Welcome to Hel… singborg

Like the Hebrews glimpsing the promised land, Celtics Champions League exile is almost over. A crock of more than £15million awaits in a Sevco free Europe. Importantly, this was a fourth consecutive away game unbeaten in Europe , our best run of results since Martin O’Neill.

A stunning opener, with a  volley on the bounce saw Kris Commons ease the nerves of the battle scarred (scared surely?) fans with only 2 minutes on the clock.

Helsingborgs couldn’t respond. They actually reminded me of Celtic on a bad night, all at odds with the occasion and full of rushes of blood to the head.

They started the first quite 45 well as Celtic struggled. With Celtic going 3:5:1 again, it didn’t take long for the Sieve to get in on the act, as first Mulgrew was caught in possession on the edge of his own box – forcing Forster into a save – then refusnik Sevconian Bedoya turned the entire Sieve to go one on one with Forster, who saved with his foot. Sorum then skelped Matthews and again went one on one with Forster, who managed to get an arm to his chip to prevent a certain goal.  Matthews again committed a  howler when, standing on the halfway line, he miskicked the ball straight to Mahlangu who was through on goal. Amazingly, the South African dithered and Matthews caught him at the edge of the box.  The half time whistle was a welcome relief to sphincters all around.

The second 45 saw Lenny replacing Kayal with Forrest and going to a  more comfortable 4-4-2.  This was rewarded with a trademark back post header, this time from Samaras on the end of a Commons corner. Game over. It could have been three or four, with Samaras firing wide from another  great solo run into the box, then Mulgrew hitting the bar with a free kick.

This was a special night. Celtic actually looked composed away in Europe ( God only knows why) and are ready to join the top table once again. Eat your hearts out Mr Green  and Thank you Mr White.

Paul S


If Celtic qualify…

Big European match this midweek so here’s an optimistic look at the possibilities for Friday’s draw should Celtic achieve a result in Finland on Wednesday.

If Celtic go through then we will be in the seeded half of the Champions group. This means we can’t be drawn against the other teams in that half of the draw, which at the time of writing look likely to include FC Basel, Anderlecht and Dinamo Zagreb. BATE Borisov were the seeded team in their match but could only get a 1-1 draw at home to Debrecen of Hungary, so that one could go either way.

There are five teams in the unseeded half of the Champions group – the teams Celtic could get drawn against. CFR Cluj will be one of them if they manage to hold on to a 1-0 first leg lead against Slovan Liberec in the Czech Republic. Partizan Belgrade have to overcome a 0-1 deficit at home against AEL Limassol if they are to be in it, but the other three look pretty clear cut. Helsinborg are defending a 3-0 away lead against Slask Wroclaw, Kiryat Shmona travel to Neftchi Baku with a 4-0 lead and Luxembourg champions Dudelange are unlikely to overturn a 4-1 deficit to Maribor, even if they are at home in the intimidating atmosphere of the Stade Jos Nosbaum (capacity 2,558, average attendance 2 – Jean Pierre et Delores Bonqueurs et le chien Roveur). Incredibly, the Dudes managed to beat Red Bull Salzburg in qualifying round 2 (1-0 and 3-4 after extra time) but their usual aggregate scorelines at this stage of the competition read like updates from the test match at Headingley.

Going by coefficients our potential opponents would line up this way in difficulty order:
CFR Cluj – 18.764
Kiryat Shmona – 14.974
Partizan Belgrade – 14.350
Helsinborg – 12.680
(Debrecen – 7.950)
NK Maribor – 6.424
(Slovan Liberec – 5.570)
(AEL Limassol – 5.099)

(Cluj would replace Dinamo Zagreb in Celtic’s half of the draw if Debrecen manage to beat the Croatians)

Celtic’s coefficient, remember, is 32.728.

