My working conditions have really improved of late, which might be why I am a little more relaxed and mellow than I would normally be when writing such a missive. Indeed, I’m pretty calm, sitting here with The Magnetic Fields on my headphones under the Greek sun with a beer beside me.
By the time I landed here, on the island of Crete, on Tuesday night Celtic was halfway to being out of the Champions League, 2-0 down after conceding at the start of the first half and the second.
I knew we would rally, to give us a hard lack story at the very least. At best we would have papered over cracks and they are big cracks and some have been there a long time. The blame stretches in every direction, and that includes to the supporters, myself included.
Sitting here and looking out at a blue ocean under a cloudless sky I cannot help but think of how I’ve become very concerned about the environment these last couple of years; it has crept up on me very slowly, growing like a weed and I now find reasons to worry everywhere; the summer heatwaves that sent temperatures soaring in places like this one seem like they point towards a future we might not being able to live in and now I worry that I’ll never be completely free of the nagging worries and doubts I have about human existence lasting beyond the next 100 years.
What concerns me about that is clear enough I guess; it’s that me and mine might be around to see how the show closes out. Beyond that, there’s the appalling tragedy of it all; this species, capable of such wonder and beauty in all its forms, wrecking its own future by poisoning the planet on which it lives.
I read stuff from across the spectrum now, about the 2 degree target set by the Paris Climate Agreement and how there’s a real danger that we’re never going to meet it, about the world we’d be struggling to cope with even if we did and the dire consequeneces that await us at 3 degrees or 4 or, God forbid, something even higher than that.
I know there are things that could make the problem even worse, and send us into uncharted territory where the phrase “wet bulb temperature” becomes all important if the human species is to inhabit this planet at all … and when the thermometer was edging up past 40 last week in parts of Europe the future looked all too clear and not to the good.
Amidst the good science there is hyperbole and utter hysteria; one scientist has a blog where he tells the world to prepare for doomsday because he thinks we’re on a runaway train of feedback loops – melting ice raising water levels, and with less snow to reflect back into space the ocean itself starts to heat which melts more ice, then the permafrost starts to melt, releasing methane which is infinitely worse than CO2 and which will send the temperature soaring in a mere 30 years … although people will be gone long before then, unable to cope when an average day on this planet is 45 degrees or more …
All this stuff we’ve got, all this stuff that offers us a lifestyle that our parents and their parents never even imagined, the stuff that allows me to write and post this from a holiday resort in the sun … it costs us and on a species level it’s killing us. But the here and now is so seductive that we never think about that, and what tomorrow will bring.
A mere elven days ago I’d have told you if that crazy scientist is right and we’re on a blowout timeline measured in decades that Sevco would go to the same grave as the rest of us having never won a top flight title. That no longer looks like such a safe bet because our club has shown a sterling ability to screw up and there’s a complacency around us that I recognise clearly when I tentatively quiz people I know on the environmental time bomb.
It’s the size of it that throws some of them; the risks are so big, so obvious, that someone, somewhere, has to be working on a solution, right? It’s not our problem on a personal level because, hey, smarter people than us are paid to deal with this stuff and they’re on it, aren’t they?
But are they? Look at our club. Brendan went public a week ago on his need for players … do you see any signs that we’re busy on the transfer front trying to get him what he wants? Do you see any signs that deals are close to being completed? Arzani arrived today but he’s a winger when what we so desperate need – as this week shows again – are reinforcements at the back. This deal has been in the pipe for over a month, and he is not a “Brendan” signing as we’re all aware.
Izzy has come home, and that’s the only good news, that we have finally secured a left sided defender who can step in should something happen to Kieran, which is one of the recurring nightmares I have these days.The entire strategy, at every level, suddenly looks disjointed, fragmented, all over the place.
There are feedback loops which could send us spiralling into the kind of crisis some would have you believe we are in right now, and which really would have Chris Jack dribbling all over his laptop. The risk is real and it would be preposterous to deny it.
It is all too easy to envision scenarios where Rodgers decides he’s for the off, top players see the writing on the wall and clamour for the departure gate, crowds dwindle as fans turn against the board and they start cutting to meet ends and thus starts a vicious cycle that starts the tailspin … and the whole unravelling of our present position is not difficult to oversee. It could happen and do not let anyone tell you different.
But the permafrost isn’t melting, and science and business are racing to perfect the next generation of technologies that will move us to a carbon-free world; it will not happen overnight, and perhaps not as fast as we’d like but humankind really is the miracle of the ages; we know what the problems are and eventually there’ll be the political will and the economic upsides to tackling them, and then we’ll lick it.
Call me crazy for being an optimist; I grew up during the Cold War and we managed to avoid nuking ourselves into oblivion and few political scientists gave us a prayer of that back in the 60’s. We do learn, you see, like toddlers getting their fingers burned. It may take giving us a right good scare, but if we were stupid the species would not have lasted this long.
The people running Celtic know exactly what’s at stake here, you see.
