PRIMARY SCHOOL DAYS AT ‘THE BOYS SCHOOL.’

Sometimes it’s funny when you think about it. If my life depended on it, I couldn’t tell you what I had for dinner every night last week. And yet, if I was asked to name every primary school teacher I had between the years 1989 and 1997, I could rhyme them off without any bother at all. 

To this day, I vividly recall my first day of school. In those days, Scoil Cholmcille in Letterkenny was referred to quite simply as ‘the Boys school.’ Even though it has since opened its doors to all genders, there’s probably still a few who call it by the name I’ve just mentioned. Old habits die hard, I suppose. 

How I remember my first morning in the school is easy to recall because when a local photographer came in to take a snap of the class for a local paper, it was me who Mrs O’Malley placed on her knee as well as said ‘cheese.’ Every now and again, that photo will resurface online and it’s a certainty I’ll get tagged. 

Even though I’m a secondary school teacher myself now, my appearances in primary schools, in any capacity, have been quite rare. 

I was chuffed however to be invited back to Scoil Cholmcille in 2018 where I was only too happy to meet up with Mrs McMacken. My teacher in second class (1992/93) who happily reminded me “you were a lovely student Jonathan … but you were a disaster for forgetting your pencils,” she joked. 

On that particular visit, I couldn’t help but get flashbacks back to the days of Anne and Barry storybooks, making clay figures out of marla and playing games like tig out in the yard. I’d even forgotten some of the everyday terminology like ‘little break’ at 11am and ‘big break’ at 12:30pm. 

Anytime I ever hear mention of ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ or ‘All God’s Creatures Got a Place in the Choir’, then I’m instantly brought back to some of the songs we learned during those more innocent days. And nobody will ever forget the excitement of when the teacher would wheel in the TV trolley. 

For third and fourth class, some of us were sent over to what was known as ‘the Old Boys School.’ I remember the playground being quite gray and because you’d sometimes see the monks dandering about in their brown robed attire, it kinda felt like you were in a school that resembled a time that Ireland forgot. 

Having said that, I quite liked that old building. The desks were very old-fashioned with their bench-like appearance and there was even a little hole in the corner for dipping one’s ink-pen. The ceilings were abnormally high and our view from the window was dominated by St. Eunan’s Cathedral. 

After school, the Gable End shop often got a visit. There was no such thing as an orderly queue as kids squished against the counter to place their order for things like Stinger bars, Woppas, Eye-Poppers, Chickatees or, my own personal favourite, a bag of Rosy Apple sweets that cost 30p.

That particular shop used to be located where the revamped Cathedral car park is now but sadly, there isn’t a trace of it to be found anymore. The main building of Scoil Cholmcille also looks so much more modern nowadays and, while that’s great to see, some of us will still remember how it once looked. 

Communion class, 1992.

When I was about 8 or 9, I used to think that the boys in fifth and sixth class were so old. Their classrooms were on the top floor at the rear of the building and they played on the back yard at break time. They’d moved on from games of tig and played semi-organised games of football; albeit with a tennis ball.

For my final two years of national school, I’d become one of these ‘older and wiser’ pupils, at the ripe old age of 11 and 12. I jest there, of course, but there’s no denying that when you get to that age, it is a kind of cool feeling to know that you’re older than most of the other classes in the school. 

What I really liked about this time was the slight sprinkle of independence that the teachers would sometimes give us. In fifth class, Miss Hennessy was kind enough to give me a plus three after I’d completed my self-chosen project on the Beatles. She even hung my poster of the Fab Four up on the wall. 

Nearly everybody in the class played football at the break and it was agreed that the best way to pick the teams was with a simple method. The classroom seating was evenly divided so if you sat on the right hand side, you played for ‘window’ and the left were ‘the wall.’ Thus, we had ‘the Window vs the Wall’ rivalry. 

Scoil Cholmcille.

In sixth class, Master Cannon (my first ever male teacher) used to give us a weekly task called the News Report. Basically, we had to get one topic from a newspaper and write a report on it in our own words. The rule was that only one sports story a month was allowed. 

Even though I tried my best to bend that rule from time to time.

In a way, doing those news reports is kinda like what my bosses here at theLeader have me do now. Regarding the monthly sports reports that we could do, they probably look like time-capsules now because of how I’d write about Robbie Fowler scoring two goals in Liverpool’s 5-1 win at the weekend.  

Master Cannon was an excellent teacher. He always encouraged us to pursue what we were passionate about and one day every week, he’d read us extracts from a novel called ‘I Am David.’ A story about a boy escaping from a Nazi concentration camp and his ability to act out the characters voices was mesmerising to all our imaginations. 

He also showed us how to do cursive (joined) writing and, to this day, myself and a mate from that class still do our capital Z’s the exact way he showed us. 

This was also the year that the school choir did really well in a number of provincial and national competitions. Under the tutorship and conducting of Master Breslin, they even appeared on the 1996 edition of the Late Late Toy Show.

Something which many of that group still love to casually drop into conversion today. To be fair, I would if I had been involved too. Joking aside though, we still owe a lot to the school  because it was the place where so many of us formed the friendships which many of us are still a part of today. 

Whenever we’re having a beer now and the conversation about primary school comes up, you’d be amazed how quickly people can cast their minds back when you remind them about things such as Friday morning spelling tests, learning your times tables and choosing your Confirmation name.

Just as I wrote that, I remembered that mine was ‘David’, but that there was an avid Manchester United fan in my class at the time who went with ‘Eric.’ No prizes for guessing why there.

Still going.

Still though, while it’s often more common to natter about the divilment of our secondary school days, the primary ones shouldn’t ever be forgotten either. Scoil Cholmcille has come on leaps and bounds with its modern technology, its more cosmopolitan and multicultural ethos but its still a place of many great memories for so many around the town. 

I’m sure it will continue to generate great times for many more kids for many years to come. 

Oh yeah, before I forget: Mrs O’Malley, Miss Lillis, Miss Surplus, Mrs McMacken,  Miss McGinley, Mrs Quigley, Miss Hennessy and Master Cannon. Not forgetting of course, Master Redden as our principal. Look back at the opening paragraph again and you’ll know what I’m on about there.

“LET ‘EM KNOW YOU’RE THERE!”

Many Irish kids will have had some sort of GAA involvement as a part of their upbringing. Growing up in Letterkenny, I was no different.

After all, people around my age would’ve started playing in the early 1990s. Owing to the fact that Donegal had won the 1992 All-Ireland, we had no shortage of heroes to look up to and emulate.

Football has changed a lot since those days. 

This was a time when the jerseys we wore were made out of cotton which, when they got soaked in the rain, became unusually heavy and difficult to run around in.

Collars seemed to protrude up as far as your ears if you happened to go for that Eric Cantona-look while our gloves were itchy yellow-coloured woollen things with sticky black velcro dots.

