The 90MinuteCynic team caught up with Celtic and Wolfsburg legend Brian O’Neil recently and spoke about his thoughts on the current Celtic side, the recent goings on at Rangers, Scotland’s recent revival and much more.
Speaking to Brian were Christopher Gallagher, Christopher Sermani, Louis McCaffrey and Christopher Boud.
This interview took place on 18th August 2014
CG – You played for Celtic for six years – what was you best memory of your time at Parkhead?
BO’N – I had a lot of good memories but my debut, as a young Celtic fan that’s the stuff you dream of. My first competitive match was against Falkirk. There’s highs and lows , I scored a couple of important goals and maybe some decent performances, but just being a part of Celtic, that was a big part of my life.
CS – Obvious question, but one to get out of the way – How was it scoring against Rangers, obviously a winner at Ibrox, you’d imagine you can’t really beat that feeling?
BO’N – one of those ones another as a young celtic fan it’s something you always dream of. It’s a wonderful feeling. It wasn’t the most technically perfect goal but I don’t give a monkey’s about that, they all count. It’s a great feeling, I didn’t do anything that night, I didn’t have a drink, I just went home and just enjoyed it.
CS – Thanks for that Brian – if I remember correctly that was Lou Macari’s first game.
BO’N – It was Lou Macari’s first game but it was actually Frank Connor who was in charge of the team, he was there to oversee things.
CS – You played under a few manages in your time; Lou Macari, Liam Brady and Tommy Burns who was the best to work with?
BO’N – To be fair I’d have to say Liam; Liam was up there with the best of them as he gave me my debut and a lot of game time. I had a lot of time for Liam. Tommy Burns was a lovely, genuine man who had a real, real passion for football and for Celtic first and foremost – he was one of those guys that wanted the best for everyone, just a shame that as manager he didn’t get the chance to get his had on the championship trophy. I think it was his ways and his platform, along with Fergus, that set a good base for the club moving forward, it’s a shame that his time as manager he never got to see the fruits of that.
CB – You mentioned earlier that when you scored the winner against Rangers – didn’t go out for a drink, – which ties in with what Ronny Delia is trying to bring in to the club now . As someone that has played abroad what lessons do you think Scotland/celtic can learn from the continent regards diet, fitness and alchohol.
B’ON – To be fair the lads at Celtic – there was never a drinking culture, there was never that really, at least if there was I wasn’t invited.
When I was abroad you where there on your own, you didn’t have anyone else to blame, sometimes at home if you’ve got things going on with family or home you can use that as an excuse. When your in another country it just you and your wife and kids you’ve just got to get on, its an easy place when your abroad to get your head down, you get on with it, you get on and perform you don’t really have that choice and it helps you grow up.
CG – The 95/96 season was probably one of our favourite seasons in the mid 90’s. Celtic only lost one game playing some tremendous football. With everything that went on with rangers do you think they had an unsporting advantage?
BO’N – I don’t think there is any doubt that they did. I think when you talk about the big tax case and everything else, Celtic where balancing their books and Rangers at that time, especially the early 90’s, the players we were signing where very competitive but the players Rangers where signing, there was just no comparison. They were one of the biggest spending clubs in Britain not just Scotland. It gets my back up a little bit when you realise some of the things that were going on.
Nobodies really said that’s the guilty party, that’s the guilty party so that’s what makes it difficult to have any definite response until you get an answer but there is a part of you that thinks, if only. But then again if only Celtic were then not trying to catch up they might not have spent as much and I might not of got the chance to play for Celtic.
CS – What’s your biggest regret at your time at Celtic – or do you have one?
BO’N – I don’t think I have any regrets as such, you do you upmost to everything you can to be successful. I was never part of a championship winning team which was always a dream being a young lad at Celtic. The biggest one I missed out on because of my Cruciate was the cup final against Airdrie, that was a hard one to take, I think I was the only player to play in every round and once it got to the final I missed it because of my Cruciate , it was still nice to see the lads going on to win the cup.
CS – I remember that – did Gordon Marshall not give you his medal because you got so close.
BO’N – Yeah he did, I ended up blubbing like a big baby, it was good of him. It was such a big day for the club as well, because it had been so long. That was what hurt as much as anything, because everyone wanted to be a part of that. To go through the whole tournament and then miss out on the final was hard to take
LM – Brian coming back to the modern day what do you make of the whole Legia Warsaw affair?
