The fury that will be unleashed from the Rangers support when the SPFL end the Premiership season tomorrow and declare Celtic champions will be visceral and vicious. It will also amount to a form of anger displacement.
It is inevitable huge swathes of the Ibrox faithful will seek to delude themselves that a nefarious governing body have gifted their despised rivals a title that brings up nine-in-a-row. It is the nature of tribal, and therefore irrational, football rivalry. Yet, in their hearts of hearts, most Rangers fans will surely recognise that the true source of their incandescent rage is really their own team.
The fact the Premiership campaign has ended up being curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic ought to be a particularly bitter pill to swallow for the Rangers fanbase. Just not for the reasons they are willing to articulate. The upshot of the premature end is that to prevent Celtic landing a record-equalling ninth straight championship, Steven Gerrard’s men didn’t need to be better than their ancient adversaries. They didn’t even need to be as good as them. All they had to do was hang on to their coat tails for a span of six games following the winter shut-down. And to achieve that, all that was required of them was to hold on to a lead away to Kilmarnock, hold on to a lead away to St Johnstone, and beat Hamilton Accies at home. That is all, and yet it proved beyond them.
The spilling of eight points in these three games accounts for the league being lost, not some boardroom shenanigans. Had Gerrard’s men heeded the warnings delivered to them in flashing red lights by their defeat by Hearts at Tynecastle and home draw against Aberdeen in the opening slew of post-break fixtures, they would not have been 13 points adrift of the Scottish champions when the pandemic placed a pause on normal life in mid-March.
Instead, they would have been within five points of Neil Lennon’s men with a game in hand. In those circumstances there is absolutely no way the league could, or would, have been called in Celtic’s favour.
As would have been right and proper, the title would have been withheld in such a scenario. And, even if in this parallel universe the Celtic support would have frothed as their rival counterparts are doing now, they would have required to suck it up.
It is not random decision-making that accounts for the way leagues have been concluded across Europe. The Netherlands have not named champions, while in France and Belgium they have felt at liberty to award the league crown. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that, in the French and Belgian leagues leaders Paris-Saint Germain and Club Brugge held 13-point and 15-point leads respectively and were essentially home and hosed. In contrast, with Ajax and AZ Alkmaar separated only by goal difference at the summit of Dutch football, no such certainties existed in the Netherlands.
It has been said that Lennon’s men have an unimpeachable claim to the Scottish title, and only the truly obtuse offer an argument to the contrary.
We have heard much about modelling on the basis of empirical evidence of late.
Apply such principles to the Premiership this season and, frankly, there is only one conclusion it is possible to draw. And it is that the abridging of the season ensured a more favourable outcome from this league campaign than Rangers were on course to post in the event of the fixtures being completed. In their final nine games of the campaign, Gerrard’s side dropped more points – 13 in all – than Celtic coughed up across their entire 30 games.
Football is certainly capable of throwing up dramatic denouements and wholly unexpected collapses. Within reason, though. In the 130-year history of league football in Scotland, there is no precedent for a team being caught when boasting a 13-point lead going into their final eight games.
A team entering such a closing straight on the back of 20 wins and a draw from their previous 22 league fixtures is merely on the victory lap. Especially when ranged against an opponent unable to string together six league wins across the entire season.
Rangers supporters may refuse to accept Celtic are worthy champions. That comes with the terrain. So does the fact we have people walking the earth who believe it is flat.
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