The 90s – Part 3: From One Calamity to Another

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Free PDF when you buy any NTV online or take out a subscription. If you weren’t going to see Celtic in the 90s read it and you’ll understand why your da sometimes behaves in a strange way when he hears names like Stuart Slater mentioned. 80-odd pages of masochism to pass the time while you’re snowed in with more than enough stats to shake a stick at – if you enjoy shaking sticks at stats.

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Happy Retirement Paddy McCourt

fwl mccourt

So happy retirement then to the Derry Pele, the man with the twinkle toes and the seemingly indestructible liver.

Paddy McCourt was signed by Gordon Strachan after having had spells with Rochdale, failing to impress Motherwell after a two week trial, Shamrock Rovers and Derry City (where his brother is a director). Not exactly a sparkling CV but the word from Ireland was that this guy was a major talent if he applied his mind to it. The footage on You Tube (admittedly never a foolproof test) suggested a player of some ability, and of course there was the odd fact that while with Shamrock Rovers he had three goals in contention for goal of the season in one year.

But on his arrival at Celtic Park he disappeared from view. Apparently his level of fitness was closer to pub league than the SPL.

His debut in the Hoops was as a sub in a 4-2 win over Hibs but that was one of only 5 appearances we got off him that season (all from the bench).

The following season wasn’t a whole lot better under Mowbray. 14 run outs, although he did manage 3 goals, including an incredible solo run and chip against Falkirk. For the most part he was the star of the reserve team, which is probably the ultimate in being damned with faint praise.

The arrival of Neil Lennon changed how Paddy was used and the way the support viewed him. During season 2010-11 Paddy made 31 appearances, scoring 7 goals. He was a key player in certain games and a couple of his goals will be long remembered: as a sub against Hearts he took on and left for dead 3 defenders before deftly lifting the ball over the diving keeper.
fwl mccourt celebrates v hearts colour

It was a goal that had class stamped all over it and the support responded warmly to the way he would always look to take on players not with pace but with guile and sleight of foot. Those were the trademarks of his finest goal, but it is one that is all but forgotten because it arrived in the game that, for my money, cost us the league – the game against Inverness. Not the one in April, the one in November, where we were 2-0 up and could only draw. The loss of those points wound up being crucial because you can always drop points in the highlands, the grounds there are tough, but when Celtic are 2-0 up at home with only about 20 minutes to go 3 points must be delivered, it’s that simple.

We were already a goal up when the ball arrived at Paddy’s feet about 25 yards out. He beat one man with a perfect switch of feet, dummied his way past another before taking the keeper out by feigning to shoot and then casually walking round him to roll the ball into an empty net. A joy of a goal and actually our 600th in the SPL, but one lost in the disappointment of such a poor result.

But even with that, the game that will live longest in his memory, the one he will relive the most, came two months later at Ibrox.

The common wisdom was that we were to be slaughtered. Celtic’s form had been shaky and the previous game had seen us narrowly beat Motherwell 1-0 only thanks to a deflected shot from Paddy. Hooper was injured, Stokes was out and Scott Brown had got himself sent off in the last minutes against Motherwell meaning he couldn’t face Rangers (1872-2012 RIP) either. The makeshift nature of the Celtic line-up can probably be best summed up by saying that up front we had Samaras and Paddy and up until that point of the season Paddy had probably gathered more game time than Sammy.

The first half was a bit of a siege. Samaras was running a lot but not seeing much of the ball. Paddy was being nullified by the sheer pace of the game, although he did produce one reverse pass that came very close to opening them up.

At half time the TV pundit opinion was that it was a matter of time until a Rangers (1872-2012 RIP) goal arrived. But during that half-time Lenny told McCourt to move closer to Sammy and work as a pair.

Within 5 minutes of the second half Paddy had shot just wide from a Sammy knockdown. Truth be told he should have done a lot better, but it mattered not, he became a presence in the game, not just as an attacking force and once Sammy had done his thing and we had established a 2-0 lead there was Paddy tackling on the right wing, chasing back and generally defying the wisdom that said he couldn’t last 90 minutes (although it could be argued that his first half efforts meant he hadn’t really put in a full 90).

That game was probably the high point of his time at Celtic Park.

He appeared as a sub in the cup final that May and would have had a clear view of goal if it hadn’t been for Stokes being a greedy sod. He had scored the final league goal of that season in a 4-0 win over Motherwell. But that was his last goal for us, despite making over 30 appearances in the following two seasons.

Those two seasons were tales mainly of sub appearances. Very rarely did he start. His role had become almost that of a kicker in American football, introduced only when the occasion called for it. With the increased role for Forrest and the arrival of Commons, together with the superior goal threat that these players carry, it was been easy to see why.

