Leinster boss Leo Cullen’s attempts to stoke a bit of division in the host city of Saturday evening’s Guinness Pro14 final at Celtic Park were given a firm riposte yesterday by Lisbon Lion legend Jim Craig, who nailed his colours firmly to the Glasgow Warriors mast.
After winning their semi-final against Munster in Dublin a day after Glasgow had thumped Ulster 50-20 at Scotstoun, Cullen said: “I am sure all the Celtic fans will be out supporting Leinster because I believe Glasgow are all Rangers supporters.”
Considering there is the small matter of the Scottish Cup football final against Hearts at Hampden in the afternoon, how many Celtic fans will be in attendance is a moot point but Craig, who was right-back in that famous team who became the first British European Cup winners in 1967, was having none of Cullen’s comment.
“It’s nonsense, like a lot of things like that,” said the 76-year-old. “But you’ve got to put up with it. If I ever meet Mr Cullen I’ll have a private word with him. He got publicity over his words and maybe that’s what he was wanting.
“It’s very curious. In my own background on one side I’m an obvious Scot, the Craigs, but on the other side I have Irish background – but it’s from Ulster and Connacht, not from Leinster.
“I don’t think my antecedents would necessarily be supporting Leinster anyway. They would have been supporting Ulster last weekend but that wasn’t a very good day for them! As regards this game, as a Glaswegian born and bred I’m all for Glasgow. I’m willing the Warriors to do well on Saturday.”
Craig was speaking at Celtic Park yesterday as a perfect fusion between venue and occasion as he has an attachment through his son, James, who played for the Warriors between 1996 and 2002, winning four Scotland caps.
Glasgow coach Dave Rennie, left, was also keen to stress that Cullen was wide of the mark with his comments.
“He’s a good man Leo, I like him,” said the Kiwi. “We’ve got lots of players who support different football sides, based on where they originate from. We have a heap of football fans who come and watch us play because they enjoy the entertainment and that’s what we’re looking for.
“Obviously, we represent Glasgow and we hope that, regardless of what support you’re involved in, you’ll want to be there for what should be a fantastic occasion.”
Craig, meanwhile, is delighted to see a sport he took to his heart through the career of his now 42-year-old son being held at Celtic Park.
“I still follow them [Glasgow Warriors],” he said. “James played for them for a number of years, so I follow them regularly.”
Craig, who won just the one Scotland cap against Wales in that seismic year of 1967, is a keen sporting historian, who once wrote a curiosities column in The Scotsman, which also became a book.
“I did my research, because I was thinking if there was a previous rugby union match here. I don’t think there was,” he said.
“There was a rugby league match here [in 1909] and the stats for that are absolutely fantastic. They [the first touring Kangaroos] were away from home, from Australia, for six weeks out and six weeks back, so that’s three months out of your life for a start. Do you know how many games they played on tour? More than 40. That’s incredible.
“The one here was between the Kangaroos and a team representing Great Britain: 3,000 were here and it ended up 17-17. It was a long time ago so it’s nice to have rugby back here again.
“I spent most of the 1990s following it – I was having to double it up with hockey – [daughter] Lisa took that up so I had to go and watch that as well. That’s a terrible game to watch – there’s far too many people on the park. I kept saying to her if it was seven-a-side it would be a lot easier because there would be more space for the ball!
“No, the rugby was great to watch and I thoroughly enjoyed it. You get some great ideas from rugby – the sin bin is a fantastic idea.”
Craig hopes that Cullen’s comments are quickly put to bed and the often toxic divide which has long afflicted football in Scotland’s biggest city has no place in what should be a great occasion at Parkhead on Saturday.
“Unfortunately when you have a game here it will raise its head,” he said. “That fellow Cullen is the man who started it all by saying things like that. I’m answering these questions because I’ve been asked but I wouldn’t be talking about it if I hadn’t been asked.
“Unfortunately, wherever you go you do get the questions. It might take generations to disappear, but let’s hope one day it does.”
Craig will be taking a keen interest in the Celtic-Hearts showpiece south of the Clyde but is hoping to be in attendance for a rare sight of an oval-shaped ball in ‘paradise’. “I hope to. I’m organising tickets just now, so I hope to be here,” he said. “It’s a really big occasion and it’s going to be a great venue for the game, because the Celtic Park I played in was spread out, where the terraces were shallow.
“Now they’re sheer, which really creates a wonderful atmosphere for any game.”