By Thomas Hanlon
My wife will often ask why do I watch Celtic when to her, I am clearly not enjoying it. I have tried to explain that attending a match is a far different experience than watching it, not only because when I shout man on from row z of the upper tier of the Jock Stein Stand, someone might hear me.
I do think however her questioning does hint at a rather deeper malaise in my own relationship with Celtic. Is my football team the “most important, non important thing in my life” to paraphrase a quote by the comedian Frank Skinner or have Celtic increasingly became a source of frustration, albeit punctuated by moments of joy.
I do think with the exception of those who lived through Lisbon, people of my age (42) have gotten the best of Celtic. I got my first season ticket in 94/95 and having kept it on have seen Celtic become the dominant force in Scottish Football. I am not inclined to criticise younger supporters with the refrain “remember the 90’s” I believe it is understandable that they have higher expectation.
My own frustration is rooted in a few factors – a lack of ambition (and perhaps competence?) at boardroom level, something that is not a fringe view at present and I will offer my own view further on.
One thing that I wish to be considered is the descent into irrelevance that the club are experiencing. There has already been much discussion about the changing nature of European Football and the rise of the “elite” clubs. The issue I wish to raise may or may not be linked but I feel the paradigm that we all hold so dear is fading.
It goes like this “Celtic are one of the biggest and best supported clubs in the world”. This may have been true at one time but it is no longer the case in my opinion. There is a demographic time bomb, one which impact will be felt soon.
The Celtic Legend and former manager Davie Hay when discussing the cultural backgrounds of Celtic and Rangers supporters said that “we know where both sets of fans come from”. Now as we know, Celtic do not draw exclusively from a particular section of society, however it is a community that the club was founded to represent and one which would still represent the “core” of the support.
That particular community is declining and declining quickly, add to the mix that young people today are ore likely to wear shirts of Manchester City, Liverpool, Real Madrid and even Inter Miami. That particular trend is one that is likely only to skew even less in our favour.
The attendances at our tour in Japan (and indeed the low key nature of it) did not reflect that we are some global superpower trapped in a small pond. This was further confirmed by the poor attendance at the Dublin Friendly last summer. It is clear to me that the average Irish Football supporter follows Celtic in the same way that I follow the Boston Celtics basketball team (I have heard of them)
I will further add contributions from Antony Murray (of this parish, no less) who in his time as a Celtic Community Coach said that the worldwide appeal of the club was known to be grossly exaggerated by those within the club.
It is clear that the only way to grow the club and make us relevant is by competing on the european stage and it is by that standard that our present custodians have failed miserably.
As Harry Brady pointed out in his recent article “2012 – Opportunity Missed” the Celtic board were so concerned with fiscal conservatism that they missed an opportunity to grow the club.
The previous CEO and current Chairman once remarked that our support would not accept a cycle like Ajax (where the a year or two of underachievement is accepted in the belief that a team that will compete in Europe will shortly emerge) however that was where strong leadership was required, the sort of leadership at the club that has been lacking for a long time.
I do follow the theory espoused by the former SPL Chief Executive (and Celtic fan) Roger Mitchell that the Celtic board have followed a plan of “managed Stagnation”.
To summarise, The Celtic board see no value/potential in competing in Europe and/or pushing ahead of Rangers. Competition with them is seen as the only show in town.
What else can be the building up of cash reserves be? Without any obvious plan to improve infrastructure (save for the Barrowfield redevelopment, in itself an attempt to correct to improve on the substandard Lennoxtown Facility) it is clear to me that the Celtic board see the afore-mentioned reserve as needed to sustain the club through a decline.
It does appear that the only “silver bullet” the board have is that Peter Lawwell’s “influence” may get us invited into a new European set up. Relying on the benevolence of the rich is not sustainable in any walk of life.
Despite the circumstances I have laid out there should be more than enough scope for improvement. Investing properly in youth and recruitment (and god forbid appointing people in positions of power based on merit) would be a start.
Recent History would suggest that little is likely to change. I believe the club see people like myself (who through Season Ticket, European packages, Merchandise and Celtic themed gifts bought by family for me – must be easily worth at least four figures per year) as an income stream or as some sort of embarrassing elderly relative that has to be engaged with at least once a year.
In order for real change to happen, the fans will need to summon up the spirit of 93/94 but we are increasingly fractured as a fan base. As I have stated we have a younger (Gen Z) whose relationship with the club will be passing at best, to those who still nurse grievances, the sort of which save for a fringe few, have little interest for most supporters (for what it is worth, I think any adult who still refers to Rangers as Sevco in 2024 cannot be considered a serious person).
I am increasingly pessimistic about the club moving forward, to the point where I am strongly considering not renewing next season. I know that I will be alone.