Celtic have won the last 9 league titles, and are on the brink of an unprecedented quadruple-treble. It’s remarkable, undoubtedly Celtic’s best era since the 60s, and in the context of modern European football, only the likes of Juventus and Olympiakos can compare.
From outside the forums and social media, fans of other clubs might glance over Parkhead way and ask what we’re complaining about, after a spell of 2 wins in 8. Bad runs of form happen, and in the grand (auld) scheme of things, it’s not a disaster.
If Celtic win their two games in hand in the league, we’re only 5 points behind our cross-city rivals in blue, and we’ve come back from much worse in the past. The 07/08 season particularly comes to mind, and only last season, alarm bells rang when we were equal at the top with Rangers.
We then won the league at a canter.
There’s something different this season, though. It’s the body language of the players, it’s the tactical naïveté we’ve shown against lesser opposition, it’s embarrassing defeats against Sparta Prague.
Drawing on the past
Many fans will point to the 90s, when things were truly bleak for Celtic. It took last-minute intervention from Fergus McCann to survive as a football club, and we were treated to seasons of languishing behind our monied rivals, watching glumly as they hoovered up some of the best talent in Europe under Walter Smith.
Regardless of what we now know about Rangers’ financial tactics at the time, it doesn’t change the fact that being a Celtic supporter was a relentless grind throughout much of that decade. When we were eventually able to put together a team worthy of besting Rangers, and stopping the 10, Rangers responded by building a team of real quality once again, and we weren’t able to pip them to the post until the turn of a new century.
It was awful.
But how much does ‘Remember[ing] the 90s’ help us now? Football has changed so emphatically since then that it seems like a pointless endeavour comparing now to then. Remembering when things were truly awful doesn’t negate the frustrations of much of the support in the 20-21 season.
Nobody is saying that things are as bad as they were then, it’s just that many are not happy with how things currently are. The key difference is we have a squad and an infrastructure that should allow us to walk this league, like we have done on a number of occasions in our 9IAR success.
Are we a reactionary support? Of course, we can be. Find me a fanbase of any huge footballing institution that isn’t, to some degree. You’d be hard pressed to find any vocal football fan who waits an hour to contemplate how they feel about a match they’ve just watched.
In the halcyon days where you could actually go to games, I caught myself muttering “aye” along with another supporter who shouted “this is pish, Celtic!”, which wouldn’t be unusual in itself, but we were 3-0 up at the time.
What’s different now?
Any club worth its salt should want to improve on what’s already successful. Every top team should aim to strengthen after title or cup wins. Complacency is the enemy of sustained success, and supporters should rally their clubs to maintain success, when they have the means and talent to do so.
Neil Lennon’s team are faltering. 2 wins in 8 is dismal, albeit during a difficult set of fixtures, in a season punctuated by the bizarre dystopian landscape COVID-19 has created. Across the top leagues, there have been some absolutely shocking results that would make zero sense outside the context of a global pandemic.
But it would be forgivable if the performances were better, and the truth is, they haven’t been. Throwing away a 2 goal cushion against Lille was a real disappointment. The loss to Rangers seemed inevitable, but the sloppiness at the back and toothless attack were hard to accept.
Drawing with Hibernian and Aberdeen was entirely avoidable, and mistakes were to blame rather than barnstorming opposition – with all due respect to both clubs mentioned, who have started the league season well.
Ferencvaros was a disaster. There’s no real reason why players as good as Celtic’s shouldn’t be playing Champions League football. That’s not arrogance, it’s based on their careers so far, the wages they earn and how they’re valued in the transfer market.
We could argue the toss about whether Neil Lennon should still be manager until Jack Hendry gets back in the Celtic first team.
The fact is, we need to take a wee minute and figure out who’s at fault here; is it Lennon himself, with concerns about match preparation, team selection and in-game tactics?
Are the board to blame? Lawwell showed ambition in sanctioning some key signings, but many argue that hiring Lennon in the first place was short-sighted.
Is it the players? Perhaps they’ve had more time than other professional footballers in other leagues, and should be performing far better than they are.
Or, is it a combination of factors that are to blame? Maybe it’s just a run of bad form, we’ll be fine, and we should enjoy all the success we’ve had recently, and accept that these kinds of things just happen.
As far as I see it, though, big clubs need their fanbases to demand the best. Critiquing how things are now doesn’t mean they’re worse than they used to be. Saying that we’re currently not playing well doesn’t negate all the success we’ve had, all the celebrations, open top buses and long, long weekends in the pub.
It is possible to recognise that we’ve been great, and that we can still be better. Instead of harking back and saying “well, it used to be worse”, look at periods like the 90s in the context of our current success, and demand to never relive that past.