IT was really going to take something to make Matt Hancock’s defence of voting against feeding hungry children this week look heartfelt and genuine, but fair play to Peter Lawwell, he gave it a go.
Before I pick up my pitch fork and join the angry mob though, I will at least concede that the Celtic chief executive should be given credit for having the gumption to belatedly offer an apology for his club’s mid-season training camp in Dubai, a decision that was as tone deaf as Lawrence Fox and almost as offensive.
Still, the address from Lawwell to the club’s own website couldn’t have felt more as if it was delivered under duress had he worn an orange jumpsuit. He was a hostage to his and his board’s own recklessness, and now was forced to proffer some kind of olive branch to appease, well, the entire country.
Trouble is, the tone and content of the apology has only served to anger people further. For a start, Lawwell’s apparent remorse was directed only to Celtic supporters. Not even as far as the Hibernian players, whose anxious families had expressed concerns about them coming into contact with the Celtic players on Monday night, 48 hours after they had returned from Dubai on a plane with Christopher Jullien, who had tested positive for Coronavirus.
And certainly not as far as the rest of Scottish football, who may be affected by the red rag Celtic have held up to a government not exactly renowned for their warm relations with the sport. What if they now decide that elite sport cannot continue as one of the top clubs in the country have swanned off to warmer climes for a run in the sun and a few pints, as the rest of us shiver on our daily walks and can scarcely remember what the inside of a pub looks like?
Most of the clubs in the country are already suffering, with the shutdown of all football below the Championship viewed by some – perhaps cynically – as a sacrificial offering to the Scottish Government for the recklessness of one of the game’s supposed standard bearers. A development which makes Lawwell’s ludicrous line about Celtic perhaps being affected by the pandemic more than any other club seem almost too easy to ridicule.
As for the government, they can’t escape blame in this whole fiasco, and neither can football’s governing bodies, try as they might. Celtic are still largely hiding behind the fact that they technically didn’t break any rules in defending their actions, which Lawwell went on to do for fully five minutes after saying sorry to his fans, rather undermining the words that had just come out of his own mouth.
The ultimate responsibility for rubber stamping the trip to Dubai though lies with Celtic, and it is flabbergasting that the club still don’t seem to see that. And still don’t seem to grasp how much it has infuriated not only their own fans, but the wider public.
“On reflection, looking back and looking with hindsight and looking at the outcome of the trip, clearly it was a mistake,” choked Lawwell, offering just the four qualifying statements that any regret attached to the trip rose solely from the fact they didn’t get away with it.
Had Jullien not returned a positive test and they returned unscathed for Monday night’s match against Hibs, it seems clear that the official Celtic line would have remained that they were right to travel.
It should worry Celtic that a man who is paid so handsomely to see around corners – and who in fairness, has served the well by doing so in the past – couldn’t twig from the get-go that this was a disaster waiting to happen. The criticism in the media and on message boards began well before they left these shores, so it can’t only have dawned on Celtic that a storm was brewing when they touched down back at Glasgow Airport.
In even the very best case scenario, the trip to Dubai would have been a PR disaster of epic proportions. In the more likely scenario, at least one of their players would test positive, most of the squad would be sidelined as a result, and the faint hope they had of rescuing a title challenge would have disappeared before their tans had worn off.
That this is precisely what has come to pass can’t possibly be a shock to Celtic. The other line they have parroted about a player being just as likely to contract Covid-19 here in Scotland just doesn’t hold muster, because in such a scenario, that player wouldn’t have subsequently wiped out half a plane-load of teammates and the management team.
The bottom line is that the trip to Dubai during a worsening pandemic was foolhardy at best, arrogant and reckless at worst. To compound that error by at first showing a complete lack of remorse, before bowing to pressure to apologise, only to then botch that apology by continuing to offer a long justification for going, is staggering.
Celtic supporters simply do not recognise their club at present, either on the field or off it. The consistent excellence on the park and the prudent management of the club over the last nine years from the boardroom should not be forgotten, but that only makes its disappearance all the harder to fathom.
Perhaps worse, fans no longer recognise a club being run in line with their values, and by extension, those of Celtic. A club ignorant and dismissive of the realities of their daily lives.
“I’d like to reassure our supporters that the club that they believe they have is here,” Lawwell said on Wednesday.
“We have made a mistake, and we apologise for that, but the club that they would like to have, and have had, is here.”
Actions, speak louder than words.