CELTIC’S bid for a historic tenth successive title while making a splash in the Champions League after two consecutive disappointments hit the rocks in 20 shattering days in August.
The first points of the new campaign were dropped in only the second outing in a dismal stalemate at Kilmarnock in which Boli Bolingoli made a cameo appearance.
Unbeknownst to anyone at the club, the Belgian defender had taken an unauthorised break in high-risk Spain only a few days beforehand and broke the government’s quaratine rules upon his arrival.
Today, in Part Three of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE series, we look back to a traumatic period at the start of the season that had disastrous and long-reaching ramifications for Celtic.
NEIL LENNON has admitted he is disappointed Celtic have been charged by the SPFL in the Boli Bolingoli backlash.
The nine-in-a-row champions are in the dock for breaking the rules concerning coronavirus safety.
The Hampden chiefs are prepared to take action after Hoops’ Belgian defender Boli Bolingoli made a secret trip to Spain and returned while ignoring the 14-day self-isolation to meet up with his team-mates as they prepared for the game against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
WORRIED MAN…Neil Lennon under pressure from SPFL – and Hibs chief Ron Gordon.
The bungling left-back played the last nine minutes of the 1-1 draw as a replacement for Greg Taylor before Celtic discovered about his hush-hush journey to Marbella.
Lennon stressed the club had done everything they could to put safety first, introducing measures and equipment at the stadium and training centre.
The Irishman said: “I’m disappointed for the club. I think they’ve been at the forefront of getting the game up and running.
“They’ve put in place all the procedures, all the protocols and it’s all down to the actions of one individual.
“But we put our hands up last week and said if we are accountable then we’ll have to accept that, take it and move on.
“What we don’t want is for the game to shut down again and for any mishaps, if you want to call it that. We’ve had two clubs, Aberdeen and ourselves, who are embroiled in this.
“I think it’s unfortunate from our point of view, from my point of view as a manager, and the players and staff. We’ve worked really hard, tirelessly, as have people at the club, and we’re still trying to set the highest standards we can.”
The Celtic manager said there was “no conclusion” to the club’s disciplinary procedures against Bolingoli as yet.
NEIL LENNON claimed it was “absolute nonsense” for Hibs owner Ron Gordon to call for Celtic to be hit by a points deduction following the Boli Bolingoli incident.
The Easter Road supremo wants clubs who breach the SPFL rules on coronavirus to be severely punished, including the loss of points.
Gordon was aiming his comments at Bolingoli and the eight Aberdeen stars when he accused players of “jeopardising the whole game” and he insisted he would support points deductions for clubs when guidelines are ignored.
CENTRE OF CONTROVERSY…Boli Bolingoli’s Celtic career is in jeopardy after secret Spanish jaunt.
However, in a clear nod to last month’s situation when the Edinburgh club had to apologise to Ross County for the last-minute cancellation of a pre-season game when coronavirus test results came back late, Lennon said: “It’s absolute nonsense. People with glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
Firing his own barbed comment at Gordon that players at any club can step out of line, he commented: “They certainly could. We have to take a rain check on that, I think.
“From what I’ve seen on this, the goalposts keep getting moved time and time again.
“We’ve made it pretty clear to the players and the staff and the people around the club what’s permitted and what’s not. Until that changes, we have to adhere to that.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon administered a yellow card to the domestic game when Bolingoli travelled to Spain and failed to quarantine for 14 days on his return.
The blundering Belgian defender, whose career at the champions is now in jeopardy, trained with his team-mates at Lennoxtown and even played a cameo role in the second Premiership game of the season when Lennon’s side drew 1-1 with Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
The scheduled league encounters against St Mirren and the Pittodrie side were subsequently cancelled and will have to be fitted into an already-crowded fixture list.
Bolingoli’s inexplicable actions followed the controversy when eight Dons players visited a city centre bar before two tested positive for the virus and six had to be placed in self-isolation.
Former Scotland international striker Kris Boyd and ex-SFA chief executive Gordon Smith, who have both played for Rangers in the past, have joined Gordon in calling for a change of the rules to allow future points deductions in the event of players breaching coronavirus pandemic regulations.
NOT HAPPY…skipper Scott Brown slams Boli Bolingoli’s “mistake”.
Lennon added: “People say the club should take responsibility and we have held our hands up. It was something that was outwith the club’s control.
“We have worked tirelessly at the forefront of getting the game up and running. Yes, there is a bit of finger-pointing and a lot of hysteria surrounding it.
“But we have done all we can as a club to adhere to the protocol as best we can. It’s up to the players.”
CELTIC skipper Scott Brown has accused Boli Bolingoli of putting extra pressure on the champions in their bid for a historic tenth successive title.
The Belgian’s sheer act of folly in making a secret trip to Spain and ignored government gudelines for self-isolation upon his return has now created mayhem in the Hoops’ fixture list.
Brown, preparing for tonight’s crucial Champions League first-round knock-out qualifier against Iceland’s KR Reykjavik, said: “We play a lot of games over the season and now we have to cram these games in somewhere. I don’t know where we are going to cram them in.
“For us, he (Bolingoli) has made that mistake and we need to just worry about ourselves from now on and go on and make sure everyone is doing things by the book. It was one man’s mistake. We got punished, as well.
“But that’s football, we need to make sure that we bounce back and everyone learns from that mistake.”
* DON’T MISS 20 DAYS THAT ROCKED CELTIC (PART FOUR) : Lenny praises six-hitters, Hoops draw Hungarians