The Time Approaches For A Decision Which We Will All Have To Make
Firstly, allow me to highlight now that I take no great joy from beginning the New Year by writing about Scotland’s newest professional football club. After all, this is a Celtic website run by a Celtic supporter for others Celtic fans, clichéd though that may sound. However, I have not chosen to pen this piece to poke fun but in an attempt to pose some serious questions. It will also become apparent that whilst the two Ibrox clubs are indelibly intertwined within the topics I discuss herein, they are not the main subject of this article. Regardless, with the first meeting of Celtic F.C. and the new Ibrox club only a matter of days away, I feel the time has come for me to have my own say on a few matters, albeit my opinion is certainly of no greater significance than that of any other fan of Scottish Football and/or Celtic.
At present, I am in my mid-twenties. With this in mind, it will come as no surprise to you when I say that my memories of Celtic’s league championship win of 1998, the first of my lifetime, were a mixture of joy and surprise. The former emotion is self-explanatory, for I have held a love for our Football Club for as long as I can remember; the latter, however, is a different matter. In my young mind, there were what appeared to be a few of life’s constants – people or situations which had always been there in my experience and had no apparent end in sight – my family, the knowledge the sun would rise every morning and the fact that, to all intents and purposes anyway, Rangers seemed to win everything; that’s just the way it was.
I attended a Roman Catholic primary school in the west of Scotland, and as such, the majority of the children there who held an interest in our national game were of a Celtic persuasion. This meant that, gracefully, I was shielded from the gloating many of you undoubtedly endured during the nineties from blue-nosed friends or colleagues. However, this did not save me from the disappointment which came along with continually finishing second. It’s strange when I think about it, because I can genuinely remember being disconsolate about losing to Rangers before I even truly had a proper grasp of the game of football as a whole. Once again, I’m sure I’m not alone there.
Returning to the topic at hand, it is for these reasons and several others that Celtic’s triumphant 1997/98 season came as a bit of a surprise to me. A week prior to our final day victory over St Johnstone, I had watched my expectant father leave the house for East End Park in the hope of seeing us seal our first title in a decade, only to return from Dunfermline deflated after a one-all draw. The concern that, somehow, Celtic might just throw it all away was palpable, but thankfully it wasn’t to be and Celtic were the Champions of Scotland once more. From that day, throughout the next decade, Scottish silverware tended to swing back and forth between Celtic Park and Ibrox, with the odd exception here and there.
And now we reach the nub of the matter – because as many astute individuals have written about at great length, it has been confirmed that not only Celtic, but every senior Scottish football club were cheated by Rangers Football Club for years. Prior to the beginning of the outright rule breaking, a significant period of financial doping and enormous overdrafts helped the Ibrox Club to many more successes, although such a culture of “spend, spend, spend” would eventually prove fatal. For the sake of brevity, I shall presume that the vast majority of you reading this will have knowledge of the aforementioned cheating and financial doping, but for any of you who do not, I would strongly suggest you do some research on the subject online and/or get along to a screening of Paul Larkin’s excellent informative documentary, “The Asterisk Years”.
Now, the point of this article is not to discuss Rangers or their successors at Ibrox per se, but to consider the respective action and inaction taken by the relevant governing bodies, the Scottish media, and the other football clubs, including Celtic, who either have already, or will soon find themselves set to face the new club in competitive fixtures. Sadly, had either of the former pairing carried out their jobs as they as supposed to, there would be no need for me to discuss other clubs, but having had the proverbial buck passed from pillar to post, it has eventually fallen at their doors.
When Rangers Football Club were confined to liquidation, that was the end of their sporting existence. Their history – some of it tainted to varying degrees – was confined to the annals of history alongside the club itself. Although those people who are either blinkered by loyalty will undoubtedly argue those points (albeit in endless futility), the fact remains – the original Rangers are now no more than statistics, videos and memories. Had those in the corridors of power at Hampden Park made this fact blatantly clear from day one, none of the following debate would be necessary, although it is worth pointing out that this is the same governing body who chose not to alter the results of hundreds upon hundreds of past matches, many of whom saw entire Rangers lineup’s consisting of ineligible players. Contrast and compare this with the conduct of UEFA after Legia Warsaw fielded an ineligible substitute only minutes before completing a two-legged rout against Celtic and the differences are clear to see.
