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Suck it, Old Firm October 30, 2009

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in Scottish soccer, Uncategorized.
Tags: , ,

This year’s are the worst Celtic and Rangers teams in history and I’m loving it.

“Ummm Alex,” you’ll say, “Isn’t that a bit insensitive?” My answer: No and fuck you. Long-suffering fans? Let them suffer. While I don’t presume to make categorical statements about entire demographics, the ethos of both clubs’ identities hinges on sectarianism, nationalism and hatred — some charming traits. A good friend of mine is a devout Celtic fan who tells me unironically that he hates “Huns.”

“Not all Old Firm fans are like that,” you say. “You can’t choose your club. It’s with you for life. You’re born into it.” Oh, hey, way to buy into corporate propaganda, fuckwit. Sports fans do have a choice, and I can’t figure out who in his or her right mind would willingly associate himself or herself financially or spiritually with an organization like Celtic or Rangers and with everything that supporting them entails.

While neither organization appears to overtly encourage sectarianism, I haven’t seen either club’s board coming out and saying, “Guys, ummm… You want to tone down the nationalism? In light of all the stuff going on for the last century or so in Ireland, not to mention the sectarian bloodshed that’s been happening pretty much since the Reformation, maybe all this hatred isn’t such a good idea. So could you guys please tone down the religious and national overtones a weensy bit?”

I mean, that would be setting off a mountain of TNT under the goose that lays the golden eggs, wouldn’t it. Not that I mean to imply that either organization is — gasp — cynical. But at least those eggs are getting a lot less golden. TV money for Scottish football? You’re having a laugh. So of course both are prepared to endanger Scotland’s fiercely defended footballing independence by rushing for the border to join the English Premier League, not that a reasonably lucrative and well-run organization like the Premiership wants fuck all to do with the Old Firm.

It’s difficult to say which club is in worse straits.

The most obvious answer is Rangers. I mean, a couple of weeks ago, the Gers were massacred 4-1 by a modest Romanian club half Rangers’ age — at home. The boardroom is under mountains of debt, desperately searching for a buyer — and if the board does find one, the new owners’ likely first act will be to slap price tags on the entire senior squad and turn out the youth team.

And the squad in question is wafer-thin, with few genuinely valuable players. One of the central defenders is nearly 40. The other failed with relegated Charlton. If either one can’t play (for instance because it’s absurd to ask a 39-year-old to appear in every game), the only cover is a one-paced winger who plays out of position. And it’s not like that’s the only problem position. You can’t really see any of the club’s current players commanding fees of more than $8.25 million (£5 million).

But at least Rangers is in the Champions League (for the moment) and at least the club has a good coach in Walter Smith. Though Celtic has better players — Scott Brown, Aiden McGeady and Artur Boruc would probably all command respectable fees — coach Tony Mowbray is a well-intentioned but brittle man. His emphasis on style was successful in the second tier of English soccer (a better league than Scotland’s top division) with West Bromwich Albion, but he didn’t have to deal with the pressure cooker that a Celtic coach is subjected to.

“So fire Mowbray,” you say? In favor of whom? The pay’s not good enough to attract a top-class man and any coach with sense and a burgeoning career will stay well away. If Mowbray goes, I’d make Phil Brown the hot favorite for the job (he should be in need of employment by the time Celtic’s axe falls) and he would be exactly the wrong man for the job. Brown is a managerial genius when it comes to spotting a player and picking a team, but he cannot get along with people. So that would be amusing and probably as disastrous as the last two half-seasons at Hull.

Celtic’s money troubles aren’t as dire as Rangers’, but you can tell the higher-ups at the club know its demise is coming. A cynical eye to the (fairly) recent purchases of players from Asia (Koki Mizuno, Zheng Zhi, Shunsuke Nakamura, Du Wei) bespeaks a grab for Asian bucks, a strategy that never works when the player in question is not a one-time Manchester United right winger (Park, Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo. Any one will do). So too does the purchase of Polish players hint at an attempt to establish a connection with the largest immigrant population in Ireland, a traditional hotbed of Celtic support.

It’s comforting to know that not only are things bad, but they’re not going to get better for Celtic or Rangers. You could argue that other Scottish clubs suffer from the decline of the Old Firm, but I don’t buy that. I’d argue that the more each club suffers, the better Scottish football will get. Perhaps the other clubs can win a title now.

Even more hopeful, look what has happened to Dutch football since it became apparent Dutch clubs couldn’t hang financially with Europe’s big boys. The Dutch giants invested in youth and churned out generations of brilliant players. Now the clubs at the top table aren’t Ajax and Feyenoord but Twente and AZ, a just reward for resourcefulness and prudence. Of course, Scotland doesn’t have a Suriname to tap for talent, but I believe the nation that has arguably done more innovating for soccer than any other can come up with something.

Until then, serve me up another round of schadenfreude and put it on the Old Firm’s tab.