The Mikasa gloves, as you might recall.

In those days, being a Donegal supporter, my early heroes were the likes of Manus Boyle, Anthony Molloy, Tony Boyle, Charlie Mulgrew and Declan Bonner to name but a few.

Mikasa gloves.

In the back garden of my family home in Gortlee, it wasn’t uncommon for me to pretend I was playing in the forward-line for the county team alongside these guys.

My youthful imagination would transform it into Croke Park on All-Ireland Final day where I’d be providing my services as a commentator too.

Of course, a sprinkling of drama had to be thrown in just to add to the occasion. Usually it was a scenario where my invisible opponents – mainly Dublin – were two points up and within touching distance of a victory going into stoppage time. 

“Foley in possession … plays a one-two with Boyle [in reality, off the oil tank] … and Foley has it back and there’s the shot! There’s the goal!!! (Yaaassss!!) Johnny Foley scores the goal that will surely see the Sam Maguire cup go back to Donegal! What a moment for this young man. Foley is the Hero!!”

Then I’d run around in celebration. Taking in the raucous applause from the adoring fans all waving their green and gold flags [in reality, the garage] before raising the decorated trophy aloft [some random generic sports day trophy that had been left lying about the house].

The players we looked up to in those days often seemed to be of a stockier build and frame than today’s more athletic-looking lads.

The sort of people you’d imagine when you’d hear the phrase: “Back when men were men … and sheep were nervous!”

Anthony Molloy, 1992.

At underage level, I remember some of the coaches even then, being somewhat bemused to the idea of players even wearing gloves while anything other than a black pair of boots would run the risk of having you tagged as something of a ‘Fancy Dan.’

The first GAA club I joined as a kid of about eight years of age was St Eunan’s. Nowadays they have a state of the art facility at their O’Donnell Park grounds on the outskirts of the town.

It looks fantastic and very fitting with the modern day. Hundreds of kids take part in the Sunday Morning Academy where all coaches are properly trained and experienced.

That wasn’t always the case back in my day. 

The training area was often knee-deep with rushes which had sprouted up out of the ground. Behind the goalposts, there was a splattering of stingy nettles.

This meant that retrieving a ball (as per the rules of ‘hits it, gets it!’) entailed rolling up your socks to your knees and maybe having a docking leaf to hand just in case the worst happened. Ouch!

Owing to the fact that my dad took on a voluntary coaching role with the Letterkenny Gaels, when they were founded as a club in 1996, I found myself playing there for a season-and-a-bit at under-12s.

“Sure there’s not much point in me driving you to Eunan’s and then me heading across town to the Gaels, now is there?” was his philosophy on the matter. 

I didn’t really mind what club I was playing for, to be honest.

When you’re that age, you’re content enough just to be outside in the fresh air, running around and kicking ball with your friends from school.

One of my earliest recollections from the Gaels was that so many of the grown-ups at the club were ‘blow-ins’, usually from more midwestern and southern parts of Ireland.

Granted, my parents were too, but when compared to St Eunan’s – where everyone spoke more like a true Townie – I quickly had to familiraise myself with more southern-sounding terminology.

“Now, yer sucking diesel,” was one and “schtick de feckin’ ball over de feckin bar!” was a more midwestern / Connaught one.

It goes without saying that when I hear these phrases now, I take no notice, but you have to remember that this was a time when – outside of my parents and relatives – I’d never really heard any accents that came from areas much further past Bundoran.

Team buses weren’t a regular feature on our matchdays either. Generally, it was assumed the parents would all chip in and help out with the driving.

Sometimes it wasn’t uncommon to see about seven or eight youngsters piled into a modestly-sized Ford Mondeo or, for the kid who was running late, to be pulling his socks and boots on while still in the backseat of a moving car.

In my first year, and pretty much only proper full year at the Gaels, we reached a County Final.

We got beat but my abiding memory from that day was looking around after the final whistle and just being in awe of how mesmerising it was to have togged out at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey; even if I was only thrown on to play for the last few minutes.

After all, this was the county team’s ground where my heroes had played. The County ground!

In those days, the main stand was more of a terrace and just one big slab of gray steps and concrete. I very much doubt that floodlights were even a thing at the time.

Nowadays, of course, that stand is much more impressive-looking with its green and gold seating which the lights reflect and bounce off perfectly.

Still though, at the time, it was just wonderful to have played there for the first time. 

In some capacity or another, I’ve been pretty much with St Eunan’s ever since – bar my tenure with the Dunedin Connollys club when I lived in Edinburgh – but no matter what team or club you’re with, there’s so many things that remain common across the board.

Any excuse.

Anyone who’s ever played gaelic games at underage level will likely tell you about the pungent whiff of Deep Heat pain-relief cream when you enter the dressing room.

They might even tell you about the time they mouthed off at the team manager before being quickly reminded that the manager is also their father.

As you get a little bit older and into your teens, there’s a possibility that the innocence of your under-12 days has faded and you developed a bit more of a ‘win at all cost’ mentality.

Like, for example, the lad you’re marking might kindly enquire “so have ye been training long?” and you’d just completely blank the question without uttering a single word back. ‘That sure showed him!’

When you scored a point or a goal as a child, it was hard to contain the excitement of it all. You’d leap about in a circle embracing the hugs and cheers from all your friends and team-mates but now that you’re older, a simple punch-of-the-air and a nonchalant jog back to your position does the job. 

I suppose you have to remember that, at this stage, we were in our teens and sometimes we’d girls to impress on the rare occasion they’d have come along to watch one of our Saturday evening games.

Usually, because they’d taken a shine to the cool dude who scored points for fun, but that didn’t mean that a half-back like me wasn’t looking to get myself known to them.

Gaelic football has changed a lot, even since the days when I was growing up and I’m still only in my thirties.

Aerodynamic-nylon jerseys have replaced the heavy-when-wet cotton ones which, thankfully, means the club badge doesn’t cut into your nipples anymore. Under-Armor fitted gear has taken the place of the old reliable white thermal vest that your mother demanded you wore.

Mouthguards are pretty much mandatory. A huge part of the players’ training incorporates prescribed Strength-and-Conditioning and nutritional advice and fair play to them, but I’m still glad to have gathered the memories that I did from back in the not-too-distant past.

DOING AS THE ROMANS DO.

If you were to go around and ask your friends and family ‘What’s your Top 10 Places in the World You’d Love to See’, chances are the Eternal City of Rome would be in there somewhere. A culinary delight with an abundance of famous landmarks that are all fairly close to one another. A nice climate and be flown into on a budget airline. Sure why not?

By Jonathan Foley

Getting there is pretty-much a hassle-free experience. Under three hours on a flight from Dublin and with good public transportation on offer, via the trains that now run on time, your journey towards the more central parts of the Italian capital can be done in well under an hour. Especially if the Roma Termini station is your destination. 

