20 March ~ You could blame Franz Beckenbauer for the confrontation that marked the last Old Firm match. Maybe Michel Platini too: they set the trend for managers to stand on the sidelines rather than remaining in the dugout. Put Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon on the Old Firm touchline and you don’t get the aloof stateliness in which Beckenbauer and Platini specialised. Instead, they are at each other’s throats. More shocking than Lennon and McCoist going head to head is that they are managers at all. McCoist looked more suited to his previous post-playing-career enterprise as a laughing, joshing, lightweight television personality. Lennon’s playing career, on and off the field, was littered with indisciplined daftness.
Their appointments reflect the fact that Celtic and Rangers, opponents today in the Co-operative Insurance Cup final, are seriously strapped for cash. Employing young, inexperienced, immature managers is the cheap option. With the quality of Old Firm players in sharp decline over the past half-decade and the recession biting at attendances, appointing individuals closely associated with the core identities of each club reflects a desperate pandering to the lowest-common-denominator element in the two supports. Celtic and Rangers are so closely intertwined that their managerial appointments down the years reflect their closeness to each other, which becomes almost mimicry at times.
The police at Hampden today will, apparently, address players and managers pre-match as to their expected conduct so a less frenzied afternoon can be expected on the sidelines, not least given that Lennon will be seated in the stand as he sees out a magnificent eight-match touchline ban in a moody silence that has, so far, lasted since that last Old Firm joust on March 2.
As for the football, Celtic seem slightly the better side of the two, if only because they have younger legs and a couple of budding talents in Emilio Izaguirre, the Honduran World Cup left-back, and Gary Hooper, called into England’s Under-21 squad this week. Rangers, forced to under-invest in their squad in the past couple of years, look in need of reconstruction when McCoist officially takes over as manager from Walter Smith this summer.
With Celtic having had the better of the fixture recently, Rangers may be a due a turn, given the frenzied, often haphazard nature of these occasions. After all, the “form book goes out the window” for Old Firm matches, according to received wisdom. Let’s hope it doesn’t hit anyone as it performs that habitual trajectory on Sunday, or we’ll have another post-match summit involving Scotland’s first minister, police and the clubs’ chief executives as to how to deal with the terrible social side-effects of the Old Firm – a problem that has only been around for a century or so. Graham McColl