I enjoy a good comedy movie. Who doesn’t? From classics such as ‘Young Frankenstein’ to modern irreverence like ‘Anchorman’; all very good.
But as a faithful Celtic fan, there is one comedy which eclipses all others: The Rangers.
As the final whistle blew on semi-final Sunday at Hampden Park, Brendan Rodgers men had once again dismantled a Rangers team bereft of ideas, class and verve. It was total humiliation, but that could have been avoided by the Ibrox side, and not even by avoiding defeat, but by confronting the reality of their situation and engaging in a virtue not often flirted with by the south side club: virtue.
Upon The Rangers maiden season in the top flight, they were accompanied by the habitual ‘We Are The People’ and ‘Simply The Best’. To compound the arrogance, when The Rangers mathematically secured promotion to Scotland’s top flight (on the second time of asking), you had Andy Halliday, a player who had firmly found his level in the Scottish Championship, waxing lyrical about a Scottish Premiership title challenge.
Had this come from a Brighton or a Huddersfield going up to the Premier League and talking about winning the damn thing, I’m sure we’d all have been surprised. Hell, I was slightly uncomfortable for Jack Ross during the week as I read Tony Fitzpatrick’s comments about being adamant that St Mirren should be a top six team next season.
However, it just felt par for the course for such haughtiness to come oozing out of Ibrox.
Of course, over the course of the summer, the Rangers bandwagon was in full motion.
Kenny Miller went on record with assertions that Rangers have a fantastic opportunity to go into the first old firm game a few points ahead of their rivals. The first Old Firm game was four games in the season with Celtic winning 5-1 to keep their 100% record.
Andy Devlin and Kenny MacDonald of the Scottish Sun predicted a Rangers title party at the end of the season, with Joey Barton (turns out he was too good for our league, which is why he did so badly) claiming player of the year. Mark Warburton was going to coat Ibrox in glory and a new era of dominance under the recently crowned manager of the year, who had won the Scottish Championship and Petrofac Cup on the club’s second and third time of asking respectively but missed out on the Scottish Cup to a rampant Hibernian. That is, of course, if Warburton wasn’t scooped up by the Three Lions first…
Flashforward to the end of the 2016/17 season:
A rampant Celtic claim a Scottish trifecta without suffering a single domestic defeat. Scott Sinclair scoops the player of the year awards with Kieran Tierney dominating the young player category. Brendan Rodgers was the undisputed manager of the season and Rangers were without the previously incumbent manager of the season and his blue-blooded assistant, Messers Warburton & Weir. Sacked, resigned or maybe a little bit of both? Who knows. One thing I do know for certain is that he was sacked from Nottingham Forest after less than a year in charge and massively shortchanging his old employers for Barry MacKay.
An unknown Portuguese coach with a penchant for vampire euphemisms and a distaste for green football boots was drafted in from the middle east. Granted it was late in the day and Murthinho had done his best with the tools at his disposal, but Pedro Caixinha was meant to be the man to take The Rangers forward. Embarrassment by Aberdeen at Ibrox and two further humiliations at the hands of Celtic, a dominant 2-0 display at Hampden followed by a record-breaking 5-1 dismantling on Rangers very own turf.
A rather humiliating season all in all for the men in blue. But were they humbled? Did the descend from their jagged pedestal of hubris and conceit to join the rest of us in the real world? Of course not; they are the people, don’t you know.
£10 million later and exit in the Europa League qualifying stages to fourth-placed Luxembourgian minnows Progres Niederkorn, Dave King and his board of insightful decision makers were already in shark-infested waters.
By signing Caixinha, they were meant to have pulled an ace out of the hat. He was meant to be to them what David Wagner has been to Huddersfield. Instead, he was more like the managerial equivalent of Ali Dia (if you’re not familiar with Ali Dia, then you must find him and read his story; it involves a smooth mouthed con artist, much like Pedro and a poor bit of business from an Ibrox man, Graeme Souness so the parallels are there for sure.)
King splurged £10million on new signings which surpassed Celtic’s transfer dealings with the logic being that if they outspend, they close the gap, a tact which has worked historically well for the club. But that only works if you spend £10 million tactically, on players that you know can take your club nearer a level where you feel you need to be.
Instead, they acted like a seven-year-old in a sweet shop when splashing their cash, inhaling the first seemingly delicious sweeties at the front of the shop, without investigating the back where they might have been able to get a higher quantity of more delicious treats at a fairer premium.
So what was in their pick n’ mix?