Not just losing a manager and a few quid from the bank, but being remembered as the board who were asleep at the wheel when we had ten in a row and beyond in our sights. If that happens, when the opposition is broken and on its knees – do not let anyone kid you that they’re in good nick, their own dark night of the soul is coming and it’s not going to be long until it does – the names of Lawwell, Desmond, Bankier and Wilson will be etched in our history next to those of the Kelly’s and the White’s.
That’s how dangerous their position is. When we’re gone all that’s left is the reputation we leave behind us and for directors there are no banners on The Celtic Way, so they need to be better than good to be remembered at all and leading the club to a generational disaster is the stuff that gets the darkest chapters in the history books. Fergus got a stand; it’s the least he deserves for saving the club. And he still got booed unfurling our first flag in a decade.
If these people screw this up they go down in a different kind of history, the one that really does echo down the generations.
Lawwell thinks of himself as a figure every bit as important in our history as the likes of Fergus and he stands to be remembered beyond the here and now whatever happens next; that much is certain. If he’s here when we celebrate ten in a row he will be able to bask in that glory as much as he likes and few will grudge him it.
Screw this up, and if it all slips through our fingers the one consolation he’ll have is that nobody will ever mention Steven Fletcher to him again. That will no longer be, as he once put it, the carving on his headstone. His name will be absolutely toxic, as radioactive as that of John Barnes; unwept, unhonoured and unsung is the nice way of putting it.
As this black week has gone on, all of us have had to confront our worst nightmares about this season and consider the dark possibilities that the true darkness might still lie in front of us … and yet amidst the hysteria are a few salient details which the media chooses to ignore and our enemies, in their sheer arrogance, don’t even recognise.
First is the way our club has already moved to repair the internal cracks. And ironically, the best thing that has happened to us in terms of repairing internal cohesion was what might have been the most damaging episode of all; the Dedryck Boyata saga.
Whether you come down on the side of the board or that of the manager, whether you believe it was lack of spending or a simply bad tactical decisions which cost us in Athens there is not a person in this Family who does not realise that Boyata’s appalling behaviour made a difficult situation worse and there’s an argument for saying his tantrum – rooted in disloyalty and personal greed – was the key reason we went out.
And that has unified the whole of us – from boardroom to dressing room to the stands – in outrage and has been curiously binding for all involved. Those inside the club are disgusted by it, and all are in complete agreement that he’s finished.
It’s not the way we would have wanted to knit the club back together again, but we will take it, gratefully, and use it to drive forward. In a perfect world he would be gone before the window closed and he probably will be, whether we replace him or not. Sure as Hell he will never pull the famous Hoops on again either way.
On top of that, Lawwell and the board have already shattered one of the most profound hopes of our enemies everywhere; that the Champions League exit would precipitate the breakup of the squad. This was taken as an article of faith in many newsrooms and across at Ibrox; imagine the shock in those places when the club announced that not one major player would be sold to “plug the gap” in the finances. The word has already gone on out on that; “not at any price” was the message today to those coveting Ntcham and Dembele, two of our brightest stars.
The terrible truth for them is that the club’s decision to limit spending before our Champions League fate was known has largely “locked in” the budget for the season ahead and that the negative effects of not making the groups have already been offset, leaving no requirement for us to lose key players.
And that leaves, largely intact, a Celtic squad that has made a clean sweep – six trophies out of six – in this last two campaigns. As we’re almost certain to spend some money before the window closes, and get the central defensive replacement for Boyata at the very least, we’ll certainly not be all that much weaker than we were at the end of the last campaign.
Yet even without reinforcements, are we really in that bad a position? We will be overwhelming favourites to make a clean sweep either way and Gerrard’s rag-bag mob isn’t going to stop us. Their club will just about cover costs this season should they make the Europa League groups; even that might work in our favour as their squad is not remotely set up to navigate that schedule on top of domestic football whereas ours has been over the course before and knows how to handle it. With both clubs playing on the same nights there are no advantages being handed to one or the other.
Even the media is in a curious arena here, having to talk up the financial benefits of the Europa League where otherwise they’d be saying what a nightmare it was for us to be there, all to keep alive the illusion that it is the answer to all Sevco’s financial ills.
Dermott Desmond will have cracked heads together already. He will have refocussed the whole club. The manager and the players are now reading in the papers about how they are on the brink … I have never known this team to fail to rise to such a ludicrous challenge. We did it going into Ibrox last season; we can certainly handle this moment in time.
To call us a club in crisis is hyperbolic bullshit, built on a premise that is just as shaky as the “mankind has about 30 years max left” one being put about by that guy on the fringes of the environmental debate. We are facing neither footballing nor financial collapse; we are still miles in front of everyone else in this country on both of those fronts, with the best business model, the best management team and the best players by far.
The temperature just went up by 0.01 degrees. It’s a little tougher today for us than it was yesterday, but we are not in imminent danger. We are at the centre of a storm that is not as bad as it seems, and is largely the invention of our enemies in the media; try as they might they cannot scorch the earth.
The one absolute truth is this; the only people who can damage Celtic are Celtic. And we’ve received a harsh lesson this week just past, harsh enough that we will not repeat the mistakes. We are as strong today as we were eleven days or so ago when the storm broke … and twelve days ago we were as strong as we’ve ever been.