PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland
so farewell then...
So farewell then Elvis, the most unlikely Celt for many a year.
The fact that Steven Pressley wound up playing for Celtic is nowhere near as strange as the circumstances that actually brought him here.
Pressley was a Hearts legend. He had been with the Edinburgh club since 1998, had been the heartbeat of the team for many years, he had lifted the Scottish Cup as captain the in 2006, and had even taken on the role of cartaker manager not once but twice.
However, in October of 2006 he took on the club owner as the leader of the ‘Rickarton Three’ named after the Hearts training ground. Pressley, along with Hartley and keeper Craig Gordon had held a press conference to voice their concerns over the direction the club was taking under Vladimir Romanov after the owner had announced that failure to win the next game would see all the players sold to “Kilmarnock or some other club”.
Pressley read a statement that critised the way managers were coming and going as though on a conveyor which in turn was leading to “significant unrest” in the dressing room.
The upshot of this was that Hartley and Gordon were removed to the bench while Pressley was stripped of the captaincy (after a rumoured dressing room vote when all the Lithuanian players voted against the him) and dropped altogether. The club described him as “not mentally fit” to play (begging the question, how mantally fit do you have to be to play for Hearts?), before also being placed on the bench.
The media were in a fury over the treatment of these players, particularly Pressley, who had always made time for the media and always seemed articulate enough to avoid falling into football cliché.
During Hearts games a banner with “Elvis – We’ll Support You Ever More” was constantly on display.
The common consensus was that none of these players would be at Tynecastle after the January and the media in Scotland being what it is the press line was that it wouldn’t be surprising to see them all in the blue of Rangers soon.
However, only two of the three left, and although both did wind up in Glasgow it was not at Murray Park.
The first rumour started in mid-December. We had lost Caldwell to a hip injury and Balde to a broken leg on Boxing Day. O’Dea was there but WGS wanted someone with more experience and Pressley, aged 33, was signed on an 18 month contract on December 29th.
His debut came in a 2-0 win over Kilmarnock at Celtic Park. Some in the media had suggested that the player would be greeted with booing by the home crowd, but the only reaction was a round of applause as he took his first touch in a Celtic shirt.
His first major test came just over two weeks later as Celtic travelled through to Tynecastle to play Hearts in a vital league fixture. A win would virtually seal a second championship but anything less, according the media, would open the door for Rangers under Walter Smith.
In the week leading up to this there was much talk of Pressley being applauded on to the pitch, and when he first appeared for the warm up in an almost empty stadium he was greeted warmly by the few Hearts fans present.
But by the time the teams emerged for the kick off (with Pressley named captain for the day) the warmth had been replaced a decided cold front moving in from the east. Every touch was jeered and he was subject of some fairly vicious chanting.
The Guardian match reporter wondered whether this “anger would be better directed towards Vladimir Romanov”.
It mattered not to Pressley who played well in a deserved 2-1 win, after we had been trailing at halftime.
A couple of weeks after that he scored his first goal for the Hoops, a last gasp equaliser at Inverness which appeared to have secured us a replay, but had in fact only provided the springboard for an even more dramatic Celtic winner.
After the game he was interviewed by BBC radio. He summed up the team spirit thus: “At this club, we don’t believe in losing football matches”. Afterwards the commentators remarked that Pressley spoke as though he had been with Celtic for 9 years and not 9 weeks.
An even more telling remark came in an interview with Celtic TV when he said that Celtic wasn’t anything like what he had expected or been told. The interviewer left it at that, but I would like to know what he thought Celtic was prior to his arrival.
He played the remainder of the season in central defence scoring once more (against Hearts of course) and made history when he became the first player to win the Scottish Cup with three different sides.
He hadn’t been a stand out (either bad or good) but the media appraisal of him after the cup final was incredible as he was pilloried for the way we had played (we won the cup and kept a clean sheet).
Last season he was more of a fixture in the reserves, although he did get a run in the first team during our ‘No Full Backs’ period in December.
That run of games started with the unfortunate injury John Kennedy picked up in the Champions League game against Donetsk. Pressley came on that night and played well, using all his experience to nullify a tricky forward and pushing on help get the winner in injury time.
But his first team involvement at Celtic came to an end after the horror show in Inverness. He wasn’t solely to blame for that defeat (it wasn’t a penalty basically) but that game showed once and for all that he was past his best.
The remainder of the season was played out in the reserves and it was interesting to note in the pages of the Celtic View and during interviews on Celtic TV how many of the reserves picked playing with him as the highlight of the season.
He is now assistant coach with the national side, but still looking for a club to play with. If the endorsement of the reserves is anything to go by he could have a good career as a coach ahead of him.
On the proviso that he stays well away from his first professional club we wish him all the best for his future.