"Remember the 90s" talk is exclusionary and irrelevant; Celtic's problems are very modern

By Euan Davidson

December 8, 2020

Celtic fans of a newer vintage have been told countless tales about the doldrums of the 90s.

The internal politics, “the rebels have won”, Fergus McCann saving the club from bankruptcy (Daily Record); these are all important elements of Celtic’s modern history. For all the strife in the early 90s, Celtic now have a world-class stadium and within 10 years of McCann’s intervention, Celtic were in a UEFA Cup Final.

Celtic truly were brought back from the brink of collapse. If you know your history, you’ll know it was a torrid time in their past that has informed Celtic’s development. It’s a story that the club have hopefully learned from. Anyone in the support who took Celtic’s existence for granted stopped doing so in 1994. Nothing is ever permanent, etc.

However, the history of Celtic is just that: history. What Celtic face now are unequivocally modern problems, and require a forward-thinking hierarchy to address them.

Celtic fans of all ages / (ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

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Another ex-Celt takes a pop at supporters

Gary Gillispie spoke to the Glasgow Times, offering the usual deluge of “entitlement” and “remember the 90s” talk. He said:

“Some supporters are too quick to show their anger now. I think it is misguided and misdirected. If they think they’ve got it bad now they should have been there during the 1990s.

“They have short memories. They have to put it into perspective. It isn’t as if Celtic haven’t done well. They are going for the quadruple treble this month. They still have the time to turn things around as well.

“But there is a generation of Celtic fans that has been brought up on solely success. When that doesn’t happen and when things don’t work out the way they think they should there is going to be unrest.”

Yeah, fine.

Except, it’s not just fans born into Celtic’s era of dominance that are complaining. There are plenty of fans from across the Celtic support who aren’t happy. What happened in the 90s is important, but relevant? No, not entirely.

 

Police outside Celtic Park / (Photo by Alan Harvey/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Breaking down the problems

With Celtic banners sporting “sack the board” on the hastily-erected fences outside Celtic Park over the last week, the problems at the club seem fairly straight-forward to any outsider.

They’ve started losing games, so it’s the board’s fault, they’ll say. They’ve won everything, so now they’re getting beaten off Ross County, it’s a meltdown.

It’s not that simple, though.

Over the last 9 years, yes, Celtic have been utterly dominant in Scottish football. However, with the resources available to Celtic, in large part down to the support, the club have stagnated on the continent. In this decade, Scotland’s Champions have only made the Champions League proper on four occasions.

In the Europa League, we haven’t got past the Round of 32 this decade.

 

Ronny, roaring / (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Risk management for Celtic board

The board have gone for cheap options in the dugout, Brendan Rodgers aside (who presided over our best period this decade). Ronny Deila, while likeable, was not ready for a job of this magnitude.

Neil Lennon has led the Bhoys on two occasions, but his time at Celtic ended quietly first time round. That seems like a picnic in comparison to what’s happening now.

The communication between the board and the fans has become irrevocably distorted during Celtic’s recent golden years. The Green Brigade argue that fans are being treated as a commodity, with Superstore sales and flashy season ticket campaigns taking priority over actual fan integration in decision making.

The board have reaped the rewards of fan support (Scotsman), yet they put barriers up when fans protest, literally days after calling for unity.

Big name players have been sold with little in the way of real quality replacing them. Stuart Armstrong, Kieran Tierney and Moussa Dembelé have left Celtic Park for a combined £64m+ (Transfermarkt), yet the club still rely hugely on marketing and ticket sales for income. Replacements of their calibre, Odsonne Edouard aside, have been thin on the ground.

Scouting seems to have become less ambitious over time. The likes of Victor Wanyama and the aforementioned van Dijk were spotted by the excellent John Park (STV), and there’s no evidence that he’s been adequately replaced either. We are continually linked with players who have already left us or loan moves more generally.

Kieran Tierney and Scott Sinclair celebrate at Ibrox / (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Youth in revolt

Meanwhile, youngsters continue to ply their trade elsewhere, with top youth talent being sold on the cheap. Josh Adam was snapped up by Manchester City (Telegraph), and Liam Morrison has impressed at Bayern München (Daily Record).

Celtic’s academy prospects just aren’t getting serious game time. Kieran Tierney was probably the last true prospect to rise to the first-team ranks and hold down a place. Others, like Ewan Henderson, Karamoko Dembélé (another we’re likely to lose) and Scott Robertson have either had to stew on the bench or see playing time elsewhere.

So you can understand why, beyond results, Celtic fans are protesting. Or at the very least, annoyed in a safe, socially-distanced manner befitting the year we find ourself in.

How does “remembering the 90s” make any of this go away? Simple answer: it doesn’t.

Bizarre though it may seem, different times bring different problems. The litany of issues many Celtic fans have with the board reflect the times. Celtic have the facilities in place to be transparent with the fans, but they aren’t. Celtic have the finances and scope to scout opposition effectively and continue to bring in top talent, but they aren’t. The board should be objective in their decision making, especially when it’s clear Lennon is struggling in a historic season. Once again: they aren’t.

It’s an entirely different scenario and by dividing our support through needless comparison with the past, it only serves to turn fans against each other.

 

Fergus McCann; sharp dresser, Celtic saviour / (Photo by SNS Group via Getty Images)

That was then, this is now

Fergus McCann saved us. The Kellys and the Whites had to go. Celtic turned a corner, but were awful for much of the decade. This is all true, and worth remembering.

Knowing your history is important for any Celtic fan, regardless of miles on the clock. Celtic have a proud history, one littered with trophies, with inventive, attacking football, passionate support and charitable beginnings.

That doesn’t change if a significant portion of the Celtic support are currently unhappy with how the club is run.

Celtic fans protesting now are arguably more in tune with Celtic’s history. They’ve been angered by the turning of Celtic FC into a PLC, a corporate entity that’s losing its once unique common touch. They’re annoyed that a club built to help the poor of Glasgow’s East End has turned its back on its working-class supporters, with high season ticket prices, endless merchandising and unfair TV deals.

I remember a lot of the 90s, as do many supporters in their 20s and 30s who have been targeted with endless scorn from the press, as well as – disappointingly – ex players. But each generation of Celtic fans have the right to a voice, and a right to say “I expect better from my football club”.

It shows they care.

Dividing us into “those who were there” and “those who weren’t” won’t achieve anything but an irredeemable breakdown of communication between fans who share one vital thing: they support Celtic.

It’s time to stop it.