Caixinha’s Portuguese counterparts Fabio Cardoso, Bruno Alves, Daniel Candeias and the clandestine Dalcio. At best they have been indifferent. At worst? Well, to make a judgment on at worst, I’d actually need to see them all play. Certainly, the success of the four has been Candeias and he has been average at best.
Other recruits include attacking midfielder Graham Dorrans who plays defensive midfield, Ryan Jack who often plays as though he is in a game of Street Fighter and had his season ended halfway through by injury, Carlos Pena and Eduardo Herrera, two Mexican lads who either can’t run the length of himself or naively (but hilariously) chants ‘C’mon the Celts’ on a jubilant Celtic fan’s Facebook.
So taking all of this into account, the board and the supporters have a decision to make: either they take a step back, reflect on their shortcomings and rectify the situation before the domestic season begins by removing the clear dud they had on their hands, and replacing him with a manager who had a chance of even remotely getting out of this motley crew of misfit players; or double down, stick with the guy who said that he spoke to Jose Mourinho once and hope that somehow that means he’s going to emulate the talent and ability of the Special One himself.
Needless to say, the started the season with Caixinha at the helm. I think most Celtic fans at that point realised that the league was, more or less, over; Paddy Power paid out on a Celtic title triumph before a ball had been kicked and I, personally, was calling for Pedro Caixinha to be handed a lifetime deal with the Ibrox outfit.
A shaky start to the season was rounded off by a 2-0 by Celtic at Ibrox, with the Bhoys not having to get out of second gear followed by a further embarrassment of Caixinha comparing himself to a vampire whose blood was winning. Pedro’s last match in charge was a 1-1 draw at home to a buoyant Kilmarnock side, dramatically improved under childhood Celtic fan, Steve Clarke.
After speaking to friends, it appeared that there was an air of deferential realisation forming over the Ibrox outfit. Every Rangers fan I spoke to seemed calm, reflective and entirely aware of the massive rebuilding job that was needed at their football club; a rebuilding job which required patience, stability and, most importantly, humility.
This whole article is about humility and about how important I believe it to be, not just in sport. If you are humble, then you are aware are where you are as well as where you need to be. If you know where you are at and where you need to be, then it is much easier to work out how to get there. Humility offers a coherence of one’s journey and coupled with confidence, it is an extremely effective recipe for success.
So needless to say, when I saw my friends and family who support Rangers seemingly gain this clarity, there was a degree of confusion and of concern. Firstly, I had never really known them to display anything resembling diffidence regarding their beloved club and secondly, in my lifetime, it is pragmatism that has lifted my beloved Celtic out of our stupor.
Fergus McCann came into the club and was realistic. He knew we couldn’t compete with Rangers financially (unbeknownst to us, they were the Lance Armstrong of Scottish Football) so were smart with our signing, put in place strong scouting and youth development and renovated the stadium.
When the disastrous John Barnes spell was over, we went out and we got a real manager, a manager who brought tactical nous, exciting football and a passion for Celtic: Martin O’Neill.
After Tony Mowbray we brought in an inexperienced manager, granted. But Neil Lennon had an intricate knowledge of the club, inside and out, and brought a passion which elevated a previously deflated squad.
Although Ronny Deila won two league titles and a league cup in his two seasons in charge, every Celtic fan knew that we weren’t operating at the level we needed to. So again, we bring in an experienced manager with a passion for Celtic and a brand of football befitting to the club: Brendan Rodgers.
I believe all of those decisions were brought about by humility, pragmatism and a realisation of what path we needed to take as a club in order to be successful. We realise that we are Celtic and we are a great club, but that the league doesn’t just come to us because of who we are; it comes to us because of how we go about our business, on and off the pitch. We are entitled to nothing and success must be earned. Every single success in our history has been the product of meticulous hard work.
So naturally, if our fiercest rivals came to this realisation, their maiden title may come sooner rather than later (whether that be 3, 5, 10 years, I didn’t know), but come it would.
My concerns were to be allayed of course, with the ensuing saga that would once again engulf the Ibrox outfit in red-faced defiance.
Graeme Murty (affectionately known as Murtinho in my household) was put in interim charge for the second time within a year. His sophomore tenure began with victories over Hearts and Partick Thistle, followed by back to back defeats against Hamilton at Ibrox and Dundee away. This meant that they hadn’t won three consecutive games in almost a year.
Derek McInnes was the name on the lips of Rangers fans (for the most part). Journalists were convinced that he would make the move. After all, he had won a title and Scottish Cup with them as a player. He had taken Aberdeen to another level so had displayed the ability to manage in the league and get the best out of existing players, as well as having a shrewd signing policy. Not least, he was a Rangers man through and through.