Taxis have set rates to and from both major airports, Fiumicino and Ciampino, so you know you can’t get ripped off. Never a bad thing. While Rome is a very walkable city, the option to purchase a Metro ticket (underground railway) is highly recommended. There’s only two lines so confusion about getting around is kept to a minimum. 

Tagatell alla bologna.

Food in Rome is an absolute no-brainer. So many restaurants operate a walk-in service and offer simple, but delicious meals where their names just roll off the tongue: tageitalle del bolognese, pasta carbonara with a nice glass of rocha to compliment your meal before finishing off with a nice espresso or maybe a gelato. A foodie’s heaven. 

It’s worth bearing in mind that some of the restaurants that are located within a close proximity to some of the most crowded sites do have a tendency to overcharge for fairly sub-standard food. Essentially, tourist traps where the chefs don’t have time to cook your dinner with the same artistry and love as most other places. 

Perhaps the best thing about the majority of the city’s most famous landmarks is that they are free-of-charge. And the ones you can’t access for free, a lot of them are still visible from other parts of the city.

Trevi Fountain.

On my first day there, a climb up the beautiful white marble steps of the Altra delle Patria (Altar to the Fatherland) provided excellent views of the old Ancient ruins and just enough of the Colosseum to take a good photograph of. The quality of the city’s architecture and how it combines the old with the new makes this city so unique.

Stadio Olimpico.

In keeping touch with my Roman Catholic origins – and to keep my Mammy happy – I later took a wander through St Peter’s Square where you can also catch a glimpse of the Basilica and the exterior of the Sistine Chapel. I chose not to go inside the Sistina, purely on the grounds that the queue to get in was eye-wateringly long. 

As Easter weekend was fast approaching, there was a lot of hustle and bustle about San Petro’s. Chairs, speakers and big-screens were being thrown up with as much haste as possible, so as to have everything ready for the Pope’s Easter Blessing that was being planned for the Sunday. 

Unsurprisingly, my love of history and sports combined on Saturday with a morning tour of the Colosseum (as well as the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill) where I got to walk along the arena floor of the world’s longest remaining sports amphitheater. And yes, I’ll admit, I purposely rewatched ‘Gladiator’ the week before to get in the mood. 

Colosseum at dusk.

Our tour guide was a very knowledgeable guy and had a wonderful way of explaining to us what a typical day at the Games would’ve been like during the heyday of the Roman Empire. It’s also worth pointing out that many popular television shows and movies which feature the Colosseum are very much exaggerated. 

For instance, it was very rare for Roman Gladiators to carry out intense battles with each other. Why would they? Many of them were friends, or perhaps former comrades with the Roman Army who had turned their hands to entertaining crowds at the end of their careers. Once a fighter drew even a drop of blood, the fight was often stopped. 

Gortlee boy on tour.

Having said that, it is true that the Colosseum was used as a venue for public executions against criminals while slaves and prisoners were often offered an opportunity to earn their freedom … if they could overcome the small challenge of wrestling and beating a wild, hungry lion first! 

My last major port-of-call on this five day trip was to the Olympic Stadium where I’d secured a ticket for the Serie A match between Lazio and Torino. The game itself was no classic, and in truth, because of their right-wing tendencies, I’ve no real love for Lazio supporters. Nonetheless, it was great to see a famous stadium such as this one.

Druid’s Den Bar.

Having spent my last evening sinking a few beers in the Druid’s Den bar, an Irish pub owned by a Letterkenny lady who knew my mum and dad well, it was time for home early on Monday morning. 

Hitting the snooze button too many times meant I came scarily close to missing my flight home, but alas, despite my final hour or two in Rome being rather stressful, I caught it just in time and I suppose all’s well that ends well. Whether food, sports, history, religion or general wandering is your thing, Rome is a city that’s highly recommended to you.

Bellissimo!

CELTIC FC’s FOUNDATION: IMMIGRATION and CHARITY.

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in November 2021.

Over the last few weeks, Celtic have some reason to feel a bit more upbeat. Ange Postecogulu was awarded Manager of the Month after a series of impressive displays. Celtic enjoyed back to back wins over Ferencvaros in the Europa League and, not forgetting, they got to celebrate their 134th birthday as a club.

St Mary's Calton | Website of St Mary's Abercrombie Street

One credit that you always have to give Celtic fans is that they are very knowledgeable about the founding of their football club. Not many supporters of other clubs can tell the exact date in which their side was formed, or who was at the meeting, or what was the social backdrop or reasoning behind the club’s foundation. Most Celtic supporters certainly can though. 

The man hailed as the ‘founding father’ of, what was then, the Celtic Football and Athletic Club, is Andrew Cairns, who is better known by his Marist title of Brother Walfrid. Born in Ballymote, County Sligo, he had migrated to Scotland to carry out his work as a clergyman in the East End of Glasgow. 

In the aftermath of the Great Famine, thousands upon thousands of poorly-nourished and destitute Irish persons had flocked towards the west of Scotland in the hope of securing a better life; or at the very least, survival. 

In his writings, Professor Tom Devine noted that while Irish migration went everywhere in the world in those years, it generally tended to be the poorer Irish who came to the west of Scotland. Upon arrival in their new city, the diaspora discovered that they were not always going to be welcomed by their host community. 

Throughout the second-half of the nineteenth century, Glasgow had risen up to become a vital city of importance in the British Empire. The Industrial Revolution was in full-swing and the construction of roadways, railways, factory buildings and shipbuilding all became hugely profitable businesses and there was plenty of work to be had. And yet, all was still not well. 

Celtic Team Line-Up 1888-89 – The Celtic Wiki

Many business owners and people who held sway in political power often tended to have a distrust towards Irish immigrants. Their gaelic language and belief in Roman Catholicism was alien to a much more Saxon and Prebyterian society. Even in those days, they had a reputation of rebelliousness, alcoholism and for possibly carrying diseases from their homeland. 

With regard to housing, the city officials crammed them into overcrowded tenement blocks which rapidly developed into slums. Most of these were based towards the eastern side of the city, and with skilled-labour job opportunities being so scarce, many of the immigrants opted for the dangerous and gruelling task of tunnel digging and back-breaking roadwork construction. 

Celtic 1888 Retro Football Shirt [TOFFS2009] - Uksoccershop

A knock-off effect from the Industrial Revolution was the rise in popular sport. Teams were often assembled in factories and other such workplaces. Famous examples include Manchester United forming from the staff of the Newton Heath Railway Company while West Ham United evolved from the workers of an East–London irons factory. 

With new legislation allowing days off, Saturday quickly became a day for sport and leisure. With the new transport links being created, supporters could now travel to go and follow their team wherever in the country they were playing. Most of all, the novelty of how financially profitable the game could be, Brother Walfrid sensed an opportunity. 

