What did we do for fun in the old days? We went to the game, we stood in the rain and watched the players kick lumps out of each other, and then we came home. There might have been highlights on TV that night but they’d be brief, eccentrically edited and with a very good chance that the coverage would miss the most eye-watering of all the skin grafts conducted without anaesthetic on the pitch. And if by some fluke the worst challenge had found its way into the excerpts, the commentator would refrain from drawing attention to it, or at least he’d cloak it in some heroic euphemism.
My favourite example of heroic euphemism? It wasn’t a description of an X-rated foul, rather George Davidson’s frantic efforts to pretend Rangers’ Colin Stein hadn’t used X-rated language after ballooning a shot high over the bar, clearing Ibrox’s Copland Road End and a large swathe of the Govan environs. “F****n’ b*****d!” Stein mouthed, for this was an era of blessed memory when players weren’t putting hands over mouths to conceal their state secret-level murmurings. Cue George at his most prim and protective: “… And Stein says: ‘Oh, how near I was!’ ”
But look at us now. Look at us looking at smartphone footage of controversial tackles mere seconds after they’ve been uploaded by fans at the game. Replaying, freeze-framing, passing on. We get home and, if the incidents were especially contentious, we might watch a recording of the match with all its freeze-framing and analysis. Then, if it’s on Sportscene with its freeze-framing and analysis, we can watch that too. I ask you: how many times do we want to see Alfredo Morelos almost trample on Scott McKenna’s goolies and how many times, with the country’s political fate having been ordained by Hell-bound maniacs intent on dragging us down there with them, do we want to see McKenna almost re-arrange Morelos’ isometric hairstyle with a swish of his left boot? The answer to both questions: a lot.
We thought Celtic’s Pat McCluskey liked a tackle. We’re pretty sure Motherwell’s Willie McVie tackled with extreme prejudice. The worst old-days tackle I witnessed was probably Alex Ferguson – by that stage of his career getting there as fast as he could for Falkirk – on Hibernian’s Alex Cropley. But there were no cameras at Brockville. No newspaper hotlines, such as those which are melting over Morelos and McKenna. No Twitter, either, where the whole interminable who-did-whit? rammy can be lifted to new and insane intensity by the emergence of footage from Pittodrie’s Beach End suggesting the need for reappraisal of the players’ psycho-ballet clinch.
“Good angle, mate,” tweets one earnest debater. “Great angle,” confirms another. It’s like we’ve all been scrutinising Zapruder on JFK for so long that we believe this is definitely how events unfolded only for another home movie to pop into view. Is this version more zappy? Is it more truthful? Bloody hell, I don’t know. I study for the umpteeth time Morelos and McKenna – euphemism alert – coming together in the Aberdeen box and I just laugh. I know this isn’t the appropriate response, and I’m sure there was the gravest of moods when the Colombian’s appeal was considered on Friday night. But, come on, there was something quite comical about the incident. Morelos is the brilliant but bonkers goal machine who can’t allow us to marvel at sumptuous strikes such as his second at Pittodrie without sneaking in one of his speciality sly dunts. Several of them, in fact. Ostensibly contesting high balls, he barged an Aberdeen man every time. He can’t seem to stop doing this. It’s like a nervous tic.
At his best he’s unplayable. Apart from maybe Tom Rogic, I can’t think of anyone in the SPFL who could have scored that second; the coolness, quickness and cunning were remarkable. Actually, I can think of many players who would have missed the first, an open goal with a degree of difficulty. But at his worst Morelos, pictured, is (different meaning) unplayable. I don’t know the Spanish for radge but that’s him. Like Morelos, McKenna is a young man making his way in the game, making waves but also occasionally making the wrong kind of headlines. I don’t know the Doric for radge but that’s him. Last Wednesday was not the first time he attempted to impersonate Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon. On loan at Ayr United in a Scottish Cup quarter-final at Hibs he ran from some distance away to chop down John McGinn, apparently believing that the Hibee midfielder was working undercover for that movie’s fiendish crime lord. Then, playing for the Dons at Parkhead last September, he repeated the block on Odsonne Edouard: “When a centre-half comes across like that and jumps off the floor that high with two feet and catches the player on the thigh… it’s reckless,” remarked Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers.
You can make the excuse that defensive duties against the champions must be a bit like Enter the Dragon’s final scene in the hall of mirrors when it seems like everyone’s coming at you from all sides. You can make the excuse of McKenna’s age – he is 22 like Morelos. But he won’t be able to continue to progress his career with legs flailing furiously like the other night and his little scowling adversary will have to screw the nut as well. There was a retro aspect to their clash. For Morelos read Willie Johnston; for McKenna read Doug Rougvie. Maybe Bud and the Ballingry Bat weren’t in direct opposition very often – perish the thought – but you get my drift. Except that little violence actually occurred. Perish the thought, too, that McKenna had actually made contact with Morelos’ head and the latter had struck his opponent with the force normally reserved for his unerring finishes into the bottom corner of the net.
They should have been around in the 1970s. An afternoon in close proximity to Fergie at the fag-end of his career and Willie McVie anytime during his malevolent reign might have altered their perspective on legitimate aggression. Meanwhile all those bad guys can pretend they were angels. Without the hard evidence who’s to say otherwise?