PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland
Celtic The Official History: 4 disc dvd; running time 400 minutes (approx); £29.99
This years’ prize stocking filler is the ambitious 4 DVD History package, the result of many years toil by the Celtic media staff.
Before I start I should say that the copy I reviewed was a preview from Celtic media, so my descriptions of which disc the footage appears one may be slightly out.
The film starts with director Brian Wilson, who also wrote the club’s official centenary history, visiting St Mary’s church in Abercrombie Street describing the Celtic’s creation in 1887. From there he visits the birth place of Brother Walfrid and outlines the way the first Celtic team was put together.
Anecdotal evidence is provided by the likes of David Potter, Tom Campbell and Lisbon Lion Jim Craig.
Clearly footage and access to the main players is the key to the success of this kind of film, and largely the producers here succeed, although it does mean that the years up until around the 50s have to rely on anecdote rather than video evidence; thus, excluding the introductory montage, the first goal we see is actually scored by Rangers against us from a game at Hampden in 1910.
The reliance on footage can be gauged by the fact that disc 1 covers the years 1887-1966! But by the time we’ve reached the end of that we’ve heard about or seen many players and goals as well as some really damning stuff about the way the players were treated by the board (but I’m not going to spoil it by repeating any of it here).
Disc 2 starts on the road to Lisbon and nine-in-a-row with the Big Man at the helm. This is clearly an area that has already been very well served so it is credit to the creators of this film that they found a new angle on it by taking Billy McNeill back to the stadium and getting him to reminisce on location.
The remainder of the Stein years are well covered, including interviews with Dalglish, Hay, McGrain, Connolly, Macari and others. Obviously only one of those players actually stayed for the duration of his career, but when you hear how much Macari was offered as an inducement to sign a new contract your jaw may well hit the floor.
The transfer of Dalglish and the removal of Stein are dealt with in a very kids gloves way. The board certainly seemed to get off quite lightly there, but as we move into the McNeill 78-83 era they become more and more the focus.
It would be very easy for the voiceover script to have been really damning of the old board, but rather than do that the script simply states fact then cuts to interviews with Michael Kelly, Kevin Kelly and Tom Grant during which they are allowed to give their side of the story. Effectively this means the interviewer feeds them more than enough rope, and they certainly make good use of it.
Grant and Kelly (M) in particular emerge especially poorly (at one stage Tom Grant bemoans the fact that he had difficulty getting on to the board before he was actually appointed, but at no stage does he identify any reason why he should have been on the board).
On the playing side we have a curious omission from the early 80s; barely a mention of Charlie Nicholas, the first real Jungle hero after Kenny left. I am reliably informed that the man with no socks was approached but declined to appear, apparently feeling that some would rather he be removed from the history of Celtic. Wish granted.
Again, the circumstances of McNeill’s unbelievable removal by the board in 1983 are dealt with in a less than in-depth manner, especially by McNeill it must be said, who basically blames the chairman of the time. Of a more explosive nature is the information concerning when Celtic first approached him to return. Again, no spoiler here.
The Hay years are enlivened by the appearance of Brain McClair with some top class stories and some footage which I hadn’t seen in many years, specifically a McClair goal against Dundee during the run in to Love Street. I
Another notable omission here is, of course Le Merde; he, like Nicholas, gets no more than a passing mention and maybe we get to see a goal or two but that’s it. We don’t get to hear a thing about his 1989 change of direction, even though that was one of the major factors in our demise (sorry folks, I know no one wants to give him credit for that but them’s the facts).
Centenary comes and goes, again well documented, and by now we’re into disc 3 and about to reach one of the club’s low lights, but the film’s highlight in many ways.
The way the takeover in 1994 is handled is superb, almost worth a release of it’s own. Fergus describes his first meeting with the board, Michael Kelly attempts one the clumsiest smokescreen jobs ever committed to film and even NTV get a mention.
If you ever think about complaining about the current board just watch this. By the end you will be thanking your lucky stars for the people currently in charge of the club.
The remainder of disc 3 is taken up by the years 94-2000, which means the Tommy Burns years, the drama that was Wim and Jock Brown (Both are interviewed, pointedly Murdo McLeod is not, with the most enlightening stuff coming from Brown and how he would approach such a job now), Dr Jo and of course the Barnes/Dalglish sketch.
I was surprised to see that John Barnes actually agreed to take part in this, but he’s quite honest about why things went wrong due to his own failings, although he does point out that most managers would have struggled deprived of the likes of Larsson and Lambert through injury (forgetting to mention the unbelievable decision to transfer Burley to Derby).
Disc four is almost non stop success as MON and then WGS come in. The stories of how both men got the job are interesting and the dissection of the day it all went wrong at Fir Park certainly isn’t shirked.
A production of this scale, of this ambition, is never going to keep everyone happy, but that fact is this a very impressive effort and is well worth the money.
The only question for Celtic Media is what do they do next?