Deja-Vu All Over
Much has been made of how far the Old Firm
are in front of the others in the League and it has even been suggested
that lack of decent opposition at home is a major factor in their
under-achievement in Europe. We would beg to differ.
Not that we are suggesting that the lack of competition is healthy.
Far from it. It would be a dream come true to see the last Old Firm
game of the season become a battle to avoid the drop. But, as they
say, there will be regular occurrences of porcine aviation over
the skies of Glasgow before that ever happens.
But as far as the level of Old Firm domination is concerned, we