Meanwhile, in tonight’s domestic competition, Sevco (coefficient 0.000 as they have never played a game in Europe) meet East Fife (coefficient same as Sevco). Fifers chairman Sid Columbine (to use his stage name) is quoted in today’s papers as saying, ‘’Rangers were expecting 40,000 before it got moved, but they reckon it could be between 20,000 and 25,000 because it’s now on a Tuesday night. We’ve got a lot of supporters not going because they have work in the morning and it disappoints us greatly – the two teams, in actual fact.”

Were they really expecting 20,000 dairy farmers, postmen and bakers from Fife to make up half the crowd?

JB Banal


Brave New World and Sean Fallon – Celtic Legend

A pleasant afternoon overall at Celtic Park on Saturday, although that was mainly down to events off the pitch more than the quality of football on offer. With the crucial Champions League qualifier against HJK looming on Wednesday I would have liked to have seen a more polished performance. Even though the Hoops pretty much dominated for 90 minutes the team looked ponderous for much of the game and weren’t able to turn their possession into clear cut chances often enough. Over now to Neil Lennon to come up with the selection and tactics than can get us a result in Finland.

It was good to see a healthy number of away fans in the visiting section for a change. If Aberdeen want to make this a regular feature as Aberdeen travel round the country then Hen Broon will have to at least try to provide some entertainment for them. This coming season, more than any other, it’s important for every club to make an effort to get supporters through the turnstiles, and parking the bus just won’t do it.

The post-apocalyptic world of Scottish football minus Rangers didn’t look nearly as scary as Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan were leading us to believe. A comparison of last season’s opening day fixtures to this season’s looks something like this:

Celtic v Aberdeen (1-0) 48,251
Hearts v St. Johnstone (2-0) 13,022
Dundee United v Hibs (3-0) 7,267
Kilmarnock v Dundee (0-0) 6,523
Ross County v Motherwell (0-0) 4,828

Total attendance: 79,891
Average: 13,315

Rangers (IA) v Hearts (1-1) 49,083
Hibs v Celtic (0-2) 12,523
Aberdeen v St. Johnstone (0-0) 10,001
Dundee United v Kilmarnock (1-1) 6,232
Dunfermline v St. Mirren (0-0) 5,035
Motherwell v Inverness (3-0) 4,190

Total attendance: 87,064
Average: 14,510

A drop off of around a thousand fans in attendance that I reckon could be accounted for by the fact that Celtic’s home game had an early kick-off to accommodate live TV coverage thereby deterring some of our far-travelled fans and not providing enough of an incentive for some of the floating voters to leave their armchairs for the afternoon. As the mainstream media will probably avoid the subject of SPL attendances this season unless they begin to tail off dramatically and therefore lend some weight to their pro-Sevco agenda, we’ll be keeping a beady eye on them here at NTV Mansions.

Wonderful to see the legend that is Sean Fallon having been chosen to raise the league flag (at 90 he looked a sight more sprightly than some of those that were on the pitch). Sean joined Celtic on 27th March 1950 from Glenavon for the princely sum of £27,000 and made his debut against Clyde at Shawfield in a 2-2 draw during which he had the unfortunate experience of scoring an own goal in the 34th minute (Fernie and Tully were Celtic’s scorers, the latter in the 88th minute). He made up for that the following season when he made 35 appearances for the first team, including one at right back in the ‘51 Cup Final, a 1-0 win against Motherwell. “As I walked off Hampden Park,” he said, “I felt I had got everything out of life I had ever wanted. I had become a member of the famous Celtic FC and holder of a Scottish Cup badge, all in one year.”

As a full-back he became renowned for making miraculous goal-line clearances. Curiously, his other position was centre-forward, where he played against Aberdeen in the 1954 Cup Final, scoring a thunderous winning goal after running on to a Fernie pass.

