As Jock Stein was fond of reminding us, ‘the game is nothing without fans’. One of the compensations of Celtic blowing the league and Rangers winning it is there’ll be nobody there to see it. Winning the league during lockdown or even the quadruple treble was just another day. No going to the pub with your pals. No mass celebrations. No mass street parties of the kinds we remembered after stopping that mob from winning ten-in-a-row all those years ago. Back pages of the tabloids will be filled with players celebrating, but the next day moving on to the next weather front. It didn’t have so much resonance. I won’t say let Rangers’ fans enjoy it, I’ll say, ‘fuck them as usual’, but it’ll soon be over, just as this season has been over since December, and it’ll be relatively pain free.
The other aspect of there being no fans is would we have won more points with the much quoted 60 000 in Paradise and the multitudes that follow, follow to every away ground in Scotland?
The simple answer is YES, we would have won more points. Nobody doubts that. But Rangers have had an exceptional season. So to compare like with like, it’s not that that killed our dream.
The idea that these kinds of things go in cycles makes a kind of nonsensical sense. It’s a bit like believing in fate. Before Jock Stein Rangers were dominant. We won nine-in-a-row, twice. But they did it too. Wim Jansen brought in a little-known winger from Dutch football, and the rest as they say is history. Rangers were the dominant team, with loads of money, and yet, somehow we found a way past them. As Rangers have done this year.
Having the right manager in place is a good starting point. Neil Lennon came in and won the league, completed the treble, but we were already on the slide. It made sense to appoint him as a stop-gap manager. He didn’t cost anything. He had the tools having been at Parkhead before. He knew what it was all about. But many of us weren’t sure. When he did the job and won the league and completed the job, it was obvious even to us doubters that he would be the appointed one.
Anyone that’s looking at John Kennedy and seeing played one, won one, will see a familiar pattern emerging. When Lennon’s team went on a winning run of five games, it was hardly scintillating, but then we got the usual pish about us being back on track. We’ll get that with Kennedy. He’s our Graeme McMurty. A backroom re-shuffle that doesn’t take us any further forward. When Celtic win a few games and especially if we beat Rangers (which I think we will) then we’ll hear the usual stuff about the players being fitter and more tactically aware. I don’t really get it, as if full-time professionals who are wired up and every breath measured and every kick quantified are hardly going to be unfit. There’s nowhere to hide nowadays. Jim Baxter on his benders or wee Jinky in his rowing boat – these guys trained every day, but they couldn’t hack it now. But you’ll hear it every time. They’re unfit. Or they’re fitter with the new manager’s regime.
Celtic lost so many games because they can’t defend. I don’t think it surprised many of us when Ross County scored with a header, again. We’ve got a goal-keeping problem. A left-back problem. A right-back problem. And the central pairing is so bad we brought in Shane Duffy. This didn’t happen overnight. It’s been that way for years.
Biscuit-tin mentality. We’re a selling club. Buy cheap. Sell and prosper. You know the players I’m talking about. Kieran Tierney is the obvious example. But we recently sold a player for £11 million and I can’t even remember his name. He was no great loss. I look across at Ibrox and don’t think there are many big sales that would keep them afloat.
The promised land of Champions League is one sure-fire way of paying all the bills. By making the wrong choices, and buying in players that just can’t cut it at Celtic, we’ve opened a door for Rangers and invited them into the promised land. They’ll be able to pay their bills and have that wee bit extra to pay their debtors. They might even do what Celtic did and splash out on their falling apart infrastructure, upgrade it and make it venue for other sporting and entertainment fixtures. Rangers were almost totally reliant on the fans coming into the stadium, even with lockdown, and season book sales.
It’s all about the money. We were so far ahead we didn’t spend the money we should have spent. Now we face a mass player clear-out. I’ve not got a problem with that. Teams always evolve or they die. Ours is already on life support. We need a new manager and six or seven new players. We’ll probably get John Kennedy and one or two new players to fill the gaps left by others leaving at the end of the season. We’ll think small again and remain small.
Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong this season. I sometimes think managers, like players need a bit of luck. Lennon’s luck had run out a long time ago. I wasn’t the only one to say he should be sacked in November last year, or even before that with anther Champions League qualifying debacle. I don’t even think that would have made much difference, but it would have allowed a new manager to come in and prepare for next season (Judas, Brendan Rodgers’s argument).
For Rangers everything that can go right has gone right (apart from losing to St Mirren and being put out of the League Cup). That won’t last. As league champions they’ll need to play their players more money. There’ll be unrest. They’ll even start missing penalties. Wee niggley things.
It wasn’t that long ago that Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was quoted for the England job, in the same way that Stevie G is quoted for the Liverpool job. Let’s not forget his Rangers team before lockdown were losing home and away to teams they were expected to beat. Same team. Same players. What’s different? I’d say, quite simply, they’d all the luck going and the biggest factor by far is they don’t lose goals. They defend well. Ironically, John Kennedy who was appointed to sort out our defence (on the basis he’d played centre-half for a few games all those years ago and has a few coaching badges) has helped oversee a shocking number of goals lost. Most of them at free-kicks of corners. Bad coaching? The wrong kind of players? All of the above.
Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for a reason, when we had a chance to invest in a squad of players we blew it. We cut corners on quality. You get what you pay for, or in our case, don’t pay for. I guess to end on a high-note, the one that didn’t get away, David Turnbull. We could build a team around him. And we’ll need to dig up a Wim Jansen – pronto.