Aidan Smith: Right, that’s enough World Cup. Let’s get back to the SPFL, Ibrox, Porto. Are we not happy?

It’s football’s great feast. The gourmand’s delight, the finest of dining, the lastest of suppers. But just before the World Cup final … anyone for square sausage in a roll?
Hibs defender Ryan Porteous exchanges words with Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos during a match in 2018.Hibs defender Ryan Porteous exchanges words with Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos during a match in 2018.
Hibs defender Ryan Porteous exchanges words with Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos during a match in 2018.

The night after the semi-finals are done in Qatar, and three days ahead of the big showdown at the Lusail Stadium, the SPFL resumes with Rangers vs Hibernian.

If not the square sausage (actually more oblong) then maybe this modest-seeming Ibrox encounter - from the nibbles tray before the main meal - is a Twiglet (actually under threat this Christmas because of strike action) or cheese cubes on a stick.

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As they’ll be musing from high up in the Copland Road Stand: “Whit a juxtaposition!” From the sublime to the Ryan Porteous.

Did someone say modest-seeming? Thursday’s game is only that in the context of the World Cup. For, in case you’ve forgotten, this is invariably a fair old scrap. The antipathy that exists when Rangers play Celtic and Aberdeen is well known but their games against Hibs, which invariably come up around Christmas-time, never involve much peace and goodwill.

Still, the return of the domestic game after a World Cup can necessitate some readjustment. Spoiled for weeks, we must get used to moderate thrills again. The ball, instead of being instantly killed, will bounce a few times. Shots will fly hither and yon.

I’ve been looking back at the records and remembering the first Scottish games I saw, in the raw, after World Cups - at the age when I was most impressionable and most conscientious about filling in sticker albums for the greatest show on earth.

In 1970 on still-novel colour TV Pele’s Brazil had rocketed football to a cosmos no one knew existed. For me, the game would re-enter Scottish atmosphere at Muirton Park. This wasn’t the Azteca, that was for sure, and there was no Carlos Alberto running onto the greatest-ever two-yard pass. But, in the same right-back berth, breaking into the Hibs side, 18-year-old John Brownlie offered some consolation and promise.

Four years later, the novelty had been Scotland’s participation in the World Cup. A couple of months after we’d exited unbeaten, unaware that this would be as good as it would ever get for us, I dodged flying bottles on the Easter Road terraces as Rangers were beaten.

Joe Harper was a scorer for the Hibees that day. In 1978 at Tynecastle, back in an Aberdeen shirt, he netted again. Hearts fans were understandably narked by what turned out to be a 4-1 defeat but right from the kick-off, and in all corners, the ground had been seething. We had, after all, just endured Argentina.

This time Scotland hadn’t been invited. This time, for the first time and hopefully the last, domestic football isn’t beginning a new campaign but picking up where it had left off.

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Or not, in the case of Rangers and Hibs. Both will be pretending the first half of 2022-23 never happened. Though to persuade their demanding supports of that, hallucinogens will surely have to be injected into the pies.

The Ibrox faithful should take their seats again in a less grumpy frame of mind than any Hibbies prepared to make the trip along the M8. Those who shouted for regime change have got it. Those who like their bosses to pop into a howff calling itself “the quintessential Rangers pub” have got that, too.

Michael Beale’s gesture was one of ingratiation. The equivalent for a new Rangers player is, early on and even if it’s out of character, to tackle like a nutter. And who, quite soon, could the newest Rangers player be? According to the gossip, none other than Ryan Porteous.

I’m not sure the rumour-mill is functioning properly after the lay-off because he seems a most unlikely acquisition and some supporters concur, and they’re the ones who’ve conferred on him the epithet of Scottish football’s public enemy No 1.

Before just about every radio and TV pundit got involved, before Jim Goodwin got involved, Porto provoked the ire of Govan. For impersonating a runaway road compressor, mainly, and ex-Rangers boss Steven Gerrard after one particularly rumbustious contest between the teams was not minded to shake his hand.

But did Gerrard maybe have a sneaking admiration for the centre-back? And did some among the Rangers support, too? After all, you’re only impersonating a runaway road compressor if you’re playing for the opposition. If you’re one of the boys you’re wholehearted, committed, take no prisoners, and as I say, the Copland Road aesthetes have a predilection for that kind of thing, so the speculation about Porteous interesting Rangers wins a certain amount of approval.

Is he happy? Porteous asked this question cheekily in a post-match interview last year around this time after helping Hibs beat their rivals to a place in the League Cup final. That was the Leith team’s last result of any note. And it happened a whole two managers ago.

Since then, big talk and meek performances. Big noise signings who don’t cut it. Big plans off the park with hospitality suites which aren’t intended for a drop into the Championship. If Hibs aren’t heading there then they will have to halt a dismal run of defeats which by the club’s trigger-happy standards must surely be making Lee Johnson exceedingly nervous. Not least with Porto likely to leave and the injured Martin Boyle out for the rest of the campaign.

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So, all in all, not a bad fixture with which to kill the pause button. For previous, for intrigue, for danger. If Rangers lose, Beale should probably give the Louden Tavern a miss and head straight for his hotel. If Hibs flop and keep flopping, then those swanky new Easter Road bars should be nice and quiet.



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