One of the knock on effects of this was the introduction of a modified Billy Ray Cyrus song in his honour. The punk wars were not fought for that kind of rubbish!

But the song acknowledged the fact that he was now surplus to requirements. His main contribution his final season at Celtic was possibly as a sub at Tannadice in the autumn. He gave up the possession that led directly to their equaliser.

He was now the luxury player that we simply could not afford. When it became obvious that his days were numbered my only concern was that he didn’t move to another SPL club. We all knew what he could do when properly motivated and on his day no defence could stop him. The last thing we needed was that running at our back four.

Pat McCourt was probably the most naturally gifted player we’ve had the club since Lubo, capable of turning an entire defence with one pass, taking a defender out of the game with one perfect first touch and seeing all the angles of the pitch, all the possibilities before anyone else.

The downside was always the murmurings about his lifestyle. Put bluntly, for the talent he possessed he should have been playing at SPL level for a hell of a lot longer and possibly at an even higher level.
fwl mccourt with cup

His final appearance was in the 2013 cup final – as a sub obviously – but the esteem that his teammates had for him can be gauged by the fact that as he came on he was given the captain’s armband. He signed off his Celtic career as captain of the team that won the cup. Cool.

He left with 2 SPL winners medals and 2 Scottish Cup winners badges.

We wish him a long and happy retirement.

fwl mccourt

 

12 Arsehole Men

A timely repeat for an earlier NTV production…

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Lookalikes

looklike mccann and squidward

looklike father jack and jimmy nicholl

looklike fergus and alfred

looklike doncaster and vern

looklike mohsni creature

lookalike mccoist

looklike keevins and bemis

That’s enough lookalikes – Ed

Earwig: on literacy, numeracy and poetry…

“He doesn’t know when he’s beaten, this boy. He doesn’t know when he’s winning either. He doesn’t have any sort of sensory apparatus.”

earwig ken clean air
This is boxer Ken Clean Air System (above), subject of a spoof Monty Python documentary, seen here trying to figure out how to jog around a parked car during one of his training sessions. Ultimately it’s too difficult a problem for Ken to solve and he turns round and jogs back the way he came.

Ken has become shorthand round NTV Mansions these days for supporters of the basket of assets that Charlie Green bought from the administrators of the now defunct Rangers FC. Move over Broxi Bear – Ken Clean Air System is the new mascot in town.

Not content with venting their collective spleen at empty stadiums or sending fighting fund donations to clowns, the Sevvies are not slow to display their open mindlessness for all to see on social media.

It’s little wonder that they can barely manage to comprehend what’s happening financially at the Death Star. When single digit numbers are causing problems, being able to get to grips with a financial spreadsheet seems a long way off. Take ‘Thornhill Bomber’ for instance:
earwig one word
Or ‘Bellshill Bear’, who ambitiously tried a higher number:
earwig 2 words

And it’s not just your humble correspondent who has noticed that when it comes to number crunching, many Sevconians have misplaced their dentures, as this exchange between ‘Broxi Bears Gran’ and Frankie Boyle would suggest:
earwig frankie boyle
“I used to wake Ken up with a crowbar on the back of the head. but recently I found that this was too far from his brain and I wasn’t getting through to him any more. So I now wake him up with a steel peg driven into his skull with a mallet.”
Ken’s manager.

Numeracy is a challenge, obviously, but so too literacy. Thank goodness the Sevconians have one another’s backs when it comes to spelling and grammar:
earwig spelling
It’s true that typing anything in the wake of a horrendous defeat to a team that you loathe can be emotional. Feelings run high, and all that pent up hatred that has to be bottled up when trying to function as a part of civilisation might bubble over, but if you’re not careful then the object of your ire can be obscured:
earwig pipe
Does WATCCCOE intend to insult the Pontif in Rome or is he a plumber? Is there some piece of his favourite stadium hanging askew and causing an obstruction to his view? Has his Sherlock Holmes-style Meerschaum sprung a leak?

I hope the answer is simply that he has given up on crack cocaine but I fear for his mental wellbeing nonetheless.

So too with ‘The Hammer_WATP’, who worked himself into such a sectarian frenzy during his pre-match 2 Minute Hate before the 4:0 humiliation (or was it the 5:0 humiliation, it’s hard to keep track these days) that it caused him to conflate rosary beads with potatoes in his febrile mind:
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VOICEOVER: For breakfast every day, Ken places a plate of liver and bacon under his chair and locks himself in the cupboard.

MANAGER: Well, he’s having a lot of difficulties with his breakfasts, but this temperament, caused by a small particle of brain in his skull, and once we’ve removed that he’ll be perfectly alright.

