IN SPORT, being pitied is perhaps the greatest humiliation. No-one wants it. It’s been a bad enough week for Rangers without having anyone from Celtic donating tears to their predicament.
Yet, what the Ibrox club have had to hear from their great rivals across the city borders on smugness and has done little to relieve the tension in Glasgow, as we approach the first anniversary of the so-called “shame game” of last March.
There is, also, the little matter of the bill designed to combat football-related sectarian crimes, which is due to become law on 1 March – exactly a year on from the aforementioned Scottish Cup replay, when Neil Lennon and Ally McCoist tussled on the touchline after a fiery encounter.
This flare-up came amid a series of seven Old Firm matches. Too many, in the eyes of nearly everyone.
Now we are faced with the prospect of there not being any at all. Good news for those charged with keeping law and order in Scotland? Possibly not. You only have to read the first-hand accounts of those who were present at Ibrox on Saturday, when Rangers, by losing rather miserably to Kilmarnock, joined an exclusive list of clubs who have failed to rise to a post-administration occasion.
Their fans made an initially impressive job of presenting a united and defiant force against those who stand accused of being the architects of their possible doom. Sadly, however, many then let themselves down with a much more explicit thumb through the toxic songbook than has been heard for years, as the auld enemy was remembered. Desperate and depressing measures for desperate and depressing times.
It’s clear that the boundaries in this turf war are as distinct as ever before. The ill-feeling has not been helped by official pronouncements from Celtic last week. Rangers were on the brink and from across the city came the message: hell mend them. And just to rub it, there was a PS: we will be do very well on our own, thanks very much.
It was a very different reaction to the one received from from across the street when Dundee went into administration for a second time in October 2010. Dundee United, their fiercest rivals, agreed to play a derby to help raise funds. Though it was later cancelled due to bad weather, the thought had been there. And this is nothing compared to the news, revealed earlier this month, that Bayern Munich had helped rivals Borussia Dortmund out of a tight financial hole in 2003, when a club who boast of being the best-supported in Europe somehow managed to almost disappear in a mire of debt.
Bayern handed Dortmund an unsecured loan of e2 million to go towards the effort to save their rivals from bankruptcy. “I’m a big fan of tradition in sport and I don’t think that was a bad thing to do,” explained Bayern president Uli Hoeness just a fortnight ago. “I think it is a positive thing there is some solidarity in the league,” he added.
Not so in Glasgow, where Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, all but jumped down the throat of First Minister Alex Salmond for merely suggesting that Rangers’ plight could take its toll on the Parkhead club, too. Lawwell couldn’t have been more disdainful of the notion that the disappearance of Rangers could possibly impact heavily on Celtic, as he sat contemplating the latest set of his club’s financial results last Monday morning. Revenue was down and profits were minimal. And yet Lawwell was adamant: Celtic can move forward without the team with whom they share their greatest on-pitch battles, and against whom they can probably sell every seat in the house a couple of times over. Such a view is disingenuous at best.
Lennon’s words about stripping Rangers of their titles were hardly helpful either, although to be fair to the Celtic manager, he expressed how much he sympathised with McCoist, his “counterpart”, as well as the Rangers players.
Lennon also didn’t sidestep any Rangers-themed question being pinged his way by sheltering beneath a standard ‘it’s not our business’ riposte. He knows that Rangers’ business is very much Celtic’s business. Yet Lennon was driven to anger when asked whether he would feel robbed if Rangers, in addition to the latest non-payment of tax episode, are found to have welched on a greater sum to HMRC. Yes he would, he said, before outlining that Rangers should then have trophies won during the period in question erased from the records.
But where should this form of retrospective scrutiny in football end? Few successes in recent years have been achieved by clubs in robust financial health. Indeed, a colleague often refers to the 2003 Scottish Cup final as being “the fraudulent cup final”. If Rangers are to be stripped of that trophy, then should it go to opponents Dundee, then only about £20 million in debt having paid for players they couldn’t afford?
Rangers supporters will expect to be mocked. At Pittodrie yesteday, the DJ inserted The Taxman, a George Harrison-penned Beatles tune, into the half-time playlist during an otherwise unmemorable match between Aberdeen and St Johnstone, while at the end, in a possible tribute to Craig Whyte’s skedaddle across the border to England, Cast’s Walk Away was given an airing. After years of lording it up, Rangers must recognise they are fair game for supporters of every club in the land, including, of course, those from Celtic.
Fans of the Parkhead club did not miss the opportunity yesterday to celebrate the kind of week which can truly be said to have had them in paradise, as their team romped to a 5-0 win against Hibernian at Easter Road. “Let’s all laugh at Rangers!” they roared. Understandable.
However, those in authority at Parkhead possibly need to spare us some of the sanctimony. As well as recall Celtic’s own brush with death in 1994, they should remember that dignity is born in the darkest hour of an enemy.