These days it’s not unusual to see players writhing around waiting to be evacuated by helicopter in scenes reminiscent of Oliver Stone Viet Nam movies, all helicopters and plasma bags. All because they’ve ripped their sock. Sean Fallon earned the nickname The Iron Man at a time when even the average Scottish professional ate a pre-match of granite sandwiches washed down with mugs of molten lava. As a hobby in his native Sligo, young Sean used to participate in long-distance open-water swimming events in the North Atlantic, winning the Henry Cup in 1947.

He was made captain of Celtic in 1952 but a chronic problem with his arm meant long spells out through injury. He chose Jock Stein to take his place, a gesture that was never forgotten by the future Celtic manager. It was a broken collarbone sustained in a league game against Hearts that led to one of Sean’s oft-quoted remarks. Returning to the field with the broken limb in a hastily constructed sling, he went out on to the left wing and finished the game. “It wasn’t as if it was a broken leg,” he said. Presumably if it had been he would have been forced to go in goal.

Not that he was completely indestructible. He admitted to me at a supporters function once that he had to off during a game – possibly one of the more full-on encounters with Rangers – because had, quote, “A bit of blood coming out of me eye.”

My father used to recall an incident when, during a match against Rangers at Celtic Park, Sean was on a collision course with one of the Rangers hard men, Sammy Baird. They converged on each other from a distance like that famous black and white film of two steam locomotives hurtling towards one another along a single track. Grown men winced as the pair got closer and fathers shielded the eyes of their children lest they would be traumatised for life by what they were about to witness. When the dust settled, Sean was brushing himself off while Baird lay prostrate waiting for the St. Andrews ambulance men to finish their Woodbines and come to his assistance. He was certainly in no fit state to assist himself.

In his book Talking With Celtic (Breedon Books 2001), the late great Eugene MacBride prompted Sean to retell his version of the incident:

“I broke his collarbone. The reason for that, it was his own fault. He came in square to me, stupidly. Three years before that he was playing with Clyde. I was playing right-back. It was a muddy night at Shawfield and I had fallen in the goalmouth. Next thing, I got a kick in the back of the head. I looked up and saw Sammy running away. Sammy used to run with his chest out. Big guy, Sammy. But the following week he was transferred to Preston. The manager at Preston at that time was Scot Symon. Three years after that particular incident at Shawfield Rangers appointed Scot Symon manager and he brought Sammy back with him. And that was the first opportunity I’d had, for I always remembered the kick in the head when he was wearing a Clyde jersey. Stupidly he came in square, broke his collarbone and his shoulder and was carried off. Yet, strangely enough, Baird was quite a nice guy off the field. I met him socially several times, a nice guy. But on the field he’d that wee bit in him, you know.”

Is it just me, or is there a metaphor in there for the present day Celtic – Sevco situation?

His playing career came to an end in 1958 because of a knee injury, ten months after having played his part in the eight goal thriller of a League Cup final in 1957 (and having his name echoed a million times over as schoolboys learned the litany of that team, “Beattie, Donnelly and Fallon…”)  but his association with Celtic continued, not least as assistant manager to Jock Stein, where he was able to bring to Celtic Park players of the calibre of Tommy Gemmell, Lou Macari, Davie Hay, George Connelly, Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain…

Glossing over his shabby treatment at the hands of the then Celtic board of directors, he left the club in May 1978 to become assistant manager – and later a director – at Dumbarton. While he was at Boghead he heard of a promising Dutch player who was, at the time, in the middle of a contract dispute with his club, Barcelona. Sean went to Holland to see if he could use his renowned Blarney to tempt him into turning out for the Sons. “I’ve spoken to the boy Cruyff, and he says he’ll get back to us,” Sean told the papers. Dumbarton are still waiting.

Cruyff ended up going to the LA Galaxy. What on earth was he thinking about? Why this unwillingness to swap the Ramblas for the Renton? If travelling was a problem I’m sure Dumbarton would have put him up in a single-end in Partick and gone halfers on a Transcard to make the travelling easier.