At least there was time after the 4:0 drubbing for some sober reflection among the Sevconians. Alas, that didn’t include checking the old spelling. Here’s Bob Malcolm FTP’s verdict on the events surrounding the semi-final:
earwig leek
In case you’re wondering, yes, it’s the same Bob Malcolm who used to masquerade as a football player in front of the same stadium that John Brown played for. Bob now sells ice cream from a mobile vending point – echoes of the KLF’s hit, “He’s just a fool, and he’s ancient and he drives an ice cream van…”

VOICEOVER: Every morning at his little three room semi near Reading, Ken gets up at three o’clock and goes back to bed again because it’s far too early.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the Kens out there, however, as it has been announced that the manager of the Liverpool Under 18s is about to take the helm in order to steer the SS Sevconia away from choppy waters.

The news prompted BigHuggyBear to throw away the dictionary and share his joy with the cybersphere:
earwig one off the people
Just that one off, which in Thornliebomber’s world is probably two off – while BellshillBear makes that three off. Jeez, how confusing it must be to be a bear these days!

And yet how reassuring that there are real life wordsmiths who are ready and willing to make your pain go away. Take Matthew Leslie of the Daily Record, for instance, who rationalised the appointment of the Liverpool Under 18s boss thus:
earwig gerrard moon

Given that he was contacted about the job eight days previously, it would have been interesting to see what NASA would have done with their moon project with a week and a bit’s notice.

Yet, despite their lack of cerebral activity, there is a sensitive side to the Sevco support, a side which writes poetry. I leave you this month with this classic  from a poster on one of their websites:
earwig poem

“There’s something about both your eyes that are blue”… “You are like a grandson from the World war that Rangers won, we will get the battle fever on and build those ships to sail you to the Somme.” Siegrfried Sassoon eat your liver out.

VOICEOVER: At 10.30 every morning Ken arrives at what he thinks is the gym. Sometimes it’s a sweetshop, sometimes it’s a private house. Today it’s a hospital.

Toodloo The Noo
The Earwig

 

Celtic in Europe – The MON Years: Part 1

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Free 74 page PDF on its way to subscribers this weekend to pass the time until the real thing starts next month.

“Fantastic memories of one of our better European campaigns.”
Sid et Doris Bonqueurs – Jeunesse D’Esch

“Try the reindeer burgers next time you’re in Finland. Cheaper than the beer.”
H. Jakey – Helsinki

“There were men from near the Bordeaux…”
Charles de Goal – France

bk 1 preview complete

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The Zen of Nakamura

誕生日おめでとう中村俊介

Happy birthday Shunsuke Nakamura, our erstwhile legend of the free-kick.

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Shunsuke Nakamura was a Gordon Strachan midfield stalwart for four seasons, scorer of some of the most thrilling goals we’ve see at Celtic Park in recent times and the man who gave the Parkhead DJ the chance to dust off his Vapors single (it could have been worse had he been a fan of that cringingly naff ‘Aneka’ – real name Bella McGlumpher or some such – record)

This was the transfer that we were all assured by the likes of the Rectumsport staff was not going to happen. Following the Artmedia nightmare it became very clear that Celtic wouldn’t be taking any part in the 2005-06 Champions League, therefore the logic of the Darylls dictated that without the lure of European football the man from Japan wouldn’t be interested in coming to Scotland in order to go mano y mano with Ross Tokely and the rest of Hammer Throwers Inc.

With clubs like Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid sniffing about we were led to believe that the aforementioned DJ might be spinning ‘Jilted John’ for us over the tannoy. Yet, without indulging in too much of a crude national stereotype, the Japanese are nothing if not honourable, not to mention inscrutable. Promises had been made, and so it was that Naka came to Glasgow and made his Celtic debut against Dundee United on August 5th 2005.

First impressions were favourable, to say the least. His first touch was immaculate, he could find a team mate with a pass virtually every time he got the ball, he was able to keep possession and he played with his head up – and not up his arse either. By the standards of 90% of the SPL this put him on a par with Zico. Unlucky not to score on more than one occasion, his manager was quick to praise his Man of the Match performance. Naka himself, speaking inscrutably through his interpreter, declared himself to be reasonably happy with his contribution to Celtic’s afternoon, pledging to work on his cardiovascular regime in order to catch up with his team mates, some of whom were just finishing their second slice of pizza and wondering what he was on about.

Deployed mainly wide on the right of midfield by Gordon Strachan, despite having a left foot that stood comparison with Lubo, Naka went on to become a regular starter and was one of Celtic’s main creative threats throughout a season that he finished by picking up a Championship medal to go with the League Cup badge won the previous month.

