The media has spent the last two years backing this idea, and waiting for this game.
It’s almost upon us, and I was asked an unusual question the other day.
How much do I want Celtic to win this game?
It’s supposed to be a trick question, it’s supposed to trip me up.
I know that, but I’m going to give these people the answer that they want, knowing they’ll dance the room and accuse me of being a hypocrite. They get their answer, but I’m going to give them a reason too, and they’re going to like that a little less.
I want to win this game very, very much. So much, that I can taste it.
But you want me to put that in context?
I want to win about as much as I wanted us to beat Maribor in the Champions League.
That was a vastly more important match to me, and to the club, and I would have been hard pressed to choose which I’d have taken had they offered me a win in one on a plate.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is about the sodding Old Firm issue either. To me, the importance and significance of this game is that it’s a cup semi-final, Ronny’s first, and a win in it, and a place in the final itself, would set this guy up for a great season.
Yet for all that, I want to win this out the park.
I don’t want to see us beat this side, I want them crushed.
I want their supporters who are at the game, and those who watch it on TV, to remember it for as long as they live.
I want it seared into their souls.
This barmy concept of the continuation of history … well, come Sunday night I want to be able to say to them “There’s a little history for you …” I want my club to hand this mob a hiding, pure and simple, and we’re capable of it and we know it.
I watched their team against Hibs and Hearts and I watched the staggering collapse in the Challenge Cup. The Hibs match, in particular, has been haunting their supporters for weeks now, because they know that if a Championship side can do that to them the best team in the country can sweep them away and leave them without a name.
Hearts have beaten them twice too, the second time with almost casual ease. But ask Hearts fans about the sobering experience of playing Celtic twice this season, in the League Cup itself and in the Scottish Cup. Hearts fans get it. They aren’t ready for us yet. They don’t kid themselves on about it. They had a brush with death, survived it, and are realistic about things.
Not so across town. They need their own sobering up. Celtic is the best placed club to hand it to them.
The opportunity is there for Celtic to do the Ibrox side real damage. We’re playing a club that’s rocked to its foundations, and if we’re ruthless enough we can give them the hard kick that brings the whole mess tumbling down.
If the steel hasn’t already entered Ronny’s soul, wait for Saturday and a whole day of insanity unlike anything he’s ever experienced in his life.
By Sunday, he’ll be ready. The players will be ready.
I want the big victory. I want Celtic to play them off the park. I don’t want to see the “deflection off the goalie’s bum” that I’d have settled for against Aberdeen or Dundee Utd, had we drawn one of those clubs instead.
No, I want nothing less than a hammering handed out.
I want the Sevco players to leave the pitch at full-time shell-shocked, as if they’ve not simply gone through 90 minutes of football but been slapped by the Righteous Hand of God.
This is not an Old Firm game, because that tag suggests that both clubs are part of the same horrible mess. This is not even a Celtic – Rangers tie, because one half of that equation has been erased from existence.
No, this match sees Celtic take the field as the instrument of justice and retribution for everyone in Scottish football who is sick, fed up with all this “the game needs a strong Rangers back in the SPL” garbage.
In some ways, Sunday is not a semi-final at all.
Sunday is The Reckoning II. McCoist has already had his. This is his club’s turn.
Sevco Rangers is a club that ought not to exist in the professional game. The amount of rule bending that was done just to get them into the league setup at all was shameful.
The Five Way Agreement was supposed to protect the game, and make this club liable for the sins of the dead one.
Fair? No, of course it wasn’t fair. A newco shouldn’t have to carry that kind of weight, but then they were so determined not be classed one that a fictious structure had to be created to support this Survival Myth of theirs.
It’s the price they had to pay for wearing the shirt, playing at Ibrox, and getting a license with Rangers’ name on it.
Yet the Five Way Agreement was a shameful cop-out. Every provision in it was slanted to benefit Sevco, and even now they are disputing it, threatening to go to court in protest at something they voluntarily signed.
They know, deep down, that the Survival Myth is what it says on the tin; pure fiction. I know why they find the consequences of it hard to take. Their hypocrisy is just one of the many reasons I want us to beat them like a pinata.
The media hype that has surrounded this lumbering mess since it crawled out of the grave has been less like professional media coverage and more akin to the front row screaming of young girls at a pop concert when one of their boy-bands has reformed.
Journalists have written begging letters masquerading as serious articles, calling for saviours, laying out their wish-list like kids writing a message for Santa. The coverage all the way through The Journey has verged on nauseating, and on more than one occasion touched the sky as fantasy day-dreaming of the Grand Old Days of Yore.
Every ill they’ve experienced along the way has been blamed on someone else.
Scottish football was so evil for “relegating them.”
The Celtic fans are so evil for “slandering them.”
Dundee Utd are so evil for taking a player they’d reared themselves.
