Eight Flags

Flag day last seasonI hated school. There were many reasons for it, some of which I’ve mentioned in the past. One reason that I hated it was that I was surrounded by Rangers fans in an era where they knew nothing but victory.

I left school the month we stopped them winning ten in a row. It seemed so unfair that I couldn’t finally have my moment with them. The years before it were awful. Watching them win title after title, hoping for several years that someone else like Aberdeen could stop them because we were in such a mess we couldn’t do it ourselves.

The closest we came was the season they won eight in a row. We lost only one league game that season, but it was too many drawn games that ultimately meant they could have their tilt at equalling the record that Jock Stein’s Celtic has set first – a feat that in doing so beat Willie Maley’s Celtic long standing record of six league titles in a row.

It may not be the same Rangers today, but it’s the same group of people following that club. The same group of people who are hurting as were rack up title after title. The same group of people who know that today we celebrate winning our eighth title – one won despite many things going against us last season but they couldn’t capitalise on. The same group of people who are increasingly desperate to stop us winning our second nine in a row this season.

I was as happy as anyone when we stopped Rangers doing ten in a row, but back in 1996 I wanted to stop them even equalling our record. Sadly we didn’t come as close as we had the previous season and ever since we’ve had to listen to them talk about equalling our record.

They didn’t really though, did they? When we won nine in a row, they won a European trophy. That’s the level of competition we had back then. Their nine in a row had one decent run in Europe coupled with some serious pumpings from Ajax and Juventus and a few embarrassing defeats to Levski Sofia and AEK Athens. It just doesn’t compare in my eyes.

Of course, I look at our current run and I think to myself how would it compare? What if we do win nine in a row for the second time in our history? Well unless we win the Champions League this season I don’t think it’s going to match up our first nine in a row!

We’ve had our fair share of pumpings in Europe too. Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain have done is serious damage to the point we have new record defeats in Europe. But we did also beat Barcelona that one time…

We even have our own defeat to AEK Athens in this run! Add that to Maribor after our Legia Warsaw reprieve and we have our disappointments.

This run is far more comparable to their nine than ours. Similar fates in Europe, similar “can someone else stop them for us” thinking. Although you have to say, we didn’t actually die during their nine, but we came too close for comfort.

Which reminds me… Pacific Shelf 595. If you think that’s our “newco”, maybe you should dig a little deeper and find out of which company that is a subsidiary. You’ll soon see it belongs to the same Celtic that were incorporated way back on 1897. It was created in 1994 so that when the private limited company went public they still had a way of retaining the old Athletic Coy Ltd trademarks.

But I digress.

One thing undoubtedly stands out in our run, and that’s the unprecedented level of dominance we current have over Scottish Football. Rangers came close to the double treble during their nine in a row but fell at the last hurdle to Dundee United. We’ve not only done that but we’ve done it again to make it a treble treble.

The first of those was an invincible treble, with just four league draws in forty seven unbeaten matches – two of which were referee assisted! Again, Rangers came close to it in their nine but actually defeat to Partick Thistle put an end to that.

But we are still one league title short of truly comparing these things. Eight in a row is undoubtedly an amazing achievement in its own right, but should we fail to match the twice previously achieved nine in a row then it will be seen by many to be a massive failure. Indeed, for many years now the Celtic support have been singing about going one better, but if you want that then you have to get nine first.

We start the quest for that today, soon after the widows of Billy McNeill and Stevie Chalmers unfurl the league flag for our eighth title – and our fiftieth in total. Once that ceremony is complete, it’s down to business against an under fire St Johnstone.

While we’ve been playing in Europe, the League Cup sections have been taking place and one of the biggest shocks had been just how poor St Johnstone performed in theirs. Losing to a newly promoted Ross County could have been disappointing but not unexpected. But to also lose to Montrose and Forfar Athletic to the point that the latter actually made it through to the second round? The knives might be out for Tommy Wright in some quarters already.

Its difficult to judge anyone at this stage of the season. Players are coming and going, teams are evolving and there are still weeks to go in the transfer market.

And besides, St Johnstone were already out when they lose to Forfar. Oh yes, and they really should have been two goals up against Ross County but the returning Michael O’Halloran somehow rounded the goalkeeper and then hit the post instead. I wonder how different life would be in Perth if he hadn’t tried to be so clever with that effort.

St Johnstone will look to bounce back today against a Celtic team who have won all four European games so far this season. But they might just have a chance today. With Christopher Jullien suspended from too many bookings in French football last season, Jozo Simunovic suspended from his red card in a Swiss friendly, our new left back Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo still needing to calm down and show he can defend, and our new right back Hatem Abd Elhamed completely untried at Celtic, there’s a lot resting on the shoulders of Kristoffer Ajer and… Nir Bitton maybe?

The last time I saw those two play at the centre of defence together was that away game in Astana where even after we scored an away goal we still briefly feared we would ship enough goals to have our 5-0 first leg lead overturned!

I’m not sure what will happen today. I’m not overly confident at the back but I could be surprised. We finished off Nomme Kalju with a few changes in midweek to have an impressive 7-0 aggregate win, so we know we can score goals. So maybe we just have to wait and see what happens today. Hopefully its positive and we can begin our title defence with a solid home victory, kicking on to ensuring that flag days remains an annual event at Celtic Park for a while to come yet.

Krys (Twitter @krys1888)

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