In many ways football reflects the society we live in, at times a united display of co-existence, but all too frequently a symbol of division; of a fractured community. Sunday’s defeat exhibited this once again. Yes, on the pitch Celtic were beyond awful, but off it the Ibrox loyal marred their club’s greatest day with an all too predictable demonstration of “respect” and “dignity” bellowed out from the people.
What was heard on Sunday was neither new nor surprising, however, whilst the mainstream media narrative shrieks of a west coast of Scotland problem, across the football grounds of Brexit Britain we have seen a spate of despicable incidents involving supporters and players creeping into the game this season; from racist abuse to on-field assaults, mirroring the atmosphere of a broken society obsessed with division.
Politically Scotland and the rest of the U.K. are divided. You’re either a “Westmonster loyalist” or a “Cybernat”, a “Brexiteer” or a “Remoaner”. That’s not for me to criticise, as a self-identifying Scot, born in London (to Glaswegian parents) and currently living on the continent, I may appear detached from these issues, but, like everyone, I too passionately fall into half of these categories.
The issue I have in this age of polarisation is that we have become so prone to division that it has become the norm to pigeonhole and classify each other into distinctive, uncompromising groups. Beyond the dilemmas of the political spectrum the cultural tendency to categorise each other, to unyieldingly stick to our guns and shout down the other side instead of debate and converse, has spilled into our everyday lives and increasingly into the once beautiful game.
Take the question on every Celtic fans’ lips at the moment: Neil Lennon, or not Neil Lennon?
You’re one or the other. For or against. Pro or anti.
It seems as a fanbase we’ve fallen into the political trap of othering. You’re either against a true Celtic man, a man who’s dedicated the best part of twenty years of his life to the Celtic cause; or you’re a footballing caveman, who champions passion on the sidelines and squad nights out over astute tactical awareness and consummate professionalism. This division amongst the Celtic support will do us no favours.
Personally, I sit on the “not Neil Lennon” side of the fence. I love the man and am thankful not only to him for stepping in and guiding us at the most crucial stage of the season, when our previous manager showed not a jot of concern for his “boyhood club”, but mostly for his dedication to the club over the past two decades.
Lennon really is a Celtic man, he’s been through more than any footballer or manager should ever have to, simply for being who he is and for what he symbolises. In that regard he is a true ambassador for our club, representing our history, and the struggles of the Irish, catholic community in Scotland. Neil Lennon is a hero and an icon who refuses to be silenced by hate, but for me that doesn’t translate to being the best candidate to lead us into next season.
A thorough conversation needs to be had on this topic, but one without such extreme emotional reasoning. When it comes to Neil Lennon both the ill-mannered character assassinations of him and the accusations of a betrayal towards him, need to stop.
This summer is absolutely crucial for the club, reminiscent of three years ago, with the managerial decision fundamental to the direction we are headed. As a support, and a club, we can choose to bury our heads in the sand and deny our regression on and off the park this past season, or we can accept that a slight fear has started to emanate around the club. As much as our neighbours may, very publicly, proclaim to be the cause of such anxiety, the truth is this stems only from our own lack of trust in the powers that be inside the Celtic boardroom.
At an administrative level the past year has been a disaster, from public fallouts between the board and manager and the manager and players, missing out on key signing targets, failing to qualify for the Champions League whilst having a key member of the playing staff effectively on strike, selling our best player hours before the transfer window closed, having our worst start to a season in 20 years, losing to Rangers for the first time, further failing to strengthen significantly in January, to ultimately having our manager jump ship at the most vital stage of the season.
Everything we could have done to blow the league this year, we did. The fact that we comfortably (points-wise) retained our title should be used as motivation to push on once again and leave our “challengers” trailing in our wake, not as an acceptance that reduced standards will now suffice.
Three years ago there was an element of apathy engulfing the club as Ronny Deila’s reign came to a stuttering end. Then, the decision-makers at Celtic Park raised the bar. They brought in a manager whose expertise, professionalism and also reputation wiped the floor with the competition in Scotland. Before a ball was even kicked, we were champions. The board, players and fans all bought into the Rodgers revolution, and a sense of euphoria swept through Glasgow as a unified Celtic swaggered our way to the first of our recent trebles.
That sense of unity was evident only once this season; when Rodgers revealed his true identity and scuttled off to Leicester in the dark of the night. At that moment adulation turned to animosity, and we were united in our abhorrence.
Now it is time for the club to play politics once again. To reunite the support and reinvigorate the entire club with the appointment of a top class manager who can not only raise the standards back to where they were just over a year ago, but who can also give the players and supporters a psychological lift reminiscent of this time three years ago.
In the past I have said that Neil Lennon should be judged on his managerial career to date, and not solely on the club’s performances since taking over in such challenging circumstances. The reality is that the majority of performances under Lennon this season have been turgid. His insistence that he hasn’t changed anything tactically, only “tweaked” things, does himself no favours and indicates an inability to maintain the same style and standards as our ex-boss.
Whilst on the whole I reject the notion that every game is currently an audition for Neil Lennon, the affect that Rodgers’ departure has had on the players must be considered. On Sunday, and all too frequently since Lennon came in, the players have looked lost of ideas and of an identity.
It’s hard to ever imagine Neil Lennon struggling to motivate a side for a match at Ibrox, yet on Sunday our players looked disinterested. It does appear that our players currently have a severe lack of tactical understanding of their roles, or of a clearly defined game plan. This is the biggest determiner for me in the question regarding our next permanent manager.
Although a major rebuilding job is required in the summer, the core of this current group will remain, and, if after almost three months under Lennon’s tutelage, the players haven’t bought into (or even more alarmingly, understood) his tactical outlook then the decision should have already been made. It’s one thing to win over a support after a difficult start, but to convince a group of players who don’t believe in your philosophy is an entirely different story.
Resultswise Neil Lennon has mostly done what was required of him to date, but in an age where everything has become clearly defined: black or white, good or bad, right or wrong; we have to look beyond such simplistic categorisations and not let results and titles mask the recent downwards trajectory of our performances – the blame for which lies solely at the door of the rat leaving us in the lurch – it’s time to acknowledge this, to move on and make the best decision for the club going forward.
Whichever direction the club decide to go in this summer there is undeniably a lot of work ahead to return to the extraordinary standards set during Rodgers’ first two seasons in charge. Whilst football mirrors societal tendencies, the board need to be smarter in their politics. Right now we need a figurehead who inspires both players and supporters alike, someone whose assertation in their ability and ideology is infectious.
We cannot allow this debate to continue to divide our support. A focused and united Celtic will be unstoppable on the way to ten.