The following season Naka became the first Japanese player to play in the Champions League when he turned out against Manchester United at Old Trafford. His growing reputation as a free-kick specialist was cemented that night when he scored a Naka cracker to bring us level at 2:2. It might have been enough to earn us a creditable away point had Giggs not conned the ref with an outrageous dying swan routine to win the home side a penalty.

Revenge was sweet in the return at Celtic Park, though. Once again Naka flighted home an amazing strike past van der Sar which seems to get further out each time you watch it. This time the Holy Goalie saved the mandatory United penalty and we qualified from the group stage for the first time.

Apparently, apart from endlessly practising inscrutable free-kicks at training in a manner best described as inscrutable, Nakamura also practises qigong to help his concentration and delivery at dead balls, a set of breathing and movement exercises often taught in association with Chinese martial arts. It seems that Qigong’s slow external movements help stimulate the internal organs by promoting the flow of the body’s internal energy or qi.

Certainly different from Kris Boyd’s ten pints of lager and a crate of Monster Munch training regime.

In between the games against United Naka had scored his first Celtic hat-trick in a 4-1 defeat of Dundee United at Tannadice – and not a free kick among them.

He won Goal of the Season that year as well for yet another memorable effort, this time chipping the ball over United’s Derek Stillie from somewhere near the touchline to secure a comeback point at Celtic Park.

His second league medal was secured when he won the game at Kilmarnock with yet another brilliant free-kick. The emotion he showed as he ran into the crowd swinging his jersey hinted that the mask of inscrutability might be in danger of slipping were he to hang around CP much longer. Later the same evening he won the SPFA Player of the Year award, followed in May by the Hacks award and the Celtic Fans’ award.

A knee injury picked up in the Champs League qualifier against Spartak kept him out for the first three months of the next season, but he was back by January to play his part in the run-in, most notably with arguably his best goal in the Hoops, a vicious swerving drive that left Allan McGregor looking as if he’d just had a night out in Loch Lomond with Bazza.

During his final season with Celtic he was definitely not the player of old, caught up in the general malaise and looking as if he had half an eye on his exit route. Before the January transfer window there was already speculation that he wanted to return to Japan in order to let his wee boy start school in his homeland and play out his final years for his first club, Yokohama. The fact that he ended up at Espanyol just proves what I was saying about him being inscrutable.

In his four seasons at Celtic he gave us some fantastic memories, some wonderful goals and provided the club with an exposure in Japan that must have been worth millions in terms of commercial spin-offs. According to David Thompson, Celtic’s former commercial director, “Celtic are now the third most popular Scottish brand in Japan, behind whisky and Sean Connery. Their popularity has even led to the creation of a word for Scot – “Scoto-rando-jin” – whereas in the past Scots were referred to as being English.”

It was easy to see why Peter Lawwell and the bhoys in the boardroom were eager to get Naka’s successor signed in order to keep the profile up in the far east. 140,000 Nike Hoops tops a year wasn’t to be sniffed at.

Nakamura left as still something of an elusive (nay, inscrutable) character, but he does come across as someone who enjoyed his experience at Celtic

If only he’d had an extra yard of space!

IAN SCRUTABLE

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naka-book

The Zen of Naka: The Journey of a Footballing Genius by Martin Greig; Mainstream Publishing; 240 pages (8 pages of colour pictures); £16.99 hardback

Far from your normal book about a footballer as Martin Greig tries to unravel the complexities of our very private Japanese midfielder.

His early life and football career are covered in detail, of course. Because Naka is so private, very little is known about him as a person (even in Japan) so it was interesting to find out about his upbringing, the reasons for his move to Italy then to Celtic and to get an insight into the dedication that has gone in to making him arguably the best technician we’ve had since Lubo.

As well as focusing on Nakamura, the author also gives us a fascinating overview of the development of football in Japan since the Second World War (and if you want to find out more you should get a hold of ‘Japanese Rules: Japan and the Beautiful Game’ by Sebastien Moffett). Greig goes to some lengths to interview the coaches and teammates who knew the young Naka, as well as tracking down Philippe Troussier, the man who left him out of Japan’s 2002 World Cup squad (a huge blow to the player).

Troussier’s interview is one of the highlights of the book, as is the resolve shown by Nakamura to get over this disappointment to get where he is today.

 

 

Also described in the book are the professional Naka followers, and what an eclectic, not to mention eccentric bunch they are, including the one who took up Scottish country dancing while a teenager in Japan, so fascinated was he with all thing Caledonian.

As Greig notes, “there are clear parallels with Henrik Larsson, even if Nakamura isn’t, yet, as revered. The Swede appeared cool and aloof when he arrived, but as the public admiration grew, so Larsson’s inscrutable veneer began to peel away and his charisma shone through – and so it is with Nakamura”.

Not your average footballer biography in more ways than one. I enjoyed it.

MANFRED LURKER