SCOTT FREE:

Hoops skip­per cleared af­ter Old Firm an­tics

Evening Times - - FRONT PAGE - NEIL CAMERON

CELTIC forced the Scot­tish FA into an em­bar­rass­ing climb-down last night when Scott Brown walked out of Ham­p­den a free man hav­ing had a po­ten­tial two-match ban for his Old Firm cel­e­bra­tion thrown out by the dis­ci­plinary com­mit­tee. In what will be seen as a great vic­tory for the Park­head club, the charge of “fail­ing to act in the best in­ter­est of Scot­tish foot­ball” af­ter he cel­e­brated Celtic’s 2-1 home win at the end of March in front of the Rangers sup­port was not proven. The Celtic cap­tain had been is­sued with a no­tice of com­plaint for al­leged im­proper con­duct un­der Rule 77 which ref­er­enced “im­proper” be­hav­iour and us­ing “threat­en­ing, abu­sive, in­de­cent or in­sult­ing words or be­hav­iour” and which car­ries a min­i­mum two-match sus­pen­sion for play­ers. Neil Len­non, the Celtic in­terim man­ager, de­scribed the charge, brought by the SFA, as “trumped up” and promised the club would “vig­or­ously de­fend” the 33-year-old. Len­non this week said: “I’d be sur­prised if Scott gets banned but if he does we’ll have some­thing lined up for that.” Nick De Marco QC, who rep­re­sented Brown, took to Twit­ter within an hour of the de­ci­sion be­ing re­vealed and said: “De­lighted to have suc­cess­fully rep­re­sented Celtic cap­tain Scott Brown in his case be­fore the Scot­tish FA to­day – now look­ing for­ward to watch­ing him play at the match to­mor­row.” The de­lib­er­a­tion – which lasted sev­eral hours at Ham­p­den Park – cen­tred mainly around a ges­ture made by Brown af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle. It is be­lieved Celtic’s case hinged on a pre­vi­ous in­ci­dent in­volv­ing Josh Win­dass, the for­mer Rangers player, who es­caped pun­ish­ment for mak­ing a sim­i­lar ges­ture in 2017 in a league game against Partick This­tle. Win­dass wasn’t charged then be­cause in Septem­ber 2017 the SFA re­moved pun­ish­ment for ges­tures and ac­tions to­wards the crowd. Brown had his dis­ci­plinary hear­ing moved for­ward six days, at Celtic’s re­quest which was their right, be­cause had the charge been up­held, the ban would have kept Brown out of the fi­nal derby against Rangers this sea­son. As it is, last sea­son’s Foot­baller of the Year is avail­able for all of his club’s fix­tures be­tween now and the Scot­tish Cup fi­nal on May 25. Brown will be in his usual place to lead Celtic out to­day against Kil­marnock and Celtic Park and he paid trib­ute to Billy Mc­Neill who passed away late on Mon­day night. He said: “As a man, what he did for the club, win­ning tro­phies and cap­tain­ing the club to their great­est ever hon­our in 1967, was in­cred­i­ble. He was a great am­bas­sador for the club as well. “I think we have to cel­e­brate his life for what he did for Celtic as a player and as a man­ager. It was an hon­our to even know him.”

