Cooney and Black

Venglos and I feared the worst for Celtic. We sat drinking pot after pot of stewed tea. A day later Lubo Moravcic was trapping the ball with his arse – and we won 5-1. You can never predict the outcome of Old Firm matches

Old Firm


UNLESS God intervenes and we get three feet of snow over the next 48 hours, the Old Firm are about to renew hostilities after almost three years.

In anticipation of Sunday’s main League Cup semi-final event, they’re battening down the hatches around where I live. I hear some pubs are being closed at 6p.m. in view of what may happen.

Around these parts, the only thing that might have had a similar effect would have been if Hitler and his henchmen had arrived goose-stepping up the main street.

But, I prefer to talk about the game rather than the gloomy predictions of a violent aftermath. I’ve just read that Chris Sutton reckons that Celtic’s superiority is so pronounced that they could wear blindfolds and still win this match.

It’s a brave, or foolish, man who makes those kind of pronouncements. Anyone doubting what I say should review a lifetime of precedents for caution. I take you back to 1998 to promote my case.

Dr Jozef Venglos had arrived at Celtic Park, replacing Dutchman Wim Jansen. The latter had set the bar high, having won the SPL Championship. But there was a certain amount of consternation in Venglos regarding this November league game at Parkhead.

It was his introduction to the complexities of Old Firm competition, and Celtic’s form was anything but impressive. I’d been Jansen’s scout. Now I was doing the same for Venglos. What I couldn’t do was inject any confidence into him.

So, there we were, 24 hours before the kick off, sitting in his flat and drinking umpteen pots of stewed tea. We discussed everything from how many floodlights were in the pylons to what kind of shape he’d need to play to beat the Rangers.

Hey, if someone could have guaranteed a 0-0 draw there and then, Jozef would probably have taken it. Anyway, when we broke up the meeting about two in the morning, I drove home with fear gnawing my head. Normally, you look forward to fitba games. I wasn’t looking forward to this one. This was one fixture I wanted done with.

It just goes to show you that nothing is certain in this great world of ours. Celtic were up 3-0 within 25 minutes. Admittedly, Rangers had a player sent off in the first 20 minutes, but we were already ahead by then.

Ultimately, we beat them 5-1 and it could have been seven. If you had predicted anything like this, I would have been directing you towards the nearest secure unit.

Lubo Moravcic scored twice that day. He was absolutely magnificent. He even had time to sit on the ball – I mean, there was one of those moments when the ball came out of the air, and he trapped it with his arse.

So, that day just served to remind me, if I needed any reminding, of how unpredictable these Old Firm games can be. It wasn’t the only anomaly in their history, of course.

I’ve seen other situations way back years ago, even when Jock Stein was in situ and Celtic were ruling the roost, going into games and getting the bang-bang treatment.

I recall going to Ibrox one day and thinking that we’d win comfortably. Rangers were two up within 20 minutes.

So, what about the managers, Ronny Deila and Kenny McDowall? I don’t think either is particularly prepared for what’s ahead. It’s all very well saying that Kenny has been round about long enough, but he doesn’t have any real managerial knowledge of an Old Firm game.

It will be an experience for both, I imagine. Kenny’s seen enough of them, aye, but you couldn’t say one has the edge on the other.

The thing is you either go into these occasions on a softly, softly, catchee monkey basis, or you go in beating the drum and saying: “We’re here to do X, Y and Z. ”

So far, only Chris Sutton has tried his hand at percussion. But sometimes the beating of the drum is really a load of smoke and mirrors. It just depends how you feel at that moment with it. The ones who aren’t too confident are the ones who shout loudest.

As far as McDowall is concerned, an Old Firm game will represent diddly squat to his career at Ibrox. He has a whole lot less to lose than his counterpart.

Deila is hanging his hat on a victory. A comprehensive one would certainly be of great assistance to him. But a loss could very well be the start of one major crack through his time at Celtic.

How will it all end? Logic doesn’t apply here. You never know what you’re going to get. You just haven’t got a clue. You can go into it with no form whatsoever, and yet the zero can emerge as a hero.

There again, you can go in with a string of victories and end up with a king-sized omelette stuck to your face.

Look, the way things are going just now, it may just fall in favour of the favourites, but you never know. None of the Ritchie pension pot will be applied to it, that’s for certain.


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