But silence was all the board were offering and it was deafening.
Then, almost as if they were in a pressure cooker of level-headedness and practicality which they could no longer handle, they resorted to their usual supercilious selves after a chain of events which, to most clubs, would have been nothing more than a light breeze; to them, it was a storm.
Firstly, after weeks of speculation over a manager and no solution as to whom it may be, but a general acceptance that McInnes was the man, they had a doubleheader in the league with their runner-up combatants, Aberdeen where McInnes was still in charge.
Murty’s men prevailed 3-0 at home and 2-1 at Pittodrie, with the latter match offering up an utterly bizarre pre-match interview where McInnes couldn’t remember his team and the changes he had made. There were end of match pitch celebrations by the men in blue though they had just won the league or, better yet, got a last-gasp winner against Partick Thistle at Firhill.
It was generally accepted that the celebrations were brought about by the fact that Murty had managed his last game in charge for the second time, and that he had defeated his successor in doing so.
In the aftermath of their 2-1 victory over Aberdeen, the finally made their move for McInnes after weeks of sweeping uncertainty. And McInnes would go. After all, they were Rangers and he would do their bidding. What were Aberdeen going to do? Stand in their way? No, of course not. They are the Rangers and they are the people.
McInnes needed time to think. He had crunch talks with Aberdeen chairman Stewart Milne and missed a couple of days training.
The Aberdeen fans had accepted it, the Rangers fans anticipated it and journalists had called it. He was going. Derek McInnes was going to Rangers. That is until he wasn’t.
In spectacular fashion, boyhood Gers fan and ex-player Derek McInnes turns down his dream job in order to continue at Aberdeen. Was it because he felt the Ibrox board had tried to unsettle him and took too long thus displaying a lack of confidence? Was it because he felt that at Aberdeen, he was the manager and made the football decision, but at Rangers, he would have less control? Or was it that he didn’t want to enter an environment doomed to fail and become just another disappointment at the helm of The Rangers? Maybe it was none of the above. Maybe it was all of them. But he wasn’t going and that, as they say, was that.
That is, until the press release.
Jim Traynor, for me, epitomises The Rangers Football Club in each of their iterations. His superiority complex knows no bounds and he will aggressively detract any opinion piece which remotely deviates from the ‘We Are The People’ narrative. If Traynor were reading this now, he would be foaming at the mouth like a snarling dog with cocker rage.
The Rangers press release in the immediate aftermath of the McInnes knockback was akin to asking someone you’ve fancied on a date after spending months to muster up the courage, them knocking you back and then very belligerently screaming at them that they’re ugly, you’re too good for them and that you never even wanted to go out with them anyway. The conceit of the man knows no bounds.
But we shouldn’t have been surprised. It confirmed to me something I should have kept in mind during their brief flirtation with reality: it is in the genes of The Rangers Football Club to be obsessively egotistical and look down on all before them with scornful disdain. They can’t help it, it’s in their nature.
And so they went on.
Murtinho was put in place until the end of the season, a move justified by the fans due to the fact that the players seemed to like him, not discounting vague hopes that he may be a diamond in the rough. A vague hope surely shared by the board who had opted for the cheap option whilst the fans were on side with it.
They won a couple of more games with the odd bad result and with Celtic not quite in the scintillating form that they had been the previous season coupled with our measly 69 game unbeaten run coming to an end emphatically by a 4-0 thrashing by Hearts and a decent display in the 0-0 draw at Parkhead despite the atmosphere being “second to none”. You could just see a shimmer in their eye: we were on the decline and they were on the ascendency.
They went about their business during the winter break, recruiting the likes of Jamie Murphy, Jason Cummings and Russell Martin on loan and believed it was a new dawn. They started well after the winter break and despite defeat to Hibs, they went on a six-game winning streak putting pressure on Aberdeen in second, but with Celtic still comfortable at the top of the league by 6 points and a game in hand despite The Rangers upturn in form. If we are being honest, with the money they have spent, it’s the sort of run they should be going on and it shouldn’t really be something that gets the mouth watering. But this is Rangers.
The talk coming from every conceivable facet of that Football Club was that of a title challenge. They weren’t concentrating on the next game; they were talking about winning the title. I feel it’s important to remember this when I get round to talking about the Scottish Cup semi-final, but all in good time.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the phrase ‘Form is temporary; class is permanent’. I like this phrase because it’s true. Rangers form was temporary and our class is permanent. Ultimately, that’s the difference between us and them. We seem to have always had an understanding that if we are in poor form, we need to work hard to turn it around and if we are in good form, we must work hard to maintain it. That’s part of our class.
