Friday, November 29, 2013

Guest Blog: Graham Wilson

A shot at redemption

On this seemingly endless flight home from a Frankfurt (which I barely made), I've had a rush of thoughts go through my head regarding the fantastic weekend the ended up in a disappointing result vs a weak Milan side. What makes it all the more harder for me is that I predicted this transpiring months ago and got slagged for my opinion at the time by board lackeys. I was told I was anti-Celtic.  I wonder if the general consensus I'd that board mouthpieces are better supporters or love the club more than I do. I didn't think so then and still don't. They're out for their ego and I'm sure they'll be running for cover in the coming days as they've been found out. 
Am I delighted at this outcome? No chance. I always stated that my sincerest wish was that I'd be found to be a mug. Well I wasn't and now we all lose.  It was so clear that we needed a penalty box striker to complement the half dozen strikers we have that don't score. You then out loads of pressure on the midfield in that absence and when the captain of the team has a rush of blood to the head and gets the dumbest red card ever, the writing was on the wall.  It's clear. The board this season chucked it with regard to the champions league.

Just giving Neil Lennon enough to get by in the league and Scottish a Cup and it's good enough we are in the Champions League.  This is a first class ticket to fading from the prominence we had last year worldwide and shrinking back toward the rest of Scottish football.  The opportunity  has been squandered by a CEO who is focused on a "cash cow", austerity, get as much as possible with as little outlay mindset regarding Celtic.  It's also clear there is a power play at Celtic between the manager and chief executive which leads to concerns about Lennon's future at Celtic. 

The shame of it is that it didn't need to be that way.  If arrogance and overconfidence in their own genius hadn't pervaded after last season, we could continue to be growing our influence in Europe. Sadly this seasons campaign has ended with a mere whimper.  Questions must be answered, there must be accountability of those in charge because we know what happens when the fans below whatever they're told by their chief executive.

You may recall last time I was over, I took ill in a very bad way and missed out on a lot of experiences I'd always longed for. This trip was my shot at righting that wrong.  After a 13 hours travel time, I stepped off the plane to a sunny 12C degree day (Scots and their meteorological bravado).  Not a sign of jetlag at all so away we went. Paul's mate Ally picked us both up and we headed straight to a Celtic Park.  I couldn't wait to see it again. We saw the great McGuire67 as we entered the ground and it's always good too see a familiar face.  Paul Then says to me, this is gonna be a last minute winner...oh aye.  Sure enough Dirk Boerrigter sealed the deal and next thing we know we're back down London Rd celebrating a close win over the sheep.  Ally picked us up and took us back to Paul's place after the game which I still can't thank him enough for.

Speaking of the effect of not challenging those in power, Paul Larkin's exposé The Asterisk Years had it's Edinburgh launch on Sunday which was a treat to see Paul in action and meet so many folks that I've known for years. What a great day out that lasted even after the launch had ended and we would up drinkin all the pints they had at the Phoenix.  I was struck by and extremely touched by so many folk who came up and said they never miss my show. That means so much especially when more that one person said they don't agree with anything I say but it's nice to hear a Celtic voice that's so passionate.  That's why I do what I do.  It's for you good folks as an alternative to drivel that's biased against us. No more of that is needed.  Just leads to aggravation and isn't needed.  

Day turned into night (by about 230 in the afternoon anaw FFS) and many who'd been with us at the launch came upstairs for several more pints, laughter and song. From Chibchenko slagging the Smiths to Gaffer fallin off his chair what a time we had.  Received incredible insight from a Jambo named Paul about how they feel as aggrieved as we do regarding what Murray done.  Also, caught up with markybhoy67 who had a mate with him from Barcelona. He couldn't get his head around a guy comin all the way from America for Celtic. After a four hour diatribe from me, I waved them goodbye and caught up with Davie who's a passionate a Tim as you'll meet.  Even before the bevy came out you knew this guy was up for it.  Watching Davie speak about the club and what we were doing made me immediately think of Scotty from South Jersey (yahmpy).  That's what we're all about stateside because we gotta fight just to see the Celtic let alone buy strips etc.  It was a huge closing of the gap for me.
Monday was another special event after Paul Larkin decided to wake me up every 20 minutes starting at 815am.  Eddie Cantwell invited Paul and I to the Wolfe Tones gig in Coatbridge which I was buzzing about for weeks. I'd seen the Tones in America a bunch of times but never in a scenario like that.  I can't thank Eddie enough for the hospitality he showed in welcoming us in. I have no idea why I'd deserve all this but I'm so so grateful.  Big G of Celtic Dreams was Johnny on the spot picking us up from Blairhill and taking us back to catch our train after the show and we had a blast at the show as well.  Can't thank him enough and what a great guy he is.  As I stood up shouting rebel tunes all night, I looked around the room and felt like I was home. This is where my heart is.  Quite a pleasure and honor meeting Dr Joe Bradley of Celtic Minded books as well and furnished me with a gift that I'll absolutely treasure.

Tuesday led to a world of expectations kicked off by Larkin doing his usual wake up call every 20 minutes, FFS.  We had quite a bit to do thought.  Hit the ticket office, coordinate with folk and head to the Brazen to meet up with a pack of Dubs who can only be described as playing with passion.  I did my best to dispel the myth about yanks not handling their alcohol and think I did ok actually.  Darren, Connor, Mick and Al were brilliant craic all day as we discussed all sort of topics including politics, history, burds, and of course Celtic.  Just one reminder after another of what make this particular club different

The game speaks for itself. It was awful. No effort, poor planning, poor preparing, poor result.  I'll have some fun with the #blamegraham thing but what power do I possibly have over a result against some very good teams in the Champions League? Hardly any.  Am I disappointed, yeah fucking furious.  But I'm not owed a win just because I was fortunate enough to have the means to come here and see this game.  The fact is :  IM FORTUNATE ENOUGH TO COME OVER AND SEE THIS GAME!  And share it with some of the best people I've ever met, who've treated me like a brother and I consider them my brothers and sisters right back. Be proud of who you are, don't throw that scarf on the ground or in the trash.  That scarf signifies who you are.  Don't ever forget or renounce that.  It means too much to have a tantrum after we lose a game.

Really cool running into @tamselleckcsc and @challum from twitter on the train home after the game as well.  Did a bit of moaning about the result and venting our frustrations about the Bhoys in Amsterdam.  Top guys the two of em and all the best.

Lastly, I of course have to thank my big brother Paul.  Paul's dealt with me when I was sick and offered me a chance at redemption this time around as I was well.  What a weekend we had and I wish him nothing but the best as always. There's people who you think you can count on in life and then theres Paul who you'd actually trust with your life.  There's only a few people in a lifetime that most folk get to meet like this and Paul's one of them for me. I'm so lucky to have him as a friend.

Thank you for everything man
So I'm about an hour from landing and going through security and seeing my wife for the first time in two weeks. But a lot has changed.  No longer do I feel like I'm a step behind because I'm not there every week. No longer do I feel that going to the CSC is just the watered down option because we can't get over.  There's something very special in what we have in America, in a lot of ways.  I'm gonna start looking at it differently and appreciate it a lot more.   It's an incredible thing we have across the world.

Nobody should ever forget it

Monday, November 25, 2013

Then there was Edinburgh

Judging by my sore head, strange texts and feeling that I haven't slept in about three weeks I think yesterday went ok. What started as a small, intimate gig for a few friends who couldn't make Glasgow, ended up with a packed out venue with lots and lots of friendly faces and a feeling that makes everything worthwhile.

It had been a busy Saturday with Graham Wilson coming in and then the game but I was pretty fresh on the Sunday whereas Graham, as he always seems to over here, looked like he had just gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. When we arrived at the bar there were only a couple of folk there and then within five minutes we had filled the place.

That's always a nice feeling.

We packed in for our "private party" as the pub, The Phoenix on Broughton St, called it and there was no messing around as everyone bought their drinks, took their seats and settled in for the show. It was a really enjoyable afternoon with some stories, a few facts and figures and a great Q&A session (which will be out as a pod this week). It was nice to see so many new faces in with the folk who support everything I do. The point in all these things is to get the story out there and I want to thank everyone who came and listened and were respectful throughout.

Before we knew it, four hours had passed and it was all over. These things tend to fly in and this was no different. After this is where I get hazy, the things I remember are Gaffer collapsing in the bar, Chibchenko going tonto about her hatred of The Smiths, a lot of illicit chanting from David Brown and James Wallace, talking Italian to a waitress, Graham dazzling two girls from his homeland, both of us quoting almost every line in The Godfather and The Godfather part 2 and then I am at a blank.

So next and final stop of phase 1 of The Asterisk Years project is Larne on Friday night. I've had lots of eyebrows raised about going there and some even saying I am mad to even think about it. A solid set of Tims await and that's good enough for me.

In the meantime, I fulfilled an ambition yesterday, no not the two yank girls you filthy-minded people, I launched a book in Edinburgh and that means a lot to me.

The fact I did in a pub called The Phoenix and a stones throw from David Murray's local, is thanks to all who came.

Slainte.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Edinburgh launch of The Asterisk Years

Sunday afternoon in Edinburgh will see another little launch of The Asterisk Years as Phase 1 of the project nears completion. A trip to Larne awaits on Friday but the gig on Sunday was set up primarily for a more sedate look at the story in smaller surroundings with the opportunity for folk to get more in depth on the issues.

Rumours that it is merely a piss up but closer to my house are, well, hurtful...haha.

Seriously though, I have done something like this before in June, 20-30 people in Edinburgh, less intense than an actual book launch and a chance to get up close and personal with people. As the actress said to the bishop. I like that kind of situation as it allows you to properly explain stuff away from the sort of manic mayhem that comes with the Glasgow launch of a book which, whilst always fantastic, can often leave folk with a sore head and blank expression when coming to thinking about what they actually launched the night before.

It will be hosted by Graham Wilson, he of Beyond The Waves infamy, who at this minute is on European soil and trying to explain to me why his case is of Sex and The City proportions for a four day trip.

There will be a recording done for a pod and some audience participation as well. There will also be some new information put out for the first time relating directly to David Murray.

What humbles me is the fact that some folk are travelling fair distances to come to it as the reason I do small ones in Edinburgh is I never expect anyone outside of Edinburgh to want to come.

So, that's the pitch, there are about four or five who have pulled out this week which means there are some places there if you fancy.an afternoon in the capital so get in touch with me @paullarkin74 .

It will be worth it alone to see Graham's jacket.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Supporters on board

Sid Vicious was once asked if he wrote songs with the "man in the street" in mind. Sid replied "No, because I've met the man in the street and he's a cunt".

That's a punk attitude designed to project an image but increasingly it appears to be the mantra from anyone paid by Scottish football. I followed the AGM on Twitter (I used to go, they drove me mad, I stopped it) and would have probably chucked the PC out the window had it been my PC or near a window. I'm used to the Lawwellspeak at these things, I've observed it for years, seen it up close and have banged my head against a brick wall trying to tell folk what he's like. You can't deal with folk like him because he will be your best pal and worst enemy whenever it suits him. I've not said much on the Living Wage fiasco because, a lot like food banks, I find it utterly staggering that it even needs to be debated. The fact that there where two resolutions at the AGM, one asking for employees to be paid what they can actually live on, and one asking for, effectively, more transparency with supporters, would have you believing you've unearthed a new George Orwell novel. The crux of this is something I am well used to when writing books or being on podcasts: Folk like you and me are not supposed to have opinions. This was beautifully illustrated by Ian Bankier who made a big show of breaking from his "prepared response" and answering a question directly. You may not realise how big a step this was for Ian because this is a guy who needed his speech for the 125th Anniversary do at St. Mary's written for him as he had no idea what to say. For me, this makes the impassioned speeches from the floor all the more poignant and beautifully fucking illustrates how many supporters feel with regard with respect to the fans and the club.

It's because of this, and other aspects, that we find our club under almost daily attack from the agenda driven pundits and press men that Sportsound wheel out. Our PR Dept (Stop laughing) appear to think their job is to kybosh supporters requests and stop calls getting to Lawwell. Now I know that guys like Ian Jamieson get all sorts of strange characters phoning them every day asking for comments on the most trivial of matters but here's a tip for them,  PR has gone pro-active. You don't just sit waiting for the phone to ring so you can react. We are Celtic, remember?

This kind of attitude allows the likes of Tom English and Keith Jackson the platform to say anything they like about Celtic. Now, I can't stand either of them but it's not because of any threat they pose to us, they don't, they are just not football men and never have been. With that being said, who is speaking up for us when they spout? I see precious little coming from the club and this brings us into that other area where the board have continually patted us on the head and told us to run along now, the "fan on the board" scenario. The stock answer from all the board is "Ah, but we are all fans anyway?" Which would be fine were it not for the fact that some of these "fans" never set foot in the club until they were paid to do so. Ultimately this is why they seem to spend half their lives saying things that make most of us wonder whatever happened to Upstairs, Downstairs.

I think it's clear that we, as fans, want to see our club on the front foot with issues, on and off the park, and would like our identity, our ethos, our dreams reflected any time the club do anything. Celtic was a standard bearer on so many ideas and production that we must think like that on all issues. We cannot allow a situation where the board apply a unionist type veto over anything they choose to.

Otherwise, the punks win.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A match made in hell

The Asterisk Years has been a massive success. I say that to get under the skin of the haters willing it to fail. I was made aware last week that book made it into the hands of some of the folk mentioned in it. I know from information today that they tried twice to get the book stopped from being sold.

They failed.

Many of you will be aware of the threats that came my way and to my eldest son. I didn't take the police route and got folk I trust to investigate. We now know who one of the people making threats was and are about 99% sure on the other. I sat down and discussed all this with a good friend last night and we both sat in disbelief as the names were revealed, one prominent name on Twitter, another who would love to be. Individually they have tried to do anything and everything to stop folk buying this book.

They failed.

A common tactic these days when trying to undermine anyone or anything is sniping. Primarily the reason for that is the inability to behave in the same way in real life as they can online. Some people hate you personally, some hate what you do, some just anyone who tries to do anything. It would get me down if it were not for the stories of car loads of comrades being organised for the Edinburgh launch or indeed the widely held opinions on the snipers that I read and hear, unprompted. Divide and conquer is the snipers game.

They failed.

I cannot thank folk enough for the level of support I have received with this book and project which, by the way, still has two phases to go.

In the meantime I will have my two sons with for a few days now. Able to happen because of an army that stepped forward in my hour of need and because our collective ability to isolate the haters.

No better family in the world than a Celtic one.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Glee

Not having witnessed any of the Amsterdam incidents first hand, I haven't commented on them, condemned them or condoned them.  I know that doesn't stop a lot of folk but I am old fashioned. From the grainy videos, I saw scenes that I really haven't seen much of when following Celtic anywhere. I've seen plenty heavy handed policing over the years, mainly in Italy and Spain, but I've never seen undercover cops suddenly appear like a firm and start laying into folk before they then arrest them (Maybe once in the film I.D. actually).

Let's get the basics out the way, some of the folk who follow Celtic to these games drink too much and can be total fannies. I know this because I have been one. In any group situation there's always going to be one or two who just don't behave in a normal fashion and it's normally drink fuelled (I do that even away from football matches) so there's no way I would become an apologist for that kind of behaviour, it's me that would probably need to apologise.

Of course things like this happen in all games, some of the worst aspects of this I've seen have been when Scotland have played at Wembley. For a lot of folk it's their one day out a year and they are going to ensure everyone knows they are there.

With that being said, there is no excuse for the policy of the Dutch police which was effectively legal thuggery. The vast majority of people who go to football matches just want to watch their team, support their team and have a good time doing so. For the vast majority of games I have been to this is exactly how it has been.

I know there is a bandwagon that surrounds this kind of thing and it gets jumped on by journalists, broadcasters and so on and we hear the glee that many of them report it with, even to the point of comparing it with Manchester 2008, so that Celtic's name can be dragged through the mud again.

As a support I think we are pretty good at most things and our awards, our invites to testimonials, the causes we support and the reaction to adversity are things I'd point at and say yeah, we are doing ok.

What matters now is that two young guys have been denied their liberty and they need released immediately.


