The Return of Celtic’s Twelfth Man is a Game Changer in Scottish Football

Ange Postecoglou probably won’t pay much attention the 25 point gap between Celtic and theRangers in last season’s Scottish Premiership. The new Celtic manager likes to deal with short term matters and that means watching his players train and indeed play in a series of pre-season friendlies designed to get the squad ready for the crucial Champions League challenge, where victory will be like picking up a huge online casino jackpot, next Wednesday night when Celtic travel to Denmark  to play FC Midtjylland in the second leg of the Champions League qualifier after last night’s 1-1 draw at Celtic Park.

Liel Abada celebrates scoring his gaol. Photo Jeff Holmes

The Australian is also busy trying to ‘fill gaps’ in his squad, recently adding last night’s goalscorer , the Israeli international winger Liel Abada to his squad in a £3.5m deal and it looks like £4.5m will be spent on Swedish central defender Carl Starfelt, who has now had a successful medical in Moscow is about to sign for the Hoops.  Add to that Japan’s top goalscorer this season, Kyogo Furuhashi boarded a plane bound for London yesterday as he began his journey to Celtic after his £4.5m transfer to join Ange Postecoglou in swapping the J-League for the Scottish Premiership.

Postecoglou and his recruitment team are working on a few other signings who are due to be in situ by the time Celtic kick off against Hearts at Tynecastle at the end of the month in the opening Scottish Premiership fixture.

By kick-off time (8pm) on Saturday 31 July the Celtic support will be watching a very different team with plenty of new faces and a completely different playing style and attitude to last season’s shambles. The tempo will be higher, so too will fitness levels and there will be supporters at the games – a huge factor in things going horribly wrong last season was the complete lack of Celtic supporters in the stadiums.

Celtic have 60,000 season ticket holders and a huge travelling support. Without them the players, subconsciously maybe, suffered and without the backing of their usual ’12th man’ were reduced in stature and effectiveness in a way no previous Celtic team has. Celtic supporters are always there regardless and it took a once in a century pandemic to derail the Hoops in what was set to be an historic season for the club.

It’s no coincidence that the three domestic trophies – the Scottish Premiership, which Celtic had won on the previous nine occasions, the Scottish Cup, which Celtic had won on the previous four occasions and the Scottish league Cup, again won by Celtic on the previous four years, all ended up last season with clubs who probably benefited from or suffered less from the absence of supporters at games.

St Johnstone, for example, have a small capacity stadium at McDiarmid Park in Perth which can hold 10,740 spectators but is seldom if ever full. Even when the Glasgow giants visit the travelling support filling the two small stands behind each gaol the two home stands would never be full, attracting just a few thousand St Johnstone supporters.

In games with smaller travelling support the atmosphere at McDiarmid Park would be fairly subdued and it is therefore a fair assessment to state that St Johnstone were more suited to playing a season behind closed doors. While Celtic missed 60,000 fans cheering them on at home the Saints never had that luxury anyway.

Photo: Alan Rennie

Their own historic successes last season in winning both the League Cup then the Scottish Cup was remarkable and in a wider sense great for Scottish football. No side since Hibs in May 2016 had won a trophy other than Celtic when the Saints lifted the League Cup in March and by the time they beat Hibs in the 2021 Scottish Cup final the Scottish Premiership had been won by theRangers for the very first time in that club’s history.

Their last game before Covid stopped play in early March 2020 was a 1-0 home loss to Hamilton, their support was revolting and with Celtic running away with the title the pressure was well and trull on Stephen Gerrard who had tried and failed to win six trophies in Scottish football, watching instead them all end up at Celtic Park.

So when play started again Gerrard and his players were spared the tension, the negative energy, the pressure pouring down from the stands as their support desperately demanded that Celtic’s second attempt to win Ten-in-a-Row was stopped at all costs. Could those players at theRangers have coped with that kind of pressure?

These were players unused to winning anything at all – serial losers – so while St Johnstone were untroubled by the lack of fans at games (having such a small support), the latest Ibrox club benefitted from not having their own fans inside the grounds last season.

That was a one off though. Fans start returning this weekend, Celtic will welcome 2000 lucky fans for the friendly against Preston North End and by the time Celtic play their second home league match of the season against St Mirren on Saturday 21 August there should be 60,000 Celtic Supporters there to cheer on Postecoglou’s Bhoys. That is the game changer. Bet against Celtic at your peril.

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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