In The Shadow Of The Colosseum, Celtic Can Build A Bridge To The Future

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This week, I’m in Rome, having got here yesterday via Zurich. This is a city I’ve wanted to visit for years, as regular readers will know and as my fascination – some say obsession – with the late Republic and the early empire will attest.

So far, this city has been everything I was hoping for. My digs are close enough to the Colosseum that I can walk it in less than five minutes. Just being in the same zip-code as that spectacular monument to what the empire was is pretty amazing.

The Colosseum was the brainchild of Vespasian, who came to power during the Year of The Four Emperors, ended that cycle of bloodshed and formed what was to become the Flavian dynasty, lasting the next quarter century.

Unlike those who came before him, Vespasian was late to politics and won his acclaim as a military man. His campaign in Judea fortuitously coincided with the turmoil that followed Nero’s suicide and when his legions declared him emperor the Senate ratified it.

The Colosseum was originally named the Flavian Amphitheatre; although he commissioned it, it was his son, Titus, who oversaw its completion as emperor in his own right. What those two men left behind them is an incredible legacy which stands as a testament to what man can achieve. That is what you call leaving a mark on the world.

Neil Lennon has been talking about Celtic and its future this week and it seems fitting that he’s doing it whilst so many of us, and this team, will spend the next few days in the same city as that stunning landmark. Because Lennon is talking about legacy right now, although not his own. No, he’s talking about a day in the future, which he believes will come, when Celtic once again wins a European trophy. That, also, is leaving a mark on the world.

The Celtic manager who does that will truly earn himself a place in the pantheon of heroes. It will be a genuine “make room on Mount Rushmore” moment, one when the history books will be rewritten and all places in the hierarchy but one will be reordered completely, unless it’s the big one he wins and then all bets are off and he’ll have a claim for that spot too.

And as bizarre as it will sound, I think he could be right.

Because the way European football is changing is good for us, it offers us opportunities, and the Europa League and the Conference League are both tournaments where I could see us going far and perhaps all the way if we can solve a few basic problems… so whilst I lament changes which make the top competition more geared than ever towards the super-clubs the rest of the structure is more wide open, and the possibilities greater, than at any time I can remember.

I’m not saying we will win one, Lennon might be overstating that a bit, but it’s not a daft idea, it’s not a crazy suggestion, it’s not out-with the realms of possibility. This is a really good Celtic side. It has the potential to be a great one, and great sides do big things.

Even if this team isn’t together in two or three years, even if it’s constituent parts have been scattered to the four winds, that’s not to say another great one cannot rise in its place. In order to put the Colosseum up, Vespasian tore down the grotesque Domus Aurea; Nero’s “Golden House”, the vast imperial palace he had constructed after the Great Fire Of Rome.

That fire had cleansed the city to serve Nero’s purpose, or so he apparently thought. Vespasian gutted it out to serve his own. That’s what happens with football teams too; it’s not impossible that this team will be gone in two years because that’s the way Brendan Rodgers wants it, and the man in that job gets to make that call whatever we might think.

Between Nero’s death and Vespasian rising to the throne, that tumultuous year in Roman history had two emperors who were declared and then found wanting; think Ibrox in any 24 month spell over the last ten years. You know the thing about those two? I can’t remember, off the top of my head, what their names were, and if I looked it up I’d be cheating.

That’s another thing about legacy; you either make something of the moment or you become a footnote. Every Celtic manager has the opportunity to be good. Few get the chance the chance to prove themselves great. A handful leave so little behind them that they might as well never have been there at all. Our last four – Lennon, Deila, Rodgers and Postecoglou – have been good. A couple of them were very good. Greatness of the sort we mean … that’s different.

Lennon thinks that some day a Celtic boss will achieve that. As I said, I think he might be right. The opportunity will present itself, and then it’s up to the man in place to make good on it. But the last lesson from Vespasian is that he started the great Colosseum project but never got to see it completed … but he departed with the goal in sight.

Even if Rodgers never gets to climb that mountain, he can at least make sure that we’re closer to the summit. That’s what tonight is all about. It’s another moment for these players to grow, and his understanding of what we need to evolve a little further down that line.