Other clubs were mean to them in the match programmes.
Oh, what brutes we’ve all been!
Walter Smith was at it in the last couple of days, wailing like a kid in a school-yard whose crisps have been nicked by a bigger boy, because Celtic “showed them disrespect.”
Forget for a moment that the comments he’s referring to weren’t actually real, just a headline writer’s wet dream.
No, let’s take Smith’s remarks just as seriously as the media did.
What, exactly, has this club done to deserve respect? They are a PR catastrophe, a shambles off the park and little more than a second tier promotion battler on it. Half a dozen of their starting eleven will be well past 30. Eight of their first team players are out of contract at the end of the season and are certainly not going to be around much longer. They will struggle to reach the SPL.
Celtic is top of the SPL. Celtic is in good financial health. Celtic’s squad is young and fresh and ready and eager and only going to get better.
What exactly does Smith want us to do? Whisper their name as if it was an invocation to some mythical monster? This is a wreck of a football club. He’s thinking of a whole other “institution”, the one he played no small part in driving to the wall.
This is the sense of entitlement that grips this club, this club and everyone connected with it, from the media that spoon feeds its supporters happy tales as the inside of it is being ripped out, to the fans, led, as they are, by the cast of The Muppets.
Let’s face it, when your Supporters Trust – the heavyweight leadership of your fan base – is writing press releases about something rival supporters did, in a manner that reads like “Waaaaaa! Waaaaaa! Waaaaaaa!” then you have serious problems, serious, deep seated issues that you need to resolve before you can even think about coming and sitting down with adults, at the grown up’s table.
This is what they are. Arrogant, self-important, entitled and blind to the point of walking into walls as to the truth of their position and their standing in the game at the present time.
On Sunday, the fantasy of who they think they are will crash into reality. That is going to hurt.
I want it to hurt. I want it to be not a chastening experience but a transformational one, an experience that strips bare all their pretensions and grandeur and reveals them, unmistakably, as a pale relic of that which they aspire to be.
I really don’t particularly care what this club calls itself or who it thinks it is, or where it thinks its headed.
I don’t care what self-delusion it labours under.
I care that it acts like a preening bully, like a cut above the norm.
I care that the media fawns over it, that the governing bodies bend to it and that all of us are expected to tip-toe round it, so as not to offend the tender sensibilities of those who cling to it like a comfort blanket.
Go on Celtic. Rip the flimsy cerements of the grave right off its back.
Tear that emotional clutch right out of its hands and grind it into the Hampden turf.
Go on Ronny, tell your players to go out there and make it clear to the Pretendygers just how far from our standard they actually are.
There is a shocking presumption amongst the so-called “intelligentsia” of Scottish football that this club can spend a few million pounds and simply overcome the rest of the sides, cementing itself into second spot and building from there.
In many ways, it would have been better had Dundee Utd – who’ve already given them a couple of harsh reality checks during The Journey – had drawn them, or that Aberdeen, who have been patient in awaiting their own special moment, had gotten them instead, all the better to shatter that particular, demented illusion once and for all.
But the draw didn’t come out like that.
The duty has fallen on Celtic, and the moment is ripe for a beating so severe that even they will be humbled when it falls.
Do it Celtic, for the clubs that waited for years for league membership and didn’t even get to present a case when a vacancy opened up. Do it.
Do it Celtic, for the creditors and the tax payers who paid the price so this Frankenstein’s Football Club could wear the jersey of the most scandalised team in the history of the game here. Do it.
Do it, Celtic, for the fans of every club who’ve been shown real disrespect, that which says they don’t matter, that only this phony rivalry drives our greatest sport. Do it.
Do it, Celtic, for the EBT’s that were never declared, for the trophies that were never stripped, for the governing body that granted licenses when they shouldn’t and robbed us of enough glory days and silverware than our grandkids will be shocked that we didn’t march on Hampden. Do it.
Do it, Celtic, for every lie the media told, for every smear they took part in, for every story they buried, for every exaggeration and inflating of facts, for every time they twisted words or ignored evidence, for every single act of the last three years that they did for the benefit of whatever regime was running things at Ibrox, or whatever tribute band was playing on the horizon, made up of the so-called Real Rangers men. For Gods sakes, Celtic, do it.
Do it Celtic. Don’t just go out there and beat them. Hammer them.
They’ve spent so long pretending to be Rangers. For just one day treat them as if they are, and act accordingly.
No mercy. No let up. Do them. Do it.
It will be no less sweet because they aren’t who they claim to be.
In fact, the gap between make-believe and reality is about to be ruthlessly exposed.
My friends in Scottish football, I hope you enjoy Sunday’s game.
This reckoning will be most enjoyable for Celtic fans, but it is for all of you, and it’s long overdue.
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