Kevin Graham with A Celtic State of Mind – Pre-season dead rubbers have never felt so special

Football is back… well, Celtic is back.

Shout it from the rooftops and let everybody hear… Celtic are back.

Ok, I know football has been back, in those leagues who had the duty of contractual obligations and the fear of being sued for millions and millions of pounds. Those leagues who sought to enhance the ghost game experience with FIFA crowd noises. Trying to normalise the non-attendance of matches to a generation of fans who believe that games can only be watched on a screen.

I had a discussion with Nick Davidson, author of Pirates, Punks and Politics, on a recent ACSOM episode regarding the future of football and, while we fear for the next generation, the loss of football to the pandemic has certainly increased excitement and expectation levels for its return. Celtic have sold out our season ticket allocation with no guarantee of football’s live return, and we may even see an overall rise in Scottish attendances when the actual games return.

We must praise the Italians for refusing to play games with the artificial noise. That’s how it should be done as it makes the game feel as real and eerie as the current situation is. There is a reality in the football we have been watching and, when listening to the Italians perfectly curse, shout, scream and celebrate, a feeling of emotion is sparked that cannot be produced by any computer-generated noise.

Listen to ROGER MITCHELL with A Celtic State of Mind here:

So, with that in mind, it was utterly brilliant to listen to a shaven-headed Neil Lennon – evoking memories of 2010 – filling my living room with a rough Ulster-lit shout, telling Mohamed Elyounoussi to be sharper, inviting Jeremie Frimpong to go outside, urging Ismaila Soro and Hatem Abd Elhamed to press, and Scott Robertson to open up his body for a pass.

This has been the longest period without Celtic in my lifetime. It has been reminiscent of how pre-seasons used to feel when games played in July were reported after machines printed ink on newspapers that were rushed out in evening and morning editions to stalls and newsagents all over the country. Picking a newspaper up the following morning to read ‘Forres Mechanics 2 Celtic Select 4′ was a joy to behold…

Stalwarts like Callum McGregor, Scott Brown and James Forrest have been on a constant cycle of only having three weeks off every season after having played a game every three to four days throughout the season. It’s a regimented way of life that has been destroyed for four months. How do the players react and adapt to that?

These three games in France are all about reintroducing the players to a ball in a match scenario, to get them used to twisting, turning and moving and to get them back into that way of life they have lived for years. This is a fitness and sharpness exercise for the real stuff starting against Hamilton.

I did wonder how it would feel watching Celtic again. I needn’t have worried. It felt extremely reassuring during these times of intense uncertainty to be reaquainted with this sacred phenomenon that has been a constant in all of our lives. It was also beautiful to see The Hoops kneeling in support for the Black Lives Matter campaign; a club formed in oppression still supporting the oppressed.

The new Adidas hoops looked great from the sponsorless front, but we need to speak about the white panel on the back, which gives the top an unfinished feel. It will be one for the match-worn collectors though.

I was desperate for Celtic to return, but I’m not going to hang my hat of hope on the next few games. It’s in a football fans’ DNA to create the stand on which to hang said fedora, cap, beanie or Reni hat (delete as appropriate) but these games are no more than dead rubbers, even though it’s still great to see the Hoops back in action.

Yeah, I loved it when Patryk Klimala scored. The sound of the ball hitting the back of the net, the first Celtic goal in 131 days, was like the sound of a toddler laughing. A joyous sound you’d want to hear forever. Over the last 4 months, this lockdown period has strengthened my belief that results are only a small part of the Celtic that matters to me.

Forgive me for not being worried about losing goals, about the final pass and touch not being there; for not venting over the VAR decision which someone will need to explain to me; for not getting annoyed at Ryan Christie running through on goal then putting the ball wide. I don’t need any in-depth analysis, I just want everyone to calm down and enjoy Celtic being back.

Surely we can all do that.

Kevin Graham

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