Leigh Griffiths talks about his last game as a Celtic player being the lowest point in his one-man football melodrama.
Booed by his own fans and after eight years at the club, 261 appearances and 123 goals, the tears started to flow as he realized it
Arriving as a substitute in a friendly against West Ham, every touch of the ball came with the sound of abuse from a support which once adored him.
The Falkirk striker is once again aiming to prove the doubters wrong and return to the level which made him the most powerful marksman for club and country.
But in a brutally-honest interview with MailSport the 31-year-old insists he’s had his fill of being a hate figure and aims to relaunch his career by setting the record straight.
Griffiths said: “I hate the phrase ‘prove people wrong’. That’s all I seem to hear about Leigh Griffiths. Once Griffiths gets himself fit or once Griffiths gets this or that – there is way too much pressure being put on me.
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“For the last seven or eight years, I have lived with pressure and I have done it with pressure.
“Now I am getting older I hear people asking where is the guy who once scored 40 goals in one season?
“Where is the guy who scored two free kicks against England?
“My reply is this: Just let me go out and play football. That’s exactly what I want. Just let me enjoy my football, which nowadays is so hard to do.”
Griffiths had been sent home from Celtic’s training camp in Wales as the police carried out a probe which eventually cleared him of wrongdoing over online messages.
But the player admits it led to an afternoon of torment against the Hammers which could have been handled far better.
He said: “I did leave Celtic with regrets about the way it all ended. There was a story about me in the summer which was disappointing from my point of view. I spoke to people at Celtic and the other people involved in the entire investigation process.
“It was established that I hadn’t done anything wrong. That’s when I felt Celtic should have come out and said they had spoken to me and everyone else involved and that nothing had been found and I was free to continue playing and scoring for the club.
“Had they done so then that would have been it as there was nothing there.
“I was flung back into training and the new manager was absolutely unbelievable with me – I don’t have a bad word to say about Ange. I don’t have a bad word to say about anyone at Celtic.
“Ange had come in and it was his job to get the team up and running and he’s then hit with this bombshell. I had to come back and do a mini pre-season.
“Then I played against West Ham and it’s the lowest I have ever felt in football. I left that game, climbed into the car and drove back home.
“I was crying – that was the point that I knew my time was done at Celtic.
“I said it in the car home, I couldn’t do this any more. It sounds strange but I can’t be a player who is booed both home and away.
“If I was playing at home I was going to be booed by my own fans and the away fans. If I went away from home I’m booed by the home and away fans when I touch the ball.”
There’s a perception of Griffiths which couldn’t be further from the mark and it lies at the heart of Old Firm rivalry.
Taking his share of the blame for incidents which only served to fuel the impression of a player who enjoys courting controversy, he also insists his accusers are doing him a disservice.
He said: “I certainly think they do. Players I hadn’t played with and then met when I moved to a new club and dressing room is proof of that. Let me give you a couple of examples.
“I walked into Dundee’s dressing room and there were some big, big Rangers fans there and I was coming from Celtic.
“I’m sure they’d be happy for me to mention them, Jordan McGhee being one of them, Shaun Byrne and Lee Ashcroft are others.
“These are guys who said to my face, ‘I have hated you.’
“They said they didn’t actually know me but because I played for Celtic they hated me. That changed as they got to know me.
“I shared a car up to Dundee with Jordan and he said the perception people have of me is ridiculous.
“I walked into the Falkirk dressing room and that was one of the things Charlie Telfer said about me as well.
“Charlie’s another big Rangers fan and he told me that before I came to the club he didn’t like me.
“He said: ‘I didn’t know you but I didn’t like you but now I think you’re a good guy and don’t have a bad bone in your body.’
“That’s Scottish football in a nutshell. You get tarred with a certain brush and people want to keep putting the brush into the tar to make it thicker and thicker.”
The next chapter in the most colorful of careers is still to be written. Griffiths has changed agents and adopted a fitness regime which includes boxing and a personal trainer to get him back to his best.
There’s a new maturity and appreciation of what’s required. But there’s a long pause from Griffiths before he delivers another blunt assessment of his future from him.
He said: “I am scared. I think the big clubs, managers, chairmen, boards and fans look at headlines on the front of the paper before getting to know me as a person and player.
“Much of that is down to me but it is hard for me to know I have certain qualities and teams may not give me an opportunity because the fans don’t want me there.
“Fan power is so big in football now.
“People will always say that I took the p**s and this and that but all I wanted to do was work hard. Whenever I went on the pitch you could see I was busting my balls to try to help the team as much as I could.
“When we were struggling for a goal I would come on and in games such as St Johnstone, where I scored in the last minute, and the Scottish Cup Final, I came on and scored.
“Aberdeen away? I came on and scored. It was only ever about helping the team.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.