On 15 March 44BC a group of Roman senators, believing they were striking a blow for freedom, ambushed and murdered one of the most important men in history, Gaius Julius Caesar, the dictator, general, politician and statesman.
They had expected the acclaim of the masses. They had killed a tyrant after all.
Instead of celebrations, they were greeted with sullen silence. Caesar’s closest friend, Marc Anthony, capitalised on that. He negotiated a sham peace, and then at the funeral gave an oration that sparked a riot. The assassins fled, for their own safety.
Within two years, everyone involved in the plot to kill Caesar was dead.
The seeds of their stunning downfall had been sown in the act itself. They never stood a chance.
First, the plan had left Anthony alive when the smart thing to do would have been to kill him, and second, and more important, they had reckoned without Caesar, who had chosen his successor with the greatest care.
It was his nephew Octavian, then just 18.
Octavian had all the political skills of Caesar. Although not as fine a general, he was more ruthless than his uncle. Whereas Caesar had spared the lives of many of his political rivals, Octavian executed everyone who wasn’t firmly fixed in his own camp.
Gaius Octavian became Augustus. He transitioned the Roman Republic out of existence, and became the first Emperor, in the ultimate irony as it was the Republic that Brutus, Cassius and the other assassins had killed Caesar to maintain.
Caesar’s assassins would never have killed him had they an inkling of the skills young Octavian possessed, and they would certainly have balked at the act had they known that for years it was the dictator himself who was the key restraining influence on Marc Anthony, who would have had many of them executed far in advance of that deadly day.
The fate of those men is history’s great cautionary tale, but it’s not the only one.
It’s dangerous to carry out an assassination if you’re unsure of what might follow it, and you should never assume you know what that will be.
I think often of the Rangers fans who danced and celebrated Inverness’ stunning victory over Celtic in the Scottish Cup back in August 2000, which led to the sacking of John Barnes.
Had they known what would follow that night I doubt they’d have partied so long or so hard.
Likewise, I know of no Celtic fan who was happy on the day that McCoist fell, or on the day Sevco decided Stuart McCall would not lead them into a full season. We never wanted those men gone; we liked them just fine right where they were.
I know that some of the Sevco fans who danced in the stands at Hampden on Sunday last week did so with a heavy heart; they never wanted to see Ronny Deila fall. Celtic winning the double would have appeased enough supporters, maybe, that the board would have risked keeping him in place for another year. That would have suited Sevco just fine.
As it is, Deila is packing his bags.
Without knowing who’s coming in, it’s hard to say what Celtic will look like this time next year, but one thing is for sure; we’ll be better off for it.
As if watching Deila fall wasn’t bad enough for them, their victory may just have shaken up more than just the dugout.
If it has, then it’s truly been a Pyrrhic win because the last thing their fans wanted to see was a fundamental shift in the approach at Celtic Park.
Yet to outsiders it still looks like Celtic is in meltdown. The fans are staying away. The board is unpopular and teetering on the brink of crisis. Many of the players are a waste of a jersey. The manager is shockingly inept, with woeful tactics.
And yet … it’s impossible not to see this as the storm before the calm.
And at the end of the storm is a golden sky.
Because Celtic is changing.
This is what change looks like.
It’s painful and it’s dramatic and it’s often scary when you’re in the midst of it.
Even as our slumbering club comes fully awake for the first time maybe in years the club across the city is celebrating victory before the war’s even won … and you know something? I think they’re going to get the biggest shock since Cassius and Brutus stood watching Marc Anthony give the most inflammatory funeral speech of all time.
For one thing, they’re not as good as that media would have you believe. The league table never lies, they say; well try this for size. After the same number of games as Celtic this season they’re not much better off, points wise, than we are. The difference is that we’ve not been playing second tier, even amatuer, teams all season.
The media which lauds them, and the fans who follow them blindly, are labouring under an enormous – and dangerous – misconception, that just because Celtic is stagnant and vulnerable looking that we are somehow as weak as they are.
It’s not true.
Our club is immeasurably stronger than theirs is.
They are mistaking weak leadership for a flaw in the system itself. No such flaw exists. Leadership aside, Celtic is a machine. It’s been running on 20% power, and some have taken that to be the maximum it’s capable of.
This is foolish in the extreme.
The resources at our disposal absolutely dwarf what they can bring to bear.
