We were told our game was rubbish. We were told the league was boring, the least competitive in world football. But look at the Scottish Premiership now: Rangers and Celtic neck-and-neck and at each other’s throats, to the extent that when Alfredo Morelos draws a finger across his gullet it causes an international incident. Morelos had to flee back to Colombia and Rangers were forced to put out a statement stressing that their striker, nicknamed El Gruffalo, meant nothing sinister by the gesture which in his own land apparently signifies the end of something, in this case last Sunday’s Old Firm game. I for one get this: when I was watching the Netflix drama Narcos, wading through the relentlessly bloody saga of Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar where enemies and even his own men were routinely turned into sieves then flung into shallow graves or wood-choppers, I often “did a Morelos” to indicate I could take no more and needed to turn in for the night with a mug of warm Ovaltine.
But we can’t get enough of this title race, can we? What drama! What intrigue! And oh what comedy! What a pity the latest Old Firm conflagration came too late for Only an Excuse’s annual round-up of all that is mirthful and miraculous about our football. But wasn’t OaE, two days after the game, hilarious anyway? Honestly, wha’s like us? And wha was it who said our top division was a non-contest? The London Times, I seem to remember. Well, look at England’s Prem right now. The best league in the world (™) is already over for 2019-20. Liverpool have won.
What a pity, too, that El Gruffalo, El Grope-alo – Ryan Christie – and the rest are now on their winter break. We’re going to have to wait a few weeks to find out if – continuing the crime-series theme – Ryan Kent has been successful in his audition for Peaky Blinders. He’s got the haircut and in the Parkhead showdown he attempted some gun moves. Can we keep ourselves amused until football returns a week on Friday when Rangers host Stranraer in the Scottish Cup? I think we can.
We can speculate on how many incidents from last Sunday would be worthy of send-up by fitba funster Jonathan Watson. Kent’s bang-bang goal celebration, below, for sure and of course Christie’s tescticle-tickling and that strange slump to the turf in the final minutes by Morelos, though given he’d been the target of Christie’s over-friendly greeting the fall may have been his shocked and delayed reaction to it, as if he’d wandered unsuspectingly into a Dick Emery sketch.
Dick Emery, the failed manager of Arsenal, once a free-flowing, flair-packed jewel in the crown of the best league in the world (™) – but look at them now. English football must surely be casting envious eyes at the Old Firm ding-dong, not least because it features one of their favourite sons.
Steven Gerrard has turned Rangers into a powerful, urgent unit. Older fans might be spotting similarities with Jock Wallace’s Treble-winners from the 1970s. But that’s enough praise for Stevie G: what about the handshake?
It wasn’t firm enough. It was more of a slap. It was disrespectful. This has been the reaction to the way Gerrard acknowledged Neil Lennon and assistant John Kennedy at the final whistle. The usual paranoid rantings? Well, John Hartson got involved: “I thought Stevie would have shook (sic) their hands man-to-man and looked them in the eye, but he didn’t,” complained the ex-Celtic striker. Think about it: a whole week after the game we’re still poring over the most infinitesimal details. Not even from the game itself but the afters. Compared with Kent’s screaming goal and the steepling header from Nikola Katic which decided the affair, the handshake might seem like the tiniest flake of coconut to have fallen off a macaroon bar – but nothing which happens in an Old Firm game is too small to be forensically analysed and ragingly debated. Possibly Lennon is relieved that Gerrard dunted his hand and not a more delicate part of his anatomy, but just like The Great Lens-Cap Conspiracy of 1957 – why were so many Celtic goals in the League Cup final missed by the cameras? – the interaction, or non-interaction, between the rival coaches might not go away and could already have its own Twitter account.
If deadlines had allowed, Only an Excuse would, I’m sure, have got stuck into this game and the fallout from it. The comedy might also have made merry with last week’s outpourings by former Ibrox chairman Alastair Johnston who reminded Celtic fans believing his favourites to have died in 2012 that – ya boo sucks – Rangers could claim overall victory in terms of titles and head-to-heads if death had indeed resulted, which it didn’t, no blinking way. You wondered if Johnston was about to list all these wins, goalscorers and attendances. Maybe he will the next time the issue crops up, and at this rate that could be midway through next week. In any case I needn’t have worried about Only an Excuse not having enough material for the Hogmanay special. Others have fallen out of love with the show but even non-vintage editions have always contained a few gems. This time the quota was immediately raised by the opening sketch with Watson as “Brandon Rodgers” starring in Martin Scorsese’s latest blockbuster, The Oirishman, which began with some interrogation: “Have you ever stuffed a club by legging it at the crucial stage of the season?” There were more laughs, not all concerning the football, with the Greta Thunberg skit maybe the best of the lot. Like Rory Bremner, Watson has had to retire his greatest hits (Souey, Wattie, Fergie, The Lawman). His Lennon and Gerrard still need some work but that’s okay because the real things are funny anyway, and we should congratulate ourselves on being able to chuckle at our game. We have two TV shows which do this and one on radio. Last time I looked England don’t have any. Also, we should congratulate ourselves on having a title race.
Happy new second half of the season – hurry back El Gruffalo and your knockabout chums.