Life as a Celtic supporter goes in cycles. The supporter’s emotional cycle from despair to euphoria and back again is, however, not always in harmony with the team’s cycle of success.
Such is the complexity of the relationship that trophies don’t guarantee celebration or even contentment, whilst near misses can unite and bolster us in a way that triumph often fails to.
As Celtic supporters, we respond instinctively to emotional truth, integrity, and sincerity. Little wonder then that the endeavours of Neil Lennon last season, both on and off the pitch, have been more widely appreciated than the three titles won under Gordon Strachan. Strachan’s coaching methods were effective enough to outmaneuver Alex McLeish, Paul Le Guen and Walter Smith, before he was back on the boil, but his emotional insincerity and refusal to embrace our club’s culture and ethos left the supporters feeling disenchanted and cut adrift from the club.
Neil Lennon took over at a worrying time for the Celtic support. The team’s slump under end-of-reign Strachan was compounded under the hapless Mowbray, crowds were dwindling and morale was at its lowest point since John Barnes’s tenure.
Lennon’s assignment, from an equally worried board, was this- turn it around. Ship out the dead wood and bring in quality players on a conservative budget. Galvanise the dressing room, get them playing for you, for each other and for the badge they should be honoured to wear.
Win back the trust of a largely disillusioned support – shake the apathy from the stands and reignite their passion for Glasgow Celtic. Get results – put the team in contention for every domestic trophy.
Did he deliver? He delivered on all fronts. Not only that, he did so in the face of the pitiful hostility that he has had to endure since his arrival in Scotland in 2000. He delivered despite the racial and religious abuse, the verbal and physical assaults, and the paramilitary threats and attempts on his life.
He delivered despite the SFA’s best attempts to undermine his position, and a witch hunt by large, faceless, sections of the media who were intent on assassinating the character of a man they were not fit to have an opinion on. He achieved all of this despite his lack of experience and, he achieved it initially while on trial, as the board dallied, awaiting proof of his ability to do the job.
Lennon has brought more than the Scottish cup back to paradise. He has brought back the unity and passion that has defined us since the inception of our illustrious club, a unity and passion that was found wanting in previous seasons.
Celtic supporters always stand united and stand proud; leadership like Lennon’s reassures and reasserts our belief. More silverware will follow under his leadership, of that there is little doubt.
Any man unwilling or unable to emotionally engage with the club should not put himself forward for the job. Managing Celtic is not only about statistics and profit and loss.
It’s not only about winning trophies. In fact, unless it’s your raison d’être, your one true aim in life, the dream beyond your wildest dream to manage Celtic, you should probably stay in the EPL, or the Championship, or with the lowly Scottish club that dream only of beating Celtic and avoiding the drop.
The Celtic support, I feel, are also deserving of praise for the way we continue to confront our oppressors in the media, and wider Scottish society in a dignified manner, displaying a repose that seems to elude our detractors whilst refusing to be drawn into repugnant tit-for-tat sectarian chanting.
On the park, there is reason to be optimistic for the forthcoming season. For the first time in a number of years we have a settled squad going into pre-season, and I hope that the inevitable £2m and £3m bids for Biram Kayal and Emilio Izaguirre will be treated with the contempt they deserve.
Kelvin Wilson and Adam Matthews give us more options at the back, though neither has been tested at the top level and Matthews in particular lacks experience.
James McFadden would be a welcomed addition, a Celtic fan that has plenty of experience mixing it with quality opposition. The only concern for me would be the cruciate ligament damage that limited him to five games last season.
One, or maybe two more midfield players would be welcomed, as would a top quality striker. I’m not a fan of the short term loan, I think it robs both the player and the fans the chance of making any real emotional investment in one another, but in saying that, I’d be delighted to see Craig Bellamy back in the hoops. There is a handful that are simply not good enough, we all know who they are, and hopefully they will be thanked for their service and rehoused.
The pessimism and uncertainty that prevailed little over a year ago has been lifted. It’s been lifted by one man – Neil Lennon.
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