One of the challenges that Celtic face is that opponents in Scotland generally regard anything other than a sound thrashing at our hands as a good result.
A draw is excellent.
And actually beating Celtic is a significant career highlight for the majority of their players.
Even if Celtic give a team a right good horsing, the defeated outfit just shrug it off and refocus their attention on competing with their peers.
Their supporters are generally quite content to watch their players deploying whatever tactics might successfully deny the Celts a goal spree.
There’s very little pressure on those teams to do anything other than hold the fort.
That’s just the way it is.
By contrast, Celtic supporters – and particularly the younger ones who have no memory of watching truly rotten Celtic teams – seem to think that anything short of a convincing victory in almost every single domestic fixture is a completely unsatisfactory betrayal of Celtic’s traditional, glorious style.
But the reality is that although Celtic now have greater resources than any of their Scottish opponents, this does not mean that they can fill the side with geniuses and world-beaters who are entitled to overrun the puny resistance of unworthy opposition by dint of their immeasurable superiority and God-given gifts.
Celtic have played eight games this month.
Now that they’ve lost one of them to a well organised, hard working, reasonably competent side at their home stadium, there is a bizarre gnashing of teeth and rending of garments in some Celtic-supporting quarters as if it’s an outrageous injustice.
Hibs did to Celtic what the Hoops did to Barcelona.
They prevented theoretically superior opponents from playing to their strengths, pinched a lead and then defended it for all they were worth.
Inspired by the big occasion, Hibs found an energy level, a focus and a resolve which simply wasn’t there a few days ago when they lost to Ross County.
Indeed it doesn’t seem to have been there in any of their recent performances since they last raised the bar by knocking Hearts out of the Cup at the start of the month.
That was another big occasion for the Hibs players which seems to have brought out the best in them.
When Celtic play Hibs, they’re not really playing the same team that loses a string of league games to Ross County, Motherwell, ICT, Aberdeen and Dundee.
They’re playing a team which is as up for it as Celtic are against Benfica, Spartak Moscow or Barcelona.
And, just as Celtic have proved themselves to be able to stop those teams from playing at their best, so it is that the boot is on the other foot when they have to solve the problem of unlocking packed defences in Scotland.
On the day, Celtic’s success will depend upon the conversion rate of the chances they do manage to create.
Yesterday, they had a few chances and didn’t take them.In the Champions League, Celtic had an unusually high conversion rate and that carried them through to the last 16.
If they can somewhat improbably maintain that preposterously high rate, they might even yet get past Juventus (so long as the serial match-fixers from Turin miss their penalties).
But the odds on that happening in every match Celtic play are not good.
Ten years ago Celtic could regularly turn games like yesterday’s defeat around because the threat of top class talents such as Chris Sutton, Stilian Petrov, John Hartson and Lubomir Moravcik sooner or later created chances which the genius of Henrik Larsson would convert with exceptional regularity.
Hooper isn’t in Larsson’s class, Samaras isn’t as deadly as Hartson, Broon isn’t the player that Petrov was and no-one at Celtic Park now could lace Moravcik’s boots.
The money simply isn’t there to acquire ready-made players of that quality and, unlike some clubs, Celtic have no intention of exterminating themselves by spending money which they don’t have or by borrowing money which they can never pay back.
Celtic are competing against top-flight professional clubs who, rightly, are keen to test themselves against the best team in the country and one of the current European elite.
There are almost certainly going to be lots of days like yesterday when Celtic fire blanks.
But they’ll probably have far fewer of them than any other SPL club and so Celtic remain hot favourites to win the league.
That’s good enough for me.
It’s probably good enough for many of us who endured supporting Celtic during periods such as the trophy famine from 1989 until 1998.
The barren period was temporarily alleviated only by a solitary, scrappy Scottish Cup win against the now-defunct Airdrieonians FC in 1995.
The victory was celebrated as if we had won the European Cup again with the trophy being paraded through the streets from Hampden to Celtic Park.
That was a period when sometimes we couldn’t even qualify for Europe at any level, far less reach the last 16 of the top tournament while topping the league.
