Skip navigation

I don’t normally go for fatalism, but even I’d have to admit the stars were not lining up for Celtic today.

It’s been a good couple of weeks if you enjoy seeing the big boys taken down a peg or two. I don’t have any strong feelings about Manchester United, but to see them so comprehensively spanked by Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League was heartening. Although a part of me would like to see Sir Alex Ferguson lift the only trophy to elude him other than the World Cup, the arrogance and sense of entitlement among English teams in European competition is not to be applauded. Even worse was the sense of disbelief. But… but… they’re seventh in La Liga! How is this possible?

Manchester City losing to Sporting Lisbon, however, was priceless. It’s a wonder City aren’t more unpopular – maybe it’s the Balotelli effect. Or perhaps being “not United” is good enough for some. But even their own fans seem a little conflicted about how cheap their success seems, despite having been bought with unimaginable sums of cash. The wheels of the blue juggernaut are about to come off, I suspect; United have that dread momentum that’s seen them through so many campaigns in the past, and I would be surprised if they blow it now.

Fergie was big enough to accept that his team had been well turned over – though this is hardly his usual stance.

Today, unhappily for me, it was Celtic’s turn.

Celtic fans have enjoyed a wonderful few weeks. Not all of this has been to do with Rangers’ off-the-field meltdown after years of loading the dice. The team has been playing well. They’ve overhauled a seemingly insurmountable lead by Rangers all on their own steam, never mind points deductions. And, as the BBC commentary reminded us today, they’ve hardly even conceded a goal since the end of October.

There was much talk – mostly in the media, it must be said – of a potential trophy treble for Neil Lennon’s men.

The scene couldn’t have been set any better.

And so, at Hampden Park, for the Communities League Cup final, there it was: the beautiful game at its finest. Big guys 0, Little guys 1.

I will go one stage further than Neil Lennon, who could have done better with his post-match comments, and heartily congratulate Kilmarnock. In Kenny Shiels, Kilmarnock have a decent man for a manager. One of the few to call it absolutely correctly when his fellow Ulsterman was going through all sorts of horrors emanating from the very blackest gulfs of Scottish society last year. But they also have an astute man for a manager, who won the psychological war well before he won the tactical one at Hampden.

“It would be a travesty if Celtic don’t win the treble,” he opined on Friday. Could Fergie have done it any better?

Winning silverware is a rare event for a team like Kilmarnock. Such days can be a once-in-a-lifetime event for those following the less fashionable clubs, something many Celtic fans might struggle to appreciate. I can see the merit as well as the justice in today’s result. Killie defended well, passed the ball and took their chance. The win was well deserved. That’s the sportsman in me.

However, the sportsman in me also dislikes spitting platitudes and waxing magnanimous; these things are for when the battle is over, and hopefully when you’re looking forward to untying the ribbons on the trophy like a suitor undressing the object of his affections at long last.

I don’t wish to scapegoat Celtic players, but there are a few who should be looking very closely at their performance today. If one or two players see Celtic as a stepping stone to securing their dream move to the likes of Blackpool or Derby County – no offence – then I have a feeling they may well get their wish soon.

The management also got it catastrophically wrong, in terms of the team line-up and also some bizarre substitutions. This isn’t the first time Neil Lennon’s Celtic have fallen flat on their faces against opposition they were expected to beat on a big occasion. You don’t want to make a habit of such humiliations if you want to manage Celtic, with the best will in the world towards teams like Ross County and Kilmarnock.

Still, Lennon was angry. It’s understandable – he’s a winner. And it’s worth bearing in mind he has had some week, thanks to court cases and the funeral of his friend and comrade-in-arms, Paul McBride QC. Sticking to the football, you can be as gracious, or not, after the match, but every player who crosses that white line should only have victory in mind.

I call to mind Kenny Dalglish’s blood-chilling statement in the immediate aftermath of Liverpool’s victory in the Carling Cup final in February, when asked how he felt about his opponents Cardiff City’s gutsy performance.

“Our name’s on the cup,” he drawled. “That’s all that matters.”

Whatever you think about Dalglish, you can’t deny that he knows a thing or two about winning.

But, the battle is indeed over, and Kilmarnock’s name is on the cup.

And there was a grim post-script to today’s match. The father of Kilmarnock player Liam Kelly suffered a heart attack after the final whistle. He was treated on the pitch, but later died. It’s incidents like these – to say nothing of what happened to Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba only yesterday – to remind you that football most certainly is not more important than life or death, and pity the fool who takes Bill Shankly at his exact words.

Life – like success – is fleeting. Enjoy what you have while you have it. No-one in sport, or in life, should imagine they are entitled to win anything. Every triumph is a great gift, sometimes simply a wonderful piece of luck as much as it is hard graft, and a grand distraction from the horrors and ennui of real life.

 Enjoy your night tonight, ye Killie boys.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: