Pics: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/Press Association Images
THERE’S ONLY ONE thing worse than losing a two-horse race.
Winning a one-horse race.
Success and fulfillment have not always gone hand-in-hand. Ever wonder how Ben Johnson really felt the morning after scorching the track of Seoul’s Olympic Stadium.
Seeing the ‘Benfastic’ headlines back home, the global awe at his new 100m world record time of 9.79 seconds, that would have been even faster had he not celebrated before reaching the line.
It took just 48 hours for him to really feel the guilt. Of course it emerged later that silver medalist Carl Lewis had been banned for banned substances in the build up to Seoul, only to be reinstated. Who knows who deserved what.
But if it did anything, Seoul raised an important question for any athlete. Any sportsman. Any team.
Is it worth winning if it’s too easy? If you’ve cheated? If your adversaries are not competing on a level playing field (natural ability aside)?
Indulge me a moment while I slip on a green and white scarf for this discussion – and why I think its relavent to the current conversation about Scottish football.
Most Scottish journalists will not feel comfortable unveiling the team they supported in their youth, and understandably so.
The poison that flows toward any member of the media in Scotland if even a hint of bias (i.e. supporting ‘a club’ at any time in their life) is frankly ridiculous, and comes from both sides – with each harbouring feelings of paranoia that, were they to actually exist at once, would render Scottish papers barely legible.
However, as someone whose working patch is in Ireland, and as someone who thinks the most worthwhile opinions on sport are those that come people who are passionate about it, and love it, regardless of affiliation, I’m content to slip on the green for this piece.
So, to the biggest question first. Do I think Rangers should be let slip into extinction and if so, would it be good for Scottish football?
A tough question, but a fairly simple answer. There may be more to the reasoning, however.
Firstly, a selfish view. When I first started traveling to Scotland from Dublin, it was on a shared season ticket, with a ballot taking place for every Rangers game.
A year passed before I ‘won’ (having shelled out for four middle-of-the-road games in a row beforehand to make it), and it was early in the 1998 season when I finally experienced the greatest derby in Britain and Ireland. The geriatric Lubo Moravcik (on his derby debut no less), a lad named Henrik Larsson and a spritely kid called Mark Burchill ensured a flight back to Dublin (with Stephen Collins sitting alongside) to remember.
Seeing as this was the late 90’s, one knew 5-1 victories didn’t come along very often, so such a victory could never be deemed ‘too easy’. Can wins over derby rivals ever be thus?
Well, sometimes. And I always felt a pang of unease when they felt that way. When Martin O’Neill’s side beat Aberdeen 7-0 in 2002, it came with the uncomfortable feeling of prising peanuts from a dead monkey’s hand. Beating Rangers 3-0 the year earlier was an altogether different experience.
Like Johnson in Seoul, outwardly there was joy, elation, celebration. Inside? ‘That was just too easy’.
Now how would that feel on an ongoing basis? Celtic fans have, perhaps naturally – given the very nature of their relationship with Rangers, indulged in some epic gloating over the past day or two.
The statue of John Greig is pictured at Ibrox Stadium. Pic: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
But campaigning for an end to the ‘Old Firm’ phrase, that bracketed them alongisde the bitter neighbours, is one thing. Separating them – literally – for years, is quite another.
Forget the fact some establishment figures want to save Rangers ‘for the good of the game’, forget the fact some Rangers fans in figures of power just want the best for their club – and are happy to get off scot-free in doing so. Forget the TV deals or ugly joint-sponsorships or the prospect of empty stands.
Think of your own club, and the enjoyment it can bring. Sure, the ‘Old Firm’ tag is abhorrent, yes the bile and occasional violence is more than unpleasant and thoroughly unwelcome.
But to suggest you’d *really* be in Paradise if Rangers never came to Celtic Park again is to partake in self-deluded antics of an order that would earn a spell in solitary confinement in even the most generous institutions.
‘Celtic don’t want to just win, they want to beat Rangers’
I’m not even arguing for the rest of Scottish football – as there are enough out there that will, and will do so with greater passion that I could muster on their behalf.
A Hibs supporting friend admits he enjoyed their championship winning season outside the top flight more than most seasons in the past two decades – but isn’t that relative to Hibs’ lack of success?
Celtic don’t want to just win, they want to beat Rangers. Fairly and squarely. Now to the point at the beginning. Did Rangers want to beat Celtic fairly? Clearly not, and given the current scenario that seems almost a rhetorical question.
While I’m not cheering for an end to Rangers as an institution, there should be some penitence. It most certainly won’t come from Ibrox, and one has to wonder of the chances of it coming from up on high in Scotland, where already it appears a path is being laid to absolve Rangers of any great pain, due to their importance in society. (Disregard the fact the very same establishments only recently halted important government work to discuss the downright despicable anti-social elements of same.)
So what punishment? Financial pain is one thing. But Ben Johnson didn’t just lose sponsorship endorsements, or be forced to pay for his next pair of spikes out of his own pocket.
His medals were withdrawn. Passed on. The glory was erased.
If anything is to change in Scottish football, and in the relationship between Celtic and Rangers due to this latest scandal, it should be that the two clubs are closer than ever.
Where it matters – on the list of League champions.
Do you agree?