The level of bile and vitriol on the various radio phone-ins and internet message boards regarding the outcome of the SPL’s investigation into financial affairs at Rangers has been ridiculous, but sadly predictable. You get the feeling that, for some folk, the appropriate punishment for Rangers would be permanent exile to a penal colony on Mars. Others take the view that the Ibrox men should be forced to play in sackcloth and ashes, change their name to Newco Cheating Bastards FC and start all over again in the Paisley and District Amateur League Division 4 (North-West section).
What some Celtic fans require from Rangers is similar to what the aliens required of the earthlings in ‘Independence Day’. For those who haven’t seen that film, there is a scene which takes place in an underground bunker, right in the middle of an extremely hostile alien invasion of earth. One of the aliens has been captured and is under questioning. President Whitmore (played by Bill Pulman) asks the alien: “Can there be a peace between us?”
“No peace”, replies the nasty extra-terrestrial. “What is it you want us to do?” asks the president. The alien, not entirely keen to explore the notion of finding some common ground, responds with one word: “Die!”
Some Celtic folk hate Rangers more than they love their own club (and this hostility will often be mirrored on the other side). The hatred is visceral and completely beyond the power of reasoning. Some believe that Rangers are the ‘establishment’ team who routinely bribe referees, control the media, bend the rules, influence officialdom and, in all probability, run secret sweat shops and brothels populated by orphans, waifs and strays.
Since the ‘liquidation event’, some Celtic supporters have taken to arguing that there is no such thing as the Old Firm anymore, that there is no such club as Glasgow Rangers. The fact is, of course, that if there is a team playing at Ibrox, wearing blue jerseys and being watched by 45,000 people every other week it is -whether they like or not- Glasgow Rangers. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it’s probably a duck.
There are lots of reasons (some silly, some rather more sinister) for this weapons-grade level of hostility. From a neutral point of view, there are plenty of things to dislike about both clubs, but Celtic perhaps provide the more interesting case study. The club's officials and fans often exhibit a curious mentality which somehow manages to combine a sense of superiority and self-righteousness with a large dose of victimhood.
I first became aware of this peculiar phenomenon many years ago. When I was a lad, Celtic signed an English goalkeeper by the name of Peter Latchford. It was quite unusual in the seventies for a player to cross the border from the English League to play in Scotland and his transfer was quite big news. At one point, Peter came to our school to do a ‘question and answer’ session with the pupils. He was a perfectly charming fellow and handled the questions really well. Being a Catholic school, full of pupils and staff who were ‘Celtic-minded’, he got asked the inevitable question:
"Do you think that referees in Scotland are biased against Celtic?"
His answer, more or less in these words, was: “Yes, definitely. The players and officials at the club told me all about it when I arrived and now I’ve seen it for myself”.
So … here was a club that, within the previous decade, had won nine consecutive league championships, god knows how many Scottish Cups and League Cups, had been to two European Cup Finals (and a few semi-finals), and yet its players, officials and a big percentage of its fans thought that there was a conspiracy against it. Even as a wee lad, I remember thinking: ‘But if everyone is out to get you, how come you keep winning all of these trophies?’
The truth, of course, is that there was (and is) no conspiracy against the club, although there may be sound historical reasons to explain the sense of injustice hardwired into the Celtic psyche. The club has noble origins and strong links –of which it is rightly proud- with the poor immigrant communities of the nineteenth century. It’s fair to say that the treatment sometimes handed out to Irish Catholic immigrants is something that Scotland should be embarrassed about. But that is ancient history; or at least it should be.
Alas, a lot of folk associated with Celtic can’t shake off that historical baggage; indeed, successive custodians of the club have cynically tapped into ancient wells of resentment among a certain element of the faithful, allowing that sense of injustice to mutate into something uglier and sillier, something more like paranoia and a perpetual sense of persecution.
Consequently, this huge club -a global brand that enjoys every conceivable advantage in domestic competition- has often displayed an utterly cynical mentality: it wants to win everything, it wants to be in charge of everything (witness their various campaigns against the SFA) and yet it wants the option of playing the ‘victim’ card whenever it suits.
Celtic’s interpretation is that the SPL’s verdict on Rangers was lenient, so this gives them yet another chance to play that victim card and to send out ‘dog whistle’ messages about conspiracy theories to their supporters. They say that the Rangers case is nothing to do with them, but still issued a club statement stating that: "We are surprised by the parallel conclusion that no competitive advantage was gained from these arrangements"
Just to be clear, I’ll translate that for you: “Those dirty cheating bastards have exploited their establishment contacts to get away with murder once again. We should have been awarded five or six league titles by way of compensation”.
Lest there be any confusion, I should point out that I hold no brief for either half of the Old Firm. I long ago tired of the tribalism and the incessant bleating about how the rest of Scottish football is holding them back and how they would be much better off playing in the English League or the North Atlantic Alliance, or whatever the latest daft scheme happens to be. My preference would be for the Old Firm to join a two-team league (available only by subscription to a satellite TV channel) in which they could play each other thirty times a season and leave the rest of us to get on with 21st century life.
So, like that alien in ‘Independence Day’, my message to the conspiracy theorists among the Celtic hierarchy and support is quite simple.
What do I want them to do? Just grow up.