In a new series of articles brought to you by Sportsweek, we are interviewing fans of teams across the footballing spectrum, giving them a platform to give their thoughts and opinions to matters pertaining to their own team and the worlds favourite sport – and giving you, the reader, opportunity to discuss and comment on the insights of the most passionate fans around.
Today, we talk with J.P. Payne, pictured above right with daughter Olivia, both fervent Celtic fans, who gives his answers to the questions posed to him by Sportsweek.
Name : J.P. Payne
Age : 36
Location : Falkirk, Central Scotland
Team : Celtic
All time favourite club player : Henrik Larsson
Sportsweek: Can you give us some insight into how long you’ve been a Celtic fan and your journey to where the Club is today? Any individual games that stick out in the memory?
JP: My father was a Brentford fan and my mother was, and came from, a massive Celtic supporting family so I was born a Celtic fan. Given the fact I was born in the 80s, it wasn’t exactly a glamour time to be a Celtic fan; Aberdeen had the majority of success in the early 80s led by Sir Alex and apart from a double trophy season on Celtic’s centenary year, it was a barren spell for the support with little to cheer about. The 90s were more of the same, the odd trophy success but it wasn’t until the Board of the day back in the early 90s were ousted by Fergus McCann that the supporters had a lot of optimism. Stadium redevelopment to what is now just under 60,000 and some sound financial planning meant that the squad was gradually invested in significantly and we started winning the league again.
By the time I was a teenager, the momentum was with Celtic and we started having more success consistently in the league, the cups and again in Europe. There have been peaks and troughs in my time as a fan however the game that I think most 30 odd year old Celtic fans could say was a pivotal moment was the 5-1 Old Firm (November 1998) game when Larsson and a debuting Moravcik got a double each and Mark Burchill also scored; the sense was we had turned the corner and glory days were to come.
Sportsweek: From the inside looking out, how do you perceive the state of the Scottish game – domestically?
JP: I think the domestic game in Scotland is doing ok at present. Over the last 8yrs, Celtic have been dominant in the league and the last three years we have won every domestic honour we’ve competed in; however the cups are now being contested fiercely insofar that, each season, there is more often than not a new team getting to the final. I think this helps redistribute what little money there is in the game here and I believe good competition breeds success. I think our neighbours south of the border degrade the quality of the game here but in terms of population and socio-economic factors out-with our control, the game here has developed many great players recently – look at the Liverpool line up and you have arguably the best CB and LB in world football, who were developed right here. If the Scottish game had as much financial backing as the English then who knows what would happen.
Sportsweek: Can any club, other than Rangers maybe, break the grasp that Celtic hold on the Scottish Premiership?
JP: The fact is that in the last 3 seasons, the most consistent team to push Celtic on all fronts has been Aberdeen; they have finished second twice in the league and have made back to back cup finals against us. As mentioned above, given the right mix of financial backing and club management, I think Aberdeen could be a challenge to Celtic yet… this could easily be replicated at Hearts or Hibernian.
Sportsweek: Whilst fierce rivals, with no love lost between the supporters we know, do you prefer Rangers to be back in the Scottish top flight and competitive, or would you rather see them floundering in lower leagues as a few seasons ago?
JP: For what it’s worth, I don’t really pay much attention to other teams. Undoubtedly, there are teams that add certain attractions to the SPFL structure. Celtic doesn’t really concern themselves with what league other teams are in and neither to the supporters. Know this though; Celtic supporters do want a challenge from the most deserving teams. The general consensus is that football, especially in Scotland, is cyclical. How many times can you see the same clubs battle it out for supremacy though? Everyone has the right to an opinion and there is no more a heated topic in Scottish football than if we prefer to have rivals in our league or not. Have I enjoyed seeing a club cease to exist because of financial malfeasance and their successor struggle to get back into the game? Unequivocally! Not everyone shares my view though. Some might say that’s karma!
Sportsweek: One of the biggest footballing questions amongst fans is how Celtic would fare in English football. What are your views on this? Could it happen? Should it happen?
