In a season like no other, at least off the pitch, there is an odd sensation that engulfs. The title was lost, and yet there is almost an irrelevance that surrounds. Neil Lennon has arguably won a greater honour. He has united the fans. Strachan may have won three championships but it was only the last gasp triumph of 2008, with the backdrop of Tommy Burns’ untimely passing that seemed to bring the Celtic family together was one. Gordon Strachan was a divisive figure from within his own support. As we all know with a heavy shaking of the head, Neil Lennon is the most divisive figure in Scottish football, and as we all know with a great sense of pride and happiness, he is here to stay. This is not the end, this is just the beginning.
The title could and should have been won. For all those who bemoan Samaras’ penalty miss at Ibrox, there should be far greater numbers that lament salvaging a point at Hamilton, or performing so abjectly against Motherwell, the week after the aforementioned 3-0 massacre. The Inverness debacle has been well documented, but less has been said about the three home draws in a row within the depths of winter that curtailed any ounce of momentum until the much maligned Samaras produced a wonderful display of lone striker play in the New Year triumph. Those six points lost, ultimately became the downfall of a title that is stained due to off the pitch events. Still, many warned after the defeats of Rangers at the turn of the year that this momentum would matter for little if Celtic finished second. Only history will truly be the judge of that, but it raises the issue about football being a series of beautiful and tragic moments that bind together to create a season of hopes, dreams and uncertainties.
There are two differing arguments here. On one hand, there exists the view that football is about winning. Everything else is an irrelevance, and second place is merely first loser. With this approach, Strachan was a wonderful manager, whilst Burns and Lennon (at present) have fallen short. Alternatively, there are those that see the bigger picture. Wider issues cannot simply be tossed aside like an unwanted toy. They are the core elements to why winning can only be judged within the situations surrounding the events. In terms of this season, a watershed has been created. Celtic have a manager who is willing to comment on the injustices and the hypocrisies that the support have known, and in many cases, accepted, for years. Lennon’s quote about certain people within the game taking a look in the mirror created instant offence because, as my Mum used to say, the truth hurts. In addition, Celtic supporters have taken a look in the mirror this season, and this has united a wonderfully diverse group of fans. To be at Celtic Park on the last day of the season, knowing that the title had been handed to Rangers, and still singing and huddling, speaks more than a thousand championships. For this season, the greatest title Celtic have achieved lies with the rampant heartbeat of the manager. Neil Lennon has been targeted from opposition supporters, so-called journalists whose reactionary and populist reporting openly fans the flames of hatred amongst the ignorant, and by cowards who will be forever entrenched within the gutter. Who celebrated more, the 57,000 Celtic supporters who sang in defiant support of Neil Lennon, or the multiple Rangers fans who decided to celebrate a title success by vandalising a Celtic shop and raging at Neil Lennon once more on various phone-ins? We all know the answer, and yet again there are certain supporters within football who need to take a long, hard look in the mirror, if they can get past the shattered dreams of dignity that has been exposed as a pitiful term without a semblance of meaning, let alone substance.
The sense of celebration should not automatically mean that because Celtic supporters are triumphant in defeat, they are by association entrenched in failure. The harsh realities on the park ring true, a small Rangers squad have matched Strachan’s three titles in a row. The myth that they have spent little says more about the apologists that masquerade as journalists than the club itself. This Rangers team will now disintegrate, whereas Celtic have a young squad that is hungry for success. The cup final is fundamentally crucial, because for all the positivity that surrounds the club, this team needs to know how to win. A Scottish Cup may only be one trophy within a season that flirted with a treble, but it may just be the beginning of greater glory on the pitch. Away from the football side, the often used expression about the thunder being back is true. Celtic Park is exciting, it has been reclaimed. Celtic will never be defeated, and Celtic will always matter more than silverware. Celtic are loud, proud, unbowed, unbroken, and Celtic are united as one.