This story has dominated both front and back pages of the Scottish tabloids and scores of mainstream news bulletins.
I subscribe to many of the wise words uttered by the legendary Scot, Bill Shankly, who played football with distinction but made his name as the manager who raised mediocre Liverpool FC to the very summit of English football in the decade from the early 1960s to the early 1970s. The former miner was working class to the core and transferred his honest attitudes and values of hard work and integrity onto the football park:
Those words dominated my thought process as the fans of one of the biggest and best supported clubs in the world, Glasgow Celtic, reeled in disbelief that the manager they adored and worshipped since his arrival in May 2016 had left mid-season with 11 league games left and a Scottish Cup to win to achieve the never achieved fete of securing a domestic ‘Treble Treble'. Last season he became the first manager in Scottish football history to manage a team to a ‘Double Treble'. Winning a treble of trophies, the league and both domestic cups, is rare enough and very few clubs have achieved it. Celtic had only achieved it three times in their 119-year history up until the 2016-17 Season. So to achieve back to back Trebles was truly historic.
That’s what Celtic is all about. Some get it some don’t. Some even pretend they get it but don’t.— garybhoy_91 (@91Garybhoy) February 27, 2019
They memories never die.
Godbless the Glasgow Celtic and all who follow them. pic.twitter.com/CivXeRJSWw
Brendan Rodgers secured many other incredible landmarks over his two years and 9 months stewardship of the club. The first Celtic manager to win his opening three derby games against Glasgow rivals Rangers. Of 12 matches against them, he went on to win 11 and draw 1, until December last year saw him lose narrowly to a deflected goal.
As a manager, he led Celtic to the longest unbeaten domestic run in Scottish football history surpassing a record set in 1917 by a previous Celtic team managed by Willie Maley. That team had gone undefeated for 62 games. Brendan Rodgers' Celtic went 69 games undefeated domestically and won the League Championship in his first 2016-17 Season without losing a game and amassed the highest points total in Scottish football history. Going through a Season undefeated had not happened since 1899.
Under Rodgers' reign, Celtic inflicted the largest home defeat on Rangers since 1915 when they trounced them 5-1 on April 29th 2017. Exactly one year later on Sunday, 29 April 2018 Celtic wrapped up their 7th consecutive title, and Brendan's 2nd, with an emphatic 5-0 drubbing of Rangers at Celtic Park.
Domestically under Brendan Rodgers Celtic were untouchable. Some of the football his teams played and the goals they scored were sensational. In one game, away to the Perth side St Johnstone, they scored a goal after all eleven Celtic players touched the ball and without a St Johnstone player touching the ball. Those unfamiliar with football won't understand the significance of that feat but anyone who knows anything about football will understand how remarkable a goal that was.
Celtic of course are not just the biggest and most successful club in Scotland they are also incredibly one of the top 10 best-supported clubs in Europe. In a major examination of the best 50 supported football clubs across Europe Celtic were number 9 out of 50 far surpassing huge multi-millionaire clubs like English Champions Manchester City, Italian giants Inter Milan and AC Milan, Spanish aces Atletico Madrid, English Premier League teams Liverpool, Newcastle and West Ham as well as German top teams Hamburg and VfB Stuttgart. All of those teams play in much more financially rich leagues and can draw on transfer and wages budgets far in excess of Celtic but Celtic are better supported than all of them.
Therein is the major dichotomy for Celtic and their fantastic fans and a challenge which Brendan Rodgers never managed to rise to. In Scotland, Brendan Rodgers' Celtic was able to compete for 7 domestic trophies and win all of them before his surprise departure last week. They were imperious in Scotland. But at the European level, Celtic's relatively limited transfer kitty and wages bill meant poor results in all European competitions for Brendan Rodgers.
A 7-0 embarrassment at the hands of Barcelona in the Nou Camp in his first season was bad but being unable to beat AEK Athens over two legs to qualify for this Season's Champions' League Group stage was much more unacceptable. Sure he was able to avoid defeat both home and away against the billionaires of Man City in his first season and there was the odd great performance but overall Celtic have been poor in Europe over Brendan's tenure.
The Holy Grail for fans like me is the never achieved 10 titles in a row. I was raised on the 9 in a row Celtic team of greats like Billy McNeil, Tommy Gemmill, Jimmy Johnstone, Kenny Dalglish and Danny McGrain who from 1965-66 to 1973-74 won nine consecutive League Flags. As a wee boy with my dad and uncle, I attended the games that secured the 7th, 8th and 9th titles.
Celtic were magnificent and created British football history by not only being the first British team to win the European Champions Cup in 1967 on the 25th of May in Lisbon against the much fancied Italian giants Inter Milan, Celtic winning 2-1 going on 5 or 6-1 such was their dominance on the night, but in that Season they also won every competition they entered, winning 5 trophies in total. That has never been done by another British club and is unlikely to be ever matched.