Our financial position is rock solid. With the right man in the manager’s office and the right strategy behind him we are capable of burying any threat they, or anyone else, is likely to pose.
This is all about the fundamentals, and when you break down the facts and the figures we are in front of them by every accepted standard. We appear less than we are at the moment; a consequence of that appalling management.
Get that part of it right … and this isn’t even a contest.
Let’s take but one example; the stadium.
Our stadium has a higher capacity than Ibrox, and this haunted David Murray all the way through his last years at Rangers. Those 10,000 extra seats represent more than just bragging rights. As Fergus understood full well when he laid the plans for Celtic Park, they confer a huge financial advantage upon us if we can fill them.
With a plan in place to restore us to our rightful status, and the supporters on board with that and returning in numbers, those seats allow us to open up a gap King and his cronies simply cannot bridge, no matter what they do.
Their club is still six years from a favourable merchandising deal.
They are at least ten away from being able to navigate beyond the earliest rounds in Europe, should they ever manage to get there. Without real European income, their chances of catching a Celtic side that has that advantage are somewhere between slim and none. To open up that gap, we have to do our own part but even that isn’t as difficult as some would have you believe.
I would suggest that a better manager than Deila would, with the players to hand, have gotten us past Maribor and Malmo and possibly even Legia Warsaw. Those who say our chances of qualifying are getting worse by the year are looking at the world through blue tinted glasses. We had the measure of these clubs. Our squad is better than theirs. Managerial failings are what made the difference.
Even without Champions League qualification next season, however, there should be no question of us failing to reach the Europa League groups at the very least and this, in itself, will put us on another financial plane entirely unless Warburton – completely untested at that level and with a second tier squad of players – was able to achieve the same; unlikely if we’re being generous.
It’s been five years since Rangers was washed away in the aftermath of Craig Whyte’s disastrous reign, but what Whyte did was simply acknowledge the truth that still dare not speak its name; Rangers was a financial basket case.
What we think of as that club’s strength and power was built on sand.
Stripped of the bank funding that allowed their glory years, they fell into complete ruin and then oblivion.
Whatever the club playing out of Ibrox might call itself, no matter what history it might shamelessly and fraudulently claim, the similarity ends with blue jerseys and the logo on them.
I cannot accentuate this point enough, and yet I’ve had to over and over again.
The Rangers we knew never really existed; it was smoke and mirrors, a shadow on the wall. They were never a financial superpower, merely a club whose owner was hyped up and feted by a bank that was out of control in an era when reckless spending seemed almost virtuous. Without the criminal indulgence of Masterton and Cummings there’d have been no nine in a row, no Gazza, no Laudrup.
On its own, Rangers could never have bought these players, and these before EBT’s gave them another advantage they wouldn’t otherwise have had and which is denied to them today.
When Murray and his flexible friend were no longer on hand, that club was only heading one way;
“Express elevator to Hell … going down.”
Without a sugar daddy in charge, this was inevitable and if Sevco is ever to scale those heights it’s going to take another one to get them there.
And those are in short supply.
In the meantime, as King goes cap in hand to his fellow directors and Paul Murray pulls up the sofa cushions looking for loose change, over at Celtic Park, a long dormant engine is growling back into life. The gears may need a little grease and some of the spark plugs might need replacing, but this machine is essentially sound and when it gets rolling it will be a ten ton tank next to their refurbished Vauxhall Velox. Oh they can pretty up theirs as they like, but when the time comes we’re going to drive our war machine right over it.
But first, a period of turmoil when to the outside world it will look like we’re mired in crisis.
To Brutus and Cassius, Marc Anthony’s political manoeuvring must have looked a little like that, like the scrambling of a desperate man, determined to hang on to what little he had left in the world.
They were wrong, as so many of those looking at Celtic are wrong.
They ought not to feel bad when the reversal of all they thought they knew finally comes about. The historical tendency of those who win a major victory is to believe it’s the same as winning the war.
One of the most potent examples was on 7 December, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, achieving as they saw it the conditions that would allow them dominion over the Pacific.
One senior admiral knew it was not so, and although there’s no evidence he used the words which are often ascribed to him, Yamamoto’s foreboding proved warranted. “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
Sevco fans, take note.
Celtic is awake. You’re the ones who did it.
Enjoy your moment.
For you, this is the calm before the storm.
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