BO’N – It’s a non-issue – I don’t know why we’re talking about Celtic, its nothing to do with Celtic, its sad for them. If Celtic had done the same thing, especially when the game was already won, it would be a hard one to take, you’d be disappointed, very, very disappointed, but its UEFA that made the decision, not Celtic. At the end of the day its UEFA that have made the decision against Legia – that the rule of the game, we abided by them and Legia didn’t. It’s harsh, very harsh and I’m sure most people would agree with that but it’s really nothing to do with Celtic.
LM – With your experience, in the game and at Celtic how do you think the dressing room will react, emotion wise do you think it will be sheer relief on their part or do you think it will be bittersweet?
BO’N – I think since they’re getting another chance they will be absolutely delighted – I watched the game on Saturday against Dundee United –and they seemed to play with a lot of freedom all of a sudden and it bodes well for us. Lets know this as well – when it comes to Celtic having to play these games right at the start of their season its difficult, it take time to get up to speed. I don’t think its right – for them to have played their most important games of the season and not had a competitive league run, it doesn’t sit right, it going to get tougher and tougher with the Scottish league losing ground on its co-efficient it going to get harder and harder. Everyone keeps talking about Legia Warsaw, and yeah its been harsh on them, but you’ve got to think there’s some way around this qualifying, whether it’s the Scottish league starting earlier and making sure they get a winter break, because it doesn’t seem right, I don’t know what you guys think but for Celtic to have played some of their biggest games of the season before a competitive ball has been kicked, it doesn’t seem right.
LM – I think we would all agree with that, we’ve also been talking about the squad itself and whether it is a champions league squad and it has came up that potentially it would be better, especially with a new manager, to have a longer run in the Europa League as opposed to the Champions League, what’s your take on it do you think a decent run in the Europa League would be better than finishing fourth in the Champions League?
BO’N – I don’t know, I’ve had lots of chats with people about Celtic, I’m obviously based in England, now, and down here they cant understand why we haven’t got Rangers back in the top league as quickly as possible. Its not a popular thing to say but until rangers are back in that top league there is not the same interest and I think if most Celtic fans were being honest, and I’ve seen some people shot down in flames for saying as much, but if there being honest people want Rangers back. If you look at the start of this season people will kid themselves on, they’ll say there’s competition from Aberdeen and Dundee United; Celtic are going to win the league this year. I don’t think there many people that would disagree with that. I don’t think people genuinely think or feel anything else. This is a competition you’ve got to have competitive teams; a challenger. I’m not taking into account all the court cases and tax cases, I’m just thinking of it from the point of view of a Celtic fan, you want to see them in a competitive league and in a league were someone else has a chance of winning the league. Right now there not a great deal of interest, its sad, but when they were there if you were playing Dundee United, the game would take on more significance in the anticipation we were playing Rangers the next week – we had to have a good result against Dundee United and everything was built around those games. And its just not there at the moment.
You can understand, and I know the board and Peter Lawwell are getting a tough time from the fans, but when considering economics they are thinking if you spend all this money on players and you don’t get in the Champions League, your thinking we’ve spent all this money on players we don’t really need to win the league.
CG– I think on the 90 Minute Cynic podcast we’re fairly pro Lawwell and board (mostly), we look at the job they’re doing and how hard it is. We look at players we’re being linked to like Cameron Jerome, who doesn’t excite any of us, I think he is a decent professional, but I don’t think is any better than what we have, but we get that we want a level of competitiveness however I don’t think Rangers are in a position to compete in the top league, I don’t know if there going to get out the championship this season.
BO’N – I agree with that, I total agree with that. I don’t think Rangers are going to come back and be totally competitive, they shouldn’t be, Celtic should still be a few years ahead, but no matter what, the anticipation of the old firm games, just to see how they go; is it going to be Celtic going all out attack and Rangers defending for their lives, or they going to get a breakaway goal or are they going to go spend some money, if they find some, its just that anticipation of the old firm games, it going to be massive. And if they can get back in there everybody in the world, and everybody in the UK for certain is going to watch those games, whereas s right now I don’t think there is much interest in the Scottish game.
CG – Talking about Celtic attacking and rangers defending for their lives it’s something were all used to.