However, Celtic's Glasgow rivals, Rangers, spent incredible sums of money in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s to try and match Celtic's nine in a row achievement. They did so with the signing of a string of established international players winning their ninth consecutive title in Season 1996-97. Subsequent events, including that club being forced into liquidation and financial administration, effectively signalling the death of the club called Rangers which was formed in 1872, exposed the fact the former Directors of Rangers, particularly millionaire David Murray, acted illegally to use offshore accounts to pay players without them paying any income tax and thus giving Rangers an unfair advantage in the transfer market. When the debts mounted up and the banks demanded loan repayments the club imploded in a debt explosion which saw Rangers liquidated and a new company, called the Sevco Scotland Ltd consortium, eventually taking them over in May 2012 after the failure of the £1 takeover sale by a businessman called Craig Whyte.
The Rangers Football Club of 1872 effectively died when it went into liquidation on 14th February 2012 and the financial mismanagement saw it docked points in Season 2011-12 and then demoted to the lower tiers of the Scottish leagues. Such financial mismanagement has resulted in criminal charges and was certainly against the spirit of sporting fair play but the football authorities have allowed Rangers to continue using that name to describe the new club which has caused controversy.
The reason the Rangers debt fiasco is important is it highlights the dangers of living beyond your means and effectively cheating. When caught out the punishment can be severe. Even the most ardent Rangers fans must have been appalled at the antics of the multi-millionaire owners who saw only profits as a priority, not honest endeavour and sporting success. These millionaire owners have reduced the status of Rangers the football club.
Personally, I still harbour some resentment against Rangers as for many years throughout my childhood they operated a distinctly sectarian signing policy which banned Roman Catholics from their club. Such a sectarian policy is still reflected in the anti-Catholic bile which often emanates from sections of the Rangers support during games. Singing loudly and proudly in support of your team should be encouraged but singing about "being up to our knees in Fenian blood" is blatantly sectarian, rooted in their previous anti-Catholic signing policy and should be roundly condemned.
This brings me to the reaction of Celtic fans to the surprise departure of Brendan Rodgers from the club last Tuesday on the eve of a crunch league match away to Edinburgh rivals Hearts. Despite all the achievements listed above, and more, some fans unfurled a banner at that game in Edinburgh hours after Brendan Rodgers was announced as the new manager of Leicester City in the English Premiership and Neil Lennon was appointed an interim Celtic manager until the end of the Season. The banner inscription read:
"You traded immortality for mediocrity. Never a celt. Always a fraud."
The debate around that message and the sentiment it conveys has been intense in football and wider sporting circles all week. Is it fair? Is it accurate? Is it justified? My tuppence worth is this. As long as fans pay hard-earned cash to follow their team through thick and thin over thousands of miles week in and week out and their comments and actions are not criminal or violent then they are 100% entitled to express their views by way of banners and chants.
I love Glasgow Celtic. I get emotional watching them. But I am in the queue for three Season tickets and only get along to a handful of matches. Most of my viewing is via Celtic TV or other stations covering live Celtic games. Brendan Rodgers entered Celtic Park and declared himself a ‘lifelong Celtic supporter'. He described the job as his "dream job". He dismissed the previous speculation about him and other manager's posts with robust ridicule as he was ‘where he wanted to be'. During the seven magnificent trophies winning celebrations he often raised both his hands with open ten fingers which I, and thousands of Celtic fans, interpreted as a message that he was here for that Holy Grail of 10 in a row League Titles. We are therefore surprised, hurt and disappointed that he has left before achieving the ten titles. Had he left in the summer after eight titles and the Scottish Cup I reckon he would have left universally acclaimed as a hero of Celtic, a legend, immortal?
It is the way he has left rather than the fact that he has left which has hurt so many fans, including me.
However, do I believe he is a "FRAUD"? No, I don't. I believe he is a Celtic fan at heart but with big football ambitions to compete on a stage more difficult and more respected than the Scottish Premier League. I never had the pleasure of meeting Brendan but I did chant his name and sing his specially created song often. I even used a #BrilliantBrendan hashtag when communicating with Celtic supporters.
The way he has left the club has tarnished his tenure. Of that, there is no doubt. But I simply don't accept he is now an enemy, a FRAUD, a justified target for abuse.
He left us at the wrong time, in the wrong way and for the wrong club. Leicester City is nowhere near the status of Glasgow Celtic and if they were not prepared to wait 12 weeks for Brendan he should have turned them down. His stock is huge in England. He did well with Swansea. He almost won the Premiership with Liverpool. He was 5 points clear with only 3 games left to play in season 2013-14. It was his title to lose. A home loss to Chelsea and giving up a 3 nil lead away to Crystal Palace with only 11 minutes remaining meant the title slipped out of his hands. However, he came closer than any Liverpool manager had done for 24 years previous.
The end result of the turmoil Brendan's departure caused for Celtic is the interim appointment of the previous manager between 2010-14 Neil Lennon. A guy who played with his heart on his sleeve and without getting the credit his hard work and clever reading of the game deserved under Martin O'Neill. Lenny was a top talent when Martin signed him for almost £6 million in 2000. Neil won eleven trophies with Celtic and played in the UEFA Cup Final in 2003. He was a Celtic supporter as a boy growing up in Northern Ireland. He understands the club and what it means to wear the jersey.
