Woven into the fabric of the Cappielow side’s squad, as the ill-fated fixture makes its third attempt to beat the recent Arctic conditions on Tuesday, are two young players hoping to reconstruct their careers after premature ends to their Parkhead apprenticeships.
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Last summer, having lost the Under-19 league and SFA youth cup to Hibs, making it three years without a trophy at Under-19 level, Celtic decided to take drastic action and culled every player with a 1990 birthday. Having known each other since the age of 10, signing their full-time contracts with their boyhood heroes at the same time, Carlo Monti and Michael Tidser were effectively in the same boat once again. Both 19-year-olds have now washed up in Greenock, even if they took wildly different journeys to traverse the 25 miles down the Clyde.
Monti, a stocky left-back who represented Scotland at every level from Under-16 to Under-18 and hits a mean dead ball, was first to leave, in April, and his departure was not entirely related to his footballing ability. Concerns about his attitude and application had already been flagged up at Celtic before he made the front pages in November 2008 following an altercation with a man outside a gym which left his combatant in a coma. All charges were officially dropped in August, but seeing Monti these days is to witness a chastened figure, hoping to get back to basics.
“It is a massive pressure off my should-ers and I was always confident that would happen anyway,” Monti said. “But it is not something that will ever go away from me. It has made me grow up and given me the reality check that I needed. When you go to any club it is a new start, you are meeting new people and you have got to make an impression on new people. I would like to think I have come here and worked hard and can prove people wrong who maybe tar me with that incident.
“Leaving Celtic was my own downfall.That [the court case] was nothing to do with it, it was another incident within the club. I got released as a result of my own stupidity. Obviously if I look back on it now I would never have done it. But there is no point looking back on things.
“From a Morton fans’ point of view this game is exciting and, for us personally – I don’t know if Michael is the same – I have not got anything personal against them. It is another game of football and as far as we are concerned we have to go on and do the best for our team rather than think back and hold any grudges about anything else.”
In many ways Tidser’s departure was more controversial than Monti’s. The skilfull left-sided midfielder was actually captain of Celtic’s Under-19s, and by all accounts many at Parkhead were keen that he stayed on longer term. Concerns about his mobility, however, won the day and soon he was out on trial at Hamilton. When they declined to offer him a deal, he moved on a six-month contract to FK Ostersunds, of the Swedish second division, with whom he played alongside player/manager and former Hearts and Livingston player Lee Makel.
Tidser is ineligible for Tuesday’s game, and a possible replay at Celtic Park the next day, due to the SFA rule which insists upon his signing being completed in time for the orginal date, but feels his first-team football in Sweden has been of huge benefit, and that an 18-month deal at Cappielow can see him push on still further.
“Just after I found out that I wasn’t getting kept on at Celtic I had been thinking that I might just chuck it but people were telling me don’t be stupid,” Tidser said. “I don’t know the ins and outs of it but apparently people wanted to keep me and stuff like that. It took them five, six weeks to make the decision but it makes no difference to me now.
“The standard of living is great out in Sweden. It is a lovely place and football-wise I also loved it. I would recommend it to anybody. Lee was a big help to me. All the other lads could speak English but we understood each other best and played alongside each other in central midfield. He was brilliant and I still keep in contact with him. But it was always just a short-term deal.”
Assuming all attitude issues are indeed in the past, both former Celtic starlets can be expected to prosper under a manager in James Grady who hopes to ally fluency to the functionality of the Davie Irons era. “We have been brought up just playing football,” said Monti. “At the start when I came here I was getting a sore neck because I was spending so much time trying to follow the ball in the air. Now it has changed.”
Another member of the Morton side with pedigree against Celtic – even if his own narrative may swerve this particular episode – is Steven Masterton. The former Clyde midfielder was this week told he could look for another club, so is likely to be robbed of the chance to reprise his heroics against Roy Keane when the ramshackle Broadwood club knocked their Parkhead opponents out of the Scottish Cup in January 2006. The same player also scored a spectacular free-kick when Morton beat Hibs in the Co-operative Insurance Cup last season.
“I think Clyde’s victory over Celtic gave teams everywhere a wee lift that results like that were possible,” Masterton said. “We had been thrown together and we were all young boys. I think our enthusiasm was a big part in us winning the game. Probably the biggest memory that I have got of the day is just playing against Roy Keane and I’ve got pictures in my house to remind me about it. Although Roy obviously gains respect wherever he goes, because it was his first game maybe he didn’t feel he had the authority to shout and bawl too much. He was actually pretty subdued.”
It emerged last week that Tony Mowbray has never been to Cappielow before. It will be anything but subdued when this game finally gets the go-ahead.