Three Years Feels Like An Eternity Ago With Celtic Utterly Transformed In That Time.

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A report in one paper yesterday raised an interesting point; three years has elapsed since we last played the Ibrox club in a cup final. I’ll tell you, it feels a lot longer in some ways and a lot shorter in other ways. Someone says three years, and I look back at it and stretches back into the distance, because a Hell of a lot has happened in that time.

And yet it feels, in some ways, like we got here at warp speed. The last 12 months have a lot to do with that. They’ve been pretty damned great.

I spent cup final day that day in my mate Craig’s flat where a bunch of us watched it and celebrated the victory. I had a long term relationship end the following day, so it’s all pretty clear in my mind. It was 8 December, the day after my then girlfriend’s birthday. We were split up by noon the following day. She came to mine to get some of her stuff on 11 December. The following day was the 2019 General Election, which the Tories won in a landslide.

That year ended weird, but we were still pretty much moored to reality.

Ha! What did I know? What did any of us know?

On New Year’s Eve I had a long chat with an ex (not the ex, but another ex) and although in the months to come I was to get a reputation as the Cassandra of COVID for writing about it before the government admitted we had a big, big problem it was her who mentioned to me, with some alarm, that the reports from China about their “pneumonia” outbreak might be worth looking into and taking a bit more seriously than most of us were at the time.

We all know that the next 12 months were a surrealist’s portrait of a nightmare. By the time the first anniversary of that game came around the world was in turmoil and our club was in an abysmal state, and we still had Dubai and its ensuing tidal wave of nonsense to look forward to.

I remember New Year 2019 as being a great celebration, the start of the 10 in a row campaign just over the horizon … by New Year 2020 that was all over. We were in lockdown, the club was in chaos and none of us had any clear idea of what the future held.

By the time New Year 2021 rolled around we were sitting in second, positioned nicely, the trophy we’ll compete for at the weekend was already in the cabinet and we had their team to come to Celtic Park, where we were pretty confident we’d win.

And if 2020 was a year to forget then 2021 was a triumph for this club almost without precedent. Even when Rodgers took over and won an Invincible Treble, he did it from a position of relative strength with our club in the ascendant. Ange inherited a deeply depressing shambles, at the last possible moment, after we’d spent months waiting on Eddie Howe.

That we ended 2020 on a high note, and confident of a great 2021 is the greatest tribute I can pay to any manager in our recent history, based on how we’d felt just 12 months before.

It’s hard to believe so much has happened in football … and in the wider world.

In that time, we’ve seen no fewer than three Prime Ministers in Downing Street and we’re on the third manager at Ibrox. Will The Mooch outlast Rishi Sunak? Starmer is still a distance from his election, yet I have a feeling that Sunak and The Mooch will be virtually neck and neck in the race to see who leaves their office first, and it won’t take as long as either thinks.

We’ve seen a pandemic roll up over us and then roll back out again like the tide. Trump went, and picked a Hell of a way to go, and even as we were just thanking the Gods that sanity might be dawning we saw tanks roll across a European border, something from a bygone age, and the raw heroism of a country that simply refuses to be conquered.

For all that, our team is perhaps the most changed thing of all.

The article in the paper says that ten of the players Ibrox started that game with will be at the club, in the squad, when the match kicks off. Only two of our players from the squad that day are still with us, Callum McGregor and James Forrest. That is remarkable and it’s why we recovered from the disaster of the following campaign.

Because we changed and we changed everything, and at times in these past 18 months, events at Celtic have seemed to move so fast that it was hard to keep up. Look at the transition in January just past; two key squad members out, and two more in. Peripheral players gone, and first team footballers replacing them. It’s astonishing.

I don’t like to think too far ahead. But the thought tantalises me of where we might be three years from now, and what we might be looking back on. They cannot possibly be as tumultuous as the period that has elapsed since the League Cup Final of 2019 … but then we’d never have thought that the years from 2017-19 would pass as they did either.

It’s exhilarating, and even a little scary. But this is Celtic, and nothing ever came easy, which is why we savour the triumphs and the tragedies together. Whatever comes to pass, whatever comes our way, the song has it right; faithful through and through.

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