And whenever we did limp into one of the lower UEFA tournaments, we were almost invariably picked off in the early rounds by teams of journeymen who were still canny enough to pick off our naive, “entertaining”, cavalry charge mentality.
Neuchatel Xamax couldn’t believe their luck and had the tie wrapped up before the first leg even reached half-time.
Partizan Belgrade scored a last minute goal on the counter-attack to turn an impending defeat into victory while Celtic didn’t even have the savvy to run down the clock with a late substitution or take the ball into the corners while leading 6-5 on aggregate.
(To put Partizan’s quality in perspective it can be noted that they went on to lose both legs of their tie against Dinamo Bucharest who, in turn, lost home and away to Anderlecht who were then taken care of by Sampdoria.)
It took us decades to even start to learn how to play modern European football.
Now we are the Scottish Champions and we are likely to remain so for years.
We are going toe to toe with the very best teams in Europe and holding our own.
Many of the performances won’t be pleasing to the eye but I’ll happily settle for what we now have with no cheating Huns “competing” with us for the title and the occasional defeat at the hands of Hibs, Inverness or Kilmarnock while we eye up a possible place in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Just over a year ago there was a stampede of panic merchants calling for Neil Lennon’s dismissal in the wake of a 3-3 draw with Kilmarnock.
The Armageddon scenario at that time was that we had fallen so far behind the Huns that the league was done and dusted.
It wasn’t just Jelavic who was stupid enough to make that claim.
They were quite a few Hoops followers queuing up on various Celtic forums to demand the manager’s head while lamenting that Craig Whyte’s All Stars had disappeared over the horizon towards the SPL title.
Thank God that the baleful Orc Effect didn’t drive us off the course that we’re still on.
And praise be to Hector that it’s no longer a factor at all.
We now have time to develop into a respectable European force without having to worry about the Tax-Dodgers capitalising on any of our domestic stumbles.
These are great days for Celtic supporters, even when the team isn’t yet constantly firing on all cylinders.
Even the bad times are good now.
I still haven’t seen a single reason to justify the proposition that a re-branded, papered-over-the-cracks version of the liquidated Rangers Football Club should be allowed to enter the senior leagues at any level at all. There is no basis for making an assumption that Sevco Scotland FC should be granted the privilege of entering SFL Division 3.
While the attitude of most supporters around Scotland is that SFL3 is the very highest level at which Sevco FC should be permitted to make its debut in senior football, those Rangers supporters who are prepared to “take their medicine” and start from the bottom are mostly conceding the point for all the wrong reasons.
Despite massive evidence to the contrary, there is a large, vocal constituency of Rangers supporters who still maintain that their thieving, corrupt, fraudulent club put something worthwhile into Scottish football and society. Their motive for plying their trade outwith the SPL is merely to “punish” the clubs who did not back down in the face of their threats. Anyone who doubts this only had to spend five minutes watching the cringeworthy spectacle of John Brown addressing the growling rabble outside the main doors at Ibrox last week. It was like watching Harry Enfield’s William Ulsterman character being impersonated by Rab C Nesbitt on the set of Dawn Of The Dead. When there’s no room left in the SPL, the dead will walk the streets, up to their knees in Fenian blood and bellowing, “No surrender!”
No progress will have been made if these peepul are admitted to the Scottish senior league with a chip on their shoulder and the delusion that they have been hard done by. There is no future for professional football in Scotland unless the people running the game stop obstructing the process of fully investigating every facet of the Ibrox scandal and exposing the culpability of the guilty parties. Clearly, that requires the replacement of the present leaders who are themselves hopelessly conflicted. Until they go, or are forced to go, the attempted whitewash will continue. No lessons will be learned if the myth persists that Scottish football can only prosper if it drinks from the poisoned well of the “We Are The People” mentality with its attendant sense of entitlement, its cavalier disregard for justice and its vengeful overtones of malice towards any who call it to account. Letting the Bully Boys off the hook at this stage will accomplish nothing other than resetting the counter on a time-bomb.
“But what about the decent Rangers supporters?” This question is regurgitated regularly.
“They are the ones who will suffer the most.”
Let’s start by trying to identify those decent Rangers supporters, on the assumption that there have been some. I must presume that, over the years and decades, they have had the decency not to add their voices to the choruses of hatred against the Catholic religion and the Irish people at every single game Rangers have played.
