Starting As You Mean To Go On
It’s flag day for us on Sunday. And as it is against Aberdeen,I expect their fans to give it a body-swerve! Cheap stereotype gag aside,how many of us actually thought,a year ago,that we would be raising the championship flag this weekend?
Obviously,I didn’t-and I said so,often. That given the size of the rebuild required,I said that we should allow Ange a season to get some confidence back into his players,get them coached to playing with and for each other and learn his system. Don’t get me wrong,I had already been impressed by the little I had seen of his training methods and even his interviews. But we had already seen some preseason friendlies and European qualifiers. Only the match against AZ Alkmaar inspired much confidence.
Judge him on his second season,I said. As long as we can see obvious improvement,to the extent that we look capable of mounting a strong challenge to regain our title,that should be all that can be expected.
Well I’m rarely happy to be wrong. But I always hold my hands up when it happens. And Bhoy,did I get that one wrong! And yes,I was bliddy delighted too!!! Yet for so long,it looked like I was likely to be correct-which pleased me not one jot.
Despite some promising performances,our results were far from promising. An unlucky defeat in Seville was followed by a home thrashing from Leverkusen. Worse,after seven league games we had gained only ten points-seven behind the huns by middle of October. Oh,hell…
And then it all just seemed to kick into place. We hit form,hit our opponents for six,and went into the New Year break within touching distance of the leaders. A few weeks after the restart,we hammered them at home and followed it up by beating them in their ain midden anaw.
Out of sight,and with the League Cup already in the bag,that title-winning champagne must have tasted very fine indeed to our new hero.
Yet,having got so much wrong a year ago about how our season was likely to pan out,I also printed a much more optimistic article around the same time. Ange is hardly the first Celtic manager in my lifetime to have come into the club on the back of a dreadful season,yet win the league at the first time of asking.
If you had asked any Celtic fan in January 1965 if they fancied our chances of winning the league the following season,he would have damned you for a sarcastic bastert and spat in your eye-if you were lucky! Yet win it,we did. And added The European Cup the following season,as well as completing NINE titles in a row.
Jock Stein inherited a disparate bunch of young lads,lost in the wilderness.
Add some experience (and steely arrogance in the case of the latter!) in the form of Ronnie Simpson and Bertie Auld. Throw in a mix of player appraisal,encouragement and some proper coaching-with a ball,ffs!-and the players became the world beaters we remember them as.
But it all started from nowhere,when Jock walked through the door.
Sadly,Jock suffered from a serious run of disaster in 77-78. Losing Kenny Dalglish was bad enough. To lose Danny McGrain and Pat Stanton for the season almost from the start was disastrous. To see the rest of the squad drop like flies as time went on meant he was in fire-fighting mode. And the board joined the media in pouring petrol onto the flames. We finished FIFTH that year. Desmond White took great relish in firing our greatest ever manager. A shameful end for someone who has a stand named after him. I’ve named one of the urinals at Celtic Park after White. Good enough for him.
In fairness,he brought in our greatest ever captain as a replacement. And promptly allowed him to break the six figure transfer fee-three times in the summer-something that Jock had never been permitted to do. His only signing for decent money since the £80,000 on Ronnie Glavin-in 1974!-was Johnny Doyle at £90,000 two years later.
Having finished so far behind Rangers,and three other teams as well,few gave us any chance. That was probably still the case in March of 79 too,as a protracted big freeze hammered our title hopes almost as badly as some earlier performances had.
Few who were there on 21-5-79 will ever forget it. Another first season title into the bargain!
And he repeated the trick nine years later,in our Centenary Season. The arrival of Souness had put the afterburners on our rivals,and despite being miles ahead of them at Christmas 1986,we had faltered badly,losing a nine point lead to surrender our title by about the same amount. We also lost McClair,McInally,McLeod,and Judas. And Danny McGrain retired too!
Well,add in some replacements like McAvennie,Walker,Miller,Morris,etc. Get the best out of Mark McGhee. Ride your luck,rope-a-dope and hit them in the last minute and injury-time! Voila,a Centenary Season double-winning first season (reprise) return in triumph!
Then the wheels came off for a decade! Until Wim The Tim arrived-with Murdo McLeod in tow,btw. Operation Stop The Ten. It was vital for the fans,but it was vital for Fergus as well. We could see real strong progress. The team in the last year or two was as terrific to watch as any in my lifetime anyway-but he had sacked Tommy Burns. And allowed much of that team to leave,mostly somewhat acrimoniously too. And all we knee about Wim is that he was one of the Feyenoord team in 1970!
Well,we didn’t have the internet and wall to wall football a quarter of a century ago. Neither did the SMSM-yet many of us still fell for their trash. I know,but we did-by and large.
Fergus backed Tommy Burns all the time when he wanted a player,as far as I know. And David Hay was very capable indeed of pulling a rabbit out of the hat in that respect. But I think by then the relationship between Celtic and David had soured-largely due to Jock Brown. Appointed by Fergus for probably the right reasons,he was very much the wrong guy. Wim wanted Henrik Larsson,Jock didn’t. Wim wanted Paul Lambert,Brown told him the price was too high. Fergus overruled him,and told him to get him. Etc.
Wim had very firm ideas on how he wanted his team to play,and needed the players to achieve that. Fergus did his best to accommodate that,though I’m sure that not every approach to a player worked. Look at the list of players signed that year,via wiki.
Another famous title win,and won once again by a first-season manager against the odds! Sadly,Brown outlasted Wim,but he left a few months later,with Dr Jo the last manager to serve under Fergus. Murray hired Advocaat,piled the debts to the ceiling and left us trailing. No title for the good doctor,but I remember him well for giving us Lubo and Big Johann. And we made about £5m on Viduka-or alternatively,got Leeds to pay Chelsea for Sutton in exchange for him.
Bloody good deal that!
So we enter the 21st Century-and we’ve just lost the league by 21 points! Enter Martin O’Neill and co,along with The Evil Genius,Joos,Neil Lennon,Thommo and a couple of others,and we waltz away with a 15 point victory in his first season.
Gordon Strachan takes over an aging squad in 2005,told to cut the wage bill-we call it downsizing on here-and voila!
And via Ronny Deila and Brendan Rodgers,who were expected to win the titles-but who can forget the latter’s Invincible Season in his first attempt?-we were back at Square One with Ange only a year ago.
Well,if you know your history? I said a year ago that we have a history of our managers managing to win the title at their first attempt. And mostly against the odds.
I very much get the feeling that AP has achieved against the odds,that he has felt for much of his career that he will have to ram it right up them to prove them wrong. He will not rest on his laurels now,that’s for sure.
Enjoy the game on Sunday. I know I will. But show your appreciation all the more for the one man more than any who made it possible.
And maybe spare a thought for Dominic McKay,who backed his demands.
Above article by BMCUWP