Regrettably, a new word has entered the lexicon of Old Firm games and the fan fury which surrounds them. A flashbang is an explosive device which is used to shock and disorientate and David Hamilton, vice-chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, has revealed that an officer in the midst of that Celtic Park conflagration on Sunday had one thrown at his head.
For many, though – pundits, columnists, former players, out-of-work managers keen to make a noise to stay relevant – flashbang has always been a pretty apt description of the man who is usually the fixture’s central figure and arch bogeyman, Scott Brown.
If Brown is allowed to dominate, Celtic win. If Rangers can get at him, clatter into him and stop him controlling play at what seems like an ever-slower pace as he approaches his 34th birthday, then they can emerge victorious as they did last December. On Sunday, though, he wasn’t the chief reason Celtic prevailed, but he was crucial to the plot.
In the three key moments – not the three goals, this is the Old Firm we’re talking about – the Celtic captain shocked and disorientated Alfredo Morelos, Ryan Kent and Andy Halliday to the extent they all lost what remained of their equilibrium, although of course no one really has very much of that when the Glasgow giants square up.
Ian Holloway, the ex-manager of Blackpool and most recently Queens Park Rangers, whose Wikipedia page speaks of his “amusing” soundbites but mentions nothing about him having a comprehensive knowledge of Scottish football, said of Brown in the aftermath of Sunday: “I want to knock him out.”
Vinnie Jones, the self-styled testicle tickler and four-second-booking record-holder, expostulated: “I’d have smashed him.” And Colin Hendry, an ex-Ranger possibly forgetting that his Scotland career ended after he put a 19-year-old San Marino player in hospital with a sharp elbow to the face, declared Brown a poor captain for failing to show proper responsibility.
Everyone’s got an opinion on our game’s most divisive character, including the supporter who told the Daily Record Hotline: “Brown lives rent-free inside the heads of Rangers fans.” Now the SFA are to have their say on Brown’s celebrations in front of the Rangers supporters at the final whistle, even though he wasn’t one of those cautioned in the melee which followed them.
Were the celebrations over the top? The powderkeg match sparked the worst fan violence in 20 years, according to officers who witnessed it, with brawls in Glasgow’s city centre leaving one supporter fighting for his life. “The player behaviour at the weekend was unacceptable and it wound the crowd up.” This was the damning verdict of the police federation’s David Hamilton, so how much blame was he attaching to Brown?
In Glasgow, one man’s joy unconfined at a result going his way is another man’s outright goading. The Parkhead skipper did not lash out at Morelos; the Colombian lashed out at him. He did not lash out at Kent; the on-loan Liverpool man lashed out at him. And yet revelling in your victory when you play for the Old Firm is viewed as just as big a crime. Especially if you’re Scott Brown.
Pundit and ex-Celt Chris Sutton, upon learning that Brown’s conduct is to be officially scrutinised, tweeted sarcastically: “Let’s ban celebrating.” But this is a situation entirely created by Celtic and Rangers and the two tribes’ loathing for each other. Glasgow is one of the few cities in the world where the biggest teams rarely indulge in the open-top bus parades when a trophy has been won, a simple, exuberant, normal event everywhere else.
Hundreds of years ago John Knox outlawed fun in Scotland. Sado-masochistically, Rangers and Celtic are keeping his spirit alive.
Back in December at Ibrox, Brown was well and truly trounced by Ryan Jack and Scott Arfield, being dumped on the turf several times. He didn’t, though, react to that, or to Rangers celebrating their success. On Sunday he did what footballers do and enjoyed the tables being turned.
But this is the Old Firm. A goal-scorer from one team pressing a finger to his lips is committing a heinous act. And as for the player who cups a hand to an ear, well, there can only be one suitable punishment as far as the other lot would be concerned: chopping the ear off.
Brown did nothing wrong on Sunday but through the warped, vicious prism of the Old Firm, he did everything wrong. His actions were no more inflammatory than happen at other grounds and in other games but this was Celtic vs Rangers where everything is magnified ten thousand times and he will probably be censured.