Nobody is laughing anymore.
In Hunter S Thompson’s famous, and brilliant, essay The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved, what interests him most, as a writer, is not what’s happening down on the track but the audience in the stands. It is one of the finest pieces of first-person “journalism” ever written.
So it was there, so it shall be now.
For our amusement, let’s look at the crowd.
To truly understand why this is a great moment, you have to look back a little, to the start of the season, when the critics were sharpening their pencils and already betting on how long Ange Postecoglou would last in the job.
Now, to a certain extent we have to grant them a little latitude here because some of us had a pretty visceral reaction to the appointment when it was being mooted.
I was one of them. I am the guy who suggested that we were on the verge of our “Pedro Caixinha appointment.” And I stand by that, as it was written at the time, and I’ll explain why.
I appeared on the Endless Celts podcast shortly before the news broke that Eddie Howe wasn’t going to sign up to become manager. On the day of the recording, I was starting to feel the first waves of anxiety over how long that deal was taking to get gone, and during the discussion I made a prediction which was so logical and obvious I could not believe that it was not worrying other people in the same way it was keeping me up at night.
My concern was that if Howe said no, given the lateness of the hour, it was unlikely that we would be able to take our time in finding the right guy and would simply make a rushed, panicked, appointment. It was logical because we were already on the brink of the new season, and our board had previous for making decisions which weren’t entirely thought through.
Let’s be honest, very few of us had heard of Ange Postecoglou.
When his name was in the papers almost the moment Howe’s knock-back was made public, the first thing I did was to find out what I could so that I might understand where his name had suddenly emerged from, and it didn’t take me long to find out that he was part of the Manchester City Group, where a certain ex-Celtic CEO has a lot of links, and in particular a son who works there.
Looking at the other names of managers in their stable of clubs, one other stood out a mile; Ronny Deila. It was not hard to spot the linkage. And as he was not getting the Celtic job, Ange was actually the only other one – aside from Guardiola haha – who had ever won a title and whose appointment would even have been remotely sellable to the fans.
In short, it reeked of a quick fix decision, one that had Lawwell’s fingerprints all over it, an appointment that was being mooted by a board in utter desperation, partly in an effort to change the story. Had we not thrown something for the press to analyse – and Ange’s record was sufficient to keep them busy – they’d have been analysing the dysfunctionality in the Celtic boardroom.
I wasn’t in the least bit impressed by the idea. I thought it was disgraceful to expect us to simply accept it. And so I wrote my initial feelings about it and then, over the next week, did a deep dive into his record and then looked at his work permit status, and I wasn’t terribly pleased by what I found there either. The whole thing just felt wrong.
But it behoves anyone who does this job to be open to reviewing their opinion when new information or insight emerges.
Smarter people than me – John Maynard Keynes and Churchill to name just two – lived by the maxim that “when the facts change, I change my mind” because that’s what you are supposed to do. Your views are supposed to evolve with the circumstances.
I was sold early once the man’s ideas came into focus.
Listening to the man talk, hearing his thoughts, talking to people – like the excellent Aussie podcaster Jarrod Hill of Celts Down Under – who knew the manager’s philosophy and who assured me and the rest of the doubters that this guy knew exactly what he was doing, well that went part of the way towards calming my fears.
But it was the first two signings – Abada and Kyogo – who really started to get me excited. The manager set out his stall from Day One; this would be a team built around an attacking system, and our early business reflected that. By the time the games actually kicked off I was fully onboard and even the early defeats did not shift me one millimetre.
The night I knew I had been right to put my faith in the guy, however many doubts there had been when the appointment was mooted, was when we played the Dutch AZ off the pitch at Celtic Park, with the Japanese striker in exceptional form.
There were enough signs that night about what the manager was already building that anyone who was still questioning him was doing so because of a stiff-backed unwillingness to bend to reality.
Yet I was gobsmacked, in the weeks that followed, amidst some bad league displays, to read the kind of articles which suggested that he might be out of work by the time January came around.
How was it possible that these folks could write and believe such nonsense?
There were even people speculating that we were heading for a third, and even a fourth, place finish in the league.
Had they not seen that game, as we took the Dutch apart?
I couldn’t believe it.
This guy was still building his team at the time; nobody knew what final shape it would take, and he had already worked a minor miracle with the tools he had to hand. Yet these people steadfastly refused to budge.
The difference between me and those people is that they made their minds up before this guy was even in the door and never changed it, no matter how much evidence presented itself to them that they had gotten it badly, badly wrong.
And some of those people have persisted in this nonsensical refusal to accept what is plain to the rest of us because they simply don’t want to have been wrong, and especially not this wrong, wrong enough that the title might be snatched away from their club.
And it’s that crowd which intrigues me today, just as the throngs at the Kentucky Derby interested Thompson all those years ago. For who are these people who still cannot bring themselves to accept that Celtic is on the verge of another era of dominance and that Ange Postecoglou is a vastly greater manager than they are prepared to accept?