Along with some other religious crusaders and a handful of successful businessmen, a meeting was chaired on November 7th, 1887, at the St Mary’s Parish Hall in Calton – just a few minutes down the road from where the current stadium is located – and it was here the famous club was born. 

File:Brother Walfrid Statue, Celtic Park - geograph.org.uk - 740464.jpg -  Wikimedia Commons

The principles of the foundation could not be more basic. The club was created to raise funds to feed and clothe the poor of the East End parishes where there had been a heavy concentration of Irish immigrants. The club’s name derived from the word that best suited the culture that united the traditions of Ireland and Scotland. 

It was decided that although the club would maintain and promote a Catholic ethos, it would still remain open to persons of all denominations, creeds, colours and ability. Within a year, going into 1888, they assembled a team of players, adapted a kit and built their own ground thanks to the voluntary labour of the people who would become their first and most faithful followers. 

But that’s a story for another day. 

AN ODE TO WIM JANSEN.

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in January 2022

In the build-up to Celtic’s final match of the Scottish Premier Division against European hopefuls St Johnstone – Saturday 9th May, 1998 – there was a duality within the emotions to the usual roars of the Celtic Park crowd as the two teams took to the field.

On the surface, the stadium looked more spectacular than usual that afternoon. As glorious sunshine bathed the playing surface, it seemed as though every single man, woman and child, lucky enough to get a ticket that day, was wearing more green and white than usual. 

Caught up in a gentle breeze, a scattering of party balloons floated around the stands. Some had trickled on to the pitch while the ritual pre-kick off ritual rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ echoed with more haunting purpose than it ever had done before. It was essentially a prayer in all but name.

Underneath the fanfare and wash of club-coloured pariphanilia and decoration lay a deep sense of nervous tension however. Celtic’s players and fans were unison in the knowledge that a win in this fixture would see them officially crowned champions of Scotland for the first time in a decade; a proverbial eternity for a club such as Celtic. 

Anything other than a win would mean that crosstown-rivals Rangers would likely snatch the title for themselves was worrying enough. 

Moreover, a Celtic failure – of which there had been plenty in the preceding ten years – would not only mean the loss of a league title. It would also see Rangers win the elusive ‘10-a-Row’ and ultimately banish Celtic’s cherished accolade of nine successive titles (1966-74) from the history books altogether.   

Having the record equalled at the end of the previous campaign was tough enough to take for the Celtic faithful. Such is the intensity of the rivalry between these two Clydeside clubs, it’s not as though Rangers were going to be content with drawing level with the record. They were out to overtake Celtic and put themselves in the historical reckoning. 

In the final weeks of the season, it appeared to be Celtic who were taking the initiative in the title race. A splattering of nervous-by-the-occasion draws however kept Rangers in the hunt and on the final day of a most important season, it would all come down to this.

In Walter Smith’s sixth season as Rangers’ manager, he had never not won a league championship. With an expensive array of talent that he’d signed in earlier in the season from Serie A , he had his sights on another. On the other hand, after much boardroom and financial trouble in the not too distant past before this, Celtic had put their latest trust in Wim Jansen. 

ONE YEAR EARLIER

Merely twelve months earlier, Celtic had the look and feel of a scourged harvest. 

Battling performances against Rangers in the 1996-97 campaign were to be marginally admired, but ultimately, all four of the league meetings had ended in victories for the city’s blue half. Even Celtic’s hopes of a consolation Scottish Cup success ended with an embarrassing loss to lower-division Falkirk in the semi-final. 

This unfortunately spelled the end of long term club servant, Tommy Burns, who was relieved from his position as manager. Spoiler alert, but the silver cloud of Burns’s tenure was that would not only be invited back as a coach years later, but that his name remains ever fondly remembered. 

Back in the summer of 1997 though, things didn’t get much better after his departure when the attacking trio of Jorge Cadete, Paolo DiCanio and Pierre vanHooijdonk all packed their bags and abandoned the club. A soap opera of walkouts at the same time as when Rangers fans were dancing in the streets chanting ‘9-in-a-Row.’ while quickly escalating those into calls for Ten! 

There was a sense of ‘Wim who?’ when the board of directors, under the chairmanship of Fergus McCann, unveiled him as the new Head Coach. As Rob MacLean reported for BBC Scotland, “the Dutchman has previously coached in the J-League with Hiroshima where one reporter there unflatteringly claimed ‘Jansen was the second worst disaster to ever hit this city.’”

The overall setup was rather curious too. Officially, Jock Brown – a football commentator with BBC and Sky Sports just a few months earlier – was to be the General Manager with Jansen as Head Coach. 

Wim Jansen: Key moments during Dutchman's 12-month spell as Celtic manager  remembered | GlasgowWorld

While it became fairly self-evident early on that Brown and Jansen were far from bosom buddies, things would need to be shaken up on the playing field as quickly as possible. It might be hard to fathom for some nowadays, but Celtic were hugely active during the summer transfer market and by the time the season opener came around, seven new players had signed. 

Arguably the most notable signings were those of Marc Reiper (West Ham, £1.8m), Craig Burley (Chelsea, £2.5m) and a certain Swede who Jansen knew well from his time in the Netherlands, Henrik Larsson (Feyenoord, £650,000). 

The quality of players would take a bit of time to settle and gel together, but it was clear that Jansen was adapting a new approach for Celtic as a whole.

A SOLID UNIT 

Traditionally, Celtic had often received praise for their cavalier and alamoesque methods that they had incorporated into their attacking game. As entertaining as that often was to watch, it was so often their undoing at that back where defenders and goalkeepers were essentially left helplessly abandoned.

Jansen was adamant that the new testament of contemporary football should be played with a strong defensive unit, the utilization of wingers, a compact midfield – later added to by the signing of Paul Lambert in November (Borussia Dortmund, £2m) – and a forward line where one played behind the other. 

Physical strength was going to be key as well as pace down the flanks. ‘Total Football!” Not just attacking alone!

Despite a horrendous start to the league campaign where they lost their opening two games to Hibernian and Dunfermline, the team did, slowly but surely, begin to mold into Jansen’s image.

A great run of wins followed from late August into November and during that run, they graciously bowed out of the UEFA Cup only on away goals to Liverpool – after an immensely spirited performance at Anfield – while also booking their place in the final of the Coca-Cola Cup.

In an age of Britpop music and Girl Power, Celtic fans started to steadily add to their knowledge as to just who their new gaffer really was.

The fact that search engines hadn’t become a thing yet didn’t stop fans from learning that Jansen had actually played against Celtic before; that game being the 1970 European Cup Final no less! Not only that, but he’d also played in the 1974 World Cup Final for Holland against West Germany. A former teammate of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskins to boot! 

Celtic did hit something of a rocky patch in early November. Losing the first Old Firm meeting of the season at Ibrox as a painful, but albeit important lesson to learn. They also lost at home to Motherwell a week later, but there was a point salvaged in the rearranged home game with Rangers when a stoppage time header by Alan Stubbs made it 1-1 and hope was restored. 