Unlike Brendan, I do know Neil and I believe he is an intelligent and articulate man of honesty, integrity and compassion. In March 2008 I had the pleasure of interviewing Neil on the 2nd night of my two-night chat show in the Tron Theatre as part of the Glasgow Comedy Festival. On a Friday night I had Gerry Conlon and Paddy Hill on my show alongside comedian Des Clarke. Gerry spoke of the Guildford Four miscarriage of justice and Paddy talked about the Birmingham Six stitch up for which not a single police officer has ever been charged. It was a great show in front of a packed audience.
The next night was to see Lenny on the couch alongside Tam Cowan and Des Clarke again. I had asked Neil via his agent Martin whom I had met during a celebrity football match at Wembley in June the previous year. It was a match to open the New Wembley Stadium and a team of ex-players and well-known faces was to take on the English on their home turf.
We were managed by actor/director Peter Mullan and our team included ex-Celts Tom Boyd, Darren Jackson and Joe Miller, former Ranger player Gordon Smith, ‘Line of Duty' star Martin Compston, Gerry McCulloch of Celtic TV, the ‘Still Game' duo Paul Riley and Mark Cox (Winston and Tam) and a certain former airport baggage handler called John Smeaton. That trip and that game is worthy of a column of its own sometime soon but save to say we conquered the English 2-1 with goals from Martin Compston and Darren Jackson. Martin, Neil's agent, organised the game and we became friends.
Lenny was playing for Wycombe in March 2008 but agreed to appear on my chat show after the game. He said he would fly back to Glasgow as soon as the Wycombe game was finished. I remember getting a call from Martin on Friday to inform me there was a problem. The place Lenny was playing at didn't have an airport so he couldn't fly back. I was disappointed as I was really looking forward to interviewing one of my Celtic heroes. I assumed he was calling off. Then Martin assured me not to worry as he would personally drive down and pick Lenny up after the game and get to the Tron Theatre as soon as possible but it could be after 8.30pm.
I was amazed that Martin was willing to put himself out for me. There was no fee for the show so Lenny was doing this as a favour. I offered to pay for Martin's petrol expense but he wouldn't take a penny. That night we discussed Lenny's career and all the ups and downs of playing for his boyhood heroes. It was a delight to listen to. Then he let an admission out of the bag that he had never revealed publicly before. He said he wanted to manage Celtic one day.
That was in March 2008. That's why when Gordon Strachan stood down in 2009 after bringing Lenny in as one of his key coaches I immediately lobbied for Lenny to be given the vacant post. My appeals fell on deaf ears. Tony Mowbray was appointed. It was not a good appointment. I was at Celtic Park on a cold winter evening, January 27th to be precise, and witnessed a poor Celtic team give up a 1-0 lead to Hibernian at home and go on to lose 2-1. It was woeful. Tony wasn't cutting it. Again I wrote letters to the press and lobbed Lenny's name into all managerial talk.
Sadly it wasn't until an embarrassing 4-0 drubbing by St Mirren in March that year that Tony Mowbray was sacked and Lenny was given the job on an interim basis. We were 10 points behind Rangers in the league at that time. Neil steadied the ship and won the eight remaining league games, including beating Rangers, but it wasn't enough to make up the gap. However, Neil had done enough to be given the job in season 2010-11 and he held onto the job for four years until stepping down in 2014. He won the League title in 2011-12/13/14, beginning the current quest for 10 in a row, and two Scottish Cups. He also qualified for the Champions' League Group stages twice and the knock-out stage once and won the League title in Season 2013/14 with only two defeats and scoring a record 102 goals.
I took my daughter Gabrielle to her first Celtic match in July 2013. It was a pre-season game against Brentford in London. We won 2-1 and Lenny met us after the game and posed for a photo with Gabrielle. She was chuffed to bits. That shy eight-year-old is now a big Celtic and Lenny fan.
In other words, the most appropriate response to the whole Brendan Rodgers shock departure is to recognise the glass being half-full, not half-empty. Instead of bitter recriminations against Rodgers let's acknowledge his tremendous role in improving the young players at the club and thank him for his achievements. Then look forwards not backwards. Recognise we have in Neil Lennon a manager of considerable talents and enhanced experience since his last tenure in the hot seat and a man who is Celtic through and through. You know whoever Neil picks to play for him will do just that. They will play for him and give the Celtic jersey the respect it deserves and demands.
Let bygones be bygones I say. No more banners about Brendan Rodgers from now on just banners, chants and songs about our new manager and the guy who must be given the job long term and tasked with the necessary re-building job in the summer. He re-built the squad in 2010-11 and set us on the way to 10 in a row. Let him finish the job and hopefully get us some better results in Europe over the next few seasons. Thanks for the memories, Brendan. Welcome home, Neil. In Lenny We Trust.
The views and opinions expressed by the contributor in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.