On 23 December 1776, the great Thomas Payne wrote his first treatise on the expanding war between the American colonies and the then British Empire. The war was barely half a year old at that time, but already Payne could see many of the rebels were beginning to waver.
Despite having been born in England, he was deeply committed to the patriotic cause of those who sought America’s nationhood. The expanded work which began with that first essay – which is now known throughout the world by its name The American Crisis – opened with words any young student of history will be familiar with instantly.
Their poetry still has the awesome power to stir the heart.
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Payne writes. It is a line which resonates down the ages, a timeless, remarkable line. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he who stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
As Celtic fans, we have seen our share of “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots”, those who are with us in fair weather but in storms of rain turn on us and give us a kicking. A lot of them are in the media, men like Nicholas, like Walker, like Commons.
There are others, like O’Neill, Petrov, Sutton and Hartson, who have given advice when it was required, support when it was needed and criticism when it was warranted.
They have our thanks for that and our deep respect. I will not say that we would not be in such a good place right now if it were not for them but they kept on reminding people that they too had seen tough times and that this club always endures.
It is worth thinking about that.
There are people who think our club will collapse if we lose on Sunday, or if we lose Ange Postecoglou or if a couple of our players depart in the summer. They see our fans and think that we’re nothing other than “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots.”
But they have always thought that and they always will, because they cannot and do not think any further than their fondest wishes and their fondest wishes are for some calamity to strike Celtic which we do not survive.
Their finest hour was, in many ways, brought about not by anything they did themselves but by the general collapse in standards at Celtic, the result of mistakes which were all too obvious to many of us at the time but somehow were made by those running the show at Parkhead.
But I repeat, this club – the club itself – always endures.
Here’s another little bit of history, one I’ve written about before.
On 15 March 44BC a group of Roman senators, believing they were striking a blow for freedom, ambushed and murdered Gaius Julius Caesar.
They had expected the acclaim of the masses. They had, after all, killed a tyrant. Instead of celebrations, they were greeted with sullen silence. Caesar’s closest friend, Marc Anthony, capitalised on that. He negotiated a sham peace, and then at the funeral gave an oration that sparked a riot. The assassins fled, for their own safety.
Within two years, everyone involved in the plot to kill Caesar was dead. The Republic they thought they were saving, teetered and collapsed. The fate of those men is history’s great cautionary tale. You never know what’s around the corner, but if you’re smart and you look over the horizon before you act you can see where the troubles might emerge.
That’s where we went wrong in appointing Lennon. For reasons which will never be fully clear, they gambled that his faults would be counterbalanced by his strengths and thought the club needed a figure who “understood” it to see us through to ten in a row.
He was the wrong man. I’m not even sure that we needed, or should have had, a man who “understood” it. Even Rodgers may not have been the right person for that high-pressure season with all its off-field chaos on top of everything else. A man who could have taken Ange’s approach – pragmatic, systematic and Stoic – would have been a far better bet.
But Ibrox fans drew entirely the wrong conclusions from that title loss. They concluded that they “were back” and would now dominate the game here. But it was down to us. The decision making at Celtic was weak. The club itself never was.
Ibrox’s problem is that it has a wrong-headed view of history. They looked at our collapse in the ten in a row season and believed that it revealed a systemic problem when, in fact, it was the consequence of that poor decision making. But they assumed that their club had overtaken us and that they might be on top for years to come.
They fatally misunderstood two things. First was the inherent strength of Celtic, and the second was their own historical place in the Grand Scheme Of Things.
The first is something they’ve traditionally done throughout not just their history but that of their predecessor club. The second is more complicated.
Let’s start with this. Their attitude of today goes back to their predecessor club, and it’s there where we must look if we want to understand this gross underestimation of Celtic. There is a truth that these Peepul have never fully grasped, and it’s the reason I’ve stayed a believer in our club and in its inherent strength no matter what the “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots” have said, written or thought in the past. We are not like them.
Celtic has been a stable, well run club since Fergus McCann took over it. He bequeathed us, with the bigger stadium, a commercial advantage that they simply cannot bridge. But the deeper truth is not just about the power of Celtic but in the weaknesses of Ibrox.
Here’s something I’ve written before and is still much misunderstood.
You ready for this? Here goes.
The club they once followed, the one that was actually called Rangers, never existed any more than the one they are following now does.
Both were, as one Thrones character calls it, “a trick, a shadow on the wall.” Rangers never was a superpower any more than the club playing at Ibrox right now is. Everything they had they built with borrowed or stolen money. Every triumph they enjoyed would have been out-with their reach without major injections of cash that they didn’t have.
They are still living this hand-to-mouth existence today, refusing to budget properly and playing fast and loose with regulators at UEFA, who are now alert to the goings on over there in recent years and are no longer willing to soft-peddle around them.
Look, they are a club which for decades now has fatally undermined their own growth potential by embracing all this empire stuff, all this monarchy guff, the militarism and all this staunch Britishness shtick. We’re moving past that as a country and those ideas belong in another century anyway. Even in the North of Ireland these ideas are about being called time on except in a tiny and shrinking community. That’s their customer base; tiny, and shrinking.
They hang onto the hard-core. They have to. Which is why they pander to them every chance they get. But we are going to put that hard-core under more pressure than they’ve seen in a long time if we win this trophy at the weekend.
But if we lose it … well this is where their fantasy goes into overdrive. They envisage a general collapse at Celtic, one so bad we might not even secure the title. They think one trophy will be the launch-pad to a beautiful future.
Yet it will not change certain underlying realities.
The first of which is that much of their team will depart in the summer and there’s no money to replace them. So a triumph on the field of battle for a day might well be secured (I very much doubt it, but you never know) but the greater victory, title number 2 or 56 or whichever one they want to use … they still have no clear plan for getting there.
The Mooch can buy himself a little time, but that’s all. As Ange has pointed out, winning the Scottish Cup and getting to a European final was not enough to satisfy a fan-base which has a warped and quite ridiculous idea of their club’s place in the world … you want to talk about “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots”? All that matters to them is overhauling us in the league and unless he can manage that he’s going to find himself in bother.
And they will not wait too long to clamour for his removal.
“These are the times that try men’s souls.” What gets us through bad seasons and bad days is knowing that the underlying strength of Celtic remains. “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.”
We will win because we suffered and bled and fought for it all. They won’t, not in the long haul, because they found some mugs and put everything on their credit card.
That’s a strategy with no future, and they, as a club, have no Plan B.