they are, as did their previous clubs. These day, this is Celtic’s market.

If you can bring players with potential to the club and make something out of them you have the chance to retain or sell on as a profit. It is therefore encouraging to see some of that crop staying put.

Ledley is very much an unsung hero at times and I am glad he is still here. Samaras is a bit of a cult hero these days and lets face it he loves it at Celtic.

Broony is an important player, though some tend to disagree at times. I remain a fan of his.

With any luck, Kayal will retake his midfield role with both hands. We may even see Rogic establish himself as a regular.

Add to that the influential Common’s, a rejuvinated Stokes and you have a healthy attack. And that is with an ever improving Forrest on the wing.

At the back we seem to be mostly covered. Aside from transfer speculation about Wilson and Foster, there is a decent basis for an adaptable defence.

Efe, Wilson, Izzy, Mulgrew, Matthews and Lustig have all turned in a fine season for the club. They’ve adapted and progressed to meet the demand of every fixture.

The Celtic squad remains on good foundations. We may have parted with two good players, but I look forward to seeing this squad that Lennon has assembled, progress to the next level.

New additions and emerging youth like Watt, Amido, Virgil, Mouyokolo, Rogic, McGeouch should be looking to stake a claim this season. These guys furnish the first team squad with further options.

We may see one or two more join as our road to the Champions League develops. With any luck these guys will be playing on that stage come September.

Good luck to Gary and Victor. You have both been great servants.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Below Par BBC

Wednesday nights UK coverage of Cliftonville v Celtic was disappointing. Broadcast availability and quality was a disappointing experience.

In an age where technology is so advanced you would think it was easy to catch a UK football match anywhere in the UK. I mean lets be honest here, there are no shortage of options for the BBC but is the BBC Sport website the best you can do nationwide?

I don’t have an issue (or an option) in paying my license fee. When the service the BBC provide is substandard, I do.

This is a regional network of course and has been for years. Getting hold of those regional broadcasts seems to be a big ask at times.

With iPlayer and BBC red button at our disposal you would think decent coverage and quality was at your fingertips? Well, nae luck.

BBC2 Scotland/Northern Ireland had the match live and as far as I know only Sky has the regional BBC2 channels. If you live in a UK region other than these two and don’t have Sky, you couldn’t tune in.

I have always been of the opinion that all television ‘national’ coverage is based upon London’s view of the entire UK. What I mean by this is that there is always a slant toward the south east mindset.

English politicians are always so keen to point out that we are “one nation”. Well, not if you live elsewhere in the UK.

When BBC and ITV are broadcasting England matches and those of their clubs, its a different story. I don’t ever recall having any problem tuning into these games when I lived in the homeland.

“Move back” I hear you say! Well, considering this was essentially a ‘Battle of Britain’ tie on the European scene, a little more respect could have been shown to make this available across the network.

Scotland and Northern Ireland may not have the same money to float a league such as the English ones. But lets not forget that the UK has Scots, Irish and Welsh living all over these isles.

Is it too much to ask for a match such as this to be on BBC2 nationwide? I’m sure it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but neither is an England v San Marino friendly shown in the Orkney.

The BBC website is an awful platform to be subjected to at home. It may be good on the move but watching some stuttering and pixelated coverage online at home is abysmal.

There’s a better chance of Alex Salmond saying something sensible than the BBC listening to viewers. What is the point of all these channels on digital if you cannot stump up one match for a few hours so we can all see it?

During the Olympic coverage in 2012, which I must say was fantastic, BBC had a full range of events being covered daily via the red button. One match for one evening should not be a huge ask.

I will, as always, continue to pay my license fee but I’d like to see the BBC do something with it that people want. Or perhaps I should blame Jimmy Saville for this and move on.

As ever….Hail! Hail!

Stevie