TONY Watt shared the frustration, and doubtless a little embarrassment, of the Celtic team which trudged off the pitch at Parkhead ten days ago having been held to a 1-1 draw by Second Division opponents Arbroath in the fourth round of the William Hill Scottish Cup.
But, ahead of tonight’s replay at Gayfield, the teenage striker has explained why it seldom takes him long to place football in its proper perspective.
Watt, of course, has also scaled incredible heights for Celtic this season when he scored what proved to be the winning goal in their epic 2-1 defeat of Barcelona in the Champions League. The 18-year-old is unquestionably living the dream in the colours of his boyhood heroes.
Among the duties for first- team squad members is an annual visit to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Yorkhill in Glasgow, one undertaken by the Celtic players on Monday this week. It was especially poignant for Watt, who has revealed both he and his sister Alana were patients at Yorkhill.
“When I was younger I had to go there because I suffered from asthma,” said Watt. “My sister had something wrong with her heart, so she had to go there for years. So going there on Monday, I knew what to expect but it still really brings you back down to earth and shows you how lucky you are. Some of these kids don’t get the chance to live, some don’t see past their first or second birthday.
“Luckily enough for me I’m 18 now, healthy and playing for the best team in the country, so I know I couldn’t ask for much more. I was still young when I had to go in, so I don’t remember too much but I think I had to stay overnight a few times. My sister had to get operations done but now she is fine and for that I’ll always be thankful to Yorkhill. I’ll always try to give something back to the hospital. If I ever see someone in the street collecting for Yorkhill, I’ll always help and see what I can do for them.
“Fortunately I just grew out of my asthma. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t really need inhalers any more so I stopped using them. But I used to take asthma attacks when I was playing football as a kid. It was scary at the time, I was only a young boy – I was in Primary 7 at the time – and it obviously didn’t help my football. But I never worried that it might stop me from becoming a professional footballer. I was too young to think about that and to me it was just one of those things.”
It remains to be seen whether Watt gets another chance to lead the line against Arbroath tonight. Celtic manager Neil Lennon, who shuffled his squad for the first match against the Red Lichties, has expressed his intention not to deviate too far from his accustomed full- strength first XI this time.
“We will be very strong on Wednesday night,” said Lennon. “Players want to keep playing, they are in a match rhythm, in good condition. They are mentally in a good place and they just want to keep playing. I thought we were terrific at Kilmarnock on Saturday and that is exactly the reaction I was looking for after the Spartak Moscow match last week. Psychologically, getting through to the last 16 of the Champions League has eased them, has given them something to look forward to in the new year.
“We have a heavy December schedule but that is no different from the six months we have had previously. If you want to be as successful as we can this season, then we have to win the game and that won’t be easy. It will be tricky, depending on the conditions. It will be Arbroath’s cup final, it will be a full house and they will be hoping we do not turn up with the right sort of attitude. I have not detected any of that so far. I thought our attitude was right in the first game, we were unlucky not to win. We had so many chances and I did not think our play was bad. We dominated the game and they scored with a deflected free-kick. That happens in football.”
It will be Lennon’s first visit to Gayfield, although he has been given the lowdown on the seafront venue in the Angus town by his first-team coach, Danny McGrain, who was Arbroath manager the last time Celtic paid a visit, winning 9-1 in a League Cup tie back in 1993. “I know nothing about the place,” said Lennon, “but as it’s by the coast, I would imagine at this time of the year it would be warmer than inland. The pitch is in good condition from what I can gather. Their chairman is confident the game will go ahead. Danny has always maintained it is a decent surface as well. It is probably one of the better ones.”
Lennon will be without Welsh midfielder Joe Ledley, who is likely to be sidelined for ten days with a hip injury, but Northern Ireland winger Paddy McCourt returned to training yesterday.