OUTSIDERS aren’t supposed to understand the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers.
Yet, in the coming seven days, no-one will set out more clearly than Ronny Deila did this week what next Sunday at Hampden ought to represent… in the face of the bile that will flow and the poisoning of the discourse online that has followed the Ibrox club’s demise in 2012.
“Football should be peaceful,” the Norwegian said. “Football is entertainment, it is culture. It is very good with emotions and that should be shown, no problem. But it has to be peaceful. That is the most important thing. Because we have responsibility for everyone – especially children. We have to be role models for them. That is why I hope it is going to be a fantastic atmosphere and a good football match.”
It might be a forlorn hope, but we are entitled to cling to the possibility that social disorder will not ensue from the League Cup semi-final that will mark the ancient adversaries’ first confrontation since May 2012. The nature of the most intense footballing enmities is rarely other than nasty and unpleasant – Glasgow has no monopoly on these tribal instincts – but a spectacle can be created in the face of these aspects that can still prove compelling.
Respect, is the key for Deila, who has no intentions of modifying his outlandish celebrations if a League Cup final place is earned in a week’s time, despite any perceived spectator sensitivities. “You have to celebrate with your own fans. I always try to do that. In the media everybody knows that you talk about your club, what we are, not talk about anybody else. That is the important thing. That is about respect. And respect is a very important word in Celtic. So if we win we are going to be very happy and I am going to be happy with the Celtic fans but I don’t want to do anything to harm the others.”
Deila is the first Celtic manager in the history of club to have to wait seven months for a game against Rangers. And the first man at the helm of the Parkhead club to face a lower-league Ibrox opponent. “It is going to be a new experience for me, it is going to be an exciting game, an exciting week,” he said. “In the league we may not play Rangers, but in this cup we have to go through and you can now sense the atmosphere and the intensity of this game. I have been to some big derbies: [Manchester] United-Liverpool, Arsenal-Tottenham, Real Madrid-Barcelona. I have been in some good ones. But I think this is gonna be the best.”
It would be all the better if a section of the Celtic support stopped trying to deny its very existence. In doing so, they have shown themselves guilty of a self-absorption and moral relativism that is desperately unappealing. Rangers exist. Next Sunday will see the resumption of the most monumental fixture in the history of the Scottish game.
That is not to say that the current Ibrox iteration is the same as the one that went into liquidation two-and-a-half years ago. Only the flat-earth society followers of Rangers – courtesy of some rewrites of history – truly try to convince themselves that nothing changed when the club went to the wall. Legally, the failure to obtain a CVA in the summer of 2012 brought an end to that incarnation. That is precisely why there has been no Rangers in the top flight these past three years, and why players such as Steven Naismith, Allan McGregor and Steven Whittaker then simply hopped off and signed for other clubs.
Some football figures, such as SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster, have set to muddy the waters by attempting to separate Rangers the club from the company owning and operating it. You cannot. For if you seek to make that distinction, what you are saying is that no players ever played for Rangers, and that the club was never part of any league set up. The only conclusion you would be left with to close that argument is that the club never really existed, except in a nebulous, intangible sense.
Rangers, as is presently constituted, is a new version of an old club; a continuation of the old club. That is because the essence of football clubs are wrapped up in the spiritual and emotional. Football clubs carry on, if people have the will and wherewithal. And no amount bludgeoning from Celtic’s more frenzied fans will change that perception.
Where this faction is truly objectionable is in attempting to suggest there are anomalies in the treatment of the post-liquidation Rangers. The anomaly is how they wanted the reconstituted club treated. Rangers aren’t called Rangers any more, but The Rangers. Wrong. No other club would have been allowed to reform and given a place at the foot of the Scottish senior tier. Wrong. Gretna, post their 2008 liquidation, were offered a place in the Third Division, but were in no position to finance a club at that level.
Certain Celtic fans are so blinded by their hatred of Rangers, they cannot see that Doncaster’s viewpoint is firmly in keeping with the governance in England, from whence he came. Coventry City were liquidated last August. Coventry City FC Ltd, were unable to exit administration after a CVA was voted down. The club’s assets and business was sold to a company called Otium. The English FA fined them ten points – yes, only the ten points – as the club’s “golden share” transferred between these two companies.
In the summer of 2009, League Two side Luton Town were liquidated. They were fined twice as many points for irregular use of agents as they were for the heinous crime of liquidation. Celtic supporters might also want to consider this juicy line from the history section of Middlesbrough’s website, charting what happened in 1986. “The club goes into liquidation in July, suffering from massive debts. A consortium consisting of ICI, Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, Bulkhaul and Henry Moszkowicz saves the club…”
In football, going bust doesn’t put a full stop on a club’s history. Arsenal chart their origins all the way back to Woolwich Arsenal, despite that club becoming effectively bankrupt in 1910. Look at Hibernian’s honours list. It includes the 1887 Scottish Cup win. But the club that achieved that folded, and ceased trading for a spell in 1891. Such meltdowns feature in the histories of countless clubs across the globe.
Ultimately, Celtic supporters betray double standards when it comes to Rangers’ governance issues and those of other clubs. Some have sought a boycott of the League Cup semi-final because of the Ibrox club’s financial doping and rule breaking over players’ registrations. Yet no boycott was called for when Celtic faced up to serial cheats Juventus in the Champions League in 2013.
A number of Celtic fans have campaigned for compensation from the SFA because the governing body allowed Rangers to have a licence to compete in the Champions League in 2011 despite the £4 million tax bill the Ibrox club had outstanding – and never paid – following the “wee tax case”. Yet, no such campaign would appear to have ensued after Celtic were eliminated from the Europa League in 2011 through losing twice to an Atletico Madrid that then owed £84m in tax to the Spanish authorities – the club president glibly stating: “Some clubs have bank debt, we have tax debt”.
Really, a section of the Celtic support need to get a life over all of this – and accept that there is a Rangers with a life; an Ibrox club that many of their fellow fans at Parkhead genuinely look forward to having as a title rival at some future date.
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