JAMES FORREST will kick off the 2023/24 campaign as Celtic’s great survivor.
Remarkably, the winger, who celebrates his 32nd birthday today, is the only player still at the club from the squad of EIGHTEEN who got the ball rolling in the spectacular nine-in-a-row sequence in season 2011/12, the second such achievement in the club’s history following Jock Stein’s all-conquering sides.
Forrest endured an injury-hit term as the Hoops’ historic quest for a tenth successive championship hit the rocks in the wretched 2020/21 crusade that saw the team limp in without a trophy for the first time in 11 years.
THREE CHEERS…James Forrest holds aloft the Celtic jersey after signing a three-year extension in May 2022.
It was a massive disappointment that saw Neil Lennon depart the club and long-serving captain Scott Brown follow the manager four months later.
Thankfully, normal service was resumed with the arrival of Ange Postecoglou in the summer of 2021 and the evergreen forward, who claimed his 100th Celtic goal with a hat-trick in the 6-1 win over Hibs in Glasgow on October 15 2022, added two more title-winning medals to his vast personal haul.
He earned his 22nd honour as a stoppage-time substitute for Filipe Jota in the 3-1 Scottish Cup Final win over Inverness Caley Thistle on June 3 2023.
However, back on Sunday, July 24 2011, Forrest and his team-mates embarked upon a glorious title trek against the Easter Road side in Edinburgh for the second nine in a row.
The Scotland international wide man came on as a second-half substitute in the capital as strikes from Anthony Stokes and Ki Sung-Yeung heralded a victorious 2-0 start for the Parkhead men.
THE CELTIC SURVIVOR…James Forrest in action in 2011 and (below) still going as he celebrates his winner in the Premier Sports League Cup semi-final against St Johnstone at Hampden in November 2021.
Midfield warrior Brown missed the occasion after carrying over a suspension from the previous term. And, of course, the veteran, who turned 38, is now manager of Fleetwood Town following his ill-fated stay as player/coach at Aberdeen after quitting Parkhead.
Back in the summer of 2011, Lennon was in charge first-time around. He left along with his backroom staff in June 2014 to be replaced by Ronny Deila and his No.2 John Collins. The Norwegian and the former Hoops and Scotland midfielder moved on with Brendan Rodgers’ dynamic arrival in May 2016.
Lennon returned to the hot seat in February 2019 after his predecessor had quit for Leicester City following a successful two-and-a-half years. But it was all over for the Hoops legend, who won 10 titles at Celtic, on February 23 2021 when he exited the club only two days after a humiliating 1-0 loss to relegation-threatened Ross County in Dingwall.
HAIL! HAIL! Neil Lennon accepts the applause from the Celtic support at the end of season 2011/12.
In another CQN EXCLUSIVE, here are the players who were triumphant in Edinburgh 12 years ago to begin the quest for nine crowns.
LUKASZ ZALUSKA: The keeper, now 41, was signed from Dundee United on a Bosman deal as back-up to his fellow-Pole Artur Boruc in 2009. He failed to establish himself in the first team and was also stand-by for Fraser Forster and then Craig Gordon. He was released eight years ago and joined Bundesliga side SV Darmstadt 98. He also had spells at Miedz Legnica, Wisla Krakow and Pogon Szczecin.
MARK WILSON: Arrived from Dundee United for £500,000 in 2006, the right-back captained Celtic against Hibs in the absence of the suspended Brown. He won a league medal in his final season at the club in 2012. After a year at Bristol City, he returned to Tannadice. The 38-year-old once-capped international defender played 12 games for Dumbarton in 2015 before being released and had a stint as manager of Airdrie in 2016/17. He was axed by Brechin City after a poor start to the 2020/21 season. Now working in the media.
NO WAY THROUGH…centre-half Kelvin Wilson clears up the danger.
KELVIN WILSON: Neil Lennon brought his former Nottingham Forest team-mate to Parkhead on a Bosman in the summer of 2011 and the centre-half, now 38, made his first appearance at Easter Road. He spent two years in the east end of Glasgow before returning to the City Ground in a £2.5million deal. Left the club in 2016 and had a spell with Rotherham.
GLENN LOOVENS: The Dutch central defender, signed from Cardiff City for £2.1million in August 2008, was also on the way out at the end of the title-winning campaign. He spent a season with Spanish outfit Real Zaragoza before joining Sheffield Wednesday on a free transfer in December 2013. The 38-year-old stopper moved to Sunderland for £500,000 in 2018, but left a year later.
EMILIO IZAGUIRRE: The 37-year-old Honduran international defender, signed from Motagua for £675,000 in August 2010, lost his left-back place to Kieran Tierney and quit after seven years for a brief stint at Saudi Arabian outfit Al-Fayha. Returned four summers ago, but was on the move again when his one-year deal expired. He signed a 12-month contract with former club Motagua and announced his retirement last year.
BERAM KAYAL: The Israeli midfielder cost around £1.5million when he joined from Maccabi Hafia in 2010. An ankle injury kept him out for four months and he faded from the first team picture when Deila replaced Lennon. The 35-year-old dynamo helped Brighton to promotion to the top flight before being released.
