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so farewell then...

paul hartley

So farewell then Paul Hartley

The man of many clubs

Who finally wound up at the one

He always wanted to be with

In the first place.

Can’t say I was too thrilled when we signed Paul Hartley. Too much history of bad temper, niggling and generally being a right pain in the arse when he was with Hearts. I felt the same when Billy Stark arrived; couldn’t stand him because he always seemed to hurt us and it hadn’t yet sunk in that now he would be hurting other teams for us. It was just the same with Hartley, and it quickly became apparent that here was a guy you knew felt every defeat just as hard as the supporters in the stands and who would celebrate every win twice as much because he had helped Celtic achieve it.

Hartley was the second of the “Rickerton Three” that Romanov drummed out of Tynecastle to wind up at Celtic. Pressley had signed on only weeks before. In fact one of his last games for Hearts was against Celtic at Tynecastle the day Pressley got the armband and led Celtic to a 2-1 win. Unlike Pressley, for some reason, Hartley is still quite popular with the Hearts support despite his time with us (normally a sure fire way to have your poster torched down Gorgie way).

Celtic had tried to get him in January 2005 as MON tried to bolster a midfield badly weakened by the loss of Mjallby the previous summer, but Hearts were (rightly) insulted by the offer of £300k for him. When we came back two years later the offer was four times the previous amount and the deal was done.

Home at last for a player that had been well known as a Celtic man for many years.

At Tynecastle Hartley had been a forward going midfielder, but the previous autumn Walter Smith, prior to turning his back on his country’s national team, had played him as a defensive midfielder in Scotland’s 1-0 home win against France. Rumour has it that WGS, an admirer, saw a player who could fill the Lennon role when the Irishman retired at the end of that season and so Hartley arrived.

There was also the rumour - denied it must be said by everyone involved in the whole thing - that Rangers had all but sealed a deal with him only for Celtic to gazump them at the last minute.

His debut was again another of his old clubs (seven previous to Celtic, surely some kind of record) Hibs. He hadn’t lost to them very often as a Jambo and he wasn’t about to start now. Craig Beattie scored the only goal in a game notable for the number of stick-on penalties we didn’t get. Welcome to Celtic son – you’re playing with a new rule book now.

For the remainder of the season he was, to be quite honest, average, although he wasn’t helped by the fact that Lennon was still on the pitch and they were both trying to do basically the same job.

Still, he finished up with both a League winners badge and Scottish cup winners medal, his second in succession after he had lifted the pot the previous year with Hearts (although he was stupidly sent off in the dying minutes of that game - double stupid when you consider that the game was going to a penalty shoot out and he was the first choice kicker).

The looks on the faces of Pressley and Hartley told you everything - they couldn’t believe what had happened to them over the past couple of months and they certainly hadn’t banked on winning things with Celtic.

The following season will be the one that the Hartley grandkids get told about every night. It started with his first goal for the club, one that was worth about £7m, away to Spartak in the Champions League qualifiers. That was good, he had been a regular scorer for Hearts but had rarely threatened for us.

His performances were steady, he was certainly seen as one of the triers in the side and his dead ball delivery was excellent (e.g. the first goal against AC Milan), but it was his partnership with Barry Robson in the last seven games that really secured his place in the history of the club.

All season long the manager had tinkered with the central midfield and all season long we had suffered because of it. Now injury and suspension forced his hand. We had two experienced players, guys who had been over the course before, guys who wouldn’t think twice about kicking an opponent and taking a yellow card if needs be and most important of all guys who knew that this was the moment they had been waiting their whole careers for.

The first of the seven games was at Fir Park and they simply demolished the home side with hard tackling and simple passing but every one knew it was the next game that would really matter, home to Rangers. Paul Hartley had been with Celtic for 15 months. In that time he had played four times against Rangers. We hadn’t even managed to score against them never mind win. It hurt us in the stands and that meant it hurt him twice as much.

Barry Robson laid down the marker for the evening by clattering Dailly in the opening seconds.Between the two of them they forced us back in to the title race with a 2-1 win.

Their influence in the next win over the cash-strapped Kinning Park giants was arguably greater as Robson scored the winner and Hartley committed one of the great fouls when he caught the ankle of Captain Unbookable in the first half. Bazza was red in the face, furious with his Scotland team mate and, would you believe, boyhood friend.

At Tannadice the night we won the league the goal came from an expertly delivered Paul Hartley corner.

At the final whistle there were scenes beyond any previous league win that I’ve seen.

I was doubly pleased for Paul Hartley. Although he had the medal for the SPL 2006-7 you felt that he knew it had been won before he arrived. But in 2007-8 it wouldn’t have happened without him.

Last season again he was one of our better players. He scored a couple of cracking goals against Accies and Motherwell, and played an important role in our first cup final win over the huns in 20 years (another win you knew he would enjoy twice as much as anyone). But by the end it looked as though time had caught up with him.

Once his contract with Celtic expired there was a murmur that Hearts might want him back (some of their fans would have certainly welcomed him back) but Vlad is still there so that was a non starter. In the end he has signed for Bristol City. Perhaps the thought of playing against Celtic wasn’t very appealing.

He leaves us with a full house of medals (2 league, 1 from each cup) and we wish Paul Hartley all the very best in the future and look forward to seeing him in the North Stand in years to come.