ONE of my favourite football anecdotes was told to me by Colin Stein and it concerned the Rangers dressing-room, pre-match.
“Everyone had their own wee routine. Willie Henderson was the joker, Alex MacDonald was aye chirpy, Davie Provan would be throwing up, Willie Johnston would be having a fag in the bogs, a right bag of nerves – and Big Ronnie McKinnon would be combing his hair in the mirror, all suave, and saying: ‘Who are we playing today? Do you think they’ll turn up?’”
I love that story because it’s funny and also because it confirms what I like to believe about the Old Firm. That they don’t care about the rest of us and hardly know who we are. Now, a key word here is “like”. Don’t take what I’m about to say too seriously. I’m talking about Scottish football as knockabout entertainment. It needs its pantomime villains, roles which Celtic and Rangers were born to play, and – fee-fi-fo-fum – here’s Neil Lennon.
Credit where it’s due, Lenny at least seems to be aware of some of the personnel involved in the SPL’s diddy rump. In his rant about none of his league-winners receiving a Player of the Year nomination from their fellow pros, he’s assessed Leigh Griffiths, Michael Higdon, Niall McGinn and Andrew Shinnie and declared that none is good enough to get in his Celtic team.
Is he being provocative or petulant or a mixture of both? Over at Kilmarnock, Kenny Shiels goes further. “Celtic are Paranoid FC,” he says.
Oh, I do love a row about lists!
Lennon is upset none of his players has made the shortlist. Fair enough. But I’m sure he’d accept that strikers at other clubs have to work harder for their goals than those at Celtic and therefore the nominations of Griffiths, Higdon and McGinn are thoroughly merited. I also don’t believe that if, as expected, Gary Hooper decides he’s bored scoring tap-ins and needs a new challenge, an exciting, off-your-seats talent like Griffiths wouldn’t at least be considered as a replacement by a club that still likes to think it’s the natural home for such types.
Lennon reckons no fewer than six Celts are deserving of a place on the list but has Kris Commons really been so far ahead of Shinnie this season as an attacking midfielder? Fraser Forster – outstanding in the Champions League, but didn’t his form then dip? Kelvin Wilson – really? I’m not going to even try to come between the special love Lenny has for Georgios Samaras and, honestly, I don’t want to pick holes in his team because they’re champions of Scotland and well done there. And that win over Barcelona will never be forgotten. But maybe, with Rangers not around, Celtic have to accept that additional light was always going to be shone on the lesser teams, hence these nominations.
If Lenny had restricted himself to bigging up his own players, that would have been fine, but he kind of spoiled his own argument with this swipe: “We’ve been the only thing to talk about in Scottish football this season, the rest has all been doom and gloom. . .”
Now he sounds more super-arrogantly Old Firm than Ron McKinnon, I’d like to think, was only ever pretending to be.
It’s not been all misery, Neil, and some of us have been talking about Shinnie’s Inverness and Ross County both making the top six, about St Mirren’s League Cup. “Who are we playing again? Do you think they’ll turn up?” Saints turned up to win the trophy for the first time in their history. They turned up at the semi-final stage, too. Their opponents that day? Some mob called Celtic.
As I say, I love list-related stooshies and want to start one of my own. How come Celtic’s George Connelly was voted the Scottish Football Writers’ Association’s top man over the majestic Alan Gordon of Hibs? This happened exactly 40 years ago but it still irks me.
Speaking of journos, though, they must be allowed a little chuckle. In Scotland, footballers are having their specialist knowledge questioned. In England, too, where Swansea’s Michu and Man City’s Pablo Zabaleta have, inexplicably, failed to make the players’ nominations.
What is it football people always say about hacks? That they don’t know enough because they never played the game…