Celtic v Partick Thistle
Scottish Premiership: 2nd January 2016
‘Their footballing strategy and business model are drearily complacent and unambitious: remain, marginally, the best team in Scotland and make a profit in the transfer market’
‘After visiting all of these packed grounds across Europe, this’ll be a bit of a disappointment for you’ was the pre-match warning from my brother-in-law. There seems to be little optimism regarding Celtic at the moment. Without a genuine domestic rival and with sufficient resources to cherry-pick domestic opponents’ best players, you would expect them to be battering opposition in the way that PSG or Bayern are in their respective countries.
However, Celtic hadn’t won a home game in over 2 months before Saturday and were lucky to do so on this occasion. Their footballing strategy and business model remain drearily complacent and unambitious: remain, marginally, the best team in Scotland and make a profit in the transfer market. Victories are paradoxically accompanied by frustration and, on this occasion, almost disappointment.
I was back in Scotland for Christmas and New Year visiting family. Some of them are Celtic season-ticket holders and they kindly invited me to the match. You can buy tickets at http://www.celticfc.net/tickets and I would recommend the print-at-home option to avoid the queues at the ticket office.
Thanks to the M74 extension and the Commonwealth Games infrastructure investment, getting to Celtic Park is easier than ever. We parked in Bridgeton near some high flats where, surprisingly, no-one offered to ‘watch our car’ – apparently there is a matchday turf-war over parking-attendant rights in this area and we had found no-man’s land. Those taking public transport can take the train from Central Station to Bridgeton, which only takes about 5 minutes, and then walk along London Road. It is a bit of a hike in the freezing rain though.
Those looking for a pre-match/post-match beer could do worse than going to the Merchant City which juxtaposes authenticity, ridiculous hipster beards and the ‘hairdresser night out’ crowd very well. There are plenty of ‘Celtic pubs’ around the Saltmarket/Barrowlands area for those not too worried about the diversity of the wine list. For those from further afield, there is plenty to see and do around Glasgow even if it isn’t as instantly picturesque as Edinburgh. You’ll discover a vibrant and energized city.
Since Fergus McCann took over and provided the club with some financial stability in the 1990s, Celtic Park has been (arguably) the best football stadium in Scotland. Fans are far closer to the pitch than at Hampden and it is far more vertically-imposing than Ibrox. The area surrounding the stadium has undergone regeneration in several respects although the velodrome opposite the stadium still appears out of place despite its potential ‘legacy value’.
The walkway at the front (Celtic Way) has been installed with some nice lighting and a spindly statue of a malnourished Billy McNeill. This is the 4th statue to be found at the London Road side of Celtic Park, alongside Brother Walfrid (Celtic Founder) looking thoughtful, Jock Stein looking glorious with the European Cup and Jimmy Johnstone looking as though he is squatting to take a shit in the woods.
We noticed some artwork which looked like state-sponsored graffiti and was about as edgy as a sphere, with inclusivity the overt message. Celtic have made a lot of effort with respect to sectarianism and community education and while their attempts may induce mixed results, they are trying.
The parking at the stadium has improved as has the general access. There isn’t much of interest around the stadium bar the club shop and a couple of Salmonella wagons. The Kerrydale suite is a bar that can be accessed by fans. Being Scotland, this is a good place to get a pre-match beer as, once inside the stadium, beer cannot be bought. I have mentioned the confused logic of this in another article (http://www.eurofootballstadium.com/alcoholinfootball-83).
Celtic Park’s capacity is 60832 and 46000 turned up for this match. Have you ever heard 46000 people sigh or grumble? It isn’t as loud as you might expect. Once inside the turnstiles, there is a reasonable selection of snacks and drinks, although this varies from stand to stand. My seat was in the older main stand, so no Domino’s pizza in there.
You’ll get change from £4 for a pie and bovril, which is not exploitative. There still a few pillars in parts of the stadium but, in general, most seats offer an excellent view.
The pre-match atmosphere isn’t what it used to be here. Even for a league match in January against Partick Thistle, there would have been more noise in years gone by. Is this a result of an aging crowd or the mediocre football on offer? I’d say a bit of both. The Green Brigade (Celtic ‘Ultras’) were noisy for the whole game but there were maybe about 150 of them. Without commenting on any of the non-footballing actions or ideas of the group, they were noisy and vocal and Celtic need more fans like that to get behind the team and make Celtic Park an intimidating cauldron for visiting teams. A lot of fans seemed like they were there out of habit and community responsibility as opposed to cheering on the team.
Celtic could address this issue by subsiding tickets for under 25s. They are about to trial ‘safe-standing’ in a corner of the stadium next year. Once that is shown to be successful, they should make the lower tier of the Jock Stein stand all rail seating as one little pocket of noise isn’t enough in a stadium this size. The other way they could address it, of course, is to offer a better product on the pitch.
In years gone by, the teams of O’Neill, Strachan and even Lennon would have battered this Partick Thistle team. The visitors deserve credit as they were disciplined and held their shape well, without ever having any real threat or genuine display of talent. They did, however, restrict Celtic and forced Craig Gordon into a few saves.
Celtic set out with a fairly defensive looking team given that they were at home. The midfield five of Bitton, Johansen, Rogic, MacGregor and Commons were pedestrian. They started with Ciftci up front as top scorer Leigh Griffiths had missed a few games due to injury.
There was no real discernible pattern of play or clear style. The build-up was hesitant, laboured and slow. This made it easy for Thistle to defend. High balls were fired out to Commons and MacGregor who had virtually no chance of winning them. The only way I could see Celtic scoring was from a set piece or a mistake. Thistle pressed onto Bitton when he picked up the ball from the defenders leaving him to ship it to Efe Ambrose whose passing is as predictable as a roulette wheel. This played out until half time.
Celtic’s manager Ronny Deila is under pressure despite Celtic leading the league and I now understood why. In the second half, Griffiths and Forrest came off the bench and showed some urgency and willingness to have a go. It wasn’t until Bitton was sent off after 67 minutes that Celtic looked threatening. Partick Thistle pressed more for a winner but, having brought on the static caravan that is Pogba up front, they lost their mobility.
When Griffiths did find the breakthrough in the 90th minute, it was via a wildly deflected shot. It probably extended Deila’s reign at Celtic, although on this showing, I don’t give him long. Leaving the ground, one local reveler summed up the feelings of the fans by shouting ‘Get tae fuck Deila by the way!’
Celtic will probably sleepwalk their way to another title but it’s hardly the much lauded ‘Celtic Way’. Their fans have become drowsy on the medicine of uninspiring hard-fought domestic victories accompanied by European embarrassment. They deserve better entertainment, given the chasm that exists between Celtic and the rest of the league in terms of resources. It’s as though the death of Rangers has caused Celtic to lose their edge.
That’s no disrespect to other clubs but high ticket prices, a poor TV deal and limited imagination has left other premiership clubs bin-raking for players. Celtic are currently raking through the bargain buckets in Lidl trying to turn more lead into gold. It feels like Scottish Football is dying a slow death and needs a shot in the arm. Summer football might help, cheaper tickets might help but no doubt the league will turn to league reconstruction as the go to Panacea.
- Quality of match: **
- Stadium character: ****
- Stadium atmosphere: ***
- Hospitality: ***
- Ease of access: ***
- Things to do around the stadium: ***
- Overall: ***