They will have had the decency to miss no opportunity to remind their fellow supporters on forums, in public and in private that the offences committed by Rangers during the Moonbeams era are indefensible and that expulsion from Scottish football would be fully deserved. They will have recognised these crimes for what they are, expressed their personal disappointment for having unwittingly supported such rank corruption and dissociated themselves from anything that is remotely similar to the organisation which has brought disgrace upon itself and all of its followers. They will have realised that years of gloating about Rangers’ dominance and arrogantly boasting about their unchallengeable superiority were founded upon a worthless con trick.
In particular, they will have recognised that the Ibrox culture, which they once happily bought into, depended upon the exploitation of the character weakness whereby too many people are all too ready to claim a vicarious share of glory which belongs to others. Although this trait – known as BIRGing – is a universal human trait, it becomes unhealthy when it is taken to such an extreme that self-awareness is seriously impaired. So by now the decent fans will have looked into their hearts and discovered that it made no difference to them at that time whether the rewards were claimed by fair means or foul. But now that they are wiser, they will have accepted that their loyalties were misplaced, their judgement was poor and that it is better to live without associating themselves with any potential reincarnation of a brand name which has now become a byword for corruption and shame.
I know a few people who qualify as “decent Rangers fans”. They have proved that they are decent by removing the incompatible “Rangers fan” appendix from their identity and have thus reclaimed their honour. Fair play to them. For years, many quietly and patiently hoped that the unacceptable, embarrassing elements of their club would eventually wither away of their own accord and leave the destiny of the club in the trust of people who can behave like honest citizens, enjoy genuine sporting competition and take the rough with the smooth. Most have already realised that this was always a forlorn hope. They are currently being joined by the remnant who are now hopelessly outnumbered by the defiant mobs of dinosaurs. Neither the former Rangers FC nor the embryonic Sevco Scotland FC can make any claim on the loyalty or support of the “decent Rangers fan” now.
Meanwhile, although widespread disgust has been expressed for the oleaginous Neil Doncaster‘s corrupt proposals to sacrifice Scottish football for the sake of pretending that Rangers still exist, the tactic has succeeded in at least one respect. It has, for the moment, shifted the grounds of the debate so that a true perspective of the fundamental issue has temporarily moved out of focus. Doncaster’s ludicrous position is so extreme that he could give away almost all of the ground he is claiming for ZombieHuns and still present himself as a moderate, reasonable negotiator by accepting the compromise which admits the Rangers Tribute Band FC into the ranks of senior professional football, albeit at the bottom of the pile.
There is a danger of replacing an outrageous outcome with an intolerable one in the mistaken belief that it is the best that can be achieved. It is nowhere near to the best that can be achieved. The very least that Scottish football supporters should be prepared to accept now is that the formal expulsion of Rangers FC is placed on the record; that Neil Doncaster, Stewart Regan and Campbell Ogilvie should each face a vote of No Confidence (which should be carried unanimously); and that no new club purporting to be a re-manifestation of Rangers FC should be allowed to participate in organised Scottish football until investigations by the police, tax authorities and any other law enforcement agencies are brought to a conclusion, their reports are published and their files are closed.
We now stand at a crossroads. This is an unprecedented opportunity not only to decide upon the future direction of Scottish football but also to make clear what kind of society we wish to live in. Do we want to stand against bullying and intimidation or shall we just sell out to the first bid for our souls? Does this country need corporate fraud, corruption, cheating and dishonesty or do we have enough backbone to do strike against it when we get the chance? If we are inclined towards the latter option in each case then we have no choice but to resist every attempt to allow Sevco FC to crowbar its way into the Scottish League through its identification with the decaying corpse of Rangers FC. The rules clearly state that Sevco FC, being unable to produce audited accounts for the last three years, is not even eligible for admission to the SFL. That concludes that matter; its application can be rejected forthwith.
At this moment, when we have an unprecedented opportunity to build a fair, sustainable structure for our game, the very last thing that we need is to give our blessing to the creation of a new focus for the unrepentant followers of a discredited ideology to continue their anti-sporting behaviour. There are other clubs who are far more worthy of the senior league slot which has become vacant through the total self-destruction of a poisonous entity that had, in any case, already long outlived its usefulness. Let’s get on with the business of selecting one of them without further delay.
