Some Celtic fans are adding the match to the list of manager Neil Lennon’s many small disappointments during his two years in-charge of the club – and I am quicker than most to draw attention to the Irishman’s failures. But Sunday’s game was different and I, for once, will stick up for the team’s performance even if Lennon did embarrass himself at the end.
To quote Martin O’Neill Celtic were “astonishingly brilliant” yesterday. Now I’m exaggerating of course, but so was O’Neill when he used those words following a narrow defeat against Rangers in 2002. One of the most interesting things about O’Neill’s time at Celtic’s helm was how much he stayed on top of his emotions, for he arrived from Leicester with quite a reputation.
I recall after his first significant reverse, a 5-1 loss against Rangers, a Sky TV reporter verbally charged at O’Neill with a loaded question referencing a poor refereeing decision which had gone against the Hoops. The hack was fishing with dynamite and looking for an explosion. On the surface O’Neill deflected the lazy attempt with all the coolness in the world. Celtic fans wouldn’t be treated to the wonderful sight an outwardly enraged O’Neill until a year later when Celtic were shafted in a Champions League game played in Turin (worth watching again and again).
But against Hearts Celtic were very good. Full-backs Charlie Mulgrew and Mikael Lustig delivered more fine balls into the box than I’ve seen from a Celtic side in a while. Kris Commons worked hard and showed moments of his talent throughout. Joe Ledley, Scott Brown and Ki Sung-Yeung were marvellous from start-to-finish and had the Korean scored one of his two back-post headers, both of which hit the woodwork, he’d have been a real contender for man-of-the-match. But it wasn’t to be, the referee infringed the fair contest and Celtic were dumped out of the competition.
It was at this point, not from the efforts of the players, Celtic fans were let down. The sight of manager Lennon scampering after the match official for the umpteenth time this season was sincerely disappointing.
It was petulant and immature and behaviour not befitting the manager of a great football club. Lennon acting once again like a child not getting what he wants. At this point I begin to wonder how closely Lennon followed Celtic’s story in the months and years before he pulled on the Hoops himself. I, like many others, grew up in the nineties when injustices against Celtic were par for the course.
Back then the SFA and it’s drones would go to absurd lengths to hinder Celtic’s progress. And whenever we were cheated, we never saw the then manager Tommy Burns running after people in a threatening manner. I imagine Burns, like all other Celtic fans, knew what unsavoury behaviour was afoot, but by taking it on the chin it meant when we eventually did triumph over all our football and non-football opponents in 1998 it was all the sweeter.
Of Celtic’s current coaching staff only Johan Mjallby has any experience of days when Celtic were underdogs. By the time Alan Thompson and Lennon pulled on the Hoops, Celtic were already Kings of Scotland and I wonder if their spoilt behaviour stems from this. Many others in and around Celtic know we’ll be dealt with dishonestly, we just have to continue doing what Celtic do best and not let the malevolents know they can defeat us fairly.
So Celtic won’t win the Scottish Cup this year and nobody in the world outside Scotland’s capital will care that the final is taking place – but Celtic will still be Celtic.
We have to dust ourselves down and be ready for next season when we’ll continue to light up the black void that is Scottish football. We must continue playing and entertaining the way we do because without us nobody else can or will.
Celtic give every football fan in Scotland something worth seeing. Do Aberdeen fans remember years of Darren Mackie’s laborious running or Paolo Di Canio’s last minute moment of genius? Did Barry Nicholson ever light up East End Park with a scissor-kick or was that Celtic’s Shaun Maloney? Did patrons of Rugby Park ever truly tire of seeing Shunsuke Nakamura turn up to their crap wee stadium two or three times a season and score a wonderful free-kick?
Celtic will be Scottish champions for the foreseeable future and continue to provide this modest league with players-of-the-year who are worth paying to see. Without us it’d be the endless toil of watching Juniors players like Lee McCulloch and Steven Thompson. Scotland might not thank us for what we do and our governing body might even obstruct us from achieving our goals. But we’ll keep scoring them anyway.
Here’s hoping Neil Lennon can look to those who’s shoes he now wears and control himself in the future, because by reacting the way he does he’s only giving the turds what they want. We’re already giving them beautiful football – we shouldn’t have to give them anything else.