IT Possibly says something about Scottish football (or the lack of good stories contained therein) that Hogmanay’s Only an Excuse? had to travel farther and wider than usual for laughs, roping in pop stars, politicians and other prats.
And the funniest sketch was undoubtedly the spoof trailer for a reality show called Skint Scottish Footballers where players bemoaned how their reduced circumstances meant they had to sell the car and take the bus to training and revert to using Superdrug’s cut-price styling mousse. “I cannae afford to run a wife and a girlfriend,” wailed one, while another sobbed: “I had to look my weans in the eye and tell them I cannae afford to tattoo their names on my neck.”
But we’ve got to try to stay positive. Find the succulence in the half-time pie. Think of ways our game could be improved and hope they come to pass. Hope that Ian Black comes to pass the ball better than he’s doing right now because, much as football needs its bogeymen and he fits the role better than he does his spray-on shirt, it’s unfair to squash his gurny napper into the mud for ever. Which brings me to the first of my wishlist for 2015…
The Big Hoose must stay open
If you don’t love Rangers, you’re supposed to hate them. This is the way it’s always been. Possibly it’s written into the original commandments, still carried around by older fans like kidney donor cards, and slipped inside The Wee Red Book: “Thou shalt chortle at Rangers’ misfortune. This will be payback for all the times your team will be denied a stonewall penalty at Ibrox, or John MacDonald will dive to win a pen against you, or those old-fashioned flat-fronted goalposts will come to their aid, or one of the invalid cars parked on the perimeter track will scuttle on to the pitch to block your top scorer when he’s clean through.” But don’t wish the club out of existence; that wouldn’t serve Scottish football at all well. Admit it, you love regaling your mates down the pub with stories of how you survived Ibrox, like you’re a fearless explorer just back from the snake-infested interior. The game without Rangers would be anodyne, lacking edge and drama, far too cutesy.
The cost of Scottish football is an outrage. Remember when admission prices were the same as cinema tickets? Davie Robb or Lee Van Cleef – there was no difference. Then the Old Firm got grandiose and the rest tried to keep up, buying fancy foreigners who’d look good under Sky’s lights at five past six on Sunday evening. Then the foreigners moved on, as they were bound to do, and the TV money dried up, leaving clubs with no option but to keep charging prices dating from the Blair Years’ lasting legacy of too-easy credit, except now we’re all broke. The cost must come down. Instead of Superdrug mousse, get players to use pie grease. Or snot.
Sing when they’re fishin’
To be fair to Aberdeen, they’re not jumping up and down about being top of the SPFL – that’s everyone else. I thought the story of their challenge, before they reached the summit, was over-written, although the intentions were decent. Could some mob please start causing Celtic to at least vaguely contemplate a cursory backwards glance otherwise we’re all going to die of boredom. The question is: Can they stay there? Or can Dundee United turn a couple of eye-catching results into a serious, sustained body of work? Or – better still – can both these things happen? United are more capable than the Dons of banging in six. The Dons might cope better with squeaky-bum time than United, and would have a whole swaggerful city behind them, should they get that far. Derek McInnes and Jackie McNamara won’t have a better opportunity to tell their clubs’ greatest managers, who’ve dominated recent history, casting long shadows: “Budge over a bit.” It’s up to them. And, by the way, this isn’t me being anti-Celtic. They’d respond to the threat, possibly still triumph in the end.
We’ll always have Lisbon
European club competition has lost some of its lustre, because of the dullness of the Champions League group stages and the Europa League at all times. But Celtic vs Inter Milan isn’t a re-run like Chelsea-Schalke, which seems to happen every year. It’s where we came in, or at least where your correspondent did, watching on TV, aged ten, in that anything-is-possible era of astronauts and Lennon-McCartney, reaching ever higher. After emerging from a group featuring sides no one had heard of, Celtic will play the team with which they’ll be forever connected. Sure to be drenched in nostalgia, it’s a game from their past, but let’s hope it’s also one for their future.
You’ve got to manipulate to accumulate
Gordon Strachan was right to bemoan how much the top flight is missing Hearts, Hibs and Rangers, but “manipulation” of the structure to get them all back still seems wrong. That said, if only one of the trio is promoted at the end of the season, the issues of competitiveness and crowd numbers will only be ramped up some more, especially if the challenge from the born-again New Firm fizzles out. It’s a bold man who proposes we tamper with natural selection, but that’s Gordon for you. The rest of us will want to strap ourselves in and hope for the best – an utterly gripping and completely titanic set of playoffs, which already seems pretty much a certainty.
Oh we’re off to Dublin
Things were looking bleak for the national team. “We’re Brigadooned!” might well have been the cry from Dad’s Army’s Private Frazer as Scotland seemed set to sleep through 100 years of major finals. But Strachan is enabling us to dream again. Away to the Republic of Ireland in May will be the key match.
No offence to Berwick Rangers, whose Scottish Cup giant-killing will never be forgotten, but I want Spartans to beat them in the fifth round, then draw Celtic, retaining home advantage for a none-more-romantic encounter on the 3G across which my seven-year-old skips every week.
At bloody last
Unbelievably, incredibly, Spartans go all the way and, even more unbelievably and incredibly, in a final played on Cramond Island which would be convenient for two teams from the north side of Edinburgh, but too small to accommodate many of their fans who would in any case be too knicker-wettingly scared to attend, Hibs win.