In an interview looking back, sometime in the early 2000s, on his time as a member of 90s chart topping unit shifters Take That, Robbie Williams once gave an insight into his thoughts when receiving the various awards he and his cohorts hoovered up at their height.
He summed up his feelings roughly like this, “Smashin’ yeah. Look what the record company won.”
He felt no personal pride at another Brit or Smash Hits award. The record company had assembled the band. They picked most of the songs. They even decided how the boys would be presented in public. He was just part of a vehicle designed to make money and raise the profile of his label. It wasn’t until he left the band and took control of his own destiny that he felt he could boast of having really achieved anything. Even in the event of his solo career failing he could at least own the effort.
I see an analogy with the current state of football and Celtic’s place in it.
On the 11th of September this year, Celtic took on one of the most expensively assembled teams in the history of world football and were given an absolute roasting. We were understandably pretty despondant in the aftermath. Seeing your team lose 5-0 is always cause for a modicum of despair. I think however, for me there was a realisation that we had been put in our place.
In the new world order of football Celtic are operating near the peak of our potential. Our squad is almost as good as it realistically can be. We’d be unlikely to find a better manager should Brendan decide to seek a fresh challenge. Access to new revenue streams will result in only marginal gains at this point. TV money dwarfs all other sources and we’re just not geographically well placed to get access to a bigger trough.
All this means that results like that humbling vs Paris Saint-Germain may become the new normal against the bigger teams in Europe. That’s a sobering and somewhat disheartening realisation.
Having spent some time pondering how I feel about our new reality, I’ve come to a settled opinion on it though. I’ll take it. I wouldn’t swap an honest doing at the hands of a dishonest team for the reverse. Just as I’m glad that my team, through all the trials of the early 90s, stayed honest in the face of fatal financial doping from our city rivals. They can have their tainted nine in a row. I’ll take stopping the 10 under our own steam any day.
Likewise I’ll also settle for the occasional pleasant surprise in Europe. Last season’s 3-3 draw against Manchester City for example; at least I’ll feel like I was part of nights like that. I’ll feel that I made some contribution to that result. Without our fans backing Fergus all those years ago. Without paying for tops and tickets. Without screaming our backing to a modest team. Encouraging them to raise their game against more moneyed opponents. Without having had the patience to endure decades of financial prudence. That team, on that night against City could well have taken a severe beating. That’s if we’d even been fortunate enough to be in the competition at all. No, I get to share that sense of achievement with millions of other fans around the world who truly have a hand in making Celtic what it is.
Can the fans of PSG, Chelsea, Man City and the other billionaire’s playthings around Europe really claim the same? Did Chelsea win the Champions League in 2012 or did Roman Abramovich just buy it? Will it matter to the on field success of Man City if their Ethiad stadium remains one of the Champions League’s most soulless half-empty libraries? Were the best players in the world flocking to Ligue 1 on the strength of the league or the lure of the fans before the oil money arrived?….
I’m sure plenty of their fans will never consider how they’ve “achieved” their sudden success. They’ll be happy to believe that they’re big important clubs on their own merits. Well for me that’s bullshit. I know exactly what those clubs were before and no amount of present or future success will make me forget that.
So whenever I see any of those teams head up the stairs to collect a trophy I’ll be thinking the same thing every time and I hope some of their more honest fans will join me.
To paraphrase Mr Williams… “Smashin’ yeah. Look what the billionaires bought.”
Peace be with you.
You can find Chris on Twitter regularly talking about Celtic at @TheRebelTreble.