I don’t get nervous easily.
I don’t think of myself as a nervous person.
I don’t get flustered easily, I don’t rattle and I am never, ever starstruck.
But sometimes, and I don’t know why it happens, I do find myself like a rabbit in the headlights, and when I do I natter.
I natter and I ramble.
I speak too rapidly and I have to slow myself down and catch my thoughts.
But before I do, I say wholly inappropriate, even stupid, stuff.
I once got like that at a wake and asked a relative of the deceased if they were having a good day. To that persons eternal credit they simply looked at me and said “Strangely enough, no,” and left it at that.
I had one of those moments today and if I wasn’t able to write about it I would replay it over and over and over again in my head like something from a nightmare.
I got a chance to ask Scott Brown a question today, at a fan media press conference, and I knew what I wanted to ask him about; my favourite Scott Brown memory, 6 February 2011, and that performance at Ibrox which was as close to being the most complete individual display that I’ve ever witnessed from a Celtic midfielder.
It was the absolute epitome of what the media euphemistically calls “a captains display.”
That day was the first time I truly understood that term.
Armed with my question, and with the opportunity in front of me, I fumbled the ball.
Maybe because we bantered a bit first and it threw me off my game.
All I know is that I came close to gratuitously insulting a guy I admire and respect as much as any Celtic player I’ve ever seen, because instead of going from thanks and good luck and straight into the point, I rambled about how he had a slow start at the club and how it was four years before I realised he was a good player and blah blah blah …. man oh man …
And as bad as it reads, it was a hundred times worse.
Throughout my inane daftness, he maintained that steely Scott Brown calm.
When I finally got around to my question Scott answered it superbly, and fulsomely, and even shot back (and how I admired that he did it!) that he had won Player of the Year in his second campaign but that I probably didn’t believe he deserved that!
Well, I take my licks like a man, and I’m only glad that I have the opportunity to write what I actually meant and say what I was trying, dreadfully, to actually say.
On top of that, there’s an issue that arises from this which I think merits the piece.
What I meant today, of course, as I am sure he understood, is that to me that day represented a turning point in how I viewed him as a leader and a part of the firmament at Celtic.
I wasn’t suggesting that it took him four years to have a great game … it certainly did not.
But it’s a dividing line game just the same, for many reasons.
For openers, it’s where I ceased to think of him as merely another player but the leader of the team and the club itself. Scott was already growing into the role … that game was like a butterfly coming out of its chrysalis.
It was, if you’ll allow me a brief dip into literature and the movies, the moment in both the book and the film The Godfather where Michael, up until that moment “the college boy who didn’t want to get mixed up in the family business”, calmly tells his brother and the caporegimes that he’ll personally kill Virgil Sollozo and the police captain, McCluskey, as well, if only they can get him close enough.
What I mean is that it’s the sort of moment when you realise that what you thought you knew isn’t even the half of it … there’s a whole other layer underneath, and for the first time it has made itself visible.
Once you see it your perception changes forever.
To me, that afternoon was the moment I realised we weren’t just watching a good Celtic player but a great Celtic captain.
But there’s a larger context to that day, and that performance, and how I remember it, and why it has such a place in my memory.
It signified more than just a change in how I felt about Scott Brown.
When you consider that season, and what had come before it, my memory of Scott is perhaps coloured by what was going on at the time.
He signed for us in 2007, and my memories of that entire campaign aren’t of his assured debut season but of how stressful it was to watch us, how awful the direction of that campaign looked as if it had taken and then the handbrake turn in our fortunes and the totality of the relief I felt when it ended with us as champions.
It all blurs into one when I look back on it; a white knuckle ride of absolute tension, mounting dread and then a fall off of the terror into a weird ecstatic kind of hope which swelled and swelled until that last night when it was nearly unbearably joyous.
I’m sure that campaign shaved a couple of years off my life expectancy.
Scott was excellent the following year, of course, and richly deserved his player of the year award.
The truly notable performance was the League Cup Final which we won and where he was a standout man of the match … but I remember that season primarily for the loss of the league, for the Wilo Flood window, and for all bitterness and the recriminations that followed and the feeling that we deserved better than we were getting from the club.
So if I have negative associations with those early years – as I evidently do; I may have rambled today but there was a part of my brain that knew exactly what I was trying to express – they weren’t so much about Brown but about … well, everything at Celtic.
And if those first two years were a rollercoaster, what can you even say about his third season?
What a disaster that one was … Dundee Utd prevented an Ibrox treble, but they swept the board at the annual awards and Tony Mowbray was dispatched and Neil Lennon took over the job on an interim basis … it was horrendous.
My memories of Scott Brown blur into the collective memory I have of that whole campaign; a litany of disasters and reversals and days I want to just forget.
I’m sure he gave us all that he had, but I’ve blotted so much of that season out and for good reason.
2010-11 was the turning point and that’s what the game that day at Ibrox was to me.
It was a catharsis. It was the moment I realised that we, as a club, were on the way back … and it was Scott Brown, as much as any other player, who was dragging us back into the light.
We lost the title, of course, for the third year in a row, but we did win the Scottish Cup and I knew we would win the Scottish Cup that day at Ibrox. Because after we got out of there with the 2-2 draw with ten men I knew there was no way they were going to beat us at Celtic Park in the replay, and that once we’d taken care of them we were on a straight road to Hampden.
