Tuesday 5 August ~
Celtic will be aiming for a fourth successive SPL title this season. But in the mid-1990s, some of their fans were wondering whether they should even be trying to compete with a dominant Rangers, as Graham McColl explained in WSC 71 (January 1993)
Imagine Glasgow Celtic as a rock band: great in the Sixties, slagged mercilessly by the punks in the Seventies, now little more than an endearing old irrelevance. They still plug on, pulling the crowds and generating lots of noise but no one really experts them to return to prominence. Since the mid-Seventies, Celtic match reports have tended to read like back-to-front thrillers. The first 20 minutes race along with every move being brought off with what seems to be off-the-cuff brilliance as if the team were a bunch of detective heroes tying up all the loose ends.
By half-time, Celtic will be in serious danger and by the end the punters are beginning to wonder how they're ever going to get out of this one. There, the story ends. Any game at Parkhead offers the prospect of excitement and football that is at times awesome, at times playground stuff. This has always been the case.
Celtic fans still haven't become entirely used to losing, though, so a couple of years ago, as the post-Souness Rangers' dominance of Scotland hit hard, the earthly bodies who preside over “Paradise”, as Parkhead is known, decided Celtic ought to catch up. The board seemed to believe that carbon copies of earlier Rangers moves would placate the fans.
In December 1990, a chief executive, Terry Cassidy, was appointed on a six-figure salary. The following summer, Liam Brady became manager, the first such appointee without any previous Celtic connection. Brady appeared to have much in common with the recently departed Rangers boss, Graeme Souness. Both had played in Italy and had even lived in the same house in Genoa, at different times. Like Souness, Brady had no experience of management, but that didn't prevent a salary of £200,000 being gambled on him.
Under Brady's guidance, little has changed. The defence remains about as stable as the pound sterling, the forwards remain creatures of whimsy and the midfield remains a wonderful thing. The sweet symphony in midfield is something Brady should accept little credit for: John Collins, Brian O'Neil and Paul McStay play the way they do because they know what is expected of them, having been brought up in the Celtic tradition.
Where Brady might have been expected to succeed was in using his eye for a player in the transfer market. One of his first moves was to lay down £1m to whisk Gary Gillespie away from the Anfield treatment room. Gillespie is now using all his experience to wind down his career on the treatment table at Parkhead. Around the same time, Tony Cascarino lumbered in, by a head and shoulders the worst signing ever to disgrace Parkhead. More recently, £1.5m went on Stuart Slater, a player Brady had pursued for months with a dogged tenacity that seemed to grow stronger the longer Slater went without scoring for West Ham. A run, incidentally, that has continued at Parkhead.
Brady now whines that he has no money to spend, yet he's already been given much more to build a team than any previous Celtic manager: over £6mi in 15 months. To his credit, though, he did divest some of his outside business interests in order to concentrate on the job. One such was his role as a players' agent, a position which could have been construed as producing a conflict of interest. Cascarino and Slater, for example, were represented by him.
By the time of his sacking in October 1992, it could be argued that the sum total of Terry Cassidy's positive achievements lay in the fact that he had increased the number of souvenirs sold by the club shops, maybe even by enough to cover his salary. Ironically, one of Cassidy's slip-ups on the marketing side may yet work out to the club’s benefit. His failure to secure shirt sponsorship for this season means that the players’ chests are no longer defaced by the garish Warholian scrawl that made then look as if they'd all been simultaneously sick over themselves. With the club badge once again the most prominent symbol on the shirt, football might once again take precedence over questionable commercial activities and tedious boardroom intrigues.
There is still the question of Celtic Park. The ground remains well short of the requirements of both the Taylor Report and UEFA. Cassidy's proposed site for a new all-seat stadium was recently described by environmental experts as a "timebomb" and "risky" for development due to its having been used for decades as a waste dump toxic chemicals. There are even deep mine shafts yet to be fully secured. Planning permission for the new stadium has yet to be given, and time is getting tight if those seats are to be in place for August 1994. The £100m figure mentioned by Mr Cassidy as the cost for completing the new ground is looking more and more like a nice round sum simply plucked out of the air. Where that money's coming from no one seems to know, except Mr Cassidy of course, and he probably won't tell now, just out of spite.
Over the last few years, while clubs of all sizes have rebuilt and reshaped their grounds, Celtic Park has remained defiantly unchanged. There is no reason why it should not be allowed to remain its old cavernous self. Even the most basic type of seating would be acceptable to the supporters as long as the playing pitch is visible and the restructuring conforms to the authorities' requirements. Parkhead would thus remain a beacon of light; a football arena first and foremost, rather than just another easily accessible recreational facility.
Celtic now seem so far behind Rangers on a business level that it's impossible to imagine them catching up properly. It's also easy to overlook the years of misery Rangers supporters had to endure while their club's cash was being diverted towards the rebuilding of Ibrox.
What Celtic need more than anything is new footballing ideas. Off-field ventures should only provide a base for the playing side rather than hogging the scene. Historically, Rangers have always been the moneyed team, with strong commercial roots. Celtic, unable to draw on equal numbers of wealthy supporters, have always had to rely more on human ingenuity and invention. Despite all the hot air emitted from Parkhead over the last two years, that situation is unlikely to change.
The next few years promise to be especially tricky. If the people in charge continue to defy the club's traditions and persist with their hamfisted attempts to turn it into a “business”, the best Celtic can hope for is to keep spluttering from one day to the next like a badly maintained 1967 Vauxhall Victor.