The ignominy of seeing one of Britain’s biggest and most successful clubs this week finally accepting the grim reality of administration was one thing. Glasgow Rangers’ humiliation however, paled in comparison when the disparity that exists within Scottish football became glaringly apparent when the club had ten points deducted for its failure to balance the books. The upshot of this was in many respects the biggest indictment of football north of the border. Rangers were left trailing archrivals Celtic by fourteen points but nevertheless maintaining a nine point cushion of comfort from third placed Motherwell. The remainder of the season will inevitably be just a dull procession.
It’s been like that for years though hasn’t it? I wrote last season about the nature of duopolies and how their existence naturally allows for a mutually beneficial striving for excellence. However, the seemingly never-ending hegemony of both Glasgow clubs has done little to benefit the game in Scotland. If anything, it has contributed to Scotland’s long-drawn decline as a footballing nation that used to qualify for international football tournaments with a certain degree of regularity.
I grew up watching or hearing my elders telling tales of Scottish footballers of the calibre of Denis Law, Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish and Steve Archibald. World-class players. Before Bosman, Scottish footballers could be found at most English clubs whether that was Gordon Durie at Chelsea or Steve Nicol at Liverpool. The paucity of Scottish talent in the Premier League nowadays might be blamed on the influx of players from beyond the British Isles but if Scots were really any good, then they’d be snapped up in an instant for much less than an Aguero or a Torres.
The problem with Scottish football is that unfortunately, it is so utterly predictable. There are only so many times The Old Firm can clash before the rest of us lose interest. El Clasico it is not. In England at least, you can be certain that the balance of power isn’t a perennial tug of war between two clubs within the same city radius. Liverpool may have dominated the 1970s and 80s and Manchester United the 1990s to the present day but there have always been challengers and challenges to the traditional power bases: witness Brian Clough’s Derby and Nottingham Forest sides of the 70s or Don Revie’s Leeds, Mourinho’s Chelsea, Graham and Wenger’s Arsenal teams and this season the money-laden juggernaut that is Manchester City.
Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen aside, this does not happen in Scotland. What satisfaction can you derive from being a Hibernian or Dundee United fan other than the occasional ‘upset’ against one of the Glasgow Giants or victory over your cross-town rivals in one of the FOUR league meetings you have with them over the span of a season?
Of course, football is not all about the glory. Fans of Bury or Rochdale for instance, don’t support their teams because of a certainty that they will be Wembley-bound at the end of a season or because the local sports emporium is bulging with replica shirts to be worn by the easily-impressed masses. I have come to know many Scottish football fans during my time writing Dispatches and it’s because of some of these people that I affectionately take an interest in Hearts as my Scottish team and look out for their results. But it must be a disheartening process year after year, knowing that the outcome of a domestic league will only be fought over by what to all intents and purposes is an old firm in its mafia sense; something kept within the family.
Despite remaining as vitriolic and ugly as it always has, as was seen last season when Celtic’s manager Neil Lennon received death threats and the meetings between both clubs witnessed violent confrontations, the Old Firm is becoming an increasing irrelevance to the rest of the football family. I understand the grievances and beliefs that both sets of fans hold within their world views but most of these stem from events that happened years ago. It’s about time some of these ideologies were laid to rest; and I say this as a person of Greek Cypriot origin who knows all about grudges, vendettas and accusations that can be levelled from Greek to Turk and back again. What happened in Cyprus is someone else’s war, not mine, not here, not now. I’m more worried about making my next mortgage payment than wanting to remind Abdullah that his great, great grandfather stole my great, great grandfather’s plot of land. What’s done is done and perhaps some Old Firm fans could do well to remember that it’s Scotland’s future rather than its past that is of more pressing and immediate concern.
The Scots will soon have a chance to consider whether they will become an independent nation with a referendum looking likely in 2014. Something I’m a big advocate of. Personally, I have always admired the Scots for maintaining their identity and sense of individuality. Their education system is first-rate, they have produced some fine pieces of television in the shape of The Family Ness and Supergran and most Scots I have ever met have been nothing if not warm, hospitable people with a keen sense of humour. An independent Scotland might just be the making of a country forever trying to assert its uniqueness under the shadow of its English neighbours (or colonisers, as some would tell us).
I think many of us in England, whether we care to admit it or not, would love to see The Tartan Army at a major tournament sometime in the future. But unless steps are put in place to ensure a more competitive league, it doesn’t look like it will be possible for quite some time.
Here’s a thought to finish. Maybe Celtic and Rangers should start EVERY season on minus ten points. Other teams would have something to hold on to and the Old Firm would feel a common sense of aggrieved purpose in their mutual pursuit. No time for fussing and fighting and maybe some of us Sassenachs might even start taking an interest again. Then again, maybe not. Some old rivalries can’t ever be put to bed.
From the back of the Sofa: Chelsea Dagger: The Power of Duopolies
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