FOR some it feels a bur­den. To wear Billy Mc­Neill’s No.5 jersey, or shorts as it was when the great man played, would not be for ev­ery­one. The other spe­cial num­ber at Celtic is, of course, seven. No­body in the cur­rent record-break­ing squad has been deemed good enough to fol­low Jimmy John­stone, Kenny Dal­glish and Hen­rik Lars­son, which tells you a lot. And now, af­ter the pass­ing of a man who had been the club’s most beloved fig­ure, there is even talk of re­tir­ing the No.5 shirt. Af­ter all, who can hope to live up to Ce­sar? And spare a thought for the poor guy who has to do just that at least un­til the end of this sea­son. Well, Jozo Simunovic is that man. He doesn’t see it as a bur­den. The Croat be­lieves it would an “hon­our” and “joy­ful” to pay trib­ute to Big Billy in his own small way. Simunovic acted with real class yes­ter­day when he ad­dressed the media about a clearly sen­si­tive sub­ject, about a le­gend he hardly knew, un­der­stand­ably so, but one who’d had an ef­fect on him. This non-Scot spoke not from a script but from the heart. As if he were a Glaswe­gian brought up on Billy Mc­Neill, Celtic cap­tain and man­ager. He said all the right things. “The news was a big shock,” said Simunovic. “Billy Mc­Neill was such an amaz­ing player for this club and some­one who played such a big part in its his­tory. “He played so many games here and was such a huge fig­ure. When we heard what had hap­pened it was so sad. “I will never for­get the im­age of him as the guy, the man who lifted the Euro­pean Cup tro­phy. He was No.5 so it’s stays in my head, that pic­ture. I would say it feels per­sonal for me a lit­tle bit be­cause I wear that shirt now. He was such a leader, such a le­gend and I am the one with his num­ber on my top. “It’s nice for me to think about that. It’s an hon­our and some­thing that makes me feel good, that I have the num­ber of the biggest guy in the club’s his­tory. For me it’s joy­ful. “I know there has been talk of the No.5 be­ing re­tired at the end of the sea­son and I un­der­stand that. I’d be happy to keep wear­ing it of course. “But it’s not for me to de­cide and if the de­ci­sion is taken by the im­por­tant peo­ple at the club to take it away then I’ll be happy with that. “What­ever they de­cide I will re­spect be­cause of Billy. I would be happy to wear an­other num­ber but while I have it I will wear it with pride.” Simunovic ad­mit­ted to be taken aback by the re­ac­tion to Mc­Neill’s pass­ing on Tues­day morn­ing. Tens of thou­sands, from the four corners of the earth, wanted to pay their re­spects. That doesn’t hap­pen for many peo­ple. “It has made such a big im­pres­sion on my­self that he man­aged to touch so many peo­ple around the world – he touched ev­ery sin­gle Celtic fan, ev­ery per­son who works in the club and even other clubs in other coun­tries,” said Simunovic. “That was sur­pris­ing to me at first but, when I sat down and checked what he did for Celtic over the years, I re­alised what a big part he has played in the club’s his­tory so the re­ac­tion is to be ex­pected. “I met him once, just shak­ing hands in pass­ing. I was taken aback be­cause I knew who he was so it was a big plea­sure for me to meet him in per­son. “This game will mean more be­cause I have his num­ber on my shirt and that gives me great plea­sure but it’s not just about me. The other play­ers feel it, too. My emo­tion and my pride will be the same as al­ways when I play but this will be a dif­fer­ent type of game be­cause Billy has passed. But I’ll give ev­ery­thing.” A way to hon­our Mc­Neill would be for Celtic to score from a set-piece against Kil­marnock to­day. That is what the big man was ex­cel­lent at, get­ting his head to a ball from cross which left some poor goal­keeper ut­terly help­less to pre­vent a goal. It’s just an idea. “Maybe [to­day] I will get one,” said Simunovic. “I have been think­ing about that this week. I’ve seen some footage of the teams he played in and the hap­pi­ness and the pride they had is some­thing else. “I would def­i­nitely ded­i­cate the goal to Billy. “It has been a long time since we scored from a cor­ner. Last week, I al­most scored and it was a bril­liant save from the goal­keeper. So we are get­ting closer ev­ery game. “And just when you thought this sea­son for Celtic could not get more poignant, the day of the Scot­tish Cup fi­nal, when the club can get this longtalked about treble Treble, is May 25. Of course it is. “It is still a bit far away to think of that. Let’s go game by game first,” said Simunovic. “But that is go­ing to be an amaz­ing day. “Now we have even more im­pulse to try and win the fi­nal – for this guy who did ev­ery­thing for this club. That’s def­i­nitely the case.” There were other mat­ters on the agenda. Simunovic is play­ing well again. Celtic could win the league this week­end. There is also the con­tin­ued de­bate about Neil Len­non. But none of it seemed all that im­por­tant this week.

Ross County cap­tain Mar­cus Fraser holds aloft the Lad­brokes Cham­pi­onship tro­phy af­ter they beat Queen of the South 4-0

Jozo Simunovic, pic­tured dur­ing Celtic’s train­ing ses­sion yes­ter­day, feels em­pow­ered by the fact he wears No.5

A fan pays trib­ute to Billy Mc­Neill with an­other as­so­ci­ated num­ber – 67

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