Today at Hampden Park in Glasgow, the oldest national football trophy in the world will be presented to the victorious captain at the end of the final of the Scottish Football Association Challenge Cup. Eighty teams will have been eliminated over the course of eight rounds of the tournament by the time the winning team receives the prize and parades it to their rapturous supporters.
For reasons which have never been made clear to me, there is a mysterious requirement nowadays to distract attention from the presentation by means of a mass orgy of litter-dropping so millions of tiny pieces of foil are scattered over the playing field while the players are dwarfed by irrelevant, forty-feet-high inflatable figures, pumped full of hot gases.
Simultaneously, the stadium public address system attempts to overwhelm the spontaneous celebrations of the crowd by playing tedious recordings of generic team anthems. These are invariably far better and much more in keeping with the spirit of the occasion when they are sung unaccompanied by the crowd at the tempo and pitch of their own choosing. There is something distinctly sinister afoot when these control freaks can get away with drowning out the sound of a joyous football crowd at the climax of a major tournament.
I’m old school, I am.
It’s always a downer when your team gets knocked out of the Cup. The disappointment of losing a cup tie is compounded by the realisation that when the teams run out onto the park on the day of the final, with tens of thousands of supporters cheering in anticipation, your own team’s season will have already finished. For Kilmarnock there is some consolation today in that they can still savour the taste of their recent League Cup victory, which is the next best thing, so today’s Hampden occasion will be more likely to remind them of their finest achievement in many years. For Celtic, the league champions, the Scottish Cup would have been an extra treat but the return of the SPL trophy to Celtic Park was always a higher priority than a successful defence of the trophy. Everyone else will watch the game, wondering what might have been and hoping that next year it will be their team in the spotlight for the show-piece finale to the season. (Note to Rangers supporters: Not you lot. This time next year you’ll no longer have a team. Bad luck.)
Here it must be said that from the point of view of the neutral supporter, the 2012 Scottish Cup final is a rather appealing dish. Jam Tarts against Cabbage and Ribs. The Edinburgh Derby. Hearts versus Hibs. As the green and maroon hordes head west along the M8 today this is a prospect which many of us thought we would never live to see; for once, it might be possible to find a parking place in Edinburgh on a Saturday. For me, however, that’s still not a good enough reason to go to Auld Reekie.
For Hibs supporters, today’s final is probably a once in a lifetime occasion because the Hibees only win one Scottish Cup in each century. Those supporters who are under the age of one hundred and ten – which may well be the majority of them – missed the opportunity to be amongst the 16,000 crowd which saw Andy McGeachan score the only goal of the 1902 final. (A suspicion of offside, I thought, from where I was standing but it was a hard one to call.) Could this be the moment when the men from Leith finally equal Vale of Leven’s proud record of three (3) Scottish Cup successes? Or will they collect their tenth set of runners-up medals and keep the Scottish Cup interest alive for the rest of the century?
Hearts will obviously be hot favourites, having won all of their previous Scottish Cup finals against Hibs as well as every Edinburgh derby in the league since colour television was introduced. Even though Lee Wallace is still mysteriously unavailable, all they really have to do is turn up on the day, play their normal game and the Cup will be theirs for the taking. Therefore they will probably choke, throw away a couple of goals in the last few minutes and burst into tears when the final whistle blows.
I’m actually looking forward to watching this game. A Scottish Cup final between Hibs and Hearts in front of a capacity crowd is undoubtedly an attractive fixture and will make for very good television. Those who are unfortunate enough to have tickets for the game itself can tune in to the radio coverage to find out what is happening on the pitch or follow twitter for regular updates. One or two of the lucky ones might even have seats from which it is possible to see the game, especially if they can catch sight of one of the television monitors. Come what may, both teams will be relieved that they haven’t also made it to the final of the Champions League, with all the travel issues and logistical problems which that could have caused, especially if this afternoon’s game goes to extra time and penalties.
