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Old 2nd February 2015, 12:19   #1
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Default Old Firm fans still raking over old dirt

Old Firm fans still raking over old dirt

Renewal of bigoted rivalry shows supporters remain out of step with a country trying to embrace future

By Alan Tyers
8:46PM GMT 01 Feb 2015

BBC Scotland’s anchorman Rob MacLean said at the start of the Old Firm broadcast that “coverage is winging its way to over 50 countries”. The Scottish Tourist Board should sue. BBC Scotland’s problem was this: the Old Firm game is about a lot of things, but it is not about football.

TV coverage of the Scottish League Cup semi-final at Hampden Park began with a montage of Celtic and Rangers heroes of yesteryear, your Johnstones and your Coopers, intercut with some business about a pair of modern-day kids opening up their Christmas presents. Poor little blighters, contained within were not merchandise from Frozen and boxes of Lego, but actual Rangers and Celtic shirts. Santa, hang your head in shame.

The youngsters made the best of a bad job, donned the replica strips and cavorted in a spirit of sporting fraternity, acting out great Old Firm goals of legend, finally swapping the jerseys as they strolled off arm-in-arm into the sepia fade. Even the John Lewis advert people would be passing the sick bucket, because God knows, people don’t watch this fixture for the sportsmanship and the children-are-our-future schmaltz.

Which brings us to BBC Scotland’s problem, and indeed the wider issue with the filth-smeared costume jewel in Scottish football’s crown: people watch the Old Firm game for the poisonous unpleasantness on the field and off it. The media is expected to clutch its pearls and pompously declare that “nobody likes to see that” at some violent tackle but, let’s be honest, you’re not tuning in to see Rangers’ Ian Black play a 50-yard, no-look pass. You are watching Celtic and Rangers because you quite like a 22-man on‑field brawl every now and again, even though you’re not supposed to say so. These matches are a portion of chips and sauce on the way home from the nouvelle cuisine restaurant, reading the Harry Potter book with a plain adult cover on the train, sleeping fitfully at the theatre through the final act and wishing you’d gone to the pictures instead.

The BBC can hardly market Celtic v Rangers as “tune in now to see some orcs kick bits out of each other in front of a baying mob” but this is a televised football match in name only. Manfully though MacLean and Old Firm veterans John Hartson and Stuart McCall toiled in the studio engine room to pick out danger men and “tactical” developments, the fixture has become like going to an amateur dramatics performance: it’s only any good when someone does something bonkers and wrong.

Not that those present in the stadium needed any encouragement to revel in the ugly side of human nature. Viewers in those 50 countries around the world were treated to the full repertoire of the Old Firm songbook, ancient battles, raking over the same old dirt.

Whatever you think about Scottish independence, the debate and the turnout last autumn showed that millions in the country want to move forward, to talk about what Scotland could or should be, not what it once was. Not so at these matches. MacLean noted that it was more than 1,000 days since the last Old Firm match, it feels like they might be the same in 1,000 years.

McCall, with eye-catching understatement, noted that “Rangers’ bigger problems are off the park”, yet also implied that he would be tempted by the manager’s job, should it be offered. Rearrange those deckchairs, boys, and don’t worry too much about that frozen thing looming. While Celtic fans are naturally enjoying a delicious party‑sized helping of Schadenfreude at the Ibrox situation, the import of this fixture proves they are still chained to the corpse of Rangers, decaying only at a slower rate in this co-dependent Old Firm hell.

The party line is that “Scottish football needs Rangers back”, which essentially means: can we have the Old Firm game six times a year please because it puts us on the TV map? Maybe it does, but that map says: “Here be bigotry and terrible football, avoid at all costs.”
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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