PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland
so farewell then...
How fitting that the end of the O'Neill era should see the end of Paul Lambert's Celtic career; Lambert, along with the likes of Sutton and Thompson, was one of the O'Neill's stalwarts. But when you're trying to sum up the career of a great Celtic players in the aftermath of giving the league away you're more inclined to view things with a critical eye and I can't get away from the idea that I, along with 60,000 others, paid several hundred pounds for a season ticket to watch the home games this season while Paul was paid something like £1m to do the same thing (and he got free tickets and travel to the away games as well).
Not his fault he didn't get picked, not his fault he was offered the contract, but he did say that he was going to Germany to study for coaching badges, thereby reducing the possibility of first team football (but not reducing the weekly wage). Value for money? Maybe in 15 years time if he becomes a successful Celtic manager, but for now we'll just have to ask our questions.
Of course these are the thoughts of a fan after a horrendous turn of events and shouldn't cloud the fact that for the past eight seasons Paul Lambert has been strapped to the front carriage of the Celtic roller coaster, during which time he's collected eight winners medals, become the captain of his country and been only the second man to captain the team in a European final. Not bad for someone who spent his childhood being taken to Ibrox.
Lambert's career prior to Celtic was notable for a number of things; his first winners medal in 1987 when the Buddies beat United 1:0 in the Scottish Cup Final, his pivotal role in a tremendous Scotland U-21 side that won through to the semi-finals of the European Championships in 1991, and the bizarre fact that Motherwell were prepared to let him go for nothing as a result of a £50 pay rise.
Of course that turned out to be the best thing that happened - Dortmund and a Champions League winners medal awaited him. The following season he had to take stock of his position in Germany; on the field things were fine but off it life was a bit more complex; his wife was finding it difficult to settle in Germany away from her family, especially when his son came down with pneumonia. The press began to speculate that he would head back to Scotland. Both Celtic and Rangers were in a bit of a state at the time. We were rebuilding after the Tommy Burns years, Jansen was still building a team and it was felt that would take a couple of seasons. Even though he'd already bought five or six players the midfield still looked light given that McStay had hung up his magic wand in the summer. Rangers were in the final year of the Walter Smith era and he had already announced his intention to leave. Jansen still had access to the cheque book. Smith had already spent something like £25m and given that he was leaving even Murray was unlikely to sanction any more buying. We looked like the favourites.
The man charged with the task of setting up the deal was Jock Brown, the newly appointed general manager of the club. The press didn't much care for Jock (the fans weren't exactly leaping up and down with delirium when he joined either) and the story quickly got round that Jock had put the kybosh on the deal because he didn't think Lambert was worth the money. Lambert himself appeared on Scotsport (in its pre-train wreck format) telling the world that he didn't care what Jock Brown thought of him as a player, plenty of other more respected football people rated him. Someone in Celtic Park agreed, the deal was back on and soon he was paraded in a Celtic tracksuit having finally signed for just over £1m.
The start to his Celtic career suggested that luck wise Paul Lambert was the equivalent of a black cat with a knack for smashing mirrors; played two lost two. Just to rub it in, the first was against Rangers at Ibrox, the second was at home to Motherwell (both were Regi Blinker horror shows - first he turned to jelly against the huns, then he got himself so wound up about making amends against Motherwell that he was sent off after 10 minutes).
Oddly enough his third game was also against Rangers. This time a last second Stubbs header gave us a 1:1 draw on the night Gascoigne finally saw red.
Two weeks later Lambert had his first winners medal, appearing as a sub at Ibrox when the Hoops beat Dundee United 3:0 in the league Cup final. Of course this was the season to end all seasons. Rangers were going for 10-in-a-row. The unthinkable. On January 2nd they came to Celtic Park. A win for them would have sent them 7 points clear at the top. They had only lost one league game all season while Celtic had lost five.
The first half was a fairly even affair, both sides having chances but neither could find the net. After the break Celtic quickly gained the upper hand. Lambert, Burley and McNamara in particular took hold of the midfield and after 66 minutes Burley drove the ball under Goram to give us the lead. Three precious points could be on the way. With seconds remaining and the fans screaming for the final whistle the ball bounced out to Paul Lambert, and he planted it into Goram's top left hand corner. His first goal for the club.
He got his second the following week, another spectacular goal, this time at Fir Park. They might not have been very frequent, but you have to say that his goals were often of the memorable variety.
The demise of John Barnes the following season has often been pinpointed to the moment Henrik Larsson broke his leg in France, but even after that Celtic weren't that disorganised . The loss of Lambert at Ibrox really hammered a few nails into Digger's coffin, so important had he become to the team. Burley was transferred not long after and the wheels really came off.
Having outlasted Barnes, lambert went on to play an integral part in Doctor Jo's midfield, this time doing a lot of the spadework for Lubo Moravcik, although during this time he was often afflicted with ankle problems which would restrict his first team appearances. Who knows what might have happened during the Doc's short reign had he not been deprived of Lambert and so many other vital players for long spells because of a succession of injuries.
MON became Lambert's fourth manager in as many years in 2000, by which time he was a fixture in the first team and a key component in much of the success we enjoyed during the first four years of O'Neill's time in charge.
Initial doubts as to whether he could play in the same team as Neil Lennon - a similar type of player - proved unfounded as they both played outstanding roles in the UEFA Cup run of two seasons ago.
Having made his intentions clear about concentrating on the coaching side of the game this season, his playing duties have been negligible and he has made just seven appearances in the first team during 2004-05. To put a positive spin on this arrangement, the club's indulgence of his semi-retirement status could be seen as some reward for eight years of outstanding service.
While he was never a Paul McStay, Lambert's contribution as a team player couldn't be understated. He was loath to waste possession and his work ethic seems to have been the product of somebody who rose up from the bottom ranks of the game and who appreciated every success he achieved. It also says a lot for him as a person that he was hugely respected by the supporters of every team he played for.
My own favourite recollection of him was when he gave his Celtic jersey to someone in the disabled section - after his goal against Rangers if I'm not mistaken.
He's bowing out of Celtic Park - with the best part of 300 appearances to his name - to take on the thankless task of managing Livingston. Still, he was never one for shirking a challenge, even if it meant a trip to the dentist afterwards.
Who knows, if he makes a go of it we might well see him back some time in the future.
He leaves with our best wishes and our appreciation for everything he's done to bring success to Celtic during his eight seasons. He has been a credit to himself and the club.