Regardless, even with the smoke and mirrors present at Hampden, the Scottish media still had ample opportunity to do what they are supposed to do, seeking and ultimately publishing the truth in the public interest. To give them some credit, this was actually done in the days which initially followed the demise of Rangers, with headlines such as “Rangers Football Club, Born 1872, Died 2012″ and “R.I.P. R.F.C” spread across front pages and television news citing quotes from the likes of Walter Smith wishing “the new Rangers Football Club every good fortune”. However, it was then that the propaganda machine, coupled with threats and intimidation from the more vociferous sections of the old Rangers support, got into full swing and operation “perpetuate the same club myth” began in earnest.
And so, more than two years down the line, we now find ourselves in a scenario where Scottish Football – on the whole – is improving. Yes, it’s fair to say Celtic should still be some distance ahead of our opposition thanks to our notably higher annual turnover, but putting that aside one could make the argument that the game in this country is gradually reverting to where it was prior to Sir David Murray’s (there’s a name you don’t see criticised in the media much) takeover at Rangers in the late eighties, with Aberdeen and Dundee United (amongst others) now playing at a higher level than the have been for decades. The sport may not be perfect, with too much television coverage and high ticket prices the bane of many, but we are most certainly not facing the supposed “Armageddon” scenario spun by many. In fact, many football clubs are now dramatically better off in terms of finance than they have been for some time. And yet, should there be another insolvency event at Ibrox, you will see the usual suspects trot out to question whether or not “Rangers” (read the new, new Ibrox Club or Rang3rs there) must be given special assistance for the good of the Scottish game, whilst in reality all they want is something for nothing for the benefit of themselves alone (old habits die hard, clearly).
Don’t forget, had it not been for the outcry from supporters of all other Scottish football clubs, the governing bodies in this country would have happily shoehorned the new Rangers straight back into the top flight post-liquidation and it would have been as if nothing had ever happened. Really, it’s something we all forget at times, but when one considers it they cannot help but find it to be utterly farcical. Equally well, ideas of a first division entry or even league restructuring were mooted, but thankfully to no avail.
In recent times, you may well have noticed how unpopular the previous tag used to decry members of the Celtic supporter who asked questions of Rangers and our governing bodies has suddenly become. Now that some of our suspicions regarding cheating have been confirmed, we are no longer branded “paranoid”, because when one is proven to be correct such a mantra becomes useless, but we are now “obsessed”. Yes, seemingly we’re now all “out to get” the mighty Rangers, that bastion of all that is right in the world (dignity, Timmy) who, of course, have done nothing wrong and were duped by various “bad men”, such as Sir David Murray, Craig Whyte, Charles Green, Mike Ashley and the list goes on. However, in truth the reality is far simpler than that. All I want as the result of this whole saga is a fair game. It is now certain that nobody in this country watched a fair domestic game involving Rangers from 2001 to 2010, and that is disgraceful. In all likelihood, I may well have never seen a wholly fair domestic league or cup tournament at any point during my lifetime until 2012.
Not only did I and hundreds of thousands of other Scottish Football fans make significant financial investment in the game during the time when Rangers implemented illegal E.B.T schemes, we also invested ourselves emotionally to great extent, regardless of who we supported. If my continued desire to see adequate punishments handed out to those responsible for intentional rule-breaking, asterisks permanently etched next to honours’ lists and apologies from our governing bodies for allowing this whole charade to happen in the first place makes me “obsessed”, then no matter, it is of no consequence to me. I only want a fair game.
And now, as the first meeting between Celtic and the new Ibrox club (whether you refer to them as Sevco or by any other title) approaches, I cannot help but harbour a fear of circumstances returning to the old ways. Yes, the vast majority of you reading this know the true state of affairs, but until it is acknowledged in officialdom and this same club myth is put to bed once and for all, it will forever continue to overshadow our national game. Our governing bodies and our media organisations (with a small number of exceptions) have failed us. As I said on Twitter, “Allowing this same “club” myth to permeate and grow legs, either through the action or inaction; lies, ignorance or silence; has led us here and made matters worse.”
That is why a group of Celtic supporters funded the much discussed advert which was printed in the Sunday Herald yesterday. Now, regardless of all of our individual views on this advert, one point surrounding it is particularly important – if the content of the advert was not wholly watertight with regards legality, it would not have been published. Put simply therefore, everything contained within it was correct.