And so it was that despite being ahead twice due to particularly calamitous defending and going down to ten men, Celtic emerged victorious by three goals to two against our supposed title rivals on their home turf.
What followed was a downturn in form for the Rangers, unable to capitalise on a flailing Aberdeen team and keep the point difference marginally respectful given that we had a couple of bad draws against Motherwell and Dundee. Between the last old firm at Ibrox and the latest at Hampden, Rangers managed one win.
In the build-up to the semi-final, in a seemingly desperate attempt to sell season tickets ahead of their release, Dave King, a man who was indicted on multiple counts of fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and racketeering in a High Court in South Africa, put forth a statement that the club would be making the best managerial appointment possible for the team in the summer, seemingly handing good ol’ Murtinho his jotters, despite an assertion he had done a good job.
Semi-final day had come, and I don’t know about you, but I sensed a Celtic team baying for blood. I sensed a team who wanted to put on a show for their fans and who wanted to wipe the smiles off of a team who cheered and whooped in celebration at being drawn against the best team in Scotland. I sensed it from the first minute to the last and they certainly did not let us down. It was a ruthless display with class in almost every area of the pitch and complete dominance of a lesser team. And that’s not me being arrogant, it’s just a fact. Much like when we were outclassed by PSG; we were outclassed. So were Rangers.
At the beginning of my article, I mentioned that I enjoyed comedy movies. Well, the goings on at Ibrox since the Hampden Humiliation has been nothing short of hilarious. I find it hilarious that the previously unearthed diamond in the rough Graeme Murty has now been cast away as a measly lump of coal. I find it hilarious that an £8 million-rated player in Alfredo Morelos is able to miss three sitters against Celtic in as many games, yet still find the hubris to fight with one of his teammates on the pitch and in the tunnel. I find it hilarious that Kenny Miller and Lee Wallace, two supposed top professionals, feel the entitlement that they do to confront and chastise their manager in front of their teammates, displaying a complete lack of respect. I find it more hilarious that they have been suspended, much to the dismay of their fans, including Alex Rae and Lee McCulloch who seem to applaud such vitriol and confuse it with passion. I find this, all of it, hilarious; but I do not find it surprising.
Rangers have proven in the past three days that they are further from the golden land of humility than they have ever been. The response from the Ibrox faithful is that of a superior team who were shockingly struck down by inferior opponents and that immediate action is required for them to reclaim their rightful place at the top of Scottish Football. But if they actually take a step back and look on with some perspective, they’ll see that the opposite is true. They are a poor team who were simply beaten by a better team. They don’t have the class to match Celtic and anything other than a Celtic victory on Sunday would have been a shock. I know that the argument is that the players didn’t show enough passion; enough guile. But from my perspective, they were simply blown away by a Celtic team on their A game. It is a disservice to suggest that Celtic won the game the way they did because Rangers were poor; Celtic made them look poor. That is just the reality of the situation.
In the aftermath, fans have been in disarray as if the natural order has been disrupted, but Rangers haven’t been any sort of force since their inception into the football league in 2012. Madness is to do the same thing over and over again but to expect different results. At the moment the Rangers board and their fans are operating in a currency of madness.
Club 1872, pre-eminent fan group and second largest shareholder in Rangers release a statement today which tells fans that they are attempting to get a man elected to the board and that they need the fans to buy season tickets. With barely a mention of the board’s shady management, Graeme Spiers described them as “slavish, craven and supine”. Their memo calls for investment in players with the quality to challenge for titles; I mean, I would love a penthouse apartment in Manhattan with a view of Central Park and a chauffeur-driven Rolls out front, but my financial means render this impossible.
The fans are airing concern at the capitulation of their team on Sunday, but they ought to be more concerned by their capitulation off the pitch.
When I started writing this article, I aimed to answer the question of whether Rangers were willing to embrace humility in order to quell their multiple humiliations. I feel that I have made my opinions on that clear and I am sure fellow Celts will agree that hubris at Ibrox is ingrained in their genes and that they will always have a boulder called arrogance chained to their feet. Now I am sure that Rangers will win the league, one day. But I believe that day is quite a way off and they will win it in spite of their extreme narcissism and not because of it.
When there is a strong wind, the arrogant will expect it to change for them; the humble will adjust their sails.
Let us continue to adjust our sails as they stand there being beaten by the wind.
Here we go, ten in a row.