JP: I think Celtic have a great set-up from board to pitch to be a success in English football. Our most recent exposure to English competition sees us as one of only two teams I think to not be beaten by Pep’s Man City team. Given the disparage between Scottish teams and English teams just with finances, I think if Celtic were given even the finances of those who finished bottom of the EPL, then we’d be a major force. As for if it could and/or should happen, I have never understood the reasons behind Berwick playing in Scottish league system and Cardiff and Swansea playing in English league system. I think that the cup competition in Scotland has now invited, successfully, some Welsh and Irish teams to compete, is a step in the right direction with regards to potential UK league set up but, as with the rumours regarding the UCL, money talks and I think the bigger teams in England will break away to form a European league of sorts in the near future and I think Celtic may be left arguing and pleading to get in to this. But who wouldn’t want a travelling support such as Celtic to visit their ground every matchday; I’d certainly enjoy the trips alone!
Sportsweek: Which former Celtic player of your generation do you wish was still playing in the green and white today?
JP: Of my generation? It’d be hard to not say Henrik (Larsson); he was phenomenal on the pitch and a gentleman off it. Loyal in an age where loyalty can be expressed in pounds or euros, he turned down a number of approaches from top European clubs to honour his contract and this was the mark of the man. A close second would be Lubomir Moravcik (above); the best two footed player I have ever saw! A wizard for us and how he managed to stay under everyone’s radar until his 30s boggles my mind!
Sportsweek: Celtic miss out on the Champions League group stages (again) – what needs to happen for them to be able to make more of an impact in Europe?
JP: My knee jerk comment is reserved for a more private audience!! However, our current squad is light on defensive cover; we just sold Tierney and Lustig, our LB and RB and our cover Bolignoli and El Hamed are adapting to our style and Scottish football and our CBs are either injured or not fit. We have a lot of options in midfield and we could use one more striker however I think our manager needs to be a bit more astute with his line ups and tactics. We need the Board to invest to get long term success in Europe but as it stands, as much as we believe we are a Champions League club, we have a Europa League or lower Board mentality and that will take harder to shift.
Sportsweek: As things stand right now, today, which English club would you say Celtic equate to, in terms of standard and level?
JP: Well if Man City cannot beat us, home or away, then surely that is the barometer? I would say that we are similar to Man Utd in mentality in that we expect success and demand it. In terms of our supporters, I don’t think there is a fan base in the EPL that can rival us but I would say Newcastle have a similar fan base to ours.
Sportsweek: Which is more likely – Scotland win the European Championship or Celtic win the Champions League?
JP: Given the success of a lot of Scottish players in England and abroad at present, I’d have to say that Scotland winning the European Championship is closer…. although neither are happening any time soon sadly!!
Lastly, some quickfire fun questions to answer :
Other than Rangers, which other team(s) do you enjoy seeing lose the most? Hearts, Chelsea, Real Madrid.
Better ex Celtic striker – van Hooijdonk or Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink? Pierre better over career; Jan had better success at Celtic.
Best Scottish ground outside of Glasgow? Falkirk
Biggest Celtic Legend – Dalglish or Larsson? Larsson (above)
Would you rather see England win the WC or Rangers win the CL? Neither would happen so…
Who’s the GOAT – Ronaldo or Messi? Messi but how amazing has it been to watch both?!
Some very articulate and thought provoking comments from J.P. about his beloved club and the domestic set up north of the border. There is little doubt that fans of English clubs look at the Scottish game with something of disregard and contempt – yet as J.P. rightly points out, given the comparative size and population, Scotland produces some of the best players the English league sees. If Celtic did receive the financial ‘clout’ that English clubs enjoy, who knows what level they could attain. In the 2018/19 season, only three English clubs (Manchester United, Arsenal and West Ham United) had a bigger average home attendance than Celtic – and no matter how the Scottish Premier League standard is viewed, no one can doubt the intense passion and following of the Celtic fans.
It would be fantastic to see Celtic be able to develop and progress by virtue of playing in a division with clubs of a similar size. Without any disrespect to the other Scottish teams and the domestic league they currently participate in (if its unfair to say dominate and look likely to continue to do so), it is probably only if this happens that Celtic could become the club they really deserve to be – and to be able to get to being that Champions League mentality type club that J.P. and the rest of the Celtic following desire. Will it happen? That remains to be seen. But until it does, Celtic may well be on the outside looking in at the top table, even whilst feasting at their own table on the periphery.
Finally, have we really interviewed the only Celtic fan who is truly non-plussed about Rangers?? Surely J.P. is virtually alone there??!!??
As always, a huge thank you to J.P for providing his thoughts and insights – please feel free to comment on this article via the link below and let us – and J.P. – know whether you share his views – or disagree with them.