In years to come it could almost be our equivalent of the Kennedy Assassination or the Moon Landings.
Where were you last Wednesday night? At home, out in Glasgow city centre, in an Irish pub in a holiday resort somewhere? Doon the local park in Motherwell (In fact, let’s not go there)? Or out in the heat of, er, Cluj-Napoca, where Celtic were around 20 minutes into the second half of the first leg of their Champions League qualifier against CFR Cluj when the news we’ve all been dreading for the past couple of months was finally confirmed. Kieran Tierney had signed for Arsenal.
The one place I really hope you weren’t, for your own sake, is Twitter. Long before the final whistle had even blown in Romania, the takes began to roll in. Tierney the traitor, Tierney the fraud, Tierney the money grabber who had besmirched his own legacy and imperilled the club’s chances of ten-in-a-row just to play for a banter club in a plastic league. Weirdest of all were the photo collages with accompanying captions, glorifying Callum McGregor and James Forrest for being ‘real Celtic men’ and ‘the ones who want to be here’, ever-loyal foot soldiers in sharp contrast to that fly-by-night Tierney. As the imaginary battle lines between leavers and remainers were drawn, old quotes were dredged up on the subject of loyalty from the likes of Henrik Larsson, Tommy Burns, Paul McStay and Jimmy McGrory, the implication being that no-one who ever truly loved this club and understood its values has left.
This debate isn’t actually new; it’s been running almost as long as the Tierney transfer saga itself, i.e. the entire summer. About five or six weeks ago, when a mate who supports Hamilton Accies jokily asked if I still thought KT was a Celtic fan, I confidently responded with something like: “No-one other than the moon howlers has ever suggested he isn’t.” And yet, after the events of the last few days, that casual confidence I had in the majority of Celtic fans to remain rational and empathetic in a situation like this has taken a bit of a kicking. Granted, Twitter has never been the most arable of environments for sensible, considered opinion to grow, and to assume that what we see on there accurately reflects the beliefs of the Celtic fanbase as a whole would be dangerous. The problem is, in a world where so much time is spent sat indoors staring at phones, more people than ever are willing to make precisely that type of assumption.
For every “bigger rat than Rodgers” screed typed out and sent there were probably five “great kid, wish him all the best” ones, but to linger on what a ‘small minority’ it was feels like the kind of pitiful misdirection football clubs so often indulge in when their fans are caught out being racist or violent. Essentially, it was a riddy, and one that could have been avoided just by being a bit more mature and a bit more realistic.
Of course, if Celtic fans are feeling more insecure and touchy than they were six months ago, there’s a good reason for that. Yep, it’s Brendan! (He designed those bogging new kits, you know, and it was him that cancelled the treble-treble bus parade, too). Ordinarily there isn’t that much to feel insecure about when we cast our eyes down south; despite those European struggles of recent years and those paltry TV/sponsorship deals, we remain safe in the knowledge that Celtic are better at spotting and developing young talent than most of the Premier League, with a full trophy cabinet, a good youth system, a supporter culture that’s pretty much without equal in a 500-mile radius and – as the early skirmishes with Arsenal Twitter demonstrated – a fanbase well-versed in seeing off the sporadic raids of the ‘my nan’ demographic of EPL twonks also. The timing and manner of Brendan’s bunk to a much smaller club than Arsenal, however, shot a pretty big hole in our perception of ourselves. If people are still coming to terms with that, that’s entirely understandable, but to let it colour your perception of a young guy who defended Celtic’s colours with a pride and valour almost unparalleled in recent history is simply not fair.
There are shades of grey to this, admittedly. Plenty of people whose opinions I respect – not, repeat NOT moon howlers – have issues with certain aspects of Tierney’s departure. Why now, with the ten potentially just two years away? Why Arsenal, when they appear so far from being able to contend for Premier League or Champions League honours? And why, as Celtic were at great pains to point out, did he and his entourage push so hard to make it happen? If anyone has earned the benefit of the doubt though, it’s surely him.
Were Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong turncoats for leaving Ajax this summer to join Juventus and Barcelona respectively? Or Aaron Wan-Bissaka when he went from Crystal Palace to Manchester United? The idea that Celtic are a special, almost unique club, who can compensate for their lack of European clout and comparatively low wages with other intangibles, is a seductive one, and not without some basis in fact. But we are not immune to the wider forces at work in the world of football.
TIME TO MOVE ON
Consider also that KT has essentially played his career in fast-forward mode up until now. Just turned 22, he might have ‘only’ given us four years of first-team football but during that time he’s made more appearances than Shunsuke Nakamura and Lubo Moravcik ever did and won the same number of trophies – ten – as Scott Brown did in nine years at Celtic Park pre-Rodgers’ arrival in 2016.
I’m not gonna lie to you – it’s gonna be rough. Seeing the wee guy that was dead chuffed sat there in his Burberry cap in the front row at Celtic the Musical, suddenly sat in the front row at London Fashion Week with Hector Bellerin, wearing a fucking kimono or something. But life moves on, as do all good players eventually, and if this week has taught us anything it’s that fans must learn to move on too – for the good of the club.
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