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Show the world, again, why we are the greatest.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

When Murray shuddered at the Merchant City

When I woke up on Saturday morning I realised I wasn't stressed at all about the Book Launch. This was the first time that's ever happened to me on the day of a Book Launch so I am the type to think, even at that, something is bound to go wrong. 

The 945am train from Haymarket pulled out from a sunny Edinburgh and powered into a dreech central belt that would set the weather tone for the day. Gaffer got on at Linlithgow and it was funny listening to his excuses for working for SKY now ("Oh...aye...you get free tea on a Wednesday")

By the time we hit Glasgow, the rain was torrential, so what better way to spend the next hour than standing on grass in the open air. A tiny sacrifice given we were stood in front of the newly sculpted Celtic Cross that now stands in Dalbeth Cemetery as a monument to our founding fathers. Was good to bump into a few friendly faces like The Parrot, Stevie Cairney, Jason Higgins Arthur Rusk and John Paul Taylor. 

Umbrella sellers had a field day.

Gaffer and I moved off with The Parrot and Arthur for a Mellow Birds and it was great to just sit there shooting the shit. I've no doubt this is what completely relaxed me for the rest of the day.

The game you know about, it was damp, dull but we are still undefeated. As usual.

Straight after the game I met the Dublin Brigade of Conor, Mick and Darren and we made our way to the Merchant City.

This is the worst part of any Book Launch day for me, the bit where I am heading to it, it's all in front of me, everyone is looking forward to the craic and getting leathered into the drink and you're thinking "Fuck, it's me they are coming to see" The other aspect is it always nags at the back of your mind that this will be the time that no one shows up, it's pishing down, crap game, they will all go home. Thankfully when we got to Blackfriars, via The Libertine, several folk were already waiting outside the venue including the inimitable Richard Swan who is as much a part of these things as I am.

When I first got downstairs there were maybe around 40 folk there. Colette and her team had arrived and Richard whisked me away to the toilet to interview me, honest, we're just friends.

When I came out the entire place was packed and full of friendly faces. As well as the Dublin Brigade, my friend Paul had flown over for it and he has been a tower of strength to me for many years and I want to thank him now for always being there.

Similarly seeing folk like Simmy and Michelle again, always does my heart proud. Stevie, if you're reading, sorry you couldn't make it, stay strong brother.

These nights would not be the same without Paul Lee and the wee man was there in his usual fine form and singing voice that Susan Boyle couldn't rival.

Always great meeting new friends like Hutchie, Eddie and David Brown.

The rain soaked and welcomed faced Hugh Clark even made an appearance, before he overthrows the SFA.

The people that come to these things are fantastic, I would say that wouldn't I, but these same people came to The Admiral in April 2012 and stood around wondering who everyone else was, 18 months on and they have drank together, sang together and, aye, even shagged each other some of them, and they are the heartbeat of these nights.

Krys Kujawa was first up and read some stuff from a new book he is doing and it was very well received. The bar had done us a real turn having a proper set up of chairs and stage for a night like this. Our host for this evening, the tasty Jo Laing(that will set off her radar...;-), humbled me with her intro and before I knew it I was in front of the bright lights (An in joke for folk who were there).

What followed was a 90 minute show where I told the background to the book, illustrated the level of cheating we faced then took questions, heckles and incoherent rambling from the floor. In all seriousness it was great and really added to the night with a good toing and froing. 

Blink and it was all over and Stevie Dodds led the illicit chanting and it has to be said, he was absolutely phenomenal. The raffle draw came and the lovely Louise Lavery won and ensured everyone knew about it! After that it was great to meet folk, catch up with friends, sign books and canoodle with Jane Hamilton.

I would like thank again all the McCann's, Steph O'Neill, Paul, Louise, The Larne Bhoys, Conor and the Bhoys, Krys, my assistant Evan, Dermo, Jo, The Parrot and Arthur for all ensuring the day went smoothly. Nothing really went wrong at all.

Plus everyone who came, listened, asked questions, sang and drank, the people on Twitter who wished me well and the people in the book group who continue to inspire you restored my faith in humanity, I'll never forget that.

Then it was over.

Not before though the 150 people who packed the pub sent David Murray and co a clear message that not only are we not sitting at the back of the bus any more, we are driving it head on towards you all.