There were a few legends walking round the pitch a half-time on Saturday; not too many of them have as many stories as Sean Fallon. It’s time somebody wrote a book about him.

JB Banal



To the Finland Station! (and watch out for the Nuuts)

A 2-1 win at home in Europe in the first leg of a knockout tie is one of those results where you’re never quite sure whether or not to be happy. One the one hand it was a win in our first competitive fixture of the season – a come from behind victory at that. On the other, HJK were more Motherwell than Madrid – which was just as well as anyone of a remotely higher standard might well have had the tie over and done with last night – and although they didn’t exactly have Fraser Forster sweating buckets, they did manage to score an away goal.

Two golden rules in European ties: don’t give possession away cheaply; don’t concede at home.

Nevertheless, it looked to me as if the Finns had shot their bolt a good while before the final whistle, even though they are nearly twenty games into their domestic season. They had scored their goal by that time, of course, a punch sucked just after half time following a speedy break up the right wing.

Immediately afterwards Celtic injected a bit of pace and urgency into their own game and things started to happen. In the end I thought the Hoops were worthy of more than the 2:1 scoreline but the concensus at the end was that we have better players than them and should be able to get through to the play-offs, one way or another. I’d settle for ‘another’. That 2-1 gives them as big a headache as us – do they keep it simple and wait for the defensive mistake by Celtic (the very suggestion!) or do they take more of a risk and gamble on conceding one themselves?

So sit back and relax next Wednesday and enjoy the live TV broadcast as the Hoops comfortably defend a single goal lead.


The Candid Camera moment of the night involved Hooper and Forrest as they collided in the penalty area in the second half with the bloke two rows down from me leaping up ready to claim a penalty. Had it been two players of the team that used to be Rangers and Mike McCurry refereeing then maybe.

The moaning minnies of the Laptop Loyal would also have been grinding their keyboards that wee bit harder at the sight of 52,000 inside Celtic Park last night. The only other tie to match that was in Kiev (53,000) to watch Dinamo beat Feyenoord 2:1. Next nearest were Copenhagen (14,000), Anderlecht and Maribor (both around 12,000).

Anderlecht racked up the kind of score gthat we were all hoping Celtic would achieve last night while Maribor should go through against F91 Dudelange (“The Dudes”) despite the dreaded away goal. Kiryat Shmona (Club song: M-M-M- My Shmona) of Haifa easily disposed of Azerbaijan’s Neftci by four goals, while there were more modest single goal home wins for AEL Limassol and Cluj, which is where I will probably during a large part of next week’s Celtic match.

Of the away sides, Motherwell go to Athens with the flip-flops packed after Panathinaikos gave them a lesson in European realpolitik, Helsinborg hammered Wroclaw in Poland, Basel made Molde look rusty with a 1:0 and Sheriff might as well send the deputies to Zagreb after losing at home to the Undertakers by a similar scoreline.

Last night’s results:

Dynamo Kyiv         2-1    Feyenoord     
Motherwell FC     0-2    Panathinaikos FC     
BATE Borisov     1-1    Debreceni VSC     
Kiryat Shmona     4-0    Neftçi PFK     
FC Sheriff         0-1    GNK Dinamo Zagreb
Molde FK         0-1    FC Basel
AEL Limassol FC     1-0    FK Partizan     
FC København     0-0    Club Brugge KV     
NK Maribor         4-1    F91 Dudelange     
RSC Anderlecht     5-0    FK Ekranas     
WKS Śląsk Wrocław     0-3    Helsingborgs IF     
CFR 1907 Cluj     1-0    FC Slovan Liberec     
Celtic FC         2-1    HJK Helsinki     
Fenerbahçe SK     1-1    SC Vaslui

And finally, Esther, my brief trawl through the fascinating social culture of Finland yesterday turned up a long Finnish tradition of persons dressing in goat costume to solicit or perform for leftover food after Christmas. Historically, such a person was an older man, and the tradition refers to him as a nuuttipukki.