To me, that day set the table for the years that followed it, and in every moment of those years was Scott Brown, as captain, as the inspiration for the rest of the team, as the engine of Celtic, no matter what else was going on.
When he spoke about that day this afternoon, you’d never believe that a decade has passed along the way.
His memory of it was crystal clear.
He spoke about the tactics we used, Neil Lennon telling them to keep on going and maintain their self-belief, and about how he found himself further up the pitch than usual when he hit that unstoppable shot.
I like to listen to people talk.
I like to listen to the way they speak, to the words they use, to the precision of their language and listening to Brown today answer not just my question but all of them, there is a deftness to his thinking, a sharpness, that I’ve noticed before and I wonder how some of the idiots in our media have missed it over the years, and especially when they write about him.
Brown is a highly intelligent guy, who misses nothing, who picks up on every nuance in a conversation and when he talks he is engaging and witty and can bite you if he thinks you deserve it.
How many times have you seen his dexterous handling of his critics?
I felt a little like some of them must have felt this afternoon when he made his point about his player of the year award; a rueful admiration and respect for a well-aimed barb in my direction.
When you listen to some footballers talk it’s as if you can hear the brain-cells rattle; with this guy you know there’s a smooth and steady machine running behind that famous stare.
I reckon he’s going to surprise people early with how good a coach he is, and he may be a manager sooner than most think.
But of course, he isn’t done as a player yet and not even as a Celtic player, and this is just one more moment in Scott’s extended farewell, and that’s the real point of the article, it’s what I really want to say here, because my idiot brain moment today might be the most fortuitous attack of the nerves I’ve ever had.
It’s made me think about something that it might have taken me an age to realise, and that would have been such a waste.
It’s about the way we remember things.
Scott Brown’s influence on me as a Celtic fan and on how I see my club is profound, and it dawns on me that I didn’t even remember Scott Brown had won the player of the year award in his second season because, as I’ve said above, I was focussed too much on how I felt about that season as a whole and the time period between his signing and that day at Ibrox.
That’s not fair on the guy at all, or that accomplishment … and this is something we do more and more as football fans, I think.
We let certain things cast dark shadows for us and I personally would like to stop doing that, and in particular about these last few years.
Looking back, through the clouded prism of this campaign, it’s easy to see only negatives.
It’s hard to keep sight of the fact that this is one bad year in a decade.
At times, all of us have to fight our natural frustration and focus on how the good massively outweighs the bad, and I am glad that isn’t necessary when it comes to Scott Brown.
The dreadful events of this season haven’t changed the way any of us think about our captain, no matter what the clown princes of our media and Ibrox’s illiterati might think in their tiny minds.
Those clowns across town really do believe that the end is everything, that it’s all that matters, that Scott’s departure in a bad season means that the rest ceases to count.
But that’s how they think about everything over there, it’s how they can ignore the way the previous club died and fail to understand their mad gamble with the future of this one. Today they’re champions so yesterday ceases to matter and the future is something to worry about when it happens, and they never believe it will or that the rent will come due with it.
Yet we’re in danger of letting this season cloud our memories on a lot of others currently at the club, and maybe even how we feel about much of this period as a whole because of where we are at the moment, and I’ve been very guilty of this in recent weeks and months myself, about a whole host of people at Celtic Park, from the playing staff on up.
These guys collectively gave us the best run of trophies and titles that some of us have experienced in our lives and from this moment on I’m going to hold onto that thought, and especially through the summer, even when it gets difficult and the clock is ticking down.
Because, of course, I’m sure that many people were ready to write off everyone at Celtic Park during the hard days from 2008-2011 and Scott Brown would have been one of the player’s folk would have considered letting go so we could start again.
Yet look what we’d have missed out on.
Our club would have been poorer for that, lesser for that, our lives would have been duller for that, less joyful for that and our trophy cabinet less full for that.
He deserves every honour and accolade, every thanks, every respect and tribute, every bit of praise we write about him and speak in his name.
Scott Brown has been Celtic in the last decade, the epitome of this club, the player you looked to on those days when the whole place needed a lift, just as we needed one on 6 February 2011 and he delivered big time.
Hearing him today, and his own confidence in our future, and remembering that the end isn’t all that matters, and that our history is full of these little peaks and valleys, and recognising that we must remember the good with the bad and the bad with the good is oddly cathartic in itself, and in writing this and thinking about that I actually do feel the weight of this awful campaign lift a little.
Because a new chapter is about to start and that’s exciting.
It also makes me want to rethink the harsh verdicts I’ve returned on some of our people in the last few months, because like Brown in those first four tumultuous years, they’ve been great servants to Celtic in their time and they don’t deserve to be remembered any other way, and I don’t want to look back in ten years and only then realise it.
So thank you Scott Brown for 14 incredible seasons at our club, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the great highs and the lows too; you have been the greatest captain of Celtic it’s ever been my privilege to watch, and I reckon there are a few twists in the tale still to come. Indeed, I’ve never been surer of that than I am right now.
What Scott Brown represents is an era and it’s had bad times as well as good times, and as his time at Parkhead has been a story of triumph so too has the time in which his legend was forged.
The end is not everything … indeed, when it comes to Scott Brown and our club I suspect it’s not even really the end.