As much as the League Cup is looked down upon, Celtic realized that if they could win that trophy by overcoming Dundee United in the final, it would likely whet their appetite for more silverware come the rest of the season. And rest assured, the Celts stormed to a comfortable 3-0 win in that final and, with that, the Dutchman had his hands on his first trophy as Celtic boss.

Rumblings off the park couldnt be ignored though. The disunity between Jansen and Brown’s working relationship was showing cracks and their dislike of one another became worthy of media attention. It seemed as though Jansen had a maverick tendency to go against club policy at times which angered those on the board. Talk of a break clause in his contract also got headlines.

TITLE RUN-IN

The priority focus hadn’t shifted far from anyone’s thoughts that the league title must take precedence. Going into December, Jansen further added to the squad by bringing in Harald Brattbakk from FC Rosenborg. A late Burley goal against Hearts proved crucial in keeping Celtic in the title race, but 1997 would end in a frustrating loss away to St Johnstone. 

On the morning of the New Year Derby, Celtic trailed Rangers by four points and they knew all too well that a loss in this fixture could be the most telling factor in the title race. 

This was a Hogmanay fixture that Celtic hadn’t won in ten years. Frank McAvennie’s double on a mucky pitch in 1988 seemed a lifetime ago to those who stood in The Jungle that day, but alas the Bhoys rose to the occasion this time and thanks to two wonderful goals, one from Burley and a screamer from Lambert, Celtic were right back in the hunt.

Despite the occasional draw here and there, Celtic went into April unbeaten in 1998 and went into the final Old Firm league meeting of the season holding a three-point lead over their rivals. As expected, Rangers were not going to lay down and, on Easter Sunday, a hailstone shower didn’t drown out the noise of the Rangers support as their side powered to a 2-0 win. 

Four games to go. All square. 

THE FINAL FURLONG

In mid-to-late April, Celtic seized back the initiative with a 4-1 victory over Motherwell and hope sprang eternal when Rangers suffered a shock defeat away at Aberdeen the following day. One Saturday later though, Celtic blew the chance to push ahead after an infuriating 0-0 draw at home to Hibernian while, on the same day, Rangers cut back the gap by thrashing Hearts 3-0. 

As the May Bank Holiday weekend approached, Rangers were up first and after two tough away games, they were expected to breeze past Kilmarnock in a home game. This would also put them ahead of Celtic and no doubt grant them the psychological edge in the race. Low-and-behold though, a last-gasp Ally Mitchell Killie winner kills the Ibrox party atmosphere. 

All Celtic need to do is win away at Dunfermline, which they’d already done twice this season already in both the league and the cup, and the title race would be officially and mathematically over. A first-half Simon Donnelly strike hit the net and the corkscrews were being turned. Typically, it went back on ice when the Pars snatched a draw seven minutes from time. 

Going into that final six days before the league decider must’ve been full of immense pressure for the Celtic players, but although the support continued to go their way, sympathy wasn’t always forthcoming. Club writers like Matt McGlone documented his feelings clearly that the “league should be well and truly in the bag by now” with some fans echoing his sentiment. 

Issues over Jansen’s contract had become an issue for the club when, back in February, he openly admitted to the press that he had a breakout clause in his deal with Celtic. Essentially, this meant that he could leave the club after a year of his initial three-year-agreement and with the Rangers’ charge for number ten still on the go, where a record created by the Lisbon Lions had to be protected, it must’ve felt chaotic in-house, to say the least. 

LAST CHANCE SALOON

All in all, it all came down to a simple plan for Jansen’s men. Beat St Johnstone on Saturday and the league will be won in front of their own fans. Fans who deserve it, more than most, for their loyalty that had never waned nor wilted during the storm of the last decade or so. 

Jansen may have had no love for the likes of Jock Brown, or indeed most of the boardroom it later emerged, but there was no denying his devotion to his players and supporters. 

In the second minute of this very crucial game, Henrik Larsson cut inside and unleashed a fearsome curling effort that bellowed into the net and the cheers that rang out from the stands must’ve echoed throughout all of the East End.

There was still a job to do of course. Celtic couldn’t quite find a second goal for a long time and having been stung late on in the game against Dunfermline only six days earlier, the tension amongst the support was understandably unbearable at times. Radio sets held to the ears giving news that Rangers were two up at Tannadice didn’t do much to help the nerves either. 

Going into the final twenty minutes or so, Harald Brattbakk made his way on as a substitute. He’d become a fairly maligned character after an inconsistent run of performances, but Jansen and the fans stayed loyal to him and, somewhat typically, it was the trainee pilot / accountant who wrote his name in Celtic’s folklore.

Determined not to give up possession of the ball, club captain Tommy Boyd held strong under attention from an opponent to send a long one forward. It found Jackie McNamara whose burst of pace saw him fly down the wing and it was his low cross that found Brattbakk to slot home. 

Bedlam! Absolute bedlam, maybe with a wee touch of emotional tearge, from the crowd. 

Eighteen minutes later, the final whistle finally confirmed Celtic as the champions of Scotland for the first time in far too long. Boyd wept tears of joy before making his way up to kiss and collect the trophy. 

Chants of ‘Championaaays! Championaaays!’ rang loud and proud and iconic image of a bare chested Enrico Annoni hoisting Wim Jansen off his feet to share in a jubilant embrace probably confirms the theory that, despite all the politics that had gone on behind-the scenes, Wim Jansen’s loyalty to his players and the supporters always came first … just like the team did!   

Although when the dust settled and the hangovers subsided, Wim Jansen departed the club just two days later. While it did prompt a response from fans that was targeted at McCann and Brown, their support of the Dutchman showed. 

Nevertheless, Jansen rode off into the sunset leaving Celtic fans safe in the knowledge that they could now add the chant of ‘Cheeriooooo to Ten in a Row!’ to their evergrowing playlist of anthems. 

“Wim who” had become “Wim the Tim!”

On a personal level, just for a sec, I’d like to give thanks in my own way to what Wim Jansen did for Celtic Football Club. He took the reigns on when I was just 12 years old. I was an extremely shy kid at the time. I was finding the transition into secondary school very difficult and my parents – for a time anyway – split up.

As you can imagine, it was a fairly confusing time during my youthful adolescence. Football though, and Celtic in particular, became my health and well-being. They gave me heroes to look up to; not to mention some dreams and songs to sing.

Thank you Wim.

Wim Jansen, Hail Hail. 

(1946-2022)

Follow the @ArmchairFanatic on Twitter for more.

Celtic’s Hoops Issue.

THE JERSEY SAGA OF 2001. Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in January 2022.

It might seem somewhat unthinkable now but in the not too distant past, there was a genuine threat of a boycott by Celtic fans over the jersey that launched a little over two decades ago.

