Celtic and Rangers are currently enveloped in the tightest test race for years. It feels like every minute of every game could be potentially decisive. And yet last night’s 2-0 win over St Mirren for Ange Postecoglou’s men was bookended by the obsession and outrage over an essentially meaningless game they will play in almost nine months, 10,500 miles away.
The banner protest by the Green Brigade, and their chanting for their club to stick the lucrative encounter against Rangers in the Sydney Super Cup where the sun don’t shine, overshadowed the opening minutes of Celtic’s latest encounter. The evening concluded with a post-match in which Postecoglou had to respond to questions over the fans’ reaction to the fixture, and essentially justify his positivity over taking his team to his homeland for a schedule that will include a match-up outside of these borders never before witnessed.
Knickers have rarely been twisted in quite such a torturous fashion over so little of genuine import. It seems the Rangers support are even more apoplectic over the perceived joint enterprise. The venture is anathema to two fanbases desperate to dissociate, but who can’t stop themselves being consumed by the other. The Ibrox legions are enraged being presented as the sideshow to the “Angeball homecoming”, and playing a club whose supporters deny their existence. They are unlikely to be thrilled too by the fact it is understood Rangers are receiving half the fee of Celtic for the World Cup finals-shutdown jaunt, wherein the Parkhead club’s reported £3m bounty apparently has been inflated, The situation has all become somewhat preposterous.
How you would attempt to explain what is going on to the uninitiated could require a week-long seminar. Celtic supporters can’t move on from Rangers’ 2012 liquidation. Or indeed the Old Firm labelling, which, in fairness, had outlived its usefulness long before then. The Australia friendly should really be billed the ‘daft deniers derby’ for what is going on here. Legally and technically, Rangers may not be the same club as before they went to the wall - which really ought not to be a controversial opinion, since they wouldn’t have had to start again in the fourth tier, and wouldn’t have had a host of players walk away on frees, had the same entity remained, or been incorporated into a new one, during 2012. But spiritually they are the same, and that is how football treats clubs that endure such meltdowns. Celtic moan at exceptionalism when it comes to the Rangers, yet they are guilty of this very thing. Such as Middlesbrough, Luton Town and Coventry City, all liquidated in the past 40 years, aren’t ever questioned for claiming their pre-liquidation heritage. True for every club that determines to carry the torch of past incarnations that financially collapsed. And, oh my, then we have legitimate Celtic indignation over Rangers retaining trophies won while operating, what proved, an unlawful tax avoidance scheme, and their obtaining of a licence to play in Europe as they headed toward the abyss. Yet these are separate issues when it comes to football clubs being simply brands, franchises even, in the final analysis.
Deep down, Celtic supporters both know all that, and feel as repelled by the team playing out of Ibrox now as much as was ever true in the dim and distant past. It wasn’t 10 years of rivalry that ignited the incredible emotional outpourings sparked by their win over opponents in blue at Celtic Park last month. Rather, it was over a century of history between the two…and all the frightening enmity and animus wrapped up in that.
Celtic supporters don’t want to be “one half of anything”, co-dependent, or whatever, but the Australia friendly doesn’t make them that. Likewise, for Rangers. It is just a case of the pair cashing in on a handy commercial opportunity, just as Manchester United going over there to play Manchester City for a huge payday wouldn’t make that pair all-of-a-sudden joined at the hip. Both Celtic and Rangers fans have been so blinded to the supposed sell out by their boards, they have missed real tricks. They could have sat back and laughed at the other stewing over a friendly - for goodness sake - but instead have traded off in their moral grandstanding.
For Celtic fans’ part, you could only feel sorry for Postecoglou as he talked of being “super excited” to take his team back to the land where he is revered, and how good for the Scottish game the trip will be. Essentially, his adoring fanbase in his Glasgow footballing home have stuck up two fingers to him over that.