Back at the end of August, I wrote a blog entitled “We Never Learn” where I voiced a lot of criticism towards Celtic for the way the club was run. In that, I revealed a bunch of reasons as to why I was very likely to give up my season ticket at the end of this season. As we’re now heading towards the end of the season and Celtic have today revealed some details of the season ticket renewals, it seems like just the right time to review that blog and see if any progress has been made in addressing those criticisms.
One area Celtic have historically been terrible is not building from a position of strength. Obviously there’s only really been one transfer window since my blog, but most of the work on this has been Celtic changing to fit the Ronny Deila philosophy. I think most people are now on board the “Deila Bus”, and I’d hope that even in that August blog it was clear that I liked what he was trying to do. Most of my questions were around whether or not the squad was good enough to adapt to that philosophy.
Well in the months since, even I questioned whether we could ever reach the point that his style of football was going to work at Celtic. Defeat at home to Hamilton in October was a clear low point this season as many people pretty much gave up on Deila as Celtic manager. Even I was questioning if it was going anywhere. Fortunately that seems a long time ago now, and Celtic have since rallied to the point where we’ve had another massive European night against Inter Milan after Christmas, the League Cup is in the trophy cabinet, we have a decent lead ahead of a very consistent Aberdeen side in the Premiership, and we have a Scottish Cup semi final against Inverness coming up next weekend. Indeed, for the first time since we last won the treble under Martin O’Neill, winning all three domestic trophies is still a realistic possibility in April.
The team has progressed massively under Deila, and you can see that even some of the players that didn’t seem to buy into his philosophy early in the season are now playing their part. Stefan Johansen, a player I slated in my August blog, has completely proven me wrong and is now pushing for the player of the year awards. Deservedly so in my opinion, I’m more than happy to admit I was wrong about him! In that blog I suggested he wasn’t a replacement for Joe Ledley. Well, lets review that. Is he better than Joe Ledley after all? I’d have to say yes. Need any proof of that? Well goals aren’t everything, but remember when Ledley got his tenth goal of the season in the Scottish Cup final against Hibernian two years ago? Well Johansen has already hit eleven.
Another player I mentioned in August was Craig Gordon. Back then I said that I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but his performances in Europe were nothing short of sublime this season. I really didn’t think he’d be so pivotal, but ultimately we stayed in Europe after Christmas due in no small part to his performances. He’s more than surpassed any expectations, and he’s stayed fit which was probably the biggest concern we all had about him.
But perhaps the most pleasing aspect this season has been the signings of Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven from Dundee United. Both played brilliantly against Inter in Europe, just a matter of days after coming into the squad, and they have proven to be astute signings. Deila has said he’s keen to have a strong Scottish contingent in his squad, and as someone who goes to Scotland games I’m only too happy for that to happen. If Celtic are playing Scotsmen on merit, then we must have a decent Scotland squad as well!
But for all this looks good so far, there’s still a lot to prove in this area. My biggest complaint in August around the squad was that yet again we hadn’t strengthened ahead of the Champions League qualifiers. Indeed, we’d weakened given the players we had lost through the summer. Assuming we go on and clinch our fourth league title in a row, we’ll have three Champions League qualifying rounds to negotiate yet again next season. Another early July start beckons regardless of which European tournament we play in, and we need to be ready for that. And there will be work to do there, that much is already certain.
Jason Denayer is heading back to Manchester City at the end of the season, where he wants to try and break into that first team. Given the way they’ve played this season, you wouldn’t be surprised if he’s featuring along side fellow Belgian Vincent Kompany before too long. Good luck to him if that’s how it pans out, but we’ll need to replace him in our team. Add in the almost guaranteed rumours of Van Dijk leaving as well and suddenly we could be looking at replacing our entire central defence. Not only that, but we could really do with a central goalscorer – especially in Europe. It doesn’t seem to be Griffiths in that arena, it won’t be Guidetti, Scepovic isn’t getting game time now, and it’s never been Stokes.
So that’s two – possibly three – key positions we need to strengthen, and we need to do so before we get to July to ensure they have time to get to know their teammates. That’s assuming we don’t lose anyone else either! Gordon has apparently interested Mourinho at Chelsea, Ambrose and Matthews have also had interest from down south, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Johansen gets noticed as well. Simply put, the board have backed Deila this far, they need to continue to do so.
So really, we’re looking at showing some faith in each other here. Once more, the fans will be asked to put their hands in their pockets long before we get to the end of this season. Season ticket renewals are on their way, and decisions will be made in the homes of the fans long before decisions are made in the offices at Celtic Park and Lennoxtown. Lets not get to the end of August this year and find ourselves thinking “I can’t believe I fell for that yet again”. The question the fans have to ask themselves is, has this season shown enough from the board and their trust in Ronny Deila to give us the faith to do that? Well, obviously that’s up to every individual. I can only offer my opinion here.
The renewals are slightly different this time too. The £100 discount has, as we all suspected, disappeared. The good news? There’s a £50 reduction there instead. No more temporary reductions, this one is a more permanent one. Well, as much as prices can be permanent. Well done on Celtic for doing that, but I can’t help but think they’ve hedged their bets a bit here. After all, it’s only April. We know a largely supported Glasgow club are still in the Championship playoff mix, but we don’t know for sure if they’ll be coming up. I’m cynical enough to think if they’d won the Championship – as Hearts have done – then we wouldn’t even have the £50 reduction. But that’s pure speculation on my part.