In the spring of 2001, Celtic were storming towards their 38th league title. 

Martin O’Neill’s side had overhauled Rangers’ dominance and a 1-0 win over their fiercest rivals in February – thanks to a goal by Alan Thompson – had put them firmly in the driving seat of the title race. 

With a League Cup Final on the horizon in March, as well as a good run in the Scottish Cup still going, the supporters dared to dream of their first domestic Treble since the Jock Stein era. 

Off the park, there were some rumblings of discontent however. The club had unveiled the new home jersey which was set for public release on St Patrick’s Day. 

In conjunction with Umbro, the kit suppliers to Celtic at the time, the new strip was being marketed as “the most technically innovative Celtic FC have ever had.” 

Along the sides of the jersey were air-holed ventilation strips. This allowed for more player comfort and mobility compared to the slightly heavier and baggier tops of the late nineties. 

There was just one problem though. 

These new vents meant that the iconic green and white hoops, that are so widely synonymous with Celtic, were broken. Thus leading to a backlash from some supporters groups. 

Hoops had been a staple of Celtic’s iconography since 1903. Previous to this, they’d worn a white jersey with an embedded cross as well as a number of seasons adorning horizontal striped shirts. 

An article in The Herald, dated 13th February 2001, published statements from a supporters club who called for a boycott of this new jersey. Many believed it was a disrespectful break of a most important club tradition. 

The wording that was used in the same article took on something of a doomsday prophecy. The jersey was referred to as being “sacrificial to history” and that the club had “surrendered its morals on the altar of consumerism.” 

In retrospect, it was all a case of Much Ado About Nothing. Pre-order figures of the jersey were promising and, back on the playing front, the team were flying. 

By the time Celtic were officially crowned as league champions in April, the players were already wearing the new strip in their matches. 

More importantly, these were the games that did lead them to that famous Treble.

It would also be the very jersey that they would wear through another successful league winning season in 2002 – a season which saw them compete on the main stage of the Champions League for the very first time – and also during their run to the UEFA Cup Final in 2003.

When fans recall those happy memories, the issue over underarm air vents doesn’t seem to come up all that much anymore. And it certainly never stopped any chants of “C’mon the Hoops!”

@johnnyfoley1984 @ArmchairFanatic

SPORTING-PATRIOTISM

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in January 2022

Scooting over to MacCumhaill Park for Donegal games – be it in the National League or the Ulster Championship – is something I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember.Intercounty games are great for generating a sense of pride in one’s county, but how does it work on a more national, and indeed an international, level?

There’s an old proverb which states that the ‘closer you are to something, the harder it is to see it.’ When it comes to national pride, that may bore some truth when we attend GAA matches. The Irish tricolour gets raised aloft, Amhran na bhFiann gets performed and sprinklings of the gaelige language are to be seen and heard over the tannoy  and in the match programmes. 

And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. The GAA have never been shy in portraying themselves as being anything other than a sporting organisation who openly carry a strong political and cultural undertone. To their immense credit, they are one of the last bastions in Irish society who continue to develop a wide variety of traditional events and spectacles. 

But what about other countries? Are we alone in this quest for patriotism through sport? 

Having spent two summers in the United States in my twenties, I enjoyed conversing with their citizens about why they followed the sports they did and how they felt about certain aspects of political undertones in their games. People tend to brand Americans as brash ignorant, but speak to them about what they know and love, and that stereotype becomes redundant. 

During those summers in the States, I learned that sometimes you don’t need to learn everything from a textbook. As we guzzled cold bottles of Bud amid the wailing sound of traffic and shining neon New York City lights – never forgetting to tip – conversations often cropped with our fellow high-stoolers along the bar about sports. 

With it being ever constant on the big screens, it was hard not to get chatting about it. 

The general consensus that came from the locals was that baseball was the quintessential and truly American game. It was a cornerstone of social activity where kids ‘stickball’ on the corners of neighbourhood streets in the likes of Brooklyn. Some elders recounted the day of deviation when their beloved Dodgers packed up and moved their franchise to Los Angeles in 1957. 

It also led me to research an interesting development in the late 1970s when the Cosmos soccer team signed Pelé for an extortionate amount of money. 

Even though Major League Soccer league wasn’t born for a further twenty years, soccer became big business and Pelé’s move was widely jeered by baseball fans who felt that soccer was an opponent of a true American game. “Nothing but an aul foreign sport,” as you might hear some devout GAA heads utter along the stands of matches here. 

In terms of politics becoming linked to American sports, it’s clear to anyone watching how the powers-that-be promote patriotism in the pre-game build-up. It’s not uncommon to see a military fanfare and marching band take to the field on the day of an American Football match; stars and stripes are unfurled and the Star-Spangled Banner anthem rings out with high decibels. 

Although the US National Anthem didn’t officially become the song of the nation until 1931, it already had a long-presence at sporting venues long beforehand. It had been purposely utilised to keep morale high during the World War years and resurfaced greatly again in the wake of the 9/11 attacks at the beginning of this century. 

While soccer has steadily risen in popularity in America since the country hosted the 1994 World Cup, it’s still not expected to ever surpass the devotion most American citizens have towards the likes of baseball, basketball, football and hockey. One might think that this is because soccer is considered to be too low-scoring and pedestrian for American tastes but there’s more to it. 

The United States of America is built on the foundations of capitalism and free-enterprise. Their games have an unimaginable amount of stoppages and timeouts throughout a given match and this leads to commercial breaks and a chance for those in attendance to divulge their sweet-tooth with hot-dogs and nachos. After all, sports are branded as family events. 

I witnessed this firsthand in 2007. When David Beckham togged out for his first game with LA Galaxy, the TV broadcasters curiously cut to adverts and interviews with spectators  – including Jim Carey – during the game itself. On a visit to Shea Stadium to see the New York Mets, there were players standing around idle for what felt like ages. Why was this? Ad breaks, of course.

There’s no denying that Americans are truly a fanatical sports nation. Even though there’s definitely been a growing interest in the playoff series and showpiece events like the Superbowl on these shores in recent times, if you do see their games as slow and too stop-start, there is an underlying reason for patriotism behind that. 

RIGHT ON CUE FOR CELTIC

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in December 2021.

Friday January 2, 1998: Celtic 2-0 Rangers.

Just as the Hogmanay celebrations subsided, the Celtic faithful were ‘Bhoying’ themselves up again pretty quickly for the imminent arrival of Rangers to Glasgow’s East on January 2nd.

Back in 1998, Celtic were in the early stages of a restructure under new manager Wim Jansen. Despite a rocky start to the season, the Hoops and their plethora of new signings went on a fantastic run throughout much of September and October. 

They hit a bit of a sticky pitch in November when they went three games without a win, but crucially in the run, they’d secured a vital 1-1 draw with their crosstown rivals thanks to a stoppage time header by Alan Stubbs. Come January, Celtic were looking to go one better. 

