There was a moment when I felt sorry for Neil Lennon. There he was facing the press in a hastily arranged press conference on a Friday afternoon. There weren’t thousands filling the stadium to greet him. The world’s press were all in Madrid. He had arrived from Spain, but not in a private jet. He was offered the job in the shower. This was low key with no hint of razzmatazz.
None of this was his fault. We were all sold raffle tickets for a non-existent draw. He did have moments of adulation. The away end at Aberdeen singing his name and applauding his aeroplane. Trophy day at Paradise. The roar of the jubilant celebratory Celtic fans when he picked the Scottish Cup. He looked like a cat in a creamery. Moments of visceral passion and thanks, not ones fuelled by hope only.
The Celtic fans were together when Lennon picked up that trophy. We were together with the players. We were together celebrating history. As I watched the Liverpool players run towards their fans after winning the European Cup the other night I was reminded of the power of togetherness. The Liverpool players want to play for those fans. The Celtic players want to play for us and have commented on this.
There is a more than a football club ethos about Celtic and Liverpool. We believe in a swashbuckling style, we believe that we represent a diaspora and a city, we broadly have the same political outlook and that our past glories should be celebrated and always shape our future.
We share more than You Never Walk Alone and testimonials. Both sets of fans are the most despised in their own countries. Discriminated by the broad brush of media stereotype and jealousy of success. Our defeats are celebrated on a national scale. It’s a compliment really.
When Neil left the first time around we were lost. The fans hadn’t engaged and there wasn’t a great feeling of togetherness. We lost the constant North of our sporting compass. Ronny Deila sowed the seeds that grew into the full-blown rose garden that we see today. His ‘roar’ and the players taking part in this gave our relationship a European feel. This wasn’t a holiday romance with an exchange student which ended when they went home. Brendan Rodgers took it further by ensuring the players thanked the fans at home games. The party was always in front of the standing section.
That togetherness strengthened this February. Our girl ran off with someone else and we looked to our mates to see us through. We were vocal, boisterous and defiant. We were at our best as we felt everyone wanted us to fail. We made the players feel special. That togetherness was still there on the 25th May in a grey Hampden.
In fact, it was stronger than it was during the invincible season. An unbreakable bond between players, coaching staff and fans who have achieved and lived history. A bond that can’t be bought by sovereign wealth funds or oligarchs. A bond that is born not bought.
When it was announced that there was no raffle prize we had the type of family fight that gets sorted at a funeral or a wedding. An argument over flower girls or the buffet. A fixable quarrel that’s easily forgotten by adults.
Neil Lennon spoke with wisdom and power that he didn’t have when he answered that call in February. We will regain that unbreakable historical togetherness and get behind him. It’s what we do best.
Kevin GrahamListen to the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind podcast