Old Firm? Still “No Thanks”

by | May 12, 2017

OK. I laughed…and laughed when Celtic’s Mikael Lustig slalomed through Rangers’ traffic-cone defence and plonked a 20-yard effort into the corner of the net at Ibrox the other Saturday. And Celtic’s dominance of the two recent meetings with the post-liquidation Rangers has, not before time, reflected the gulf in class between the clubs, on-field and off. But I am as unenamoured with the “Old Firm” fixture as ever, thanks not only to fans’ behaviour but also Sky Sports’ continuing insanely unprofessional coverage of it.

Whatever your views on Rangers’ existing after liquidation, the “Old Firm” itself, an alleged mutual co-operation between the clubs dating back over 100 years, definitely no longer exists. The term is as meaningless as the “New Firm” label attached to Aberdeen and Dundee United in the early 1980s.

But that didn’t stop it being used every 94 seconds by Sky Sports presenter David Tanner and match commentator Ian Crocker before during and after the recent meetings. And it didn’t prevent a skewering of professional journalistic standards throughout April.

Celtic captain Scott Brown’s dismissal against Ross County on April 16th for a reckless late challenge meant only one thing to Crocker. Before Brown was off the pitch, he was “out of both Old Firm games.” And the post-match discussion didn’t mention that Celtic might, or even could, appeal the decision, even after replays showed Brown’s foul not to be the studs-up, over-the-ball tackle it first resembled.

I still thought it was a sending-off offence, mind. But the many similar, or worse, challenges punished by yellow cards during this Scottish season gave Celtic grounds for appeal. Especially one awarded by the same referee, Dan Robertson, for a knee-high, studs-up challenge by Motherwell’s Ryan Bowman on Celtic’s Kieran Tierney in February. However, Sky weren’t interested. Their story was Brown being “out of the Old Firm games.” Except THE story was Ross County being gifted a point while involved in what was then a tight relegation battle.

And Brown wasn’t “out of the Old Firm games.” Celtic did appeal. The earliest available date for a disciplinary hearing was April 27th. So, he was available for April 23rd’s Scottish Cup semi-final. And when the red card was rescinded, he could play at Ibrox too, where Rangers fans’ anger manifested itself in one “confronting” him DURING THE GAME, as encouraged by their loopier on-line supporters during the build-up to it.

There was worse broadcast journalism at the semi-final. I missed the first 35 minutes. The half-time discussion, however, filled me in on NOTHING that I had missed, apart from Celtic’s goal. And even that was from a perspective of lazy Rangers defending. Callum McGregor’s sublime left-foot finish was a hurried afterthought while Rangers’ formation and (lack of) intensity (“in an Old Firm Game!”) was forensically analysed by a clearly distressed Neil McCann. Paul Lambert was presumably there to offer a Celtic perspective as a former captain. He didn’t

And three key incidents were overlooked entirely. Celtic top-scorer Moussa Dembele dramatically limping off with a hamstring injury. And the heavy, dare I say “Brown-esque” tackles on Celtic’s skillful winger Patrick Roberts; Andy Halliday’s brutal, third-minute scythe. Myles Beerman’s copycat scythe. And Beerman’s cynical trip, which arguably merited his second caution.

Celtic didn’t commit a foul in the half (“in the first half of an Old Firm game!” – Tanner). So, the contrast was surely a major “talking point.” Yet the fouls, like Dembele’s injury, were ignored, in favour of Tanner mixing-up Joe Garner with Joe Doodoo, before saying “Old Firm game” AGAIN, making it eight “Old Firm” outings in seven minutes’ analysis. Even Halliday’s half-time substitution failed to prompt the “he’s on a yellow card, remember” which usually accompanies someone being taken off when one even remotely significant foul from being sent off.

It was unacceptable coverage on anything but Rangers TV. Or an international match, where the focus is properly on the host broadcaster’s nation.

And all of this execrable broadcast journalism came on top of the usual “Old Firm game” poison. Most notably this time the afore-mentioned on-field confrontation, with stewards conspicuous by an “unfortunately-timed” absence, and the racist abuse of Celtic’s Scott Sinclair, caught on-camera.

The “Old Firm” is a nasty, outdated concept, perpetuated by a desperate media, too lazy to find a proper perspective and too willing to excuse disgusting behaviour as the “passion” of a fixture currently diminished in domestic and worldwide significance and competitiveness. Five-one or no five-one, I’m glad there’s no more of them this season.

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