Rangers were in hot pursuit of their tenth successive league title that year. Marco Negri had already noticed a staggering 33 goals by the turn of the year, but despite the fact they held a four point lead going into this game, there was a feeling that they were still there for the taking.

One of Celtic’s major undoings in previous Old Firm meetings was a leaky defense. Although they could often attack in a dazzling manner in these intense fixtures, their Achilles heal, time after time, was getting caught on the break by Rangers’ talismanic figures like Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup to name but a few. 

There was a different feeling around Parkhead this time however. It seemed as though Jansen was righting the wrongs of the past by installing a solid and watertight defensive unit through Marc Rieper, Enrico Annoni and the aforementioned Stubbs. 

On the day itself, the game was covered by the Sky Sports commentary duo of Martin Tyler and Andy Gray on the gantry. It’s hard to imagine now but yes, this pair often covered Scottish football meetings back in those days. 

Celtic Park was well underway with its completion but the section we now know as the Jock Stein Stand was still eight months away. A rickety terrace behind the goal, known simply as the ‘temporary stand’ would have to suffice. 

Lesser numbers certainly didn’t reduce the atmosphere as the teams took to the field. And credit where credit is due, the Rangers fans in the far corner added brilliantly to the spectacle with an array of colour and cheering of their own.

The game itself started as a fairly edgey affair. Tough tackles were going in – adding much to the noise levels from the crowd – and Rangers felt aggrieved for not being awarded an early penalty when Stubbs put a strong barge into the body of Laudrup.

Gradually, the game opened up. Celtic’s new signing Harald Brattbakk was generating huge hopes but he was denied on at least three occasions, in the first half alone, by Rangers goalkeeper Andy Goram. 

Typically, Goram always seemed to save his best for games against Celtic. 

Following the interval, Celtic burst into life and began to start turning the screw with more severity. Their passing and running was frantic but measured and they came close when Henrik Larsson struck the post from a side footed volley. 

Inevitably, there was the traditional sprinkling of questionable refereeing decisions thrown in. A curious offside against Brattbakk and a bewildering decision to stop Paul Lambert’s charge on the grounds that the ball was out of play maybe had Celtic fans thinking the worst. 

Thankfully, the deadlock would be broken in the 65th minute. A lovely mazy run by Jackie McNamara saw him play a delightfully delicate reverse pass into the path of Craig Burley who struck low and hard, first time, into the Rangers net.

“Well its a magnificent, magnificent goal … it’s been on the cards. It’s arrived right on cue for Celtic” proclaimed Andy Gray.

Despite the jubilation, there was still a storm to be weathered as Walter Smith unleashed ‘Gazza’ from the bench. His flute-playing gestures during his warm-up wasn’t endearing him to the Celtic supporters.

And yet the Geordie was finding it difficult to adapt to the pace of the game and was lucky not to be dismissed after a tussle with Lambert.

Going into the closing stages, Celtic were on the brink but they knew that nothing can be taken for granted in a fixture like this. Goram wasn’t giving up the fight anyway as he brilliantly saved a venomous strike from Darren Jackson. 

In the same passage of play though, Larsson’s cross to the back post was headed outwards by Alec Cleland. Rangers however still hadn’t cleared their lines properly as the ball dropped invitingly to Paul Lambert. 

Still at least twenty five yards out and with only one thought on his mind, he went for it. To be fair, I think the commentary team said it best with this one: 

“That’s Laaambeert!!! … Ohhhhhh, what a way to settle it!! No chance for Goram!! No chance now for Rangers … and it is bedlam at Celtic Park!! (Martin Tyler)” 

“It’s unstoppable! It’s unsavable! It’s an absolutely magnificent way for Celtic to finish their afternoon! Take that! You just do not save those! Take a bow, son! That’s a great goal! (Andy Gray)”

An absolute screamer that crashed in off the post beyond a hapless Goram. 

Songs rang out around the famous stadium for the remaining moments and when the final whistle did go, the victory was confirmed; their first in a New Year game since 1988 and also their first over Rangers for almost three years. 

For the moment, Rangers’ lead at the top was cut to one and the title race was well and truly back on. More drama was to follow in that season of course but this was a major turning point, at New Year, for Celtic.

@johnnyfoley1984 @ArmchairFanatic

SUPPORTING LOCAL AT THE HARPS.

Originally penned in December 2021

There’s an old saying that goes ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and with regard to supporting Finn Harps, that was true for me. In the pre-Covid world, I’d only occasionally scoot over to Ballybofey on a Friday night; often finding other ways to pass a Friday night with only sporadic checks on my phone to see how they were getting on. That’s all changed now. 

By Jonathan Foley.

During the days of games being played behind closed doors and having to avail of online subscriptions to watch them, something struck a chord with me with how much I took attending games for granted. When the turnstiles opened up again, I suppose I made a wee promise to myself to make a better effort to go and show my support for them that bit more. 

It’s a decision I’ve not regretted. Sure the evenings on the terraces can be cold and wet but there’s a charm to League of Ireland football that has remained despite all the changes to the modern game. It’s inexpensive, it’s a chance to have a casual chat with friends you may not have seen for a long time and, above all else, there’s a sense of community. 

On the field-of-play, Harps have arguably had one of their best seasons. They played with a sense of confidence and adapted progressive and forward-thinking tactics. They often passed the ball very well and showed that they had players who could find the net on a regular basis; Adam Foley and Tunde Owlabi in particular. 

Even when they go for the long ball approach nowadays, it seems that they are actually trying to pick out a player in an advanced position as opposed to the more traditional plan of hoofing the ball anywhere and everywhere. The players played as a cohesive unit and worked well together and never really left fans leaving the ground bemoaning their lack of effort and commitment.

Whether or not many of those same faces will be at the club next season remains to be seen. Séan Boyd and the aforementioned Foley have already said their farewells for pastures new, but things like that are an annual conversation amongst the Harps fanbase at the end of every season, but one thing that is for sure is that the supporters will remain and possibly even grow.

It’s been great to look around the stands of the ground and notice how many young people are choosing to spend their evenings, boys and girls, at the matches. During the recent clash with Derry City, a friend pointed out to me how an aging, but young at heart, parish priest still comes along to the games to cheer the side on. Never descending to any choice language, of course. 

Parents are bringing their kids along in greater numbers than before and, while that may not look like much, one cannot forget how special any family event really is. It’s an endearing sight to see a parental figure share a greasy bag of chips and a mineral while cheering on the team from the sidelines.

Friday nights are an ideal time for a game too. It gives you something to look forward to during the working week. Monday to Fridays are consumed with early morning rises, trying to eat well during your lunch breaks while still making sure you take time to get some form of exercise during the evenings. 

On a Friday night on Navenny Street though, you can get that reward feeling on the go. 

