Celtic benefit as Leigh Griffiths learns from ‘stupidity’

Celtic's Leigh Griffiths says he will regard a personal tally of more than 35 goals as 'a good season'. Picture: SNS
Celtic's Leigh Griffiths says he will regard a personal tally of more than 35 goals as 'a good season'. Picture: SNS
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It says much about the reformed character Leigh Griffiths insists he has become over the past 12 months that the booking he collected at Tannadice last week for a 
calculated breach of the rules was an increasingly rare 
misdemeanour.

On and off the pitch these days, Griffiths is generally toeing a line which has turned him into the hottest striking property in Scottish football.

Celtic supporters, many of whom would have welcomed his departure when he attracted dark headlines for his conduct during the early days of his time at the club, were certainly more than happy to excuse the yellow card he incurred for displaying a pre-prepared T-shirt celebrating his 50th goal for the Scottish champions.

It is a far cry from the offences which almost set up a regular correspondence course with the SFA compliance officer at one stage, while also landing him in front of a sheriff.

As Griffiths reflects on the way he has turned his fortunes around at Celtic, the day in April 2014 when he was caught on camera in a pub singing a racist chant about former Hearts favourite Rudi Skacel is the low point from which he insists he has learned most.

“I think it was the turning point,” says the 25-year-old. “It was just stupid to go to the pub in the first place that day. When I woke up that morning, the last thing I was wanting to do was go to the pub. I just wanted to go to the Edinburgh derby and watch Hibs winning it, but that didn’t happen.

“What happened that day is well forgotten about in my mind, but it’s been well documented. It’s things like that I look back on and say to myself ‘What were you doing?’ and ‘Why did you do that?’ It was sheer stupidity but it is one of the things I’ve learned from.”

Griffiths was fined £2500 by the SFA and admonished by a sheriff for that offence which added to a charge sheet which had led to him being punished for less than sensible actions on the pitch during his time with Hibs.

In December 2011, he received a one-match ban for gesturing at Rangers supporters during a 2-0 defeat at Easter Road. The following month, he collected another one-match ban when he gestured at his team’s own fans as Hibs won a Scottish Cup tie at Cowdenbeath. Later in January 2012, Griffiths was banned for two matches after making a one-finger gesture to supporters as Hibs lost 3-2 at home to St Johnstone.

“I got a couple of bans for stupid stuff and I realised I had to knuckle down,” he adds. “I spoke to Pat Fenlon at the time and he was the one who told me I had to knuckle down if I wanted to make a career out of this game. He told me it’s a short career and you can be out the door as quickly as you come in.

“Then after the incident in the pub before the game at Tynecastle, the new manager came in here at Celtic and for the first four months of last season I wasn’t really playing. That’s when I went in to see him and get reassurances I was wanted at the club and to know what I had to do to change. Since then, I haven’t really looked back.

“I’ve learned that you can’t react to things like I did. Even out on the streets when I’m with my kids, I still get abuse now and then. But I can blank it out and ignore it now. It’s my wee boy who turns around and tries to give it back – I’m the one telling him off.”

Griffiths is undeniably reaping the benefits of his new attitude when it comes to his performances on the pitch. He will seek to add to his tally of 27 goals for the season when Celtic host St Johnstone this afternoon, his prolific form even prompting speculation he could match Henrik Larsson’s benchmark of 53 goals from the 2000-01 campaign.

“Everyone keeps going on about Larsson’s record but that’s some way off yet,” he says. “If I can get anywhere near it I’ll be happy. As a striker you want to set yourself targets and for me the next one is still 30. If I can get over 35 then I’d class it as a good season. I scored 20 last season and I was posted missing for the first four or five months. But I’ve been playing most of the games this season so if I can hit 35 I’ll be happy.

“My best tally in senior football was 28 for Hibs in my second season there, so I’m only one away from equalling that.

“The most I’ve ever scored, though, was 117 in my first season with Leith Athletic when I was 11. But I wasn’t even their Player of the Year that season! It was Lee Currie, who went on to play for Hibs and Berwick and is now with Newtongrange Star, who got Player of the Year.

“Funnily enough, he was the gaffer’s son!”