JOE LEDLEY: The Welsh international arrived on a Bosman from Cardiff City in 2010 and became a key man for the Hoops. The 36-year-old playmaker was sold for £800,000 to Crystal Palace in January 2014 when he only had five months left on his contract. He joined Championship side Derby County in September 2017 and his contract was terminated by mutual consent in January 2019. He played one game for Charlton aznd then moved to Aussie A-league outfit Newcastle Jets. Returned to the UK three years ago and turned out for times for Newport before hanging up his boots.
GOLDEN SHOT…midfielder Ki Sung-Yeung lines up a drive with Rangers’ Maurice Edu attempting to block while Gary Hooper enjoys a close-up view.
KI SUNG-YEUNG: The South Korean midfielder, signed from FC Seoul for £2.1million in 2009, scored seven times for the title-winners and claimed the second goal against Hibs in the 63rd minute. The 34-year-old moved to Premier League side Swansea City in 2012 for £6million and had a loan spell at Sunderland before returning to the Welsh outfit. Left Newcastle three years ago and played one game for Real Mallorca before returning to FC Seoul.
KRIS COMMONS: The 39-year-old former Scotland international midfielder, who missed a penalty-kick against Hibs, arrived for a bargain £300,000 from Derby County in January 2011. He failed to make a solitary appearance in Brendan Rodgers’ first campaign in 2016/17 and left at the end of that season when his contract expired. Commons also had a loan spell at Lennon’s Hibs before calling it a day to concentrate on a career in the media.
AIR RAID…Anthony Stokes rises to the occasion.
ANTHONY STOKES: The nine times-capped Republic of Ireland international, who arrived in a £1.2million deal from Hibs in August 2010, grabbed the 14th-minute opener against his old club, where he spent five months on loan in 2016 and helped them to win their first Scottish Cup in 114 years. The 35-year-old frontman left Parkhead that summer to join Blackburn Rovers. After a third spell at Hibs, where he was released by Lennon, he had a disastrous two-month stint at Greek club Apollon Smyrni before joining Iranian side Tractor Sazi in June 2020. Also played for Turkish outfit Adana Demispor and Persian Gulf side Persepolis. Bizarrely, he followed that up by signing for Livingston – and having his contract ripped up a week later! He retired shortly afterwards.
JOY BHOY…the prolific Gary Hooper celebrates another goal.
GARY HOOPER: The striker was an inspired £2.4million signing by Lennon from Scunthorpe in July 2010. The Englishman scored 63 goals in 95 league games before Norwich City paid £5million to take him to Carrow Road in July 2013. The goals dried up in East Anglia and the 34-year-old moved to Sheffield Wednesday in a £2.5million switch in January 2016. He was released two years later. Had a spell Down Under at Wellington Phoenix before moving to the Indian Super League. He also had a five-month stint in Cyprus at Omonia Nicosia when Lennon was boss, but left to join UAE club Gulf United in February 2023.
WIDE BHOY…winger James Forrest in action against Aberdeen.
JAMES FORREST: The winger replaced Commons on the hour mark. The Scotland international made his breakthrough in season 2009/10, but failed to settle until Rodgers arrived and put him back on track. Struggled with an ankle injury for a chunk of the wretched campaign of 2020/21 and the team clearly missed his experience and leadership qualities. He was sidelined at regular intervals following the arrival of Postecoglou, but still scored the crucial winner in the Premier Sports League Cup semi-final against holders St Johnstone. Won his 20th medal as the Hoops picked up their tenth title in 11 years and celebrated by signing a new three-year deal.
HEAD BHOY…Greek ace Georgios Samaras gets in before Dundee United defender Robbie Neilson to thump in a header.
GEORGIOS SAMARAS: Came on as a 79th-minute substitute for Stokes. Gordon Strachan signed him for £2.5million from Manchester City in 2008 after the Greek international impressed during his initial loan period. The 38-year-old attacker left in 2014 at the end of his contract and signed for West Brom. Also had a spell with little-known American outfit Rayo OKC and then Real Zaragoza. Signed for Turkish side Samsunspor in August 2017. He retired from playing four years ago.
SHAUN MALONEY: Had only four minutes on the pitch after replacing Hooper. The 40-year-old was in his second spell at Parkhead after starting out in 2000 under Martin O’Neill and then rejoining the Irishman at Aston Villa for £1million in 2007. He returned to the Hoops a year later for £3million. He left in August 31, 2011 in an £850,000 deal for Wigan and had spells at Hull City and MLS outfit Chicago Fire. Quit as youth team coach at the Hoops five seasons ago to join Roberto Martinez’s Belgium international set-up. Left that post to manage Hibs, but was sacked following a disastrous three months in charge on April 19 2022 following a 2-1 Scottish Cup semi-final loss to Hearts. Took over as boss at former club Wigan in January 2023.
Unused substitutes: Dominic Cervi, Charlie Mulgrew, Adam Matthews and Victor Wanyama.
CHAMPIONS…Celtic celebrate at the end of the 2011/12 season.