‘Here we go, 9 in a row, the tune reverberated around Paradise as the season unfolded, from a defiant anthem early doors, but as we approached the business end of the season well it had taken on a foregone conclusion feel to it, the challenge we welcomed from the ‘Bears’ lasted until New Year, but pole position in the SPL took on a familiar look before ‘first footing’ was out by the end of January.
Spurinna the Seer warned Julius Cesear to ‘beware the Ides of March’, Lennon has done it all, Stevie G, while a great player, has never been there before and will likely run out of road when we deliver the ‘ten’ next season and be heading back to the EPL for an easier challenge?
So here we go, 9 in a row, the Govan Bears have a way to go, Neil Lennon drives them mad & Mary Lou just makes them sad. Since the turn of the new Millennium it really has been one long ‘Paradise in Green’, after the dark years of deception at Ibrox, which would have made the Lehman Brothers appear like a wee kid stealing sweeties in his local corner shop.
The Martin O’Neill era was something to behold, we had waited a decade for Zadok the Priest to perform at Paradise and that first-night v Porto it was atmosphere & passion extraordinaire. Three League titles and the great run to Seville, Henrik Larrson and the 6-2 victory over Rangers, Hartson v Liverpool at Anfield, Sutton v Juve, MON & Lennon defiant at Ibrox, it was a magical few years.
Followed then by WGS, he also brought 3 titles and a great night against Man U when the wee Japanese star Nakamura scored the goal to grace any season.
Tony Mowbray, the man credited with bringing the ‘Huddle’ to Parkhead came next but it wasn’t a match made in heaven and then Lennie arrived as manager for the first time, it was a roller coaster 4 years, 3 titles and that unforgettable night v Barca, the RTE commentator George Hamilton summed it up, “Celtic the club started by Brother Walfrid 125 years ago have become the institution they are today, tonight they play Barcelona the best club in the world”.
Ronnie Delia followed Lennon, added two titles but CL qualification was his downfall and then appeared Brendan Rodgers, a high profile Manager from his Liverpool days he made the team virtually unbeatable with successive titles but his Achilles heel was the Champions League as his expansive way of playing led to unprecedented defeats to Barca & PSG, for a man steeped in the Celtic tradition? His decision to leave tarnished his time with the Celtic support?
And so the wheel turned full circle with the return of the wee ginger guy from Armagh, Neil Lennon settled the ship and kept the Titles rolling and tantalisingly close to ten in a row.
The first two decades of the 21st century has brought unequalled success, lifting the league title in 2020 will be 15 titles since 2000, it’s amazing stuff, much like it was when I became part of the Celtic family in the late 1960’s, I was part of the last ‘9 in a row’ generation, it just seemed that was the way of the world, so lets not sail into 2021 overconfident and keep the throttle down and the boot on the ‘Bears’ collective throats and this time next year, we’ll be in dreamland!
When I think of this modern super successful era I reflect what it must have been like to be a Celtic supporter between the two World Wars and right up until the mid 1960’s from 1918 until 1965 Celtic won just 6 League titles, yes SIX in almost 50 years, FFS perennial moaners would have something to complain about then.
Jock Stein and the original 9 in a row was majestic but then a virtual drought of sorts came with just 5 titles in 20 years from 1980 to 2000, so that was just 20 league titles in 80 years, it makes you think that one should never take success for granted.
The Stein era, of course, is unrepeatable as long as we remain in the SPL, the financial position with the top 5 countries means that it is unlikely that we will ever win the CL again but we will always have the memories.
The 1965-1974 period was remarkable, Caesar’s header to win the Cup in 1965 led to an unprecedented success, the following year the league title returned to Paradise for the first time since the 1953/54 season, Celtic also made it to the semi-final of the Cup Winners Cup, narrowly losing out to Liverpool and a dodgy refereeing decision, no VAR in those far off days.
