Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Ten Big Questions of 2007 - Part Three

9. Will Celtic be the 'peepul'?
While schadenfreude is probably one of the politer emotions Celtic supporters will be experiencing as their eternal rivals' bloody civil war continues, the feud between Paul Le Guen and Barry Ferguson is only the latest chapter in the seemingly unstoppable downward spiral in the fortunes of Rangers Football Club.

Triumph and disaster are often fleeting impostors in football, as Leeds United's descent from the Champions League demonstrates, but over the course of a number of seasons, genuine statements on a club's standing can be made. Taking the last seven years into account, it can clearly be said that Celtic have replaced Rangers as the pre-eminent force in Scottish football.

In that time Celtic have won four championships and have almost certainly secured a fifth. Rangers won two titles in that time. But both Rangers successes were achieved in the final minutes of the season's final days, in contrast to the monstrous points advantages Celtic enjoyed in all of their championship victories.
Rangers 2003 success came while Celtic were preoccupied with a run to that season's UEFA Cup final, and their 2005 title was won on the back of an incredible collapse by the Parkhead club in the dying minutes of their final match against Motherwell.

This gradually emerging picture of superiority stretches to another area in which Rangers were traditionally dominant: the clubs' relative financial states. Enfeebled by Scottish football's limited market, neither are stupendously wealthy; but Celtic have been returning consistently more solid balance sheets, a fact that has had its logical conclusion on the park, where the Hoops have been able to recruit to a markedly higher standard of late.

What is significant about this switch is what it represents about deeper cultural roles in that divided city. Rangers supporters' familiar chant, "We are the People!" (pronounced "weearrapeepul!"), describes a deeply ingrained sense of superiority, borne of their membership of the Protestant establishment, in particular in how it related to the lowly, Catholic, immigrant stock who supported their rivals.

The fortunes of their respective football teams - in general - supported that view, with Rangers winning 51 league titles to Celtic's 40, but the feeling overrode mere football results. It survived Celtic's European eminence and nine league titles in a row in the late 1960s and early 1970s and Rangers' prolonged mediocrity until the arrival of Graeme Souness as manager in 1986.

But while the attitudes of the Rangers support were unchanging, Celtic supporters' refusal to accept their cowed status spoke of a more upwardly mobile nature than the 'tattie-munchers' their rivals liked to characterise them as.

Better educated, more successful and having thoroughly penetrated the professional classes in a way their predecessors were unable, or not allowed to do, Celtic supporters, led by businessmen like Fergus McCann (an expat Scots-Canadian millionaire) seized control of their dying club in 1994.

The revolution that overthrew the club's century old cabal of families and effectively drives it to this day, was as ruthlessly ambitious as anything Castro and Guevara could have dreamed of. Indeed, coupled with the market-savvy shrewdness which wrested control of the crucial shares in '94, was a populist, car-park picketing, Bolshie element - a hangover from Glasgow's very recent industrial might - that provided much of the initial momentum.

But the forces that have steered the club today are, ironically, of the blue chip variety. Careful stewardship of the club's financial affairs in the precarious marketplace of Scottish football has allowed the club to reflect the sense of fiscal strength that their cross-town foes once embodied.

The messianic presence of Martin O'Neill helped no end, of course, and Gordon Strachan's careful reconstruction of the club's footballing affairs has already borne fruit with a Champions League last 16 tie with AC Milan to look forward to. But undoubtedly at the heart of Celtic's rise has been an utterly reconstituted ethos from within the club.

Meanwhile, Rangers are stumbling through the sort of financial penury and on-field embarrassment that Celtic once patented as their own.

The ferocious grief expressed by many of the Rangers supporters gathered outside Fir Park on Tuesday was as much the shock and anger at the continuing loss of that which they had presumed a birthright, as the registration of their opinions on Le Guen's banishment of Ferguson.

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Blogger Tommy77 said...

I posted this only minutes before the news of Paul Le Guen's departure came through.

This latest development, of course, underlines the state that Rangers are now in.

The failure of a manager whose recruitment was billed as a major coup for the club suggests, and the failure (or inability) of his boss to back him in this situation suggests a club with massive, crippling internal problems.

5:23 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couldn't have put it better myself Tommy....a great piece...Hail Hail (oh, and lets all laugh at Rangers :))

10:14 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nicely written....missing le goon already...tim of the year??????

9:08 a.m.  

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