Cooney and Black

Love them or loathe them, the sooner the Old Firm are once again competing against each other on a regular basis the better it will be for the game – in a financial sense at least.

Old Firm

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I felt a shiver down my spine at 1.30 on Sunday afternoon: not in eager anticipation of an Old Firm classic, or a sense of joyous relief that the absurdly labelled “greatest club match in the world” was back.

The sensation was caused by the grim realisation that, after nearly three years of partial sanity, the madness was once again upon us: the vile bile; the hatred; the domestic violence; the desire to maim.

What more could you ask for on a Sabbath afternoon? Or any other afternoon, for that matter?

Media hysteria – most noticeably on the part of the BBC – ensured that perhaps only those living on a croft in the northernmost point of the Outer Hebrides were unaware that Celtic and Rangers were about to lock horns for the 400th time.

The sports sections of the weekend newspapers ensured that the other League Cup semi-finalists, Aberdeen and Dundee United, had not been entirely forgotten. Meanwhile, what remained of the Premiership card was given a tad more than a passing mention. But in reality the Old Firm was the only game in town.

When the talking stopped and the various pundits fell silent, however, what followed was entirely predictable.

Celtic coasted to victory, rarely bothering to move out of third gear in a dreary second half, the only surprise being their failure to record a much more emphatic victory, given the gulf in class that exists between the respective playing squads.

The more enlightened switched channels at half-time. The rest of us were left to reflect on a precious 45 minutes we will not get back in our lives.

In fact, nothing out of the ordinary happened; it was all so predictable as to be utterly boring. What happened away from the pitch was equally predictable: 19 arrests at Hampden and a further 37 over the course of the next few hours.

Some might even say that 56 arrests represented a victory of sorts for law and order, compared to the bad old days when booze was allowed and when it was not uncommon for as many as a couple of hundred to end up behind bars in the wake of an Old Firm skirmish.

But there was still no shortage of the bad, the mad and the sad: a 10-year-old hit in the face by a bottle and hospitalised when a mini-bus was targeted by rival fans; Celtic striker Kris Commons’ partner Lisa Hague taunted by a Twitter troll over their stillborn daughter on the seventh anniversary of the child’s passing.

Add to that the hidden cost of spouses nursing black eyes and worse, kids going without and families traumatised by various acts of madness.

But the inescapable truth is that Scottish football simply cannot live without the Old Firm. A crowd of 51,000 watched Celtic and Rangers cross swords. A total of 64,000 were in attendance at the other 18 senior matches played last weekend.

Love them or loathe them, the sooner the Big Two are once again competing against each other on a regular basis the better it will be for the game as a whole – in a financial sense at least.

The other many and varied side issues? Well, that’s a somewhat different matter altogether.

But, if anyone doubts the current parlous state of our national game, look no further than Billy McKay’s decision to leave Inverness Caledonian Thistle, sitting third top of the Premiership, for Wigan, second bottom of the Championship.

The Northern Ireland striker did so to better himself financially for the sake of his family, presumably at least trebling his wages, and no one could possibly blame him or accuse him of lacking ambition.
Inverness, whose average crowd numbers in the region of 3,500, cannot compete financially with the majority of their English counterparts, you see – no matter that they play a brand of football that is both entertaining and effective.

There’s really not a lot more to be said.

 
 
PICTURE COURTESY OF: Jeff Holmes Pix

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