After you’ve draped the blue and white scarf across your shoulders, there’s a sense of anticipation as you make the drive towards Ballybofey. Usually, the Highland Radio DJ will take a breather from shouting out requests to let us all know that “we’ll be going over for live coverage of the Harps at eight o’clock, so stay tuned for that. Now back to the tunes.”

The next major question is where the best parking spot would be. After much deliberation, I personally want to thank the staff at Scoil Mhuire primary school for not adopting a clamping system even though their sign reads that the car park is for staff and church-goers only. Cheers folks. 

As you see the lights of the ground peering over the rooftops when you ascend the bridge that runs across the River Finn in Stranorlar, the temptation of the chippie draws ever closer. It’s the start of the weekend so all sense of guilt is swiftly eradicated. Owing to the fact that you have the car means that it’s only a fizzy drink or a non-alcoholic beer in ‘Cheers Bar’ on the corner. 

You’d never know who you’d meet here. Last time I was in, the noise that greeted me when I walked in the door was from a pair of Scousers attempting the “we’re really on our way” chant. While their vocal chords were a little raspy and their knowledge of the lyrics wasn’t great, you had to admire their enthusiasm. 

After all, they’d flown over from England to watch their brother play. 

Not long later, it’s time to make the short walk down Navenny Street where the noise of the drum bangs slowly in the distance. “Are ya for the shed side or the Aldi side the’night?” might be a question. You gotta love that there’s still a place in twenty-first century football where you can choose so easily where in the ground you want to watch the match from. 

Not only that, but even at the halftime interval, the fact that you can temporarily vacate the ground to nip for a halftime coffee and bar of chocolate in the Centra shop across the road is just something that you can’t do at matches in most other parts of the world anymore.

As alluded to earlier, it’s all part of the charm of League of Ireland football. And what’s more is that you’re home in no time afterwards.

@johnnyfoley1984 @armchairfanatic

LORDS OF THE WING!

“..AND IF YOU KNOW YOUR HISTORY!”

LORDS OF THE WING

With Celtic fans lording over the recent signing of Kyogo Furuhashi, and with good reason too, there is perhaps scope to question just how much the Hoops’ followers seem to embrace one position on the field above all others; that of the Wingers. 

By Jonathan Foley 

Last month’s defeat to Rangers at Ibrox saw manager Ange Postecoglu confess that he should’ve played the Japanese forward in a more central role. It still oesn’t deny the fact that, in an overall sense, the recent summer signing from Vissel Kobe is a dab hand at showing his talents while charging down the flanks. This is not entirely new at Celtic.

Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone will always live in the hearts of Celtic fans. His dazzling dribbling ability and sultry skills in the wider areas of the field earned him the reputation as perhaps being the club’s greatest ever player. In a time of damp and mud-soaked pitches, the wee man from North Lanarkshire won 19 major honours with Celtic, including the European Cup in 1967. 

With 135 goals to his credit during his time at Paradise, Jimmy Johnstone’s name will forever resonate with the Celtic faithful. His precocious and mercurial talents were noticed on a global scale while his small stature, gapped teeth, fuzzy red hair and quick-witted humour made him as normal and approachable as the everyday man on the street. 

While he had many famous goals and performances, there are some parts of his life that remain the stuff of legend. His late goal at Ibrox to win the league title at the home of their fiercest rivals or twisting and turning the Inter Milan defence while giving them guff about how their Ambre Solaire gel was going to set their hair on fire, so they should maybe “phone yer maw, big man!”

In slightly more recent times, one might also recall a certain dreadlocked Swede who also wore the number seven jersey. Henrik Larsson went on to become Celtic’s third place all-time leading goalscorer, but it’s worth noting that when he signed from Feyenoord in 1997, the original plan for him was to play off the main two strikers up front; Andreas Thom and Darren Jackson. 

While ‘the Bhoy who would become King’ was molded more into more of a frontman, there were many times during his Celtic career where he showed his capabilities to drift towards the wide areas. Here, he could send in crosses, make runs towards goal himself and still service the latter partnership of John Hartson and Chris Sutton in attack. Winger or striker? It matters not! 

It’s reasonable to suggest that in Larsson’s second season (1998-99), the arrival of Slovakian-born winger, Lubomir Moravcik, possibly allowed him the freedom to go and take up the striker role. With Lubo now taking over the responsibility of supplier from the left-flank, Larsson had more freedom to focus on scoring goals. 

For his part, Lubo ‘God’ Moravcik, was simply a joy to watch. Scoring two goals against Rangers on his full home-debut was just the start. Already well into his mid-thirties, he was the ultimate two-footed player, who was an absolute master of the dead ball, when it came to free kicks. 

He could entertain too. 

Who would have thought controlling a ball, dipping from the sky with your rear-end was possible? By the time he was 36, he was still starting in victorious Celtic teams in the Champions League; famously nutmegging Pavel Nevded of Juventus in 2001, and letting his Czech counterpart know all about it by sticking his tongue out at him, in a schoolyard-like manner. 

Of course there were other wide players whose names were sung from the stands of Celtic Park down the years: Alan Thompson, Didier Agathe, Jackie McNamara, Aiden McGeady, Emilio Izzaguere, Scott Sinclair, Kieran Tierney et al. 

There’s one man who still stands out in the memory, after all these years, and that’s another Japanese star who pulled on the famous green and white hoops; Shunsuke Nakamura. 

‘Naka’ signed in 2005. Little was known of him at the time, but the fans were in for a treat. After a slow start initially, he adapted to life in Scotland and his sublime skill and incredible work-rate endeared him to the Celtic faithful. In his four seasons with the club, he lifted the SPL trophy three times, as well as the Scottish Cup in 2007, but that’s just part of the story. 

With celebrity status back in Japan, Nakamura made regular television appearances there where his party-piece was kicking footballs from a Yokohama alleyway which would find their way through the one open window of a moving bus. Banzai! Celtic would certainly reap the rewards of his technical ability and there were certainly some iconic moments thrown in along the way. 

During a tense Champions League clash with Manchester United in 2006, Naka sent Celtic Park into delirium when his 35-yard free-kick sailed over the United wall and found the top corner of Edwin van der Saar’s net. Six months later, he did likewise with the dead-ball, when his stoppage-time free-kick curled around Kilmarnock’s wall, hit the net, and the title was sealed. 

And that’s not forgetting his other long-range special. This time in a win-or-bust clash against Rangers, in 2008. To this day, people still can’t fully explain how he struck an escaping bouncing ball with such veracity that somehow managed to change direction midway through the air and, basically, burst the net. If it was anyone else, you wouldn’t have believed it, but this was Naka.

Sure, we love goalkeepers, centre-halves, holding midfield players, but at Celtic, there seems to be something magical about some of the Bhoys who lord the wing.

@johnnyfoley1984 @ArmchairFanatic