A very wise man recently pointed out how much money Scottish clubs have lost out on over the last decade and a half through the skulduggery with dual contracts over at Ibrox stadium. In Hibernian’s case, the figure is anywhere between a minimum of £3.6 million up to a potential sum of £34.8 million. Hearts have been even harder done by. They have lost out on a minimum of £6.2 million and a top figure of an eye-watering £72.3 million. If the two Edinburgh clubs had actually received the prize money which their own, honest efforts had entitled them to, the line-ups at Hampden Park today would probably look very different. Who can say that players such as Scott Brown, Craig Gordon, Gary Caldwell, Ricardo Fuller or Steven Whittaker would not be turning out today if £100 million had found its rightful home over the last few years? What other players might either side have signed with that kind of money? Is it out of the question that one of today’s finalists might have been taking to the field today with a chance of doing the Double? Answers on the back of a dual contract please.
I recently tried, unsuccessfully, to register on a Hibernian forum to invite their supporters to name a possible starting XI which Hibs might have fielded today if they’d had the benefit of a few tens of millions of pounds to strengthen their playing squad. If any of them read this blog, I’d ask them to speculate in the comments section below and I’m putting the same question to the Jambos with regard to their team. Mind you, I suspect I haven’t timed this request very well since they may have better things to attend to today.
Let’s hope for a splendid final which shows the Scottish game in a good light. Let’s all enjoy the occasion and hope for a memorable climax to a season in which the three major domestic trophies will find homes in the trophy rooms of three different clubs. Let us also take note of the fact that there will be a capacity crowd for a final which has caught the imagination of most of the Scottish football-following public. This will give us our first glimpse of the promising future of our domestic game, freed from the malign and corrupt influence of the tax-dodging, account-fiddling, dual-contract-peddling vampire club from Ibrox.
Today is a memorable day for the capital city’s clubs. I hope their supporters make the most of it and I hope all of us are treated to an excellent and exciting cup final.
Sir David Murray
Mr. Craig Whyte
Mr. Paul Murray
Mr. Bill Ng
Mr. Bill Miller
Mr Charles Green,
c/o The Rangers*,
150 Edmiston Drive,
Glasgow G51 2XD
142 Copland Road,
Glasgow G51 2UB:
Dear Mr. Bhutta,
Permit me to introduce myself. My name is Charles Green. Some people call me ‘Emerald’.
I am a colourful businessman who has been a director of no fewer than fifteen companies which have gone into liquidation. My latest project is a football club called Rangers FC (in Administration) which I am hoping to gut and fillet in the coming weeks.
You may be aware that the Administrators of that football club, a firm called Duff and Phelps, are anxious to drag out the administration process for as long as possible because they are raking in a couple of hundred thousand pounds every week for as long as the money lasts. Who could blame them, eh? I’d do the same myself, given half a chance.
Speaking of me, it turns out that I am the latest one to have been offered the opportunity to buy Rangers FC (in Administration). My predecessor, an American chap called Mr. Bill ‘Liam’ Miller, had a quick look at the bookwork and, by all accounts, took suddenly ill. I, however, am made of sterner stuff, (not least because I’m English). Moreover, having been involved in fifteen liquidations myself, I can safely say that I’m quite an old hand at ignoring toxic debt. After the game against St. Johnstone on Sunday I had a quick butcher’s at the Orcs’ accounts and I have to say that of all the liquidations which I’ve been involved in, this one takes the biscuit! (As one businessman to another, let me just give you a quick tip – don’t give these people any credit or you’ll regret it. Make sure you get cash up front or no deal.)
Which brings me neatly, I feel, to the matter at hand. Looking at their accounts, I couldn’t help but notice a list of 277 creditors who are owed a total which is not far off £134,000,000. One of these creditors is your good self. You are still owed the sum of £567.45, although it’s so long overdue that you may well have forgotten all about it.
Incidentally, it did strike me that at the very least I might write a letter of apology to you expressing the club’s deep sorrow and acute embarrassment at this state of affairs. However, I was dissuaded from following this course of action by a geezer called Sandy Something-or-other. He seems to be well thought of in some quarters and he assures me that this is not the Rangers Way. Apparently it does not do for Rangers to show any signs of remorse or regret. I might say that this strikes me as odd but I must also concede that, as an Englishman, I am fairly unfamiliar with the customs and traditions of your fine country which I had rarely visited until this week. Indeed, I had never even heard of Rangers until they made the UK news headlines during their visit to Manchester in 2008. (Something to do with a broken television, was it? I think Chelsea were involved too? I can’t really remember the details.)
