All season we have hammered on about unacceptable behaviour from supporters in the stands. Yesterday, the barneyfest that followed pathetically provocative celebrations from Celtic captain Scott Brown in front of the tiny knot of Rangers supporters in the stadium represented unacceptable behaviour of the most extraordinary kind from both sets of players.
Frankly, “shame-game” derbies of the past pale when set against the sustained scrapping – with haymakers thrown, players wrestled to the ground and stewards struggling to separate the warring parties – sparked by Andy Halliday stomping over to Brown in a rage and shoving him after the Celtic captain’s sustained goading of the visiting support.
The 34-year-old was the lightning rod for the controversies that set ablaze what was actually a compelling football contest. Brown’s dig at the heel of Alfredo Morelos that provoked the Colombian brainlessly to swing an elbow into his face – his hair-trigger temper finally exhausting the patience of his manager Steven Gerrard, who afterwards deemed a fifth red shown to the striker this season one too many – felt like it was going to be the flashpoint of a day in which Rangers were valiant against a weary-looking home side.
Brown contrived to decide otherwise when he stood ten yards from the corner housing the Rangers support and gave it large. At length. He did “the Broony” celebration, whooped and waved his arms in victory again and again and when at last electing to walk away, gave it a get-it-up-you gesture.
That final nose-rubbing was the snapping point for Halliday, who was given a second yellow in the tunnel for igniting a mass brawl. It is impossible to pick the bones out of every altercation because so many fights were then picked. Substitute Rangers keeper Wes Foderingham, looking suitably menacing with hood up and puffy jacket that was puffed-out, seemed to completely lose the plot and become one of the main maddies. Ibrox winger Daniel Candeias, who had earlier been taken off, appeared another. One of them appeared to deck Celtic keeper Scott Bain. Kristopher Ajer, who had indulged in needless taunting of the Rangers fans alongside his captain, also seemed to end up on the ground during the slugfest that involved players, officials and stewards. It lasted for what seemed at least a minute, with order only restored after Gerrard had marched into the middle of the battleground and demanded calm from his troops. Candeias appeared to get involved with a steward that was seeking to hold him back while Celtic defender Mikael Lustig, rarely an innocent in such incidents, ended up with his shirt practically ripped from his back, the garment torn from neck to navel to leave his chest exposed. One eyewitness was under the impression the jersey pull that caused the damage was referee Bobby Madden attempting to hold back the ever-spoiling-for-a-fight Swede. With what went on at the close of yesterday’s confrontation, Lustig must have thought all his Christmases had come at once.
This unholy rumble was a spectacle rarely witnessed in even the intemperate history of this fixture. It was that unseemly and yet, let’s not pretend otherwise, there is always something of the guilty pleasure in watching a football post-match produce the antics that might follow at the end of a Conor McGregor UFC bout.
The fall-out will involve retrospective sanctions for as many of the combatants that Whyte chooses to haul up. And, even aside from this, a retrospective red for Ryan Kent appears a certainty after the winger pushed Brown – who else? – in the face with straight arms in the immediate aftermath of James Forrest’s 86th-minute winner, a goal that came after ten-man Rangers had roared back at Celtic to equalise through Kent in 63 minutes.
In terms of the football, the first derby win for Neil Lennon since his return as interim manager following Brendan Rodgers’ flight to Leicester City was, as the Irishman acknowledged, an occasion where he was brilliantly served by a towering display from Odsonne Edouard, who fashioned a brilliant 28th-minute opener and turned provider for Forrest’s clincher that as good as secured an eighth straight title for Celtic. Yet the afternoon will not be viewed in terms of the football. It was rendered almost incidental by the outrageous scenes at the close, never mind that Celtic supporters spilled on to the track at Edouard’s goal and overturned advertising hoardings to leave a steward injured.
Celtic facing up to Rangers produces a derby that never fails to produce incident, in part because it stirs emotions that result in so many touched by it failing to keep it together. Yesterday, a host of them lost it in spectacular fashion.