Football: Celtic's fans count cost

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The Independent Online
THE only vestige of tradition around Celtic Park these days is the club song which blares out as Jozef Venglos's players take the field.

"For It's A Grand Old Team to Play For" has been the Celtic anthem for decades and was recorded in the Jock Stein era to pump up the hysteria before the legendary European nights in the late 1960s. It seems anachronistic now, among the pounds 300-season tickets and superstore waiting to coax even more cash out of the 60,000 who fill the pounds 30m stadium.

The song contains a line which runs "and if you know your history, it's enough to make your heart go, oh, oh oh!" Celtic hearts are only crying out in pain these days. And the lessons of history have not been learned.

Just as in 1970, when squabbles over bonuses eroded team spirit before the European Cup final with Feyenoord, money has robbed Celtic of their goal. The squalid feud over the bonus payment for reaching the Champions' League is now redundant, thanks to the 3-0 capitulation to Croatia Zagreb. And unless Celtic sort themselves out quickly, the Uefa Cup will not offer comfort for long.

The row, which peaked before the first leg a fortnight ago when Fergus McCann seized pounds 50,000 of the fund set aside for the players' pool and donated it to a Glasgow hospital, and the team retaliated by telling him to give the hospital the entire pounds 280,000 bonus pool, was not the reason for the defeat in Zagreb. But it didn't help. In Zagreb, the highly-paid footballers looked like any other group of workers with a chip on their shoulders: they didn't put everything into their job.

There is a danger in fielding men who do not dream of playing for the jersey from boyhood. To players brought up in Holland, Denmark, France or England, it is just a job. The fanatical fans who have made Celtic one of the top six supported clubs in Europe didn't mind spending on season tickets, new strips or even shares (pouring in some pounds 11m) to buy men who would play with the head instead of the heart. But they have been let down.

They have been let down by the players, who chose the wrong time to air their grievance, but they have also been let down by Jock Brown, the club's general manager, and by McCann. Brown should have ensured that all bonus deals this season were tied up before a ball was kicked.

The players said the pounds 280,000 split among the 20-man squad amounted to pounds 14,000 a man. McCann told them the split should only be among 14 players - pounds 20,000 each. Both views seemed petty. To the fan, seeing players who earn more than pounds 10,000 a week fighting over extra money for doing the job they are handsomely rewarded for, is bewildering.

Celtic's perennial problems over how to reward those who play for them have not gone away. When Charlie Nicholas left to join Arsenal in 1983, the idol of Parkhead was called in by the board to make one last attempt to keep him. They offered to double his pounds 200 a week to pounds 400: at Highbury his pay packet was pounds 2,000 a week.

The accusation laid at McCann's door is that he has failed to re-invest the millions of pounds fans handed over in season ticket sales on the squad. Tardiness in appointing a new coach, and a similar unwillingness to spend once Venglos had arrived, meant that Celtic had not bought a single new player over the summer.

Money talks loudest now, in board and dressing rooms. The only losers are fans. Celtic's still expect people to play for the jersey.