Hoops skipper cleared after Old Firm antics
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