It was the most talked-about wrestling bout Scotland has ever witnessed – and this week one of the combatants really hit the big time. Never again will he have to scrap on the floor of a canteen, using Ikea cushions as crash-mats.
The question is: can Cumdog follow Grado into the larger arena and start Sunday’s Old Firm derby?
Grado is Graeme Stevely, a real wrestler but also a comedy actor who on Monday made his debut in Two Doors Down, the BBC Scotland sitcom about the over-neighbourly residents of a suburban street which is broadcast across the UK.
Cumdog is of course Jason Cummings, a pretend grappler but a real footballer, who really wants to follow up his first career hat-trick with a place in the Rangers team against Celtic.
The wrestling match – which turned into a YouTube sensation – was typical of Cummings’ joker persona at Hibernian. It was criticised in some quarters, places suffering from an unfortunate sense-of-humour failure. Football is entertainment and Cummings is that rarity in a sport where it can seem that everyone says the same things, over and over again: he’s a proper character, as daft as a bottle of crisps.
Playing for Rangers is serious, of course, and the Old Firm fixture is serious. Cummings is not mucking about in the Championship anymore. But he scored as many goals for the Hibees as he cracked funnies about having the touch of an angel and being able to open a tin of beans with that right foot of his.
And his manager for this loan spell at Ibrox, Graeme Murty, has correctly deduced that allowing him to be himself and all the malarkey that brings will get the best out of him on the pitch.
Though he now has a joker tattoo to go with the persona – the mad leer of Batman’s Joker on his right hand – Murty noticed that after making a grand entrance at Ibrox, Cummings “shrunk somewhat”.
So Murty challenged him. Cummings was frustrated at not being a first pick – only one start in the Premiership thus far – but the manager advised: “Be strong enough to be you. Be yourself and be that big, gallus guy.”
Cummings’ response was yet another cheeky bid for inclusion in the Bumper Book of Scottish Football Quotations: “Gallus? I don’t know what the word means. William Gallas? I’m just myself!”
It’s okay talking a good game, a funny game, but you have to back up the quips out on the park. On Sunday Cummings did that with his treble in the 4-1 win over Falkirk in the Scottish Cup. So, were the goals and his performance persuasive enough for a place on the teamsheet for the most eagerly-awaited Old Firm clash for a while, now that Rangers are at last able to present a decent challenge to their old rivals?
Once again Murty is correct in pinpointing the second of his strikes as doing him the most favours, even though the first goal was more flashy. When Cummings put Rangers back in front in the 21st minute it was a busy penalty box and the moment the ball reached him would have prompted over-excitement in others. “He got into that slot between centre-half and full-back and his finish showed the difference between being a centre-forward and a non-striker,” said Murty.
The natural, dead-eyed frontman possesses the finishing gifts and also the necessary equilibrium. “Whereas a midfield player might have slashed at it,” Murty said of the goal, “he passed it into the net calmly.”
The Hibs fan knows better than anyone what Cummings can do, and what he can’t, and that goal was standard-issue for him. He’s good one-on-one against a goalkeeper, something the Easter Road faithful lament since his departure. Simon Murray missed chances you might call Cummingsesque and Martin Boyle continues to miss them, although Cummings has nothing like Boyle’s pace.
He’s earned a reputation as a big-game hunter for his goals against Rangers and Hearts. For Hibs, his record against both clubs, and the coolness of his finishing, was hugely impressive, although against that he never quite produced a stand-out performance in five visits to Hampden with the Leith team in cup finals and semis. His link-up play wasn’t always the best and he’s very one-footed but who in the Scottish game isn’t?
But even his most notorious Hampden appearance – when his Panenka penalty against Dundee United sailed over the bar – was shrugged off by the man and turned into yet another gag, explaining how he’d been inspired to try the soft chip by his latest zazzy haircut. In the shootout which ultimately won Hibs that game, his team-mates were terrified he’d attempt a repeat.
This is Rangers, this is the Old Firm, no opportunity for funny business. Oh really? The man may be new to the fixture but he’ll simply turn that on its head: the fixture is new to Jason Cummings.
In Two Doors Down on Monday, his mate Grado didn’t stand on ceremony as a newcomer to the street, ignoring tradition. If he plays on Sunday – and he should – that’ll be Cumdog, too.