BO’N – it’s a real conundrum and I don’t think anybody has the answer. I think the Celtic board is in a really difficult position. I sometimes get the Scottish papers down here and you see them trying to talk things up, it’s a hell of a lull I think a lot of people wished it. And in the first year Rangers went down I put a few things on twitter and I got absolute dog’s abuse but its nothing more than wanting to see a competitive league.
CS – Brian moving on to something else, you spent some time in Germany, playing for Wolfsburg; Tony watt and Ryan Gauld have just made high profile moves abroad – what advice would you give them and how was your experience?
BO’N – First of all for young Ryan Gauld to move to Sporting, what a brave thing to do, what a great player, I think everyone should applaud him, even if he goes there and takes two years to break through to the first team what a big thing for such a young lad to go and do; he deserves all the praise. It was different for myself, when I went to Germany, I was ok, I had a contract at Aberdeen, I wasn’t enjoying it, I wasn’t playing well they’ll tell you that and I didn’t know what I was doing there, I got a chance to go to Germany and I grasped it with both hands. But he could’ve easily just stayed where he was, waited on a team from the premier league in England to buy him and put him in there under 21 team for a few years and he could’ve disappeared but he’s thought I want to go and broaden my horizons, somewhere where the technique is better, and actually he’ll have more of a chance, because of his stature, a lot of the English lads are strong and athletic, and some really good players also, but for a young lad like him it might have been harder to make an impact whereas going to Portugal you’ve got to think it’ll be a lot more technical and suited to Gauld.
Well done to Tony watt as well, it’s a great decision to go. I’m not sure he was in the Celtic plans anyway, he seems to have had his problems, so for him to go and get a fresh start might be best, and fair play to him.
It was the best thing I did, the best thing I ever did to go abroad just to go and grow up a bit and it improved my game I became a better professional.
CB – We had a number of questions from twitter, martin friel (@odge1983) asked about your memories of the under-16 World Cup in 1989.
BO’N – I was just talking about that recently, it was a strange thing to happen for lads of 16, the tournament started off really slowly, very quietly and then by the time we where in the semi final in Tynecastle there were 29,000 there, and then 55,000 at the final in Hampden. Hampden and finals, it was not a good place for me. It was funny it was such a high all the way through, it was just a shame we couldn’t finish it off at the end, there where a lot of big players and big games at that tournament.
CB – Luís Figo, Abel Xavier, Claudio Reyna and Roberto Carlos to name a few.
CG – You scored the goal against Portugal at Tynecatsle, didn’t you?
BO’N – I did yeah, I scored the goal and we won 1-0. They had been winning all the tournaments and they had a great team and it was a shock for us to beat them. I don’t think we expected it, we were on the crest of a wave there, and everything was just going right, all the boys were playing out of their skin, so that was a major scalp its just a shame we couldn’t finish it off.
CB – and talking about the national team, obviously there’s been a lot of change in the last year and a half, how do you think Gordon Strachan is doing?
BO’N – I think he’s doing a great job. I also think he got the job at a decent time. There is a good base of Scottish players, I think with Rangers going out the league and the of money not being in Scottish football, they’re having to play a lot of the young Scottish players, which has been a real blessing in disguise and Strachan been the first to see the fruits of that. A few of the good young players are coming through and going on to bigger and better things and he has really set them up well. There not going out and just defending against teams, there been a few Scottish managers when they’ve got results it been quite negative, but he’s got them being really positive, and they’re playing the game the right way, they are trying break down teams, they are not just trying to hit teams on the counterattack or trying not to concede, they are playing some really good stuff, so fair play.
LM – We also had a question from Danny Mulgrew @DannyMulgrew – do you ever go back to see Wolfsburg?
BO’N – The last time I went back was about three years ago, I love going back, it’s a cracking club, it’s just growing and growing and growing. A lot of the same people are still there. It was a really good time, I enjoyed myself, they do everything spot on; they’ve really got it right. They’ve just gone from strength to strength, they’re one of the biggest clubs in Germany and they always have a big impact on the league every year now. It was a happy time and I’ll always enjoy going back now.
CG – We seen that your nephew made his debut for Morton; you must be quite proud.
BO’N – Yeah – Cameron made his debut and scored in his debut in the cup. He’s actually did it the hard way he wasn’t playing at clubs till he was 16 or so. He’s a good player, he’s got really good technical ability. Hopefully he can go and step up, play some more games this year and get more experience.
CG – It’s been a pleasure Brian, thanks very much for your time.