International Football – love it or loathe it?

The last week has been one of those times throughout the current season when we see no Celtic action and are made do with the departure to far flung destinations of those of our squad deemed capable of playing for their designated countries. Our current squad boasts players who are, or have been capped by their respective national teams of Korea, Greece, Israel, Sweden, Honduras, Morocco, Norway, Kenya or Sierra Leone; or one of the ‘home’ nations of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. 

Our attention during these international breaks is one which causes the age old debate – club v country! Which is the higher authority in the eyes of us Celtic fans? Whilst we are all faithful and loyal Celtic supporters, does following one nation in the international break mean we are less of a supporter of Celtic in comparison to those for whom international football does not mean a jot and for whom Celtic is the be all and end all?

Football for me is Celtic first and foremost, though I do take an interest when the Republic of Ireland play and cannot say that I was anything less than pleased to see them qualify for the 2012 Euro’s last night. I will undoubtedly follow their progress in Poland & the Ukraine and wish to see them succeed at all times.

However, I do know whether it is to do with me ‘maturing’ with age, seeing ‘sense’, or due to the fact that our current playing squad is not delivering domestically, that I state categorically that I would not lose sleep if we did not have 1 Celtic player on international duty. I care not a tap why Anthony Stokes was not called up to the Republic of Ireland team when they were in striker-crisis mode, and I did not bat an eyelid as to how any of our other international call-ups fared, except to check that they did not incur injury. I suppose I follow the club, Celtic, and internationally the Republic of Ireland – I do not follow the individuals concerned and in my eyes the greater good being the club takes precedence over the individual in every occasion. There was a time when I wanted to see the likes of Aitken, McStay, Boyd, Burns, Collins and Grant do well for Scotland; Morris, McCarthy, Coyne, and Bonner successful in the Ireland shirt; Larsson show the world he was a global star in the Swedish shirt; and yearned for Stubbs, Elliott, Thompson, and Sutton to get English call ups to prove they were good enough; BUT not now – I would rather we sat without a player on international duty and could prepare for a potentially tricky away game on Saturday in Inverness with a clean bill of health and focus firmly on the SPL game. I maybe should be believing that the market values and commercial standing of our club will be enhanced by our international stars being successful, but I cannot buy into this, and want Celtic to be successful this season by delivering trophies and the SPL title, NOT by obtaining a shirt sponsor on the back of such as our Korean star whilst finishing second in the league.

I strongly dislike international football ‘friendlies’ because they have and do result in players returning to our club with injuries, fatigue and inability to turn out for the club for the next domestic game, or where performance has dipped as a result partly of flying to one corner of the world and back again within a short period of time. We have also seen that international federations have short changed us as a club and when we look at the likes of John Kennedy, we see a case where we were deprived of one of our most promising young up and coming stars as a result of turning out for Scotland. I also look at the Lisbon Lions and their relative few caps – 117 in total for 11 that took to the field in Lisbon – Jim Leighton in comparison earned 91 caps alone.

We seem to have gained very little from seeing our players don their countries shirts, and maybe because of the current situation at our club, we should be getting our own house in order before looking further afield. I do not want to see some of our team playing superbly for their country then come Saturday the same player struggle and allow his performance to dip below what we deem acceptable. We pay his wages, transfer fees and medical upkeep so he owes us a debt of gratitude and should be thinking of us first and foremost. The problem has probably increased with the influx of ‘foreigners’ into Scottish football since the mid-90’s. We no longer have the players like Peter Grant, Paul McStay, Tommy Burns and Roy Aitken, who had strong association and identification with the fans on the terraces, players who hurt when we lost, who cried when we won and who lived and breathed all things Celtic. For me back then I wanted the club to be successful as much for us the fans, the club in general, but also for these players who embodied what our club was all about. The individual player can push for involvement in the international set-up when called upon and I suppose club managers have a struggle to protect their club interests over those of the players national federation. The ultimate responsibility for participation rests with the individual, and it is probably naïve of me to believe that the individual should be putting his club, our club, first and foremost.

In conclusion then where do I stand on the club v country debate? I will support Celtic on all fronts at all times; I will take an interest in and support the Republic of Ireland when they take to the field; however my current belief is that Celtic takes precedence over all things else. Individual players will come and go at Celtic Park, so their personal international participation means little to me. If Celtic win nothing then international recognition, caps and international credit and acclaim to our players will leave a bitter taste for me. In Celtic I put my trust, Celtic I follow, and Celtic I love! I don’t follow players and change club allegiance depending on where the individual plys his trade. It’s Celtic through and through for me!

FrankieBhoy (member of Jim Craig CSC)

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