I have an uneasy Rangers and Celtic feeling but at least two men fill the void amid the immaturity – Hugh Keevins – Hugh Keevins


I have the strongest sense of unease over today’s Old Firm game and the two that follow between now and the end of the season to decide the major trophies.

I have always maintained the fixture between Rangers and Celtic, as it is this afternoon, it is a separate life form out with the confines of Scottish football as a whole.

I now believe, on the evidence of the last 72 hours’ worth of controversy and confusion, that it is a fixture which comes from a parallel universe.

The Old Firm confrontation was never able to be thought of as a celebration of camaraderie at the best of times.

But now it is clearly the definition of acrimony versus animosity at the worst of times.

I watched my first game between the clubs 62 years ago and I stand by every word of my assertion that the relationship between them, and their supporters, is at the lowest ebb in my lifetime.

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It is a deep-rooted rivalry that lacks maturity into the bargain. I heard one radio caller on Tuesday night say that Scotland manager Steve Clarke’s decision to rest Celtic captain Callum McGregor, but play Rangers’ Ryan Jack, in the friendly international against Austria in Vienna was “suspect.”

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There is no reputation too large or too small that it can not be incorporated into the West of Scotland’s laughable obsession with conspiracy theories.

Once a target for sectarian abuse at Ibrox while manager at Kilmarnock, Clarke is just the latest innocent bystander to be stunned by the scatter gun.

There has been a regrettable regression into the old ways.

The clocks went forward into British Summertime last Sunday. Today they’ll be turned back to the dismally dark days.

And this is when Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Ange Postecoglou have to come into play in a meaningful way. Deep division between two football clubs doesn’t necessarily need to dilute a sense of decency.

Van Bronckhorst and Postecoglou fill the void created by a rivalry’s immaturity with the professional respect they clearly have for one another.

Glen Kamara and Liel Abada in action as Rangers face Celtic

They are men of world-travelled sophistication who refused to be suffocated by the constraints of the confrontation that is, by habit and repute, based on religious intolerance and is therefore alien to them.

They reserve the right to be independent of mind and refuse to be imprisoned by how others think they should show allegiance to the flag.

Van Bronckhorst spoke movingly, and at length, about Wim Jansen, the Celtic manager who stopped Rangers from winning 10-in-a-row, on the occasion of his death earlier this season.

Postecoglou, even more recently, approached Graeme Souness in a Glasgow restaurant to tell him of the high regard he had for him as a player.

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A sentiment not shared by any Celtic supporter but expressed in public nonetheless.

Gio and Ange have to look after the football today and rise above the Murkier side of battle because that is how the match will be won or lost.

Remember the moment when Celtic’s Jozo Simunovic was justifiably red carded for leaving an impression on Alfredo Morelos’ jaw at Ibrox when the score was level at 2-2?

Rangers’ interim manager Graham Murty, promoted above his pay grade through no fault of his own and miscast in the role thrust on him, was all flapping arms and uncertain intentions as the teams reacted to the sending off.

Brendan Rodgers was, meanwhile, serenity itself by comparison, re-configuring his 10 men and ultimately beating the 11 on the other side with an Odsonne Edouard goal at what used to be known as the Celtic end of the ground.

A landmark definition that has itself passed into history as a consequence of the breakdown in relationships between the Old Firm members.

In an atmosphere in which all sense of proportion appears to have been lost by supporters it is what the rival managers have to offer that will be pivotal.

It is Rangers versus Celtic. Theory versus practice.

In theory, van Bronckhorst has taken Rangers to within five games of winning a European trophy.

But if he loses to Celtic today he’ll have presided over a one-time six-point lead over his rivals that would be turned into a six-point deficit.

There will be little forgiveness under those circumstances.

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Postecoglou has credit in the bank, goodwill created by turning a wasteland into a thing of beauty on the back of a League Cup Final win and the rise of the Premiership table.

Whatever happens at Ibrox, he will still be top of the table tonight.

In theory that is a positive state of affairs but only if the Celtic manager can
maintain that position.

So there is plenty to occupy the minds of both men and that will enable them to shut out the noise around them.

Douglas Park and Dave King were, up until announcements were made about the cancellation of a novelty event for commercial gain in Australia, two four-letter words in an internal struggle at Ibrox.

Externally, van Bronckhorst and Postecoglou are vowels and consonants, as well as head and shoulders, above what will be organized mayhem at the game with a scowl on its face this afternoon.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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