My friends in Celtic, pause for a few moments and peruse your domain. On the field of play your favourites matured into accomplished football players. 2011 ended with an acclaimed Joe Ledley header confirming what we already knew, Celtic were the best team in the land.
Despite ‘losing’ the previous three league titles Celtic held firm in the January transfer window; a difficult decision. We needed to win the league – at any credible cost – but without jeopardising the financial stability of the club. More than sporting form was under debate on these pages at the turn of the year, continents were shifting.
Since 2004 readers of Celtic Quick News have read the gospel of financial responsibility. Bills need to be paid, debt cannot be allowed to rise year after year without enormous consequences. Back then we asserted that Rangers would crash and burn. By 2008 we predicted they were on course to go out of business. This message was not always welcome among our own. It was mocked by some, who demanded ever-higher spending to match the Murray Millions, but on 1 January 2012 there was scarcely a Celtic fan alive who didn’t think Rangers were going out of business. It was only a question of when.
When the crash was confirmed, on St Valentine’s Day, Scottish football embarked on a remarkable period of soul-searching. Rangers last owner, Craig Whyte, had a plan, which we explained in some detail in 2011. Whyte subsequently revealed he met with SPL directors, Neil Doncaster and Ralph Topping in October 2011, told them the likelihood that Rangers would go into liquidation, and asked them to back a plan to catapult a Newco-Rangers into the SPL.
The plan was nonsense. Whyte should have been sent away with told to pay his bills but Doncaster was oceans out of his depth. A fait-accompli would be presented to the SPL clubs, vote to change the rules and elect a Newco into the top flight, or deal with “Armageddon”.
Football eventually did the right thing, as many, perhaps most, Rangers fans wanted all along, but hundreds of scribes attached themselves to Whyte’s Cunning Plan, which was presented as a bastion of responsibility, not the work of deception it was. The fight-back started on these pages. Soon it encompassed fans of every club in Scotland and the SPL clubs have no choice but to stick with the established rules.
Rangers creditors voted against a CVA and liquidators were appointed. Pop, and they were gone! Football fans of every colour, who has endured defeat to Rangers but still asserted that expenditure must be limited to income, enjoyed three seconds of glory as they turned to the bling-addicts beside them and said, “Told you”.
A man from Yorkshire with a group of partially-known investors nipped in ahead of various groups of Rangers fans to secure the assets of the club. Evidence suggests he believed the club would achieve a CVA (the assertion that “the history, the tradition, everything that’s great about this club is swept aside” if they were to be liquidated confirms this), but he bid more than any group of Rangers fans for the liquidated assets so ended up with an opportunity to issue himself with 5 million shares worth 70p each a few months later. Beautiful.
We’re on our own.
Celtic began as the solitary voice at SPL meetings speaking against Whyte’s plan. They were not responsible for the demise of Rangers, but let the record show, when the moment of reckoning arrived, the Celtic board liquidated the Old Firm.
On the field of play we were a well-oiled machine. Our first league title in four seasons arrived with consummate ease. Kilmarnock showed what a well-drilled team could do in the League Cup final, with a little help from a last minute blind-spot when Anthony Stokes had his legs whipped from him in the box, but let’s be generous, you know it, I know it, we would have missed the penalty anyway.
Last minute Hampden penalty decisions would crop up again in the Scottish Cup, when the whole Deliberate Handball rule was cast asunder, but refereeing is always been an emerging art in these parts.
The new season, our first ever as the only superpower in the Scottish game, held one major challenge – qualify for the Champions League. Four wins in four qualifying games was better than expected, so the team who were slapped by Sion, attacked by Atletico and usurped by Udinese a year earlier, were in the Champions League.
Be generous to those who dismissed our chances. One poor guy writing the ITVFootball tweets wrote “Bye bye Celtic” on the day we were drawn against Spartak Moscow, Benfica and Barcelona. Based on the evidence available, it was a fair call.
It is nothing short of fantastic, in the literal sense, that we qualified out of that group. Even now, halfway through the season, Barcelona have lost only one competitive game, when Victor Wanyama, Tony Watt and their pals ripped up the form book. It took Barca until the 93rd minute to secure a win over Celtic in the Camp Nou, or they would have three competitive draws on their record for this season, one to Real Madrid in the league, and a meaningless draw against Benfica being the only two.
I honestly thing we have overachieved in Europe this season. Neil Lennon and his players got everything right. The corner and free kicks from Charlie were immense. No one in Europe does better (some supporting evidence here). Forget the more fancied thoroughbreds, Charlie Mulgrew is our Moneyball player, a team full of them and we’ll win the Big Cup.
Victor’s leap and Tony’s finish will be replayed in our minds for years. Despite leaving ample hints, the DVD didn’t materialise at Christmas. Georgios has scored in all of our five European away games, a record.
Expectations will rise as a result of these achievements but we got so many things absolutely right in this Champions League campaign the odds against doing so again next season are high. Celtic will need to start preparing for next season’s Champions League now if they are to have any chance of remaining in the tournament next Hogmanay. If we were operating at 90% capacity we would have finished bottom with one or two points. As for Juventus, bring them on.
These end-of-year reports are often a lot less encouraging. 2010 was far from easy reading, the distance we have travelled since 2010’s is incredible. Celtic end 2012 as one of the most admired clubs in the European game. We develop great players, compete against the best better than anyone else, and have a sense of purpose which will never be extinguished.
Take care and may 2013 bring you all that you hope for.
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