It isn’t over. The message unfurled at Tynecastle the other night lambasting Brendan Rodgers as a “fraud” could be just the start. If Celtic don’t go on and do the treble Treble, he will be blamed for walking out on the club. If they don’t eventually win ten in a row he’ll cop it for that failure as well. All of which means bonanza-time for the banner industry.
“You traded immortality for mediocrity. Never a Celt. Always a fraud”. The Green Brigade are fond of a long message and they like this verbosity to stretch over three rows of a stand. That this one only covered two they would blame on the tight confines of Tynie. They’ll have more to say on the subject, a whole lot more.
Football fans no longer need to nick bedsheets from laundry baskets and root around under the stairs for gummed-up pots of paint – that kind of desperate DIY banner can be left to jailbirds unhappy with new slopping-out regulations now that flag makers will take orders from irate supporters and, what’s more, plane-chartering firms will fly their exclamations over stadia.
The best speller in the group will place the order. If you’re going to the trouble of a bespoke banner you don’t want it to label Rodgers a “fruad”. Then, one last check, perhaps by an out-of-work newspaper sub-editor, and your gonfalon will be ready. That’s a fancy name for a banner, by the way – the kind you find adorning town halls in Italy with streamers and swallow tails and roots in ancient Rome. You’d have to be really sure of your message to hoist one of those.
Are Celtic fans sure Rodgers is a fraud? Some will be tuning in to his first game in charge of Leicester City this lunchtime hoping his new team are thrashed by Watford. Others will still be scoffing at those photos of his grand arrival at the King Power Stadium in a new blue suit with the kind of tight, scoop-fronted waistcoat more befitting a younger man who’d enjoyed a longer playing career but on him seemed to hint at a hoped-for turn on Strictly Come Dancing or, michty me, gave the impression it could be yanked right off, male stripper-style.
Yes, Rodgers takes great care over his image, and the old story about him having a portrait of himself in the house when he was manager of Liverpool – a gift from a charity he’d helped – was revived last week. So he has an ego – so what? So he’s never likely to ask Tony Pulis to recommend a good baseball cap supplier? Big deal. He should be judged on his record, games won, trophies delivered.
Ah, but at Celtic it’s never that straightforward. This is not a club, it’s a cause. You sign up for more than goals and glory. Rodgers did this willingly. Celtic were his team, he said. He was living the dream every day. And then suddenly club and manager, who seemed like conjoined twins giving life to each other, broke apart at the latter’s behest.
How could this have happened? Why did Rodgers do it? The bafflement would have been touching if it wasn’t quite so daft. Celtic fans must be the last supporters on earth who can’t quite get their heads round the fact that there is no loyalty in football anymore – not even to their club and not even when they are only 14 games away from a treble Treble.
Initially it seemed that Leicester, a team not in relegation trouble in England’s Premier League and not qualifying for Europe either, just bumping around in the division’s lower half, were not prepared to wait until after Rodgers’ grand procession, and that this was what had forced the move now. Then it transpired they would have delayed Rodgers’ arrival until the summer, only the man himself had wanted to go. Maybe then it was his haste which clinched the insertion of the word “fraud” on that banner.
But, as Rodgers points out, just as he is not the only man to have new teeth fitted, so he is not the only manager to have opted to leave Scotland for England and more money. The grass is not always greener on the other side, but nor is it as long as the turf at Tynecastle, one of those pesky local difficulties within Scottish football which – if you are a grumpy realist rather than a Parkhead dreamer – always seemed likely test the patience of a boss who believed he deserved to be back on the biggest stage.
Rodgers spoke from the heart when he declared his love for Celtic, but everyone should know, including Celtic fans, that football is football and business is business. He made a rod for his own back in declaring this love so passionately – and then he had Rod Stewart, pictured, on his back, the celebrity supporter claiming that when he learned about the manager’s exit it spoiled his holiday.
Celtic are a great club but those who voice extreme anger at the manager’s leaving tarnish the name. Of course they will be upset, that’s understandable, but they should kill the nasty songs and cancel any more banners.
Then they should remember they’ve hardly been left in a desperate plight. Albion Rovers pretty much corner the market in dire situations right now, being the bottom of the bottom, seven points adrift in League Two. How do Celtic fans think the bedraggled faithful at Cliftonhill are feeling as they face up to the prospect of one of those horrible Pyramid Playoffs which could send the team falling through the trapdoor? The Wee Rovers have been in existence for six years longer than the Hoops and, of course, Jock Stein began his career there. Now there was a Celtic manager.
Rodgers didn’t mean it to come across this way, though ultimately all the dream job stuff risks looks like he was merely kissing the badge. For a brief and innocent moment, before it quickly became so risible, badge-kissing was a genuine expression. Right at that innocent moment, the player loved his club. But there were always terms and conditions attached – the offer could end next Tuesday if a richer club came along, eyelashes fluttering.
You might have thought Rodgers would be tempering his gush, however well-intentioned, but right away at the King Power he declared: “I’ll give my life to make the supporters proud of their club.” Crass words, especially round Leicester way.
It’s high time everyone, Rodgers and Celtic, calmed right down.