1. What is your first memory of Celtic, and what was the Celtic team of your childhood?
I’m from Cork in Ireland and in July, 1994, Celtic came to play Cork City in a pre-season friendly. The game was played out at City’s former stadium in Bishopstown and my oldest brother brought me. It was my first ever football match and I remember sitting on the concrete slabs in the stand as the sun dropped lower and lower, clutching my programme in my hand.
Celtic scored early through Paul McStay but Billy Woods, a young winger sporting a magnificent grunge-style pony-tail, grabbed a brilliant equaliser shortly after and generally had a magnificent night. The game finished 3-2 to Celtic and Paul Byrne, who’d come on as a second-half sub, missed an absolute sitter, which the crowd loved. Because Paul was a hardcore Dubliner, he was the subject of some good-natured abuse as soon as he entered the fray…
It was quite a monumental moment for me, really. I had a John Collins poster on my bedroom wall and to watch him in the flesh was an incredible thing. Later, as the brother walked me back to town (quite a trek for an eight-year-old), I needed to pop into Jury’s Hotel to use their facilities. As we strolled in, there was the entire Celtic squad assembled in the foyer – the official club blazers, white shirts and grey trousers, I think. Anyway, my brother spotted Collins, brought me over and I shook his hand. Special.
But that really wasn’t the team of my childhood. I was still a bit young to properly understand the club, so, I reckon the 1998 championship-winning side is a better choice. By that stage, you could catch SPL highlights on our Irish-language channel, TnaG, so you felt a lot more immersed in things. I remember being really irritated at the UEFA Cup exit because Liverpool tamely went out against Strasbourg in the next round. I thought we’d have a great chance against Strasbourg and they ended up drawing Inter and Ronaldo. And what an occasion that would’ve been at Celtic Park, 30 years after Lisbon… Anyway, what might have been!Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind
2. It’s nearly 10 years since Celtic played in the USA as part of pre-season preparations. How do you think this absence impacts the appeal of Celtic in North America?
I’m not sure it greatly impacts things, to be honest. It’s a strange one. It might kickstart the odd love affair with the club but it’s a place already saturated with intense support. And I know that so many people have been converted just by hanging out with Celtic supporters in North America. They’ve just been so struck by the intensity and the story, I think. When we filmed some of Celtic Soul in Montreal, we hung out with the local supporters’ branch. There was a guy in a shirt and essentially leading the singsongs, dancing around the place when Celtic scored, etc. I asked what his story was. Turns out he was a Hungarian guy who came to the boozer one morning for breakfast and spotted all these fellas in the backroom watching a football game on the TV. He saw the green and white colours and thought it might have been Ferencvaros, so he walked in and by the end of the game was a Celtic fan!
3. How are Celtic and the SPFL looked upon in the US sporting media?
That’s a difficult one. If you know, you know. If you don’t, it’s a hard sell. In the football media, there’s an awareness but it doesn’t go beyond a pretty basic level and it’s very difficult to even watch the SPFL in the US these days. Obviously, there are exceptions but I’ve met various high-ranking sports TV executives in the US and Canada who still refer to ‘Keltic’ or, if they’re a little more informed, ‘the Glasgow Celtics’. And, the majority of conversations will still contain references to the usual tropes – the Old Firm, sectarianism, etc. Rarely will you meet somebody from within the sports media landscape in North America who can drop anything other than Celtic and Rangers references into a Scottish football chat.
4. The invincible treble was a monumental achievement, how was that perceived in terms of sporting success in the USA?
I’m not sure it made much of a dent, to be honest. The biggest show in town over here is the Premier League and broadcasters only wish to promote content that dovetails with their rights. So, ESPN won’t go into much detail with a Premier League story because NBC are the holders and they don’t want to promote something that’s not theirs. Similarly, FOX have tried hard to push Bundesliga because it’s their marquee product so won’t waste their time investing in content pertaining to leagues/tournaments they don’t cover. Because the SPFL is buried somewhere on Bleacher Report Live, it doesn’t really have much of a wider media impact.
5. You have a book coming out about Roy Keane. One of your early Celtic heroes was John Collins, so you clearly like a mix of midfielders. Where do you see Ryan Christie and Scott Brown in terms of British / European football?
I think Christie’s improvement has been pretty remarkable, considering it looked like his time was up at various moments in recent seasons. A strange comparison, maybe, but there’s a little bit of the Scott McTominay about him in terms of the initial involvement in the first-team being greeted with a few raised eyebrows. Talent is never enough but work ethic mixed with opportunity is a potent mix and there seemed a real turning point last autumn – the European games, couple of Scottish wins, plenty of goals. And he hasn’t looked back. Big moments this season when he’s shown up – a sign of maturity. So, that’s very exciting.
Broony… what can you say? I’ve always thought the ‘tough-man’ tag is misguided. He’s got so much more to his game and his consistency is incredible. Nine league titles, five Scottish Cups, five League Cups. The personality makes him ripe for criticism, not that he gives a damn. And why would he? His legacy as a club legend is already assured.
6. On your road trip to Paradise with Jay Baruchel for Celtic Soul, did you learn anything new about Celtic, you or your link to the club?
It just strengthened the bond, really. And modern football is increasingly difficult to enjoy/cover. It’s easy to lose yourself in the cynicism and the corporate machinations of high-profile organisations. Obviously, Celtic is a business too and has to make decisions accordingly but it was refreshing to be reminded of the wider impact the club carries and how it’s still so heavily tied to the community and its roots. It’s becoming a very rare thing. Also, after the release of the film, I was fortunate enough to travel with it to various parts of the world. In Bilbao, watching with a sold-out crowd of Athletic Club supporters was truly special. There are kindred spirits out there, clubs that are proud of an identity curated over a very, very long time and for the right reasons. And, particularly in times of setback or transition, it’s worth holding onto those things. Because, ultimately, it’s what will forever set you apart.
7. Jay appears emotional to find his ancestral home on the trip. How did this make you feel, looking in?
It was a genuine pleasure. He’s an immensely passionate guy and chooses projects carefully. When he invests in something, it’s 100%. So, when he told me he wanted to do the film, I felt confident we’d enjoy something special. But the extent of it was surprising. The film has been a huge success and even now – three years after it was released – we still get inundated with messages from people who’ve seen it and feel the need to reach out. After it was all done and dusted, we could each have gone our separate ways because that’s the nature of the work. But, instead, the two of us have a really lovely friendship now, sparked by a pretty unforgettable shared experience.
8. Were there many hangovers on the tour?
We were pretty well-behaved, to be honest. Jay doesn’t drink so he was always fresh as a daisy and because the schedule was very tight with a lot of driving and cameras recording everything, we both had to be fairly sharp. There was a pretty decent night in Westport at Matt Molloy’s when the crew certainly enjoyed themselves and felt brave enough to pick up some guitars and immerse themselves in the trad music group that had entertained us for hours. Any wobbly camera work that people have spotted… now you know why!
9. Do you think it’s time for another trip with Jay to a full Celtic Park this time?
I’ve been thinking about this recently… Europa League knockout, maybe? Sod it. Let’s just go to the final.
10. What do Celtic need to do to make a serious impression in European competitions again?
Good fortune and belief. I think back to 2003 and there were a few times when it could easily have slipped and they were out. It was a tough run but they just stayed in the ring. Historically, the Europa League provides a better chance, to be honest. The likes of Sevilla, Marseille, Dnipro, Ajax, Athletic Club, Braga – have all found a way to finals. It can happen.
11. Can Lennon lead celtic to 10 in a row?
Of course, but why stop at 10?
Eoin O’Callaghan was talking to Martin Donaldson
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