Over the last few months, as I’ve written article after article on the malaise of our club a couple of things have become pretty clear.
The first is that there are Celtic fans for whom no defeat, no reversal, no bad decision, no naff appointment and no gross insult from the board will ever cause to stop going to football matches.
Equally, there are a number who are just fed up.
They swallowed too much, come too far, heard and seen more than they’d like and aren’t convinced this club is moving in a good direction.
They won’t be until they see that things have changed.
I’ve seen signs and read much between the lines in the last week that convince me that things will change, and I know that all around Scotland our rivals will be preparing their own plans with one wary eye on what’s going on at Celtic Park.
Because whether they admit it or not they know major modifications to the operation here are Bad News for them.
Today is one of those days when I’m immensely grateful for our most die-hard loyal fans, those who won’t hear talk of not buying season tickets and will do so regardless. That might sound a little off-base, considering that I’ve been one of the bloggers insisting on a “wait and see” policy. (I want it noted that I am not, and never have been, calling for a season ticket boycott. Even if I was, there’s nothing to stop fans buying tickets on a game for game basis.)
These guys are the heart and soul.
These guys, not the board of directors, not the players, these guys are the keepers of the flame, the ones who made Celtic great and who keep Celtic great.
Many of them are older guys, who’s commitment has lasted a lifetime.
A lot of them get very frustrated with younger fans like myself who think we don’t appreciate the club or the success of the last few years.
They don’t know how wrong they are. This is the first time in my life that I’ve seen five in a row. There was a time when that seemed like a distant dream, never to be realised. The idea that this side could (will!) make it six brings me out in a cold sweat. I’ve never seen Celtic have such a sustained period of success and I want it perhaps more than those guys do. They’ve seen it before, they’ve seen it all before. Some of them were in Lisbon.
I get angry at times because I want this club to be everything it can be. So do they.
Yesterday was one of those unbelievable occasions for which Celtic Park, and the club itself, is justifiably famous.
The fans were tremendous, the football was as good as anything we’ve seen at the club for months and we lifted the league trophy.
I think it’s fair to say that we saw the future of Celtic, and with the energy our young players brought to the side there’s a very good case for saying that the new manager will have less to change than many would have us believe.
The guys who go every week deserve it.
They guys who’ve stopped going deserve a reason to come home.
Their kids deserve a football club, on their doorstep, in which they can take pride, and we need to be able to offer them that if we’re going to keep them from adopting English clubs with the glitz and the glamour that goes with it.
If we’re going to forge ahead into the future, Celtic needs to re-forge its identity first, and that has to start with the man in the manager’s office.
It has to begin with the right decision, and the more I consider it the more I think he has to bring with him an understanding of the culture of our club.
If we get it right the next step will be to re-connect with the fans.
Some of our players already get it. The rest have to learn what it’s all about, by getting them out to supporter’s functions and events, to start building a relationship with us that stands up even on those days when the goals won’t come and the games are hard.
Tommy Burns once did that with players, and following his anniversary I think that’s a lesson we can take from his life and his great passion for what this club is and means.
We need to make sure the next guys with that commitment to us are being shaped right now.
Look at young Aitchison, who fulfilled his life’s dream to score a goal for Celtic yesterday, at only 16.
He and Kieran should be around this club for years to come and with guys like Griffiths and Sviatchenko already in the squad, guys who get it, who understand what it’s all about, they are in good company. The manager is the first link in the chain. The players come next.
Then it’s the fans who have to feel involved once more. Not just customers, not just people to be herded into the Superstore to empty their wallets. Jock Stein said “football is nothing without the fans” but a lot of people at Celtic have forgotten that in recent years. Engagement with us has to be a top priority.
This has to feel like a Family again.
Its people have to watch each other’s backs, to understand that they can be part of something here, something that lasts forever, something not even represented in league titles or ten in a row, but something greater, with deeper roots.
You look at the frontage at Celtic Park, and it’s all about the history but when you get to the nuts and bolts the club has become more like a commercial enterprise than anything else. In the modern world, I guess that’s inevitable.
But it sometimes seems to me and to others that we’ve stopped trying to sell players on the idea of Celtic as an institution and have settled, instead, for selling it as a stepping stone to “bigger things.” Meaning money, of course.
But how much does a person need? Football guarantees every player at the top a good standard of living now. How much before it becomes obscene? Playing for this club is a privilege; ask Aitchison or Tierney. Ask Christie who’s waited nearly a year to take his first team bow at Celtic Park in a competitive game, and who played brilliantly.
We need more of these guys, guys who get it.
All of this begins today, now that the season is over, now that the summer stretches out in front of us like a desert road.
We need to re-establish our club as more than just a football team, more than just a business.
Yesterday was special, but there are other special days ahead and we need to rmake sure everyone feels part of them.