CELTIC supporters are having to indulge in a lot of slightly embarrassed shuffling of feet at the moment.
• Swathes of empty seats at Celtic Park have been evident at recent games. Picture: SNS
They don't know where to look. It's bad enough when one of their player of the year awards goes to someone who only joined the club on loan at the end of January. But they must also deal with the horror of seeing a great corner stone of the club's reputation kicked away in recent weeks.
The ever-swelling number of Celtic fans estimated to have followed their team to Seville for the Uefa Cup final seven years ago has become something of a running joke. Over the last fortnight it has been suggested that the tendency to exaggerate is still apparent in the east end of Glasgow.
One newspaper report claimed that no more than 15,000 could have attended the first post-Ross County game, when Motherwell were the visitors to an eerily quiet Celtic Park. Celtic have been quick to refute this, although the club's own stated figure – 22,000 – still does not do much for the fans' reputation – admittedly, one that is largely self-appointed – for being prepared to go that extra mile for their club. Not that this attendance is recorded on the club's official website. The crowds at the last two fixtures are logged as "unknown". The last recorded attendance is for the game against Kilmarnock at the end of last month, when 41,000 – almost 20,000 below capacity – were present.
Many Celtic fans are alert to the problems being stored up by claiming – via such songs as Over and Over – that they are faithful through and through. Because when it comes to the crunch, they clearly aren't. This isn't to say they are any worse than fans of other clubs, but when their own shtick is the claim to be the most loyal supporters in the world they surely cannot be surprised if such a low attendance is remarked upon.
Last Saturday's attendance, for the visit of Hibernian, was slightly better, but anyone who caught the match on television could not fail to be distracted by the acres of empty seats which formed the background to the action. It will be interesting to note whether the visit of Dick Advocaat's AZ Alkmaar will prove tempting next midweek in a game designed to appease season-ticket holders owed a game due to the absence of home Scottish Cup ties this season.
Many Celtic fans, alert to having set themselves up for a fall through years of self-mythologising, had braced themselves for low turn-outs at the end of one of the bleakest seasons in recent times. They have duly got them, even if some present at the last two home league games believe far fewer than claimed attended. This isn't so, according to a Celtic spokesman yesterday. He also denied that all season-ticket holders, whether they attended the game or not, were included in an effort to help swell the total. The club has been accused of this ploy in the past when seeking to massage crowd figures. The figure against Motherwell was comprised solely of those who clicked through the turnstiles – or at least, in this digital age, bleeped through them.
But how are we to judge quality of supporters in any case? Over 7,000 – more than 2,000 more than the population of Dingwall itself – watched Ross County gain the result which has all but finished Celtic's season. But this is a one-off occasion. The First Division side have not played at home since, but it is fair to say this number won't cram into Victoria Park on Saturday when they host Partick Thistle. Yet, their last home fixture was watched by just over 2,000 – not bad in terms of population/attendance ratio. The Celtic attendance, in comparison to those who travelled down from the Highlands, was, though, undeniably pitiful. Just over 16,000 felt compelled to support the team in a game which represented Celtic's last chance to win a trophy this season, and which took place just four miles from Celtic Park. This fact alone is enough to warrant being stripped of any 'best supporters' title, if it was possible to even award such a thing.
In reality, Celtic fans are no better and no worse than fans of any other club. They are as fickle as the rest and will be attracted by the thought of watching a winning team. If what they see instead is a team in a state of some distress then many Celtic fans remain consistent with one part of their great supporters' anthem. They walk on.
Clyde's drop down leagues is a sorry sight
INVERNESS Caledonian Thistle are bound for the SPL and it doesn't seem so long ago when their last promotion to the top tier was achieved following a fight to the finish with Clyde.
Perhaps because it wasn't so long ago. The campaign was 2003-04, and a couple of seasons later Clyde again posted their credentials with a famous win over Celtic in the Scottish Cup. But, while Inverness' fortunes have dipped and then improved again in recent times, Clyde have been pinned to a wheel of fire. When they think it can't get any worse, it does. Tuesday's 2-1 defeat to Stirling Albion saw the Bully Wee relegated for a second successive season, 100 years to the night after finishing Scottish Cup runners-up to Dundee. Scottish football must surely mourn the decline of one of our truly great clubs.
Clyde have now been deposited in Scotland's bottom tier and the hope is that, despite the club's financial plight, they prove able to engage with the task of beginning the long climb back up the league ladder.
It might even help revive the club in the end, with Livingston having this season displayed the vivifying properties of simply winning a few games. Hamilton Academical are another source of inspiration, even though the Clyde fans would be loathe to admit it. In director of football Neil Watt, whose qualities came to the fore at Stranraer, they at least have someone who knows what is required to succeed at such a level.
On a lighter note, this week's events could also hand Clyde a surely unique title. Their ever-impressive club programme – The Clyde View – won the First Division programme of the year title two seasons ago, and has picked up this season's Second Division award. A unique hat-trick is surely on the cards.