So, it’s all over bar the shouting. One more point at Tannadice on Wednesday will give Celtic the league title. Something which looked a far off possibility back in early autumn when the team struggled to get results and fit into Ange Postecoglou’s new system.
In my 50 years of watching the Celts, this one has been one of the most remarkable seasons ever. Probably comparable with Billy McNeill’s unlikely 1979 league title win when, similar to this season, not much was expected of the team with a new manager taking over in hugely difficult circumstances after a highly painful season, when they probably over achieved in the process.
Bear with me for a couple of minutes and read some personal memories of a very highly emotional season.
29 August Rangers 1-0 Celtic
In the days preceding the game I contracted Covid. Had it pretty bad too. Splitting sore head (something I never get), fever symptoms and suffering from general fatigue. I isolated myself in the living room to protect the rest of the family. It didn’t work. The night before this game I passed out in the bathroom and woke up on the floor. All was not well. This game didn’t make me feel any better. Edouard went through the motions with his head (and heart) now clearly elsewhere and although Celtic mounted a late flurry, it was all in vain with a 1-0 defeat for their new manager, Ange Postecoglou. After the game, lying in miserable darkness, it was clear that new faces were required. The phone began to beep with rumours which eventually were found to be true. Jota on loan from Benfica. Never heard of him. Cameron Carter-Vickers, another loan, from Tottenham. Uninspiring, although his links with Catholic United proved to be highly amusing on social media. Georgios Giakoumakis, from a second tier side in Holland. All very unexciting. Clearly, this was going to be a long and arduous season.
2 December Celtic 1-0 Hearts
Things began to improve by early winter. But more Covid unpleasantness for me. Given the booster jag on the morning of the game, together with the flu jag, I felt unwell on the way to Parkhead that night. Really bad, so much so that I just couldn’t get a heat in me despite having several layers of warm clothes. Kyogo gave Celtic the lead. A second goal would clinch the points and allow me to happily leave early. However, that goal wouldn’t come. It became something of an endurance test. The Celts were out there giving their all so I should be able to stick it out and play my part for the Celtic cause. Fans are always concerned with superstitions. I had it in my head that if I left, Hearts would equalise. They didn’t. I stuck it out and Celtic prevailed.
15 December Ross County 1-2 Celtic
Kyogo and Jota, fast becoming the talismen of Ange’s new side were missing. Yet it all started so well with Abada giving the Celts a 1-0 half time lead. County equalised, then a clearly rattled Starfelt was ordered off with 12 minutes to go. The ten men drive on but a winning goal looks a forlorn hope during injury time. Then, in the 97th minute, with all looking lost, the most unlikely of heroes comes to the fore. Anthony Ralston rises gloriously at the back post to score the important winning goal in the most dramatic of circumstances. Celtic fans invade the pitch in gleeful celebration, as carnage is witnessed in living rooms across the country. That feeling of disbelief as the ball hit the net, one of those games you just know you will tell the grandkids about in years to come. Where were you when Tony Ralston scored in Dingwall? The good ship Ange remained on course. But only just.
19 December Celtic 2-1 Hibernian
The first major final of the season and Hibs score first. Just before despair could set in, through the thick man-made pyro-mist, McGregor feeds Kyogo with the most delightful of passes, and it’s one each. Then, with inspiration desperately needed, Kyogo scores the winner with the most delightful of lobs you will ever see, the ball seeming to hang in the air for an eternity before dropping into the net. A class finish, worthy of winning any cup final from a player who is fast approaching Henrik-like adulation from the supporters. Perhaps Celtic, and big Ange, are on to something special after all.
3 February Celtic 3-0 Rangers
THE crunch game of the season. The recent poor record against our city rivals is one which was fast approaching the psychological as well as the physical. New recruits had been added from the land of the rising sun. New names to contend with – Hatate, Maeda, Ideguchi. The game was arguably won before a ball was kicked. The ‘disco lights’, often maligned, never looked better. With no away fans the noise inside the stadium was even more deafening than usual. As the huddle took place, the Celtic players looked glorious, bathed in the bright glow of green lights as the opposition stood in total darkness listening to the banshee cries of 60,000 Celtic fans. Send them back to hell Bhoys! Be in no doubt, it fazed them. By half time the Celts had a 3-0 advantage. The second half was uneventful and irrelevant. What really counted was that Celtic went top of the table for the first time. Question is; could they stay there?
11 May Dundee United v Celtic
The Celts stayed on top through to May on the back of an incredible 30 game unbeaten run. Something which seemed unimageable after the miserable 1-0 defeat at Livingston in late September. Six points clear and a huge advantage in goal difference, one meagre point will now see Celtic as league champions and kick of the celebrations which will be long and loud. A quite remarkable turnaround from the misery of last season when so much went wrong in such a short time. All a distant memory now, time’s a healer. The big Australian who joined Celtic in their time of need and was ridiculed during those difficult early days, will now have the last laugh. The manager’s proclamation during that difficult autumn period proved to be prophetic – league tables are not decided in October. The hope is that Ange Postecoglou, and Celtic supporters, will be laughing for a long time to come.