If ‘The Hems’ doesn’t float your boat, how about ‘The Nuuts’, short for ‘The Nuutipukkis?

JB Banal

hjk and the hemulans

Forget about the pre-season kick-abouts. The real thing starts tonight as another European campaign kicks off with a Champions League qualifier against HJK Helsinki.

The Finns are currently ranked 191st in Europe with a coefficient of 5.081. To put that into some kind of perspective, prior to their match against Panathinaikos, Motherwell were sitting five places above them in the standings. How would you feel going into a two-legged tie against Motherwell having to win on aggregate in order to progress to a shot at the majors? (For the record, Celtic are currently 63rd – that’s 128 places above HJK – with a coefficient of 32.728 and falling).

But this isn’t Motherwell, of course, and we have to assume a certain level of football ability on the part of tonight’s opponents that’s way beyond anything we see regularly in the SPL.

Not only that, but the vast majority of their players are Finns. They have a noble tradition of playing hard and fair, dating back to the Second World War. During the Red Army’s attack against the Mannerheim Line it wasn’t unusual for a single Finnish part-time ski trooper to fend of several divisions of Russian T-34 tanks armed only with a pen knife and ten Capstan Full Strength.

These are hardy souls who, unlike the BBC, don’t count snooker and darts as ‘sport’. Apart from the more genteel pastimes they like to participate in, such as judo, ice hockey and skiing off cliffs, they also seem to excel at driving supercharged hatchbacks at breakneck speeds through dense forests in the snow. There may well be some connection between this and the adult male Finn’s penchant for strong drink which, in my limited experience, is more than a match for anybody. It might also explain one of Finland’s cultural exports to the world; the Moomins. If you don’t believe me try watching ‘Attack of the Hattifatteners’ (episode 15 of series 1) after half a crate of Stella Cidre and a couple of Jaegerbombs.

(As an aside, while we’re trying to find a new name for that new team that’s sprung up in Kinning Park in order to make a clean break from that other team that is now defunct, we could do worse than refer to them as The Hemulens, or the Hems for short. They’re described in the Moomins synopsis of characters as: “Creatures that believe in order and like to boss other people around, but find it difficult to listen to anyone and lack a sense of humor. Many Hemulens like collecting stuff, and have little time to think about much else.”)

HJK will be no mugs, but if we can’t beat them over two legs to qualify for the play-offs (when the half-decent qualifiers join in) then there can be no excuses. We need a good performance from the Hoops tonight, straight from the kick-off, and a nice, comfortable two goal lead at the interval to take the edge off. A clean sheet would be a bonus. Leave the sucker punch unsucked, for a change.

Despite the Cassandras of the media predicting a nuclear winter for Scottish football after the events of the summer, it looks as if it will be pretty close to a full house tonight. We’ll see what conclusions they will draw from that in tomorrow’s chip wrappers.

And finally, Esther, I remember a few years ago a supporter of the club that used to be Rangers (IA) phoned Real Radio bemoaning that their goalkeeper at the time wasn’t being picked for the Scotland national team. The presenter had to point out  a glaringly obvious flaw in the caller’s argument. “Anti Niemmi? He’s Finnish.”

“Naw he’s no’” came the reply.  “He’s only 26.”

Enjoy the match and make plenty of noise or George of the Jungle will Nokia heads together (see what I did there?).

JB Banal

meet the staff

Introducing the intrepid men and women responsible for NTV.

As the late Ted Heath might have said, “Birching’s too good for them.”

NTV Official Staff Photograph 2012. Left to right: Manfred Lurker, Mrs. Lurker, Marmaduke Baglehole, Average Joe Miller, Rita May Crump (PA to JB Banal), Helen Knisely-Bonk (staff masseuse), AB Murdoch, Jean Baptiste
Banal, A Man From Turiff, Bernard Haggis (wine butler),
Professor Paul Shiels, George of the Jungle.