Glasgow Celtic have been officially crowned the Champions yet again. The decision is the right one and was greeted with joy and jubilation across most of Glasgow and much of Scotland as some semblance of normality amid the Covid19 lockdown was restored.
A truly remarkable feat has been achieved. The football team that has a tradition of making history has done it again. They were the first to achieve the incredible honour of winning nine league championship titles in a row between 1965 – 1974, equalling the then world record number of consecutive titles (jointly held at the time by MTK Budapest and CSKA Sofia), and now they have done it again. What an achievement. What a team. What a club.
Covid19 has defined 2020 to date and ushered in much pain, sorrow and grief in its wake. Life as we knew it has been turned upside down and the only light to emerge from the darkness thus far has been the stoicism, courage and commitment of NHS staff, elderly and social carers and other key workers. Never again should those women and men be referred to as ‘unskilled’ and condemned to live on low and sometimes poverty pay. The new normal in society must be a better deal for the workers who have cared for others and saved lives during this pandemic despite the rank incompetence and often criminal negligence of the political leaders in Westminster.
Extraordinary Times Demand Extraordinary Solutions
However, on the footballing front there has been discussions, debate and difficult decisions taken in relation to the conclusion of the current season and allowing earnest preparations for the new one in 2020/21. In the top flight of Scottish football there were eight league games still to play and across all four leagues decisions on winners and relegation losers had to be taken. No one in competitive sport wants decisions taken by administrators deciding outcomes. In a boxing ring you want to box. On a tennis court you want to play tennis. And in football you want to play competitive matches in front of passionate supporters to decide who wins the spoils. Only in extraordinary circumstances like revelations of cheating should administrators be allowed to arbitrate.
Covid19 is such an extraordinary situation and no matter what solution was presented by those in charge of running the professional game in Scotland it was inevitably going to be imperfect. Not all of the forty-two clubs was going to agree the way forward, especially the clubs facing relegation and/or still involved in title challenges. But faced with the reality of lockdown and social isolation measures over the last eight weeks and the prospect of at least four or more weeks of continued restrictions the men and women in the league management boardroom were going to be compelled to step in.
Many of the twelve professional clubs in Scotland’s Premier League are in serious financial difficulties with the loss of matchday gate receipts. These Premiership clubs earn a greater percentage of their income from ticket sales than any other top league in Europe, according to the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) latest Club Licensing Benchmark report. This report on football finances states that 43% of revenue in the Scottish top flight in 2018 came from gate receipts. That figure is almost three times the European average of 15%. So Scottish professional football is clearly much more dependant on fans turning up at games to support their teams than most other leagues in Europe.
Vast Majority of Clubs Agree with SPFL Decision
The Scottish Premier Football League Management Board proposal to end the season based on an average points award based on a clubs performances in its previous thirty games was not without controversy but it secured support from 81% of the clubs who voted last month. Despite the overwhelming endorsement a minority of clubs made a lot of noise in the media about ‘plots’, ‘intimidation’ and ‘bullying’ and called for the Chief Executive of the league to be suspended and external investigations into conduct to be implemented.
A dossier of evidence to back the calls was promised. When it eventually arrived, it was revealed to be a tissue of nonsense with the strength of wet toilet paper. Not a shred of evidence of wrongdoing was presented but the dignity of the club which made the unfounded accusations was diminished.
Today the inevitable was unanimously agreed by all the SPFL Clubs and Glasgow Celtic were deservedly awarded the 2019/20 League Title, their ninth in a row for the second time in their history. Heart of Midlothian were also relegated from the top league and although they are a big club in Scottish football their performances on the park throughout the season earned them exactly what they deserved, relegation.
The SPFL Statement was released this afternoon:
“The SPFL has today announced that, following consultation with all 12 top-flight clubs, the Board of the SPFL has determined that the 2019/20 Ladbrokes Premiership has been concluded with immediate effect. As with the Ladbrokes Championship, Ladbrokes League One and Ladbrokes League Two competitions, final season placings have been determined by points per game in league matches played to 13 March 2020 by each club. The decision means that Celtic are crowned 2019/20 champions and Hearts have been relegated to the Ladbrokes Championship”.
Celtic Supporters on Cloud 9 – Celtic Worthy Champs
Supporters of Celtic are on Cloud 9, but even those who share different football allegiances will recognise the justice in today’s decision. Celtic have been the best team in Scotland and have earned their title. No subterfuge was involved just hard graft individually and a tremendous team spirit which produced some exhilarating football. I was privileged to attend their opening game of the season when they demolished St Johnstone by seven goals to zero and what turned out to be their last game of the season where St Mirren were dismantled in a five goals to zero demolition.
