Celtic’s Mrs Brown’s Boy

I’d promised my editor I wouldn’t write about Sunday’s Glasgow Derby (Editor’s note: he did, you know.) However, as the late, great Irish guitarist Gary Moore said when he started playing his biggest hit ‘Parisienne Walkways’ again, having vowed never to play it again, “sure, I’m an awful liar.” And the shit said and written about Celtic captain Scott Brown’s derby day simply cannot pass unheeded.

In four years on the National Executive Committee of a leading UK trade union, there were moments when one simple fact significantly changed a perspective. It should have been, one of those moments when Celtic assistant manager John Kennedy was asked on Monday to explain the melee immediately after Celtic’s 2-1 win over Rangers at Celtic Park, which all-but-clinched Celtic’s eighth-in-a-row Scottish title.

Brown was already being accused of starting it by conducting his post-match celebrations in front of the Rangers fans, not least by Rangers’ manager Steven Gerrard, whose bizarre week of words betrayed the pressures of his job. And Kennedy knew “people have tried to make an issue of it with Scott.” But, he smiled, “the game finished in that corner” and when “the final whistle goes, as always, there’s a celebration.” It was a context in which, as per, Scotland’s media weren’t interested.

Last Sunday became all about Brown and not remotely because he was the starman in the league’s team of the week. Instead, the focus was on three ‘flashpoints,’ as it was with Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos during Rangers’ 1-0 home win over Celtic in December, when he kicked Brown up the arse, grabbed midfielder Ryan Christie’s testicles and stamped on defender Anthony Ralston’s back, without punishment, then or since.

On 31 minutes, Brown and Morelos were in close proximity, yards off the ball, when Morelos elbowed Brown in the face. A referee’s assistant saw the incident and told referee Bobby Madden. Madden dismissed Morelos. On 87 minutes, after Celtic’s second goal, Brown and Ryan Kent were in close proximity. Kent went to retrieve the ball from Brown. Brown rolled it away. Kent hit him in the face, knocking him over. The officials did not see the incident, although one camera angle suggests that Madden should have. No disciplinary action ensued.

And on the final whistle, Brown turned to face the Rangers fans, showed them eight digits to represent Celtic’s eight titles, then strutted and gestured down the touchline in front of the Celtic fans in the main stand. Rangers’ Andy Halliday strode over to Brown to grab him. Celtic keeper Scott Bain intervened. And a melee ensued. Celtic’s Mikael Lusting and Rangers’ Wes Foderingham and Halliday were booked “in the tunnel,” Halliday for the second time.

Post-match on Sky Sports, Gerrard denied that Kent was “lucky not to see red,” claiming that the Morelos and Kent incidents came “from being provoked.” Celtic celebrating “yards from our supporters” was “a lack of respect, so Andy’s well within his rights to protect his own people.” And “maybe” Halliday’s yellow was “deserved but only if the guy who’s antagonised it all is punished. We’ll accept our punishment if we deserve to be punished but it’s important that both sides get punished.”

Some viewers might have thought Gerrard was taking the piss. Brown certainly was in his post-match Sky interview. He labelled Rangers “one of” Celtic’s rivals, claimed not to “even remember” the Kent incident and said Halliday “came up to congratulate me” after the match. Brown’s face was a picture as the bemused interviewer exclaimed “really?”

Also taking the piss, it seems, were/are the Scottish Football Association (SFA). Morelos’s four-match ban was an open goal, as it was his fifth dismissal this season, though his arrant stupidity has shrunk to a relative footnote. And Gerrard accepted a “fixed offer” of a one-match ban for “misconduct at a match,” reportedly his post-match comments to Madden, to whom, you’d imagine, he ‘expressed his disappointment.’

Kent was charged with “violent conduct” after Rangers refused a “fixed offer” of a two-match ban. Gerrard said Kent’s punch wasn’t “violent” or “in the face.” He insisted that “Ryan was merely pushing (Brown) away to get him out of his face after being provoked.” And the “pictures look worse than they are” (erm…).

However, Sky Sports’ pictures suggested that Gerrard was OFF his face, as Kent clearly advanced towards Brown before making…erm…’contact.’ A BBC Scotland website report on Rangers’ refusal carried a picture of Kent’s clearly clenched fist as Brown is hit. And no-one has yet found a picture of Kent’s fist NOT clenched. So, he got the two-match ban after all.

Both clubs were charged with being “involved in a confrontation.” And Brown was charged with failing “to act in the best interests of association football,” under a rule forbidding acting “in any manner which is improper” using “one, or a combination of violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.” Celtic tweeted that they will “defend these charges vigorously,” a standard response in such circumstances.

Everyone knew this was coming. All week, as ex-Sky presenter David Tanner rightly tweeted, “blue wagons and green wagons” were “circling.” Kennedy said Brown’s “behaviour in the game was first-class” and on the post-match stuff added: “Scott does what he does. People take offence and it becomes an issue but there was nothing in it.” Midfielder Callum McGregor didn’t think “Scott did anything wrong.” Brown had been “assaulted twice in the game for a bit of mind games.” And he starkly admitted that while not in “the game plan,” provocation “to get an advantage” was “fair game.”