Understand first that nothing will convince them of this, no matter what it is that this man achieves. They can look past his signings, his personable nature, his ability to dominate any room he’s in, our long unbeaten run, our European displays and even the first domestic trophy of the campaign, sitting in its place at Celtic Park, the triumph entirely his own.
Some of them may pretend to show him respect, but their contempt and their casual disregard for him slips by in ways they may not even be aware of.
Take, for example, Keevins who I will write more about later today or perhaps tomorrow; yesterday he had our season in ruins when there were still ten minutes to go at Celtic Park. Less than a minute before we scored the goal he commented on Hearts having cemented third place and then, almost casually, opined that they might still have further to climb; the utter contempt for Celtic and the manager which is betrayed in that statement is breath-taking.
And he’s not the only person in the media who pretends respect for Ange and our club but maintains the view that the title race was over months ago and won’t change it. Listening to some of them is like having an ear cocked to the wall of a parallel universe, it is so unmoored from reality. The idea of giving this man the credit he deserves and the respect of a full-scale re-evaluation is simply not possible for them. It would shatter their own fragile psyche.
More fun is to examine the Ibrox support.
There are some of them who are absolutely convinced this is a dreadfully weak Celtic squad, with very little quality in it. You wonder how they can possibly believe that when they see the results we’re getting and the players who are producing the goods for us, but there is no doubt that many of them do.
But none of them are laughing anymore.
None of them are confident anymore, although more of them seem to be concerned about their “throwing it away” than about us simply being too good over the course of the campaign. They, too, are due a seismic wake-up call.
They are already scared. The fear is real. Go over and check out the forums. It doesn’t matter whether they think they are blowing it or that we’ve just become a very good team under a very good manager; they are starting to feel afraid that it’s slipping away.
And amidst the fear, amidst the concerns, is the loathing, and it’s being directed at two groups of people, one the right target and the other a wildly wrong one.
The conspiracy nuts are pointing the finger at the Scottish Government, the SFA and Celtic for moving the winter break forward. They see the new signings bedding in, they see the league table drastically altered from where it would have been had they rolled up to Parkhead when they were supposed to, and they see a gigantic sweeping operation now coming to fruition.
They absolutely do believe this, a large, large number of them, and it feeds into every paranoid view they have of their place in Scotland. And you know what? Looking at them today, as Thompson viewed the crowd at Kentucky, I am actually pleased that they see themselves in this way, as a little island under siege, hated, despised, victimised by the world.
It must be a horrible feeling. To know that they experience this as a genuine emotion and see no way out of their predicament, is actually amusing to me.
The others in their support who are looking for someone to blame are more on the money; they have identified their own board as the targets of their ire, and they’ve started to twig that perhaps they’ve been led up the garden path.
There has been no spending spree with the Patterson money, for starters, simply a couple of loan deals and a pre-contract with Souttar. He will sign and play on Tuesday; I have not got the least doubt in my mind about that. Hearts will squeeze an extra few hundred grand out of them, maybe, because they are desperate and that will be dressed up as the title saving signing … and for some of their fans that will be enough to placate them.
But not for others. Others will see things more clearly, and will wonder whether their board really is now taking them for mugs, saying one thing and doing another.
Yet even there, my sympathy is limited.
Celtic is spending because Celtic is in a position to spend.
We had the resources, going into this window, because we took tough and critical decisions in previous transfer periods, like selling our own right back Frimpong and not giving Lennon any of the money to waste. That allowed us to get out of the lockdown campaign without running up significant debts and leaving ourselves big problems for the future.
The sale of Patterson over there made nothing but good sense; that money was their own Frimpong cash, to stop the bleeding, to get them through this campaign.
The manager was never going to see that money and we told them this from the start.
Of course they were lied to. We’ve been saying it for months.
Only the closing of the gap and the realisation that Celtic has gotten stronger whilst they’ve essentially gone backwards has finally brought it to them in a way they can’t deny.
They have been mocking Celtic since the summer, since the moment the Howe deal collapsed.
They wrote Ange off because they wanted to believe that we really had gone down our Pedro Caixinha road.
They mocked the signings.
They mocked the tactics.
Every now and again they pick on an individual player and pour their scorn onto him … that too is about to be rammed back down their throats in a manner that will give them nightmares.
Above all else, yes, they mocked Ange Postecoglou himself, even after he’d gotten us through tough Europa League qualifiers.
Even after he’d steadied the ship and started to get the results.
Even after he took us to the first domestic trophy of the campaign.
It was easy to laugh with a six-point lead in the league, knowing that even a bad night at Celtic Park would still leave them top.
Now fear and loathing coarse through their ranks.
Fear and loathing of Ange Postecoglou.
No, they aren’t laughing anymore.