Of the 30 games Celtic played this season they won 26 of them drew 2 and lost only 2. In 2020 they were particularly ruthless. 2019 had ended with a rare defeat at home to Rangers so the lead at the top was reduced to two points with Rangers having a game in hand to play. They could have mounted a serious challenge to Celtic for the first time in nine seasons. Celtic returned from the winter break and played like champions. Of the 10 league games they played they won 9 and drew 1.
Rangers on the other hand played like chumps. Of the 10 league games they played they won only 5, lost 3 and drew 2. Their title challenge collapsed. Not in an SPFL Boardroom but on the football park where it matters most. The Celtic two-point advantage at the top of the league at the end of 2019 became a thirteen points gulf by March 7th. If the remaining eight games had been played Celtic would have increased their lead to 16 or more points such is the form they were in. Glasgow Celtic are not just Champions again in Scotland they are worthy Champions.
Celtic History Is A Proud One
The blot in the records from season 2019/20 will not be the calling of the league with eight games to go but the failure to complete the Scottish Cup competition. Celtic have not just won the League title for nine consecutive seasons they also won all three domestic trophies in each of the last three seasons. They won the League cup and League this season and were through to the Scottish Cup semi-finals and hot favourites to win it again. They were the first ever Scottish club to win three trebles in a row and would have surely completed the quadruple if Covid19 had not intervened.
It is no wonder so many Celtic fans are passionate about their club. Created in 1887 for the charitable purpose to feed the poor of the East End of Glasgow they played their first game in May 1888 beating another Glasgow team which at the time and for decades to come discriminated against Roman Catholics in its player signing policy. Celtic is often described as the team for the Catholics in Scotland, but it is inaccurate chatter. Celtic’s most successful manager to date was a protestant ex-miner called Jock Stein. He scoffed at the Rangers Non-Catholic signing policy and believed it offered him a greater opportunity as Celtic had no discriminatory policy so could sign all the best Catholic players and the protestant ones.
Jock led Celtic to the European Cup in 1967 and became the first UK team to win it. His team won five major honours that season. An achievement never repeated by any club in the UK. Jock was also the first manager to win nine consecutive titles. The current Celtic manager Neil Lennon walks in the shadow of big Jock as has every Celtic manager since his reign ended in 1978. In his thirteen years at Celtic, Stein won the European Cup, ten Scottish league championships, eight Scottish Cups and six Scottish League Cups.
Neil Lennon Will Lead Celtic to the Holy Grail of 10 In A Row
Neil Lennon started the current nine in a row in season 2011/12 winning three titles as manager before a planned departure in 2014. He was asked to step in near the end of season 2018/19 when Brendan Rodgers walked away in an unplanned departure. He steered the club to 8 in a row and a Scottish Cup triumph.
Neil Lennon now stands on the cusp of Scottish footballing history. Never has a team won 10 consecutive titles. If he and his trusted captain Scott Brown can achieve that Holy Grail of Scottish football, they will be even bigger and more permanent legends than they are already.
When some Celtic fans doubted Neil Lennon, I stood by him. I believe results have proved me correct to do so. Lennon and Brown will lead Celtic to an incredible 10 in a row and their achievements this season have brightened the lives of Celtic fans and footballing fans in general across Scotland.
Neil’s class was illustrated in his comments today in accepting the League title but paying his respects to the Covid19 heroes and heroines:
“We would have loved to play out the season in front of you, it is what we all wanted. We were desperate to continue the blistering form we were in when the season was suspended. However, do not in any way let this detract from our achievement. While many will seek to challenge us, the title is ours and we deserve it. We are indeed champions for a reason.
“Scottish football, like society in general has gone through a tough time in recent months. We have stayed strong as a club, remaining focused, acting professionally and with thought at all times for others.
“Of course, life has become very different and while we congratulate each other as supporters and celebrate our achievement, we can’t help but think of those people who continue to experience difficulty.
“Many of you will have had families directly affected by this crisis, many of you will be key workers, striving on a daily basis to keep us safe and many of you will have experienced challenges around employment and family life.
“So as everyone at the club rightly celebrates our achievement, we also pay tribute to you all and remember the difficulties which so many people continue to face.
Class Neil. Here We Go. Ten In A Row. Hail, hail.