Manager Neil Lennon was starker still: “Scott Brown has nothing to defend himself for. His treatment on the pitch was nothing short of disgraceful. He’s been elbowed, he’s been hit in the face. He stands up to it and comes back for more. You get the usual nonsense and trying to put the same eggs in one basket” (no, me neither). “But we’re totally exempt from any blame for this whatsoever.”

Gerrard re-iterated that “Andy went in to protect his own people,” (as in the arrogant, supremacist ‘we are the people’ mantra, presumably). He admitted he would “probably have done that myself.” like that was a good thing. And former ‘player’ Vinny Jones said Brown “tripped” Morelos and told Talksport Radio breakfasters that “I would have waited and said ‘alright, son,’ set one up and then smashed him later on” because…Vinny Jones is an idiot.

But some ‘factual’ reporting was a transparent deflection from Rangers’ indiscipline. A Glasgow Evening Times’ headline read: “Prosecutors consulted over Scott Brown’s ‘goading’ behaviour.” ‘Crime and investigations reporter’ Lisa Boyle’s story said “Police have spoken to prosecutors” about Brown. Yet “after consulting with the Crown Office, Police Scotland were “content that the actions of players…were in the wider context of a sporting event” and “for the relevant sporting authorities to address.” Disingenuous headline. Bullshit story.

And the worst example? Joel Sked’s Scotsman newspaper article headlined “Video: The reason why Celtic ace Scott Brown could face SFA ban.” He ‘explained’ that the 15-second video accompanying his article showed Brown “stood with arms aloft in front of the Rangers support before appearing to give…a ‘get it up you’ gesture as he made his way up the touchline.” But if that IS the SFA’s case against Brown, then there’s virtually NO case against Brown. And proper examination of all his actions reveals how skewed the week’s anti-Brown narrative has been.

The perceived wisdom from the get-go was that Brown “clipped” Morelos before being forearm-smashed. But it was instructive that only a very magnified camera shot showed ANY contact by Brown. It wouldn’t have been foul even if Madden saw it.

The Kent scenario often occurs after late goals by losing teams. The scorer grapples to prise the ball from a recalcitrant keeper/defender, rushes back with it to the centre-spot and plonks it there in the naïve hope that the game will quickly restart. I don’t recall anyone being penalised in such scenarios. Kent and Brown’s version was on the halfway line. And Brown couldn’t even have been time-wasting, as Madden had just finished breaking up Celtic’s goal celebrations.

Brown’s post-match celebrations were un-necessarily antagonistic by design. But gestures to opposition fans are everyday football occurrences. Indeed, you only had to go back 2.1% of a day for the previous such incident, Kent’s shushing gesture to Celtic fans after his brilliant goal. Brown did more than that, of course. But to fewer people. And there isn’t the slightest question that Kent acted against “the best interests of association football.”

Some media outlets said Brown was involved in the melee. BBC match commentator Liam MacLeod shrieked “Brown involved again,” as Halliday approached his quarry. But he wasn’t. Bain’s intervention took Brown away from the crowd. And away he stayed. He acted like a bit of a ned after the game. And…er…that WAS it.

He was no more guilty of the misconducts in the relevant rule than Kent. And I would LOVE to see an SFA spokesperson explain what “best interests of association football” Brown acted “against” (and while they were there they could also explain why the Scotsman newspaper could report, in September 2017, that Rangers’ Josh Windass was unsanctioned for an obscene gesture at Partick Thistle fans because “no retrospective action could be taken against players…for ‘gestures’”).

The Brown ‘controversy’ was certainly IN the best financial interests of Scottish Association football. Celtic/Rangers is a difficult sell as a purely football spectacle (Sunday, ironically, being a rare exception). And it was certainly in someone’s ‘interests’ that Brown be the focus after a game involving so many others’ indiscipline.

We’ve been here before, of course. In March 2011, there were ten yellow and three red cards in a fraught Celtic/Rangers game. Celtic players received three yellows and NO reds. The managers had a heated, semi-physical exchange at the final whistle. Both sides’ were subsequently equally blamed for the unseemliness. And now, it seems, both clubs will be blamed for Sunday’s unseemliness.

Weeks like this are why I never missed Celtic/Rangers games after Rangers died, despite Tanner’s pernicious lie, which he repeated this week, that those who said they did were the liars. Especially when journalists (including Tanner again this week) confuse ‘balance’ with false equivalence.

Veteran football broadcaster Graham Spiers wasn’t “the slightest bit impressed” with Brown’s “antics.” There was “nothing classy about it at all,” he concluded, a more reasoned analysis than many Celtic fans dare admit. But fellow veteran football broadcaster Jim Spence’s analysis was as reasoned: “My calf muscle pull means my daily run is a no-no…I hope Scott Brown’s pleased with himself.”

And the attempts to prove Brown was at the centre of Sunday’s indiscipline are just crude PR-strategising, for which only the stupid would fall and which only the complicit would facilitate.