1967 became the year of all years, Glasgow Cup, League Cup, Scottish Cup, League title with Jinky scoring twice at Ibrox to clinch it and then the moment which defines us, Lisbon and the big Cup, Gemmell & Chalmers, the Inter Milan scalp, Mateus Rose by the bucketful, we didn’t know much about wine then, cavalcades across Europe, a bouncing Paradise on return and for the first and only time in Scotland and first time in Britain and Northern Europe, the European Cup came to Glasgow and leaving aside our differences Rangers made the ECWC final albeit defeated by Bayern, but essentially Glasgow was the footballing centre of the World!
1968/1969 brought more titles and a disappointing 1-0 defeat to AC Milan in the quarterfinals; we were European royalty at the time.
1969-70 was another brilliant year, I had my first experience of a bouncing Paradise, the 2nd round European Cup game v the Eusebio inspired Benfica, as long as I live I’ll never forget it, a big Gemmell 30 yarder in the 2nd minute, Willie Wallace and recently deceased, ‘Harry, Harry, Harry Hood’ delivering the perfect performance for a wide-eyed 15-year-old on his own in the midst of 80,000 on a wet, cold Glasgow night, it was beauty personified.
Fiorentina next and another 3-0 amidst 75,000 with little Bertie the genius conducting the orchestra, and then Leeds at Hampden, 136,500, big Yogi and Bobby Murdoch, we were at the front of the ‘Rangers end,’ I think the massive crowd sucked the ball into the Leeds net, it was a night never to be repeated and should have brought another EC but the Dutch Masters had other ideas.
1971 brought yet another title but Ajax and Cruyff at Hampden in the quarterfinal was a dyke too far.
1972 was the most frustrating, the league title was won in some style and when Inter came to Paradise for a repeat of Lisbon it appeared another final was for the taking but after no goals in 180 minutes Dixie Deans blasted the first penalty over the roof of the Celtic end and we were gone.
Two more titles were rattled out in regulation but just before it all started to unravel there was one more attempt at the European Cup and a semi-final v Athletico Madrid in 1974, it was a frustrating night, the Spanish fought like the Inquisition was still in force, they finished with 8 men but we still couldn’t score and to be truthful it was our last serious effort at competing in the European Cup except for a swan song in 1980 when Real Madrid came back from 2-0 to defeat us in the last eight, but we had created a European pedigree which has lasted to the present day, as Messi, Iniesta & Xavi say, there is just nothing like a European night under the lights at Paradise.
All good things, of course, come to the end; Europe was well and truly done until Martin arrived in 2000 and competing in the Champions League once again. The last decade we’ve known nothing but success, 8 league titles and a Treble Treble, it’s beyond comprehension, unbeaten in a season never achieved by anyone since 1899, a record number of undefeated games, it’s been a magnificent decade although on a personal level it doesn’t cut it for me.
While it’s better winning the SPL than not, it’s on the European stage that I want our great club to be performing regularly at the highest level in the Champions League, going toe to toe with Barca, Bayern, Liverpool and Man City, that should be our dream and for a club our size it’s attainable but being domiciled in a small country as Scotland has us in a catch 22 situation, we don’t need to invest in the real top players to beat Partick Thistle, but without the real investment we will never compete at the business end of the Champions League, in fact, it’s even difficult to even get into the Group stages as we’ve seen in recent years.
Anyway we are where we are, Champions in waiting for the SPL to kick the hungry Bears into touch, the Coronavirus crisis has brought society to a standstill, it’s unprecedented since the Spanish Flu in 1918, football like everything else has to take a back seat, peoples’ lives are the most important and our gratitude goes to the HSE & NHS Nurses and Staff who have been magnificent in these times of danger.
Bill Shankly famously said, ‘football isn’t about life and death, it’s more important’, well at the present time that’s just not the case, playing football is just a kick in the grass, but hopefully everyone survives and prepares for the party of all time when the Celts deliver 10 in a row in 2021.
PaddyMcMenamin was born in Belfast with Donegal and Tyrone parents. He spent the 70’s in Long Kesh. He has been going to Paradise since the Benfica game in Nov. 1969. He lived in Donegal for 30 years but now lives in Galway. He returned to University at 50 and became a secondary school teacher of history and English.