Season 20-21 has been set up as being a dramatic and triumphant year-long procession to a tenth title in a row, Celtic have been on an un-merciless new millennial of unmitigated success, 15 titles in two decades, two lost by a goal on the last day of the season and three 09-11 lost by a few points, the ‘Bears’ last stand! Nine Scottish Cups and probably 10 before 2020 is out, nine League Cups and similarly 10 awaiting.
It has been a veritable overdose of silver at the top table, 33 trophies since 2000, almost half our total in 20 years what we won overall since 1888! It’s been a green and white trophy fest, unimaginable in the dark days of the 90’s, the flag of the Irish Republic has never flown so proudly over the stadium, the Club has become a beacon of success both on and off the field, a magnificent new stadium and the Celtic Way, a financial plan the envy of many in football, a relatively successful time in European football, it has been the best of times all beginning with the arrival of Martin O’Neill who gave us a new meaning in life.
Now we stand on the threshold of 10 in a row, overall the record within Europe is held by Skonto Riga and Lincoln Red Imps with 14, Rosenborg and BATE Borisov 13 and Dinamo Zagreb 11 all within the last 30 years, if successful we would be joining Tbilisi, Berlin, MTK, Pyunik & Sheriff on 10, as would Juve among the top five countries who also have 9, then Lyon 7, Bayern 6, Torino, Inter & Real Madrid 5.
Obviously, it’s more difficult to put together such a long winning streak in the bigger leagues although Juve & Bayern have challenged that in recent times, but stringing 10 titles in a row is definitely a great achievement no matter what league you are in, the level of consistency required year after year is tangible, it takes serious commitment and dedication.
Celtic have shown that in the last nine seasons and as it gets closer to the elusive number ten the pressure grows accordingly, our poor start to the ‘Covid-19′ season has added the extra pressure and by the end of the season the fingernails will be bitten to the quick as we seek the elusive ’10’ which denied Rangers in ’98 and Celtic in ’75, as Jim McGuinness, former Donegal Manager and Celtic Performance Coach, famously said, ‘the hardest bit is to get across the line’, and as a Sports Psychologist he delivered on that, we might need him back again to see us over the line this season?
On the previous occasion that we were on target for the ’10’ in ’74-’75 things were going along nicely early doors, winning 16 and a solitary draw although losing to Rangers in the first half of the season, but after New Year things went pear-shaped as we lost 8 games including the ‘Old Firm’ derby at New Year, it was a miserable run, the team just imploded and ran out of steam, it was the end of an era despite lifting the Scottish and League Cups again.
It was a disappointing time, ultimately finishing 11 points behind Rangers and to make it worse after a decade of Lisbon and a second final in Milan, four quarter-finals and two more semi-finals including just 4 months earlier v Atletico, we were eliminated in the 1st round in the European Cup by Olympiacos, our days as perennial league champions and European royalty were over.
What happened in ’75 and what are the warning signs for this season? Weariness can set in, Danny McGrain, Davie Hay, Dalglish & Jinky were just back from the World Cup in Germany, Jinky jaded after his exertions in Loch Lomond rather than the WC where he didn’t feature, this would be his swansong with his beloved Hoops and just Lennox would be left from the Lisbon team. Hay would depart for England and George Connelly gave in to his demons, and ‘Cesar’ retired leaving Dalglish to take the weight of the team on his broad shoulders but it was too much, similar to Georgie Best at Man Utd after ’68, as the old saying goes, ‘all good things come to an end eventually’!
An interesting little piece of trivia from the time, despite it being the best of times Celtic played to average attendances of 21,000 at Paradise and surprisingly 20,000 away, nowadays three times as many at home and half as many away, the obvious exceptions, of course, were the Rangers games, 57,000 at home and 70,000 at Ibrox.
Fascinating to think that today we have 53,000 Season Ticket holders and play to 60,000 regularly with one million flowing through the turnstiles in a season, whereas our greatest team ever only played to a fraction of the crowds.
So we are where we are, heading for ten in a row but not with the swagger that we expected, whether that’s due to the ever-increasing flow of players in and out of the club is hard to tell, the keeper doesn’t inspire confidence and the defence has been a problem area for yonks and sadly for the moment the great white hope Shane Duffy hasn’t cut the mustard, Broony sadly as well is coming to the end of a great career and this is probably his swansong but whether he is able to mix it one more time is debatable.
The forward line is not free-flowing at the moment, Edouard looks disinterested, hopefully, it’s from effects of the virus and not wanderlust, Griff appears to be following a path similar to George Connelly and what a pity as he’s magic on form, Ajeti needs games and Klimala goals, in Christie, Rogic & Ntcham we have pure quality in midfield and they must play, Turnbull might be dynamic if chosen and the guy from AC Milan looks the part but it’s not a season for chopping and changing players or tactics, 3-5-2 is a disaster and Lenny needs to stick with a strong 4-4-2 if we are to make it to the magical 10.
Watching both European games on Thursday the ‘Bears’ looked strong on the park whereas we were all over the place, it’s been a difficult start to the season and the Covid-19 virus and International duty has decimated our team but from now we need to take the initiative and that begins at Pittodrie today, we need to be level with the ‘Bears’ when we go to Ibrox at New Year and then it’s all to play for, no team has a God-given right to be Champions.
You have to earn it, as supporters while we can’t be there physically at the moment we need to back the team to the hilt, stay off the phone-in’s and FB warrior pages, don’t criticise the team, no player ever goes out to play badly and no Manager sends out a team to lose, we have to believe that we can do it, once again it’s probably the end of an era, let’s hope in August ’21 the unfurling of the League flag is taking place in Paradise in front of 61,000 and to paraphrase, ‘hold it in our arms and let the moment linger.
Paddy McMenamin 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.
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