For Love nor money: Grant can’t see Celtic go on like this
Selling best players and missing chance for trebles has Parkhead side in peril for former coach and 1986 league winner
IT IS 30 years since the miracle of Love Street. Just days from the demise of Deila. Yet Peter Grant is perfectly positioned to give his informed analysis of both. Briefly, in the mantra of the Vietnam vet, he was there. Twice.
It all began and ended in Paisley for the Celtic fan, midfielder and coach. He played in the team that won the league on that dramatic day of May 3, 1986, winning his first honour for the club. He sat in the dugout at St Mirren Park on March 24, 2010, as Celtic lost heavily, precipitating his dismissal the next day. He is typically forthright about both the playing days and those spent coaching an under-performing Celtic team under the leadership of Tony Mowbray.
“Listen, if you are part of a coaching squad at Celtic that loses 4-0 to St Mirren, you deserve to be sacked. I have no qualms about that. My biggest disappointment is taking the job in the first place,” he says.
His concerns over player investment, his wage structure, and the culture at Celtic can be summarised in his statement: “If you buy cheap, you buy often.”
He is similarly blunt about the fate of Ronny Deila, who will leave the club after winning consecutive league titles but with a series of semi-final defeats in domestic cup competitions and, frankly, failure in European tournaments.
“There is no second place at Celtic. There is only first loser. You are number one or nothing. When I was a player, I believed if you lost a semi-final, you were as well flinging your boots away. It was a difficult time for Celtic when I was a player and it still breaks my heart,” he says. He won only one title (1988) after that spectacular day when Hearts were pipped, the Tynecastle side losing 2-0 in Dundee while Celtic won 5-0 at St Mirren.
He accepts as player and as a coach he was confronting Rangers sides unrecognisable in strength and depth to the challenge facing Celtic now. “With Rangers out of the league, they should be winning it by 25 to 30 points. No disrespect, but there is a disparity in the wages paid and the quality of players with the other teams,” he says. “My biggest disappointment is I do not think Celtic have become stronger in the period Rangers have been out of the division. There should have been a lot more silverware.”
He is intrigued by what will happen at the club over the summer. “Now is an interesting time because Celtic have to raise the bar. It is all right saying there is money in the bank and whatever. But this is Celtic Football Club and the ambition must be to win doubles and trebles. And to compete in Europe,” he says.
Grant – who managed at Norwich City and as caretaker at Fulham as well as assistant roles at Bournemouth, West Ham United, West Bromwich Albion, and Birmingham City – is well aware of the realities of modern football and the difficulty Celtic have in meeting them. “I know of a player in England who is being offered £14.5m over a four-year deal and he has yet to play a full 90 minutes in the first team,” says Grant, who leads development coaching at Fulham.
“Celtic have sold tens of millions of talent to Southampton, that says it all. In my day, the difference was maybe a grand a week or whatever but now it is 10 times the salary. They could not buy the jersey off us. Incidentally, I never swapped my jersey after a game. I figured they were hard enough to earn without giving them away,” he says.
He has lessons from that day in 1986 and that sacking in 2010. “I should not have taken the job,” he says. “When I went up to Scotland to sign the contract, I thought: ‘Some things never change.’ I was disappointed. I felt there was a feeling that ‘it is Peter Grant and he will come back for nothing’. That sticks in my throat because I thought I had earned value in England. There was a disrespect and I should probably have turned my back on it there and then. When I got sacked, it was the quickest ever I got back to Norfolk. That tells a story.”
But he prefers to dwell on the happiness of Love Street 1986 and what can teach the club today.
“We were producing players,” he says. The team was: Paddy Bonner, Danny McGrain [Grant], Derek Whyte, Roy Aitken, Paul McGugan, Murdo MacLeod, Brian McClair, Paul McStay, Mo Johnston, Tommy Burns, Owen Archdeacon. Sub: Mark McGhee. Nine of them had been nurtured and produced by Celtic with only MacLeod, Johnston, McClair and McGhee being bought.
“All those players also understood what it meant to be a Celtic player. The be all and end all for me and many others was simply to play for Celtic. That is all I dreamed about as a kid. Now you hear players saying ‘I want to play in the [English] Premier League’. To me, that is disrespectful. I did not want to play anywhere else.”
He believes if Celtic were to go to
England, they would be second only to Manchester United. “Hand on my heart, Celtic would win the league down here within five years of joining it. They are a huge club, a global brand,” he says. The immediate way forward, though, must be to bring through young players. “I come up a lot to watch my son,” he says of Peter, the Falkirk centre-back. “The talent is there in Scotland and the only upside of the current situation is that clubs are giving them a chance.”
He was delighted when he had his opportunity. He won the title in his first full season as a first-team player. “It was surreal the way it happened. I came on for Danny and, of course, heard the roar when the news from Dens Park filtered through. It was a strange celebration for me, though. I had my car at Love Street because I was going to the player of the year function at the Celtic supporters’ club in Fort William with Paul [McGugan] immediately after the game.
“We drove first to Celtic Park where supporters had gathered. Champagne? I never touched a drop. We drove up to Fort William and I had my first drink there. It was quite a night.” He adds: “Listen, I played in Celtic teams some may say were ordinary. Hey, some would say that was at least partially down to me.” He says the last with a laugh. But his next sentence carries the impact of a Grant tackle: “I won’t argue with any of that. There is no point. But I will say one thing: we never lost the fans.”
That was loudly apparent at Love Street in 1986. It was franked by the realisation that the players would go that extra mile. All the way to Fort William.
Celtic have sold tens of millions of talent to Southampton, that says it all. In my day the difference was maybe a grand a week or whatever but now it’s 10 times the salary. They could not buy the jersey off us. Incidentally, I never swapped my jersey after a game. I figured they were hard enough to earn without giving them away . . .
BACK AND FORTH: Peter Grant has experienced both sides of Celtic, with the 1986 title glory and his doomed coaching spell in 2010.