ON FRIDAY evening, we sat at Wembley waiting for Jupp Heynckes and Jürgen Klopp, two reporters from Scottish newspapers amid the hundreds from Germany and wider Europe.
There was a buzz, as you’d expect. There was an unmissable sense that you were at the heart of something special, something many worlds away from what you were used to.
In a self-mocking way, we decided to run through a list of questions we could ask Heynckes and Klopp when they arrived – and not just them either. Soon we’d be joined by Philipp Lahm and Thomas Müller of Bayern and later by Mats Hummels and Sebastian Kehl of Dortmund. So much glamour and so many things to quiz them on.
“Wonder what they make of Duff and Phelps being cleared on the conflict of interest?”
“Aye, and the Malcolm Murray video…”
“We should ask them about all these leaks coming out of Ibrox…”
“Definitely. And Pinsent Masons…”
“You go first…”
“No, after you.”
This is the world we live in from one end of the year to the next. We talk more and more about the politics and the poison of football in Scotland – or in a particular corner of Glasgow – and less and less about what happens on the field. We talk about dirty wars at Rangers, about leaks and back-stabbing and investigations by forensic accountancy firms and top London lawyers, we talk about the Insolvency Practitioners Association and the Upper Tax Tribunal, we talk about secret recordings and redacted documents, we talk about five-way agreements and Armageddon and whether the Rangers investigation into the links between the blusterer Charles Green and the liar Craig Whyte should be taken as fact or whether the SFA need to step in and conduct their own probe (which they do, by the way). We look at the pitiful state of the club and consider those supposedly lining up to save it. A convicted fraudster and a man in South Africa who is still on the hook with the National Prosecuting Authority for more than 300 criminal charges relating to his business practices, charges he thoroughly rejects but which have not gone away.
Already I can hear some of my social media chums rising up in anger about “the Rangers saga putting food on your table”, already I can feel myself getting sucked back into the vortex of Scottish football from my current spot, a café in Westminster on Saturday afternoon, with Dortmund fans on my right and Bayern fans on my left and the feeling of positivity and excitement that hangs in the air above them all.
Let’s be clear. Life in the vortex is fine. It’s compelling at times. The bewildering mess that Rangers have become is fascinating and almost impossible to ignore.
This space has been full of Rangers-related columns over the last 18 months. They are not the only show in town but they are a show the like of which we have never seen before.
With a various cast of unscrupulous characters, they have become a bit of a freak show behind the scenes. Ibrox is now an Odditorium, Scottish football’s equivalent of the place where Wang the Human Unicorn and Ella the Camel Girl used to draw big crowds who stood and gaped at the ridiculous spectacle in front of them.
It’s hard not to do the same with Rangers. But then you leave the vortex for a week and enter normal footballing society and it all seems even weirder than before.
At this very minute, I am writing amid a group of German football fans who are having normal conversations about normal things in the game.
Nobody is talking about insolvency practitioners or forensic accountants or shysters. One group – mercifully talking in English so that nosey parkers like myself can listen in – are talking about the potentially devastating consequences of Mario Götze being unavailable for the final later in the evening and how such a huge burden now falls on Marco Reus to service the lethal Robert Lewandowski. They are asking how can Reus, a huge talent and still only 23 years old, be expected to get the better of those two “bastards” (said in humour) Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez? These Dortmund fans are heading for Wembley more in hope than expectation. They are slightly concerned about Marcel Schmelzer’s vulnerability and what Arjen Robben might do to him. That said, where there is Klopp there is faith. They’re happy to be here. Thrilled and honoured.
On the other side of the bench sit Bayern, clearly believing that they are going to win but not arrogant enough to think that it’s a formality.
What are the issues? Well, there is the lost Champions League final of 2012 and the lost Champions League final of 2010 and the fact that the last time these two sides met in a final, Dortmund annihilated them 5-2.
That was last season, though. Much has changed in a season. That’s where their comfort comes from. From all the records they’ve broken. From the four games – two victories and two draws – they’ve played against Dortmund since the German Cup final in August. From their feeling that for all the years they’ve been supporting Bayern they have never seen a team as complete as this one.
On Friday, Müller said he could not see a weakness in this Bayern side and neither can these fans sitting in a café in central London.
Football people and football chat. It’ll never catch on in Scotland.
Let’s not be hypocritical here. The madness of the Scottish game can be riveting in a kind of black comedy type way. That’s why we scribble about it and talk about it endlessly.
To be in London this past week, though, was to live in a parallel world, a place where football means football and not administrators and insolvency experts and lawyers and accountants and spivs and venomous chancers.
It’s been real. Tomorrow, it’s back to the vortex.