iN the week that Leigh Griffiths made his first start for Celtic, the top story brought up by a Google search for his name derived from pictures in which he didn’t even feature. The newsworthy snaps were photographs of the 23-year-old’s four children decked out in Celtic colours, taken and tweeted by his girlfriend during the club’s 3-0 home win over St Johnstone on Sunday. The words that accompany the images detail, in some length, the fact that the children are all under four and born to three different mothers. There is something about Griffiths’ complex private life that seems to make Daily Mail readers of us all.
When the striker signed from Wolverhampton Wanderers for around £850,000 on the final day of the transfer window, the move threw up masses of coverage and opinions. Yet, much as it was correct to condemn him for a previously exposed racist tweet, judgments – and not just the japery that was legitimate over his baby-making – tended to be made more on the basis of his personal circumstances. He has become regarded as a Scottish celebrity on a par with the sorts that populate “ordinary folk” reality TV shows, and this is a burden that clearly weighs heavily on him. The pain etched across his face when the subject was aired at Celtic’s Lennoxtown training ground the other day felt very real.
“It is hard, obviously,” said Griffiths. “That is the front of the papers, you guys are doing your job at the back. It is other people who are making my life a bit hard. But I just try to just keep my head down, keep working, coming here and do my job, I will leave the other stuff to the guys upstairs. I want to be in the papers on the back pages, not the front. It just seems like every time it is at the front, there are two lines of a story and the rest is about my past. It is not going to go away but I am trying to calm down what I am doing and be on the back pages for the right reasons, rather than the front.”
Maybe it is not surprising that he answers in the affirmative to the question of whether he is misunderstood.
“If you ask any manager I have worked with, or any player who has been in a changing room with me, they will say I am not a bad lad,” said Griffiths. “I come in and sit quietly, get out and do my work, then go home and see my kids. So I am not a bad lad. The press have just put the spotlight on me but if you ask anybody they will say I am no trouble at all.”
The only trouble he has focused on since his move has been his lack of on-field sharpness after hardly playing in his last month with Wolves, though he looked quick enough when scoring against Hearts yesterday. On Tuesday evening, at Pittodrie, his quest for match fitness will continue as he is set to face Aberdeen for the second time since he returned to Scotland.
He is hoping for an experience more palatable than his Celtic debut, in which he appeared too late from the bench to prevent his new club falling at home to the Dons in the Scottish Cup.
A week ago, he enjoyed better fortunes in his first full 90 minutes for Celtic against St Johnstone, which has aided his assimilation process. Not least because the fluid interplay between hat-trick bagger Anthony Stokes, Kris Commons and Griffiths in that first full outing encouraged the belief that the new signing can offer more than even the prodigious plundering his pot-shot mastery delivered for Hibernian, Wolves and Dundee in recent years.
“It has been good, linking up with both of them,” added Griffiths. “If we are not playing together then, hopefully, we can still help each other out, and drive the team forward. It started well at the weekend so, hopefully, we can continue that.”
What Griffiths might struggle to match from his previous postings is pinging the ball into the net from dead-ball deliveries. Celtic, right now, are awash with players who would pride themselves on such expertise but, in fact, Neil Lennon didn’t place Griffiths at the end of a long queue formed by Charlie Mulgrew, Commons, Stokes and Virgil van Dijk.
“The manager said before the game ‘look, if you fancy it, just go over and tell the boys that you want it’,” said Griffiths. “But there is competition for everything here and I just have to bide my time to get on them. I got one, and I ballooned it over the bar, so I don’t think I will be back on them for a while.
“If the manager has got faith in me to take them, then I am sure I will step up. The manager [Pat Fenlon] put me on them last season at Hibs because my delivery was good. People obviously questioned that a goalscorer should be in the box, but I didn’t hear them complaining when it hit the back of the net.
“If the manager wants me in the box to try to score goals then I am happy to let other people put the deliveries in. If the manager wants me to step up, then I will happily oblige. Free-kicks just come naturally – how sweet you hit the ball and whether it is going to get over the goalie. I practice shooting quite a lot from angles and things like that, but not so much free-kicks.”
It seems to have come naturally for Griffiths to have his life picked over at the front of newspapers and now it is impossible for him to kick that into touch.