Equally well, should there be trouble either before, during, or after the match on Sunday (and I must highlight I sincerely hope this does not occur), it is likely that a large portion of the blame will be placed at the feet of the Celtic support, for their “inflammatory singing regarding zombies” or perhaps even their “banners questioning whether Rangers are a new club”. Of course, I am speculating there, but the irony in all of this will be that the last people certain sections of the media would ever blame “for fanning the flames” would be one of the worst perpetrators – themselves. Perhaps when discussing a gradually declining print media, it is no wonder that particular publications will continue to cling to controversy and bad feeling in search of increased readership, two factors which were most certainly present in the old Glasgow derbies. Likewise, more blame may well be apportioned to the previously referenced newspaper advert than the bilious songs of hatred which one would expect to flow from large parts of the blue terracing, but I digress, as the main aim of this article is to discuss the bigger picture.
Fundamentally, for Celtic to officially accept any new Ibrox entity as the same club of old, especially after seeing years of cheating go unpunished, would be a slap in the face of many Celtic supporters. Thankfully, this has not been the case as yet, but I doubt I am alone in thinking the Football Club could have been more proactive in this regard thus far, separating truth from fiction. Their current position, regarding both versions of Rangers and the use of the term “O** F***” can be seen below. However, whilst I can only sympathise with the threats of violence and intimidation which would undoubtedly follow such involvement from Celtic, there are times in life when we all must stand up for what is right. In this situation if the governing bodies will not do so themselves then, as the biggest team in the country we must lead the way, not only for our own interests as a Football Club, but for those of the entire Scottish game going forward.
After all, some people have already made the decision not to return to Scottish Football until things change, and make no mistake about it, more will follow them in the future if the status quo of the past is allowed to return without question or opposition. For this, neither I nor anyone else has any justifiable reason for criticising these people, and I would categorically disagree with anybody who sees their personal decisions as a reason to question their love for Celtic or any other Football Club. Personally speaking, I do not believe I will ever be able to walk away from attending Celtic matches, such is the emotional attachment I have to the Club, but I would be naive to lament anyone else for doing so, particularly when many have put in countless hard earned pounds – not to mention hours and energy – into watching a rigged game.
Make no mistake about it, whether your chosen colour is the green of Celtic or Hibernian, the red of Aberdeen, the claret of Hearts, the blue of Dundee, the tangerine of Dundee United or any other, you as an individual and we as a collective of Scottish Football fans have all been cheated. A decade of undeniable rule-breaking have been proven as fact, very possibly preceded by many more which remain shrouded in shadow, and yet we are told that we must welcome “the same club” who committed these crimes back to the top flight as quickly as possible for the good of our national game?
Whilst the fans of Scottish Football are not stupid, we continue to be treated as such. However, I suppose we must remember that we have also been told that the ability to pay higher wages due to a tax evasion scheme gave Rangers “no sporting advantage” and that despite occupying two memberships and two league spots in two different divisions at the same time, Rangers (1872) and Rangers (a.k.a. Sevco 2012) are the same club. Likewise, according to the Scottish Football Association the world is flat and Lord Nimmo Smith would have you believe the Sun orbits the Earth.
Ultimately, if the corruption we have all borne witness to is allowed to continue unchallenged and the day comes when the new Rangers defeat Celtic, that result will only act to hammer home the fact that we will all have missed our best, and perhaps, only chance to secure a fair Scottish game – and trust me, it will hurt us all.
In closing, ladies and gentlemen, I ultimately do not accept any of it. If times change and we can finally enjoy a fair domestic game in Scotland, the new Rangers included, then I for one will be happy with that outcome. However, if the old ways are allowed to return, with favoritism, bizarre refereeing decisions and cheating clear for all to see, then many will ask whether or not it is all worth it anymore. I will not turn my back on Celtic nor Scottish Football, but I will not criticise anybody who chooses to step outside the circle and turn their attention elsewhere should the aforementioned scenario come to pass.
I pray Sunday’s match passes without the presence of any violence nor the scourge of displays of racism or sectarianism.
That aside, I hope simply for a Celtic victory, and for Scott Brown to present our opponents’ captain with a commemorative pennant upon our emergence from the tunnel in order to officially mark our first meeting with the new Rangers.
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