Looking, last night, at the Colosseum, all lit up and like something from another world and not so much from another era of this one, it’s hard to believe that those who built it could have had such knowledge and skill that it stands to the present day. It seems like a miracle construct. But that sucker was built like anything else, one block at a time. Like any great football team, in fact. Tonight ours takes another step, however small, down that road.

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  • Captain Swing says:

    Neil must have a very generous expense account when he’s away on European trips, because like most who watched us flounder against a very workmanlike Motherwell side on Saturday, I ain’t predicting the winning of any European trophies in the short to medium term by this side….. they are not even remotely close to that level presently. The only consolation to finishing last in this champions league group is avoiding another confidence-shaking humiliation by some Europa league team – Leverkusen, Marseilles or Atalanta would all easily take care of us, never mind the 3 EPL sides. Best off out of it until some much needed reinforcements arrive, rather than yet more ‘projects’. This was a champions league group we went in to with some degree of optimism too, but that was based on last seasons performances and before we knew that we would be doing well to finish any of the three away games with 11 players on the pitch. I’m glad we got the point against Atletico but now I just can’t wait for it to be over.

    Enjoy the sights, and don’t forget the Circus Maximus!

    • Scouse bhoy says:

      We are a million miles away from competing in europe the results over the years dont lie. You can only be unlucky so many times.

  • Thomas Cochrane says:

    A great piece, couldn’t stop reading it even though I had one hellova fight with those ads…. great stuff.

  • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

    Yep – This Celtic Team could, should And would be good If If If…

    It would steer clear of bloody injuries – It’s simply awful the amount and the key players and the length of time they’re out for –

    And regarding Europe…

    Hell it utterly grates me to say this but –

    We could learn a thing or two (in The Europa League anyway) from their big thuggish players and ultra defensive minded players to boot…

    But it seems to work for them better than our lightweight attack minded team !

  • Jack says:

    There are Celtic supporters alive today who witnessed a Celtic captain holding aloft the European Cup. I was 9 years old when I witnessed this. If you look at the present day Champions League trophy you will see our name inscribed on it for 1967. If it wasn’t for us under estimating Feynoord in 1970, it would have inscribed twice. I can’t see us winning the Champions League any time soon, but the Europa League is doable if Brendan stays and beefs up the team. I would hate to think our finest hour was in 1967 and live hope to see a miracle some day.

  • king murdy says:

    good article james….and i think neill lennon is correct…why shouldn’t celtic be contenders for the europa cup ? i think we all team from scotland will ever have their name engraved again on the big one…but if the huns can make it thru to the final 2 years ago – how i envied them – then we should definitely be able to replicate that feat…and go one better….
    BUT….in a very clumsy analogy, in keeping with the roman theme…we have a brutus, in fact, we have his son in the building too…who will scupper any ambition our manager may have in that direction…
    hope you enjoy your visit, and more importantly, hope we get some kind of result tonight to put a bit of respectability on the points tally…tho i just don’e see it….
    yea i know….woe, woe….etc etc…another poor analogy…
    well, you started it !!!


  • Fat mike says:

    Enjoy the trip dude. Watch out for pickpockets if you’re using the metro, had an slr out of my bag and went to run only I’d the strap attached to my belt. Hopefully we’ll get another famous night!

    • James Forrest says:

      Funny you should say that mate, one of my guys got dipped yesterday. Bad stuff. Lot of it about over here as you said.

  • Peter Cassidy says:

    Out and with a game to go we need more muscle in this team to many light weights scales I don’t rate people say he has been playing well but light weight .Hart best days well past his best Taylor spl level midfield does not have the muscle need a finisher up front oh not good enough.overall team nowhere cl level or Europa so spl level again this season very very depressing

  • Scouse bhoy says:

    We are a million miles away from competing in europe the results over the years dont lie. You can only be unlucky so many times.

  • Timbilly says:

    Galba. Otho. Aulus Vitellius but none could compare to McNeill the noblest of them all.

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