Why this is Celtic's most wonderful time of year as title party has ultimate gift for champions

Santa is wheeled out in the sunshine as Premiership campaign ends in a win

Winning never gets boring. The notion that supporters of successful clubs must eventually weary of constant glory always seemed faintly a ridiculous one and 60,000 Celtic fans here confirmed as much.

A 12th league title in 13 seasons, their 54th overall, was celebrated with as much glee and enthusiasm as if it had been the first. This has been a far from straightforward season for Celtic, starting with the mixed reception afforded to manager Brendan Rodgers upon his return last summer, and the period when Rangers, resurgent for a while under Philippe Clement, briefly threatened their dominance.

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All those frustrations and concerns, however, have been washed away in recent weeks, Celtic’s status as Scottish football’s elite force rubber-stamped in midweek and marked in colourful and noisy fashion before, during and after this the final league contest of a tumultuous season.

Santa returns to Celtic Park to deliver the cinch Premiership trophy after the win against St Mirren.Santa returns to Celtic Park to deliver the cinch Premiership trophy after the win against St Mirren.
Santa returns to Celtic Park to deliver the cinch Premiership trophy after the win against St Mirren.

There may be some Celtic dissidents still clinging onto their bitterness over the decision to re-hire Rodgers but their number is far, far fewer now. Winning tends to have that soothing effect. When he was introduced to the crowd at the end of the game, nobody was booing now. “This means everything to me,” he told the fans. “I put myself under pressure when I said what I said [about winning the title]. But I believed in the team and my staff.”

By that point, the presentation stage was hastily assembled – can you hire them for Ikea wardrobes? – and the big screens played a montage of the season’s key moments before the team returned to the pitch to the soundtrack of the Champions League theme, another perk of finishing first. Then came the moment everyone had been hoping for. Booed by disgruntled supporters during a pre-Christmas home defeat that feels like a lifetime ago, Santa Claus was given the honour of delivering the league trophy, his and Celtic’s redemption arc now complete. “The most wonderful time of the year,” boomed out over the PA system to set the party into full swing.

Even the lunchtime kick-off, often the scourge of supporters, didn’t seem to put anyone off. With Celtic Park bathed in sunshine, the fans were up and out nice and early, many in shorts and T-shirts, adding to the holiday atmosphere. Scarves flying out of car windows was another sign that this was no ordinary occasion. The Celtic team bus drew up at 11am, greeted with plumes of green and orange pyro and crowds backed all along the Celtic Way. Joe Hart, ahead of the final league game of a celebrated career, led the team on the short walk up to the front door, league trophy in hand.

A giant banner unveiled by the Green Brigade at the start of the second half – “Super Joe Hart” emblazoned in huge letters and, for once, in a legible font – was another nice touch to acknowledge the departing goalkeeper as he heads into retirement. The emotion on Hart’s face made clear that the appreciation was mutual. When he was substituted in the final minute, every Celtic fan inside the ground was singing his name.

Joe Hart hoists the league title aloft on a sunny day at Celtic Park.Joe Hart hoists the league title aloft on a sunny day at Celtic Park.
Joe Hart hoists the league title aloft on a sunny day at Celtic Park.

Even Sky Sports got in on the fun of the day, former Celtic striker Chris Sutton dragging a life-sized cut-off of his colleague Kris Boyd into the studio before the match. Given the former Rangers front man was smiling in the image, both thumbs up, it is fair to assume it wasn’t a recent one. “The Rangers are coming” joked Sutton. Until, of course, they weren’t.

The Green Brigade led the singing throughout the match as tends to be the case but for once they weren’t alone, other sections of the stadium lending their voices to the cacophony. “Stand up for the champions,” was aired more than once as tends to happen around Celtic Park in May these days.

The Celtic fans, of course, were not the only ones milking every last drop out of the day. The pocket of St Mirren supporters shoehorned into a corner of the stadium were in celebratory mode, too, after the club sealed its return to the European arena for the first time since 1987 with beach balls batted back and forward joyfully in the now time-honoured fashion. “We’re on our way, we’re on our way … to the Conference League,” they sang with some gusto. Others might be sniffy about UEFA’s third club competition but, given how long St Mirren fans have waited to watch their team play on the continent, this was an achievement quite rightly celebrated and in noisy fashion. Watching their team take the lead twice only served to add to their good humour.

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The match itself was largely an irrelevance, although with a Scottish Cup final on the horizon next weekend, Celtic had more to motivate them than their visitors. Some of the regulars were spared the action, with a much-changed defence offering opportunities to Anthony Ralston, Maik Nawrocki and Stephen Welsh, none of whom looked particularly clever in dealing with Keanu Baccus’ long throw that, eventually, fell to Mark O’Hara to drill in a low shot for the opening goal. Welsh also conceded the penalty stroked home by O’Hara to make it 2-1 before he exited midway through the second half with what looked like a broken arm. Expect the usual defensive stalwarts to be back in their usual places for the big one at Hampden on Saturday.

Matt O’Riley, Celtic’s best player this season, enhanced his already glittering reputation with a first-half equaliser, while Kyogo Furuhashi did likewise to draw his team level for a second time in an unexpectedly competitive first half. A late goal from Luis Palma made sure the league season ended on a winning note for Celtic. That usually tends to be the case.



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