Anyway, Sandy says there’s to be no apology, that Rangers don’t show weakness, that you should consider yourself honoured to be a Rangers creditor and that you’ll be remembered as one of the bastards who stuck the boot in once the ‘Gers are back on top.
Would I dare to fly in the face of such sound advice on cultural manners from a local man? No chance. So. Up yours, it is, Mr. Bhutta.
That brings me to my next point. You’ve probably heard some talk about a CVA proposal. No doubt you will be too busy selling newspapers to have given the matter much thought. Let me give you a quick guide to what’s going to happen. If you saw the unfortunate headlines in some of today’s newspapers you may have gained the impression that I am spearheading a consortium of about twenty extremely wealthy partners who intend to pour vast sums of money into the club’s Warchest™ in the near future. This may have had the unintended side-effect of raising your hopes that you may finally see your £567.45 one day. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. Those millions upon millions of pounds which my partners are going to invest are not for the likes of you, I’m afraid. That money is for Ally to spend on buying over-priced, over-paid, under-achieving no-marks for the Rangers first team of the future.
I may be new to this country but I’ve already done a bit of homework. Apparently, there is a newspaper called ‘The Scotsman’, which nobody ever reads these days. However, it was pointed out to me that its leader column just a few days ago stated that Scotland needs Rangers. I see no reason to doubt a newspaper which has been losing thousands of readers every month for many, many years now. It must know a thing or two about what Scotland needs. And it says that Scotland needs Rangers. Does it say that Scotland needs customers to pay their debts and settle their bills in full? No, it says that Scotland needs Rangers. So that settles that.
This means that instead of £567.45, the best you can hope for is £17.02, which is 3p in the pound. Frankly, I think you should be very grateful that you’re being offered that much.
Personally, I am tremendously excited about the future possibilities of this approach to business, if it succeeds. As a businessman yourself, I am sure you can appreciate the enormous cost-saving benefits of a scheme which reduces expenditure by 97%! Holy smoke, if I could have got away with only paying 3% of my bills in the past, I might never have had any liquidations at all, let alone fifteen of the buggers!
Now. In case you’re tempted not to accept this generous offer, let me just invite you to contemplate another very important consideration.
A man called Ally is thought to be very keen to have full transparency on the matter of the names and addresses of the creditors who endanger the future well-being of The Rangers (in Administration) by rejecting the CVA proposal.
Let’s look at it this way. That’s a nice business you’ve got there, Mr Bhutta. Sure would be a shame if anything were to happen to it, if you get my meaning. Of course, if you accept the CVA proposal of a measly three pence in the pound, you’ll probably not have to worry about that. You seem like a smart kind of guy. I really wouldn’t want to see you get on the wrong side of one of the notorious ‘small minorities’ who attach themselves in their thousands to Ally’s team. (No, not Chelsea; his other team.) You want to take my advice and do the sensible thing just in case things in the future get a little ‘transparent’. If you catch my drift.
If you bear in mind that the £550.43 which you’ll never see will play its part in encouraging almost two dozen multi-millionaires to pour millions of pounds into wages for Rangers bench-warmers next season then you will have some considerable consolation for having been ripped off. Alternatively, you should look at your £567.45 in a different perspective. Paul Clark makes more than that just by twiddling his thumbs for an hour. You’re in the wrong game, sunshine. Administration is where it’s at.
I have taken the liberty of enclosing a Rangers (in Administration) season ticket application form with this letter so that you can enjoy the Rangers experience next season. You may also want to be the first among your friends to buy the classic Sheffield United home kit from the 2006-2007 season so I’m sending you a catalogue for the Blades mail order service as well.
Sheffield United Rangers,
Charlie “Emerald” Green.
15 and counting.
P.S. These are very troubled times for The Rangers so I am sure you will understand why I found it necessary to send this letter to you without putting a stamp on the envelope.