It’s not just renewals that are coming though. Nike are out and New Balance are in, so there’ll be no fewer than three new kits coming this summer! Given the cost of those in recently years, plus the renewals, there’s a big investment coming from the fans this summer. There has to be a similar investment from the board in the team to match that, or we’ll be back to last August’s gripes again. Or possibly worse.
If the fans are to have faith in the club, then I think the relationship between us all is important too. Another gripe I had in August was just how distant the team and the board seemed to be from the fans. Well this is possibly one area where the most ground has been made up. The “Ronny Roars” – a term I really don’t like but seems to have caught on – have inspired, and you now see fans hanging back after the full time whistle to see them. I may not like the “roars” term, but I do love a good fist pump after a win! There’s no doubt that there’s a link between the manager and the fans, and through that a link to the players as well. Where before you were lucky if Izaguirre was the only one to come over to the fans, he’s now regularly joined by Johansen, Brown, Griffiths, Van Dijk, Denayer… it’s great to see.
Personally, I’d still like to see more done. Players should be attending the various supporters functions that usually crop up at this time of year, ideally without feeling like it’s an obligation! These fans love you, get along and enjoy the appreciation! A few less headphones as you get off the bus before the game might go a long way too.
But it’s not just the team and the manager where bridges have been rebuilt. The board are easily the most distant, and on several key areas that’s still the case. Hearts have massively shown up Celtic in recent months as they have announced a charitable sponsor for next season and a living wage for all their employees. For a club founded on a charitable ethos, Celtic should be leading the way in these areas. Not only are we not leading the way, we’re not even keeping up, and every day that passes where we don’t just continues the embarrassment.
Although it should be noted that Celtic did agree to ensure that all permanent employees get paid a wage that’s more or less equivalent to the living wage. As good as that is, I still feel like they’re missing the point. We’re a big name, we should be seen to be setting an example to others – as loudly as possible. This is almost doing it but trying to be very quiet about it at the same time, which is a missed opportunity in my eyes.
However, there are other areas where big strides have been made. Just this Wednesday night, the club were happy to advertise the fans’ latest food drive. Walfrid’s Legacy should hopefully see another massive collection at next midweek’s match against Kilmarnock for a variety of foodbanks, just a couple of days short of the 100th anniversary of the passing of Celtic’s founding father. Although I’m sure he’d be appalled that such measures are still necessary so long after his passing, I’m sure he’d be proud of how the fans have carried on his charitable work.
Couple that with all the events that the Celtic Foundation have put on recently – from zip slides, to kilt walks, to Ben Nevis huddles – and Celtic are slowly starting to remember where they’re coming from. Massive credit for this has to go to Tony Hamilton, the Foundation’s CEO, and you have to think that with people like him and John Paul Taylor in key positions in and around the club then we’ll continue to head in the right direction.
As far as I’m concerned, it shouldn’t be hard to run Celtic. Keep us within a sensible budget by all means – and indeed I’d encourage that – but back the manager properly and be open with the fans. We’re the lifeblood of the club, we should be treated as such. Above all though, remember our founding principles, and continue to stick by them. I really don’t think we’re too far off that, but it still needs a bit of movement to achieve it, and I really don’t think that’s asking too much.
As I’ve said already, it’s up to each and every Celtic fan to decide whether or not the improvements we’ve seen this season are enough. For me, they probably are. I might be cynical, I might not be entirely happy in some areas, but ultimately I still have enough faith that we’ll see things continue to improve as we want in the coming months. Hopefully that improvement will see us have a team ready for the Champions League qualifiers, and we’ll be back at the top table through the Autumn and Winter months.
But… I’m still not renewing my season ticket.
Whilst I’m happy enough with the improvements over the course of this season, one other aspect has become abundantly clear. I just don’t have the time for a season ticket any more. Even in August it was clear that I wasn’t getting to the football as much as I’d have liked. I missed flag day because I had family commitments. Since then I’ve missed a lot of other matches for the same reason. That situation is not going to change any time soon, indeed it will probably stay this way for some time to come.
The key difference here is that, back in August, I would have given up my season ticket and refused to put another penny into Celtic until things changed. In fact, given I cancelled my home cup debit scheme back then that’s exactly what I did. But there have been enough changes since then for me to change that stance. Whilst I won’t have a season ticket next season, I’ll certainly be looking to pick up the odd ticket when my time does allow. That just wouldn’t have been the case without these improvements.
And maybe that’s the warning here. Should I be sitting here through the summer and seeing us make the same mistakes we’ve made previously, that stance will no doubt harden once more. Picking up the odd ticket will become picking up no tickets. I really don’t want to get to that point, and not just for my sake. The fact of the matter is, I might not be able to go now because of family commitments, but at some point in the future I’m hoping those same family commitments will want to go to the game! So all I’m saying at this point is this.
I’m dropping out, but only for a while. Please don’t push me – and possibly more than me – away permanently.