The summer of 1988 looked so promising for Celtic. The highly memorable centenary double season had just passed and the fans had appreciated watching an exciting new team. Paul McStay had enjoyed the season of his life, the forward line of Frank McAvennie, Joe Miller and Andy Walker had enthralled the support and there was the reliable, experienced backbone of the side in old heads, Roy Aitken, Mick McCarthy, Billy Stark and Tommy Burns.
Celtic were favourites for the title the following season. But history shows us now that the club stood still and allowed Rangers to overtake them. As Rangers bought in expensive new players (admittedly not always good ones) such as Gary Stevens, Kevin Drinkell, Ian Ferguson, Neale Cooper and Mel Sterland, Celtic rested on their laurels and made no investment in new players. Manager Billy McNeill stated in later years that he wanted to bid for a young Paul Gascgoigne and Peter Beardsley. He had enormous ambitions for the but sadly, received no backing from the old board. Goalkeeper Ian Andrews was purchased from Leicester for a modest £300,000 and only because Pat Bonner came back badly injured from the Euros in West Germany. It was to be 10 long. miserable years before Celtic Park was to witness a championship winning team again.
Fast forward 30 years to the current day. In May Celtic completed a historic double treble. The celebrations were joyous and memorable. The bus journey from Hampden to Parkhead will be recalled for generations to come. The ambitions were high amongst the supporters. There was no shortage of money and the summer would see Celtic sign new players in vital positions that would see us go into the tough Champions League qualifiers with confidence. However, no new players were forthcoming despite Celtic’s rumoured wealth.
There was something inevitable about yesterday’s CL elimination in Athens. As with previous years when we lost to Maribor and Malmo, the feeling was that with just a wee bit more ambition in the transfer market then Celtic would be capable of beating such opposition. The attitude of the current board seems to be that there is no point speculating to accumulate. No one is suggesting breaking the bank but two or three good additions around the £4M mark (especially in defence) would have given us a much better chance of qualifying and getting access to a reputed £30m cash bonus and all the trappings that come with it.
As in 1988, Celtic fans are now left feeling demoralised and let down yet again. Phil McGiollabhain reported the other day that Dafabet had entered into a seven year sponsorship deal worth £10m per annum. The official Celtic line was that the figure was ‘undisclosed’ which leads you to think that the board do not want the supporters to know the club have enjoyed another cash windfall that they are incapable of spending.
Celtic have never really grasped the idea of the CL qualifiers. Forget about Aberdeen, Rangers and the rest, these games are the most important of the season. The months of July and August are a draining experience for players and fans alike. It seems that every time the qualifiers come round we are ill-prepared and never seem to be able to plan accordingly to get new signings bedded in, in preparation for the qualifiers. We knew full well before the end of the season that we were to win the league so there are no excuses.
Winning through to the CL group stages gives us an indescribable boost whilst losing puts the entire club on a downer for months to come. Every time there is a Sunday game (moved from Saturday due to Thursday evening Europa League ties) it only serves as a further reminder of failure.
There are probably 15,000 fair weather fans at Parkhead who have been drawn to attending games due to the Brendan effect. Season tickets are a sell out. The fans did their bit and were badly let down. Worse than that, Brendan Rodgers was badly let down. There is currently a level of disenchantment in the Celtic board which has not been so prevalent since the Jock Brown days. Enjoy the full houses this season because next season a good number of the fair weather fans will be gone and we’ll be back to crowds of 40,000.
In 1988 a parsimonious Celtic board stymied the ambition of a Celtic manager which resulted in the club regressing. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Better hope Peter hasn’t discarded that big banner to cover the Lisbon Lions upper level.