The old maxim about a lie travelling halfway around the world before the truth even straps its boots on needs updated for our digital age. Sometimes it now seems that lies bounce around the planet electronically as the truth is never allowed even to don footwear. A sorry state to which Charlie Mulgrew can all too readily testify.
The 30-year-old is the only Celtic player with Scotland at their end-of-season training camp in Malta, having only recently returned from a long-term injury.
In doing so, working on his fitness was more advantageous than having the rest afforded to his team-mates before they face mid-July Champions League qualifiers.
A return to European football will no doubt bring to mind the desperate experience Mulgrew suffered during and after he last competed at that level, an occasion when trolling insults were added to an exasperating injury.
A thigh muscle tear in his first game back after a lay-off caused by a similar problem meant Mulgrew was forced to vacate the pitch not long on from entering it as a late substitute in the 2-1 defeat at home to Ajax that ended Celtic’s hopes of progressing from their Europa League group.
Mulgrew jogged up the tunnel the moment that Ajax scored their second goal. His apparent disgusted demeanour and failure to communicate with the Celtic bench triggered a social media frenzy that he had simply left the scene in a fit of pique. An extraordinary accusation that utterly impugned his professionalism, there remains some frothers of forums that will still not accept such an outlandish interpretation is utter hogwash.
“People think I just ran off the pitch,” he said. “And some of the comments people wrote to me on social media made out as if it was my ball, I took the huff and ran off the park with it the way you did when you played as a wee boy in the streets. I knew I had sustained the same injury which had kept me out a while after Aberdeen [in September]. I knew what had happened. When I had the original injury against Aberdeen at Pittodrie it went when there were three minutes left and we were 2-1 down. I couldn’t go off the park that night. Not when we were behind. I had no idea how severe it was, I just kept playing.
“I had to play a few long balls because we were chasing an equaliser and I think I had a couple of sprints as well. So, in that last few minutes, I’ve made the problem worse. That added six to eight weeks on to what it might have been had I just come off. But nobody remembers you for staying on that extra three minutes. And if you walk off, you are the worst guy in the world.
“So when it came to the Ajax game I went on as a sub and knew right away it had gone again. I said to Scotty Allan – ‘you need to sit in here. I’ve done it again’. I thought back to the Aberdeen experience and thought, ‘no, I need to go off this time’. To my mind it was better for me and better for the team if I had it treated and got back quicker. I could have stayed on, made it worse and been out even longer.”
It is up for debate as to whether Mulgrew should have been on the park at all that night. Harshly, it has been said he should have made a more obvious sign to Ronny Deila that he couldn’t continue in what, with his contract up this summer and facing an injury lay-off, could have potentially turned into his last game for the club.
Following Scotland’s friendly against France in Metz on Saturday, he hopes to sort out a deal with new manager Brendan Rodgers, who seems keen to keep him. Ironing out the details could take time, he said, to ensure everything “is done right and done proper ly”. However, in the context of what was going on in his career six months ago, no wonder he was emotionally all over the place as his body failed him.
“‘I told the manager before the game when he asked me, ‘how long do you think you can play?’ I said ‘20 minutes. I can give you 20 minutes’. So then I came on with 25 to go. We were 2-1 down and he needed to make a sub. I couldn’t then go, ‘hang on, wait five minutes’. It was a case of saying ‘let’s go and manage it this time and see what I can do’.
“Ajax in the Europa League, we needed to win, and it was a case of running up and down and up and down. Because of that I did it precisely 20 minutes after I went on to the park. In a game at that level the amount of running you do in 20 minutes is the equivalent of 45 minutes in the SPFL. And it went.’
“I started walking off and I told the manager, ‘I’ve done it again’. I was devastated. I was close to tears in the changing room. I remember sitting with my eyes filling up and I’m thinking, ‘I can’t believe this has gone again’. It was the last thing I needed. And then it all goes off.”
The jury of the clattering keyboard gave him some terrible, entirely unwarranted abuse for his supposed insurrection. And some still make disparaging comments. His contempt for some of the modern forms of communication appears well placed. “I don’t go on Twitter or anything now. But I got a hard time on Instagram. I didn’t see it coming,” Mulgrew said. “I left the game, my mind was on the injury and as I was icing my leg I clicked my phone on and Instagram just lit up. Supporters were writing to me accusing me of stuff and I couldn’t believe it. My mindset was nowhere near that.
“It never occurred to me people would think that. I’m trying to do the right thing and you have people it seems don’t have a clue because they think I have taken the huff because we are 2-1 down and thought ‘f*** this, I’m off’. Your mindset is far removed from that and it’s unbelievable to you that people actually think you would do that. Years ago there was none of that. I don’t do social media apart from Instagram because you don’t [tend] get much hassle on there, but now and again you do. That time I got a lot and it’s a part of life you need to deal with now. I don’t read it all. I read a couple, but what’s the point of sitting going through them and torturing yourself.
“You have to live in a bubble. You can’t worry too much about it. It’s part of life that people feel they have to have their opinion. A lot of them don’t leave their house and just sit on their computer all day typing stuff on a keyboard. You need to realise it’s a minority. It’s not always people living in the real world.”