Yesterday, Celtic suffered a disappointing 0-1 home defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle. This means that the Hoops have now only taken one point from a possible nine in their last three Scottish Premier League matches at Celtic Park. Obviously, the fact we haven’t managed to win a league game at home for six weeks isn’t something to be particularly proud of, but yesterday was, in itself, rather bizarre on a variety of levels.
It was a bitterly cold day, with no Green Brigade, a truly terrible referee, and a flat performance from the players in the hooped jerseys. As the half time whistle blew, I turned to the guy who I’ve been sitting next to for years now and said, “this has got one nil written all over it; I just don’t know who’ll score that goal”.
In the end, I was proven (sadly) right, as Caley scored and then proceeded to keep the home side out. As the final whistle went, a few “boo’s” rippled through the evening air. Down on the touchline, a few fans decided to “have a go” at the Celtic manager. This led to Lennon stating publicly that ““If the fans make it clear that they are not happy and they want me out then that’s okay, I will do the honourable thing.”
No one should be surprised by that. Neil Lennon loves Celtic more than most things in his life and, as he admitted after the infamous 3-3 draw at Rugby Park, he was forty five minutes away from throwing in the towel that day, not for the sake of himself, but for the the sake of Celtic Football Club.
Now, what I do find hard to grasp is the opinion, held by a very small minority, that Lennon should go. Perhaps the people giving the manager pelters were doing so as an emotional reaction to a loss, rather than as part of a reasoned and measured view they had formed over time, but it matters little on the grand scheme of things. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I’d be surprised if this minority was voicing their opinions after our victory on the 7th November.
Let’s have a think back to when Neil Lennon took over from Tony Mowbray. Celtic had just lost 4-0 to St Mirren, and found themselves sixteen points behind their now defunct rivals, Rangers. The Celtic squad that night in Paisley included the likes of Edson Braafheid (long gone), Josh Thompson (gone), Darren O’Dea (gone), Landry N’Guemo (long gone), Ki (whom Lennon made into the player we sold for several million), Aiden McGeady (long gone), Paul McGowan (gone), Paul Caddis (gone), and Zheng Zhi (long gone).
One other individual who played that day was the much maligned Georgios Samaras. I’d be the first to admit that the Greek striker, and Neil Lennon (who chose to stick with the Greek Gazelle through thick and thin) have proven me wrong. Prior to the famous 0-2 victory at Ibrox in January 2011, I would have sold Samaras in that transfer window, given the chance. In fact, if my memory serves me right, there were people offering to drive him to the airport! Nowadays, I regard him as one of the most integral parts of our team, and I’m honest enough to admit I was wrong.
And yet what a turn around we have witnessed, both with Georgios Samaras and, on a larger scale, with Celtic Football Club. Time and time again, Neil and his staff have shown ability, tact and poise, signing Fraser Forster instead of the other goalkeepers on offer (Grzegorz Sandomierski as an example); developing Ki into a very capable midfielder (who we have sold for a significant profit); turning Charlie Mulgrew into the prodigal son and leader we see today; bringing in young talent (Victor Wanyama, Joe Ledley, Adam Matthews, Gary Hooper and Tony Watt to name but a few) and allowing them the opportunity to show our supporters, and the world, what they can do on the football field.
No one, and I mean no one, could have envisaged the rise of Celtic under Neil Lennon. No one could have predicted we’d match the greatest club side in the world (if not ever) over one hundred and eighty minutes, beating the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Xavi at Celtic Park. No one could have predicted we’d be guaranteed European football after Christmas only a season after we were beaten by FC Sion. No one could have predicted we’d see Georgios Samaras break Henrik Larsson’s record of scoring at least once in consecutive away matches in Europe.
And yet, it is often easy to forget that Neil Lennon has persevered through times of adversity which would have broken most people, including myself. Show me another man who would be the subject of death threats, bombs in the post, an assault on the touchline, and yet he would not only stay in his current job, but succeed in his current job.
Without Neil Lennon, we would certainly not be where we are today. I’ve said before that I’d happily give Neil a ten year contract tomorrow if I could, and I still stand by that.
No manager is perfect. No players are perfect. No team is perfect. Anyone who thinks they should be is, in my mind, an idealist, and nothing more. We must be realistic. If Celtic were dire, Neil would resign for the sake of the Club he loves. However, Celtic are not dire. Celtic are on the rise. Yes, we can be somewhat inconsistent, but huge strides have been made since Neil took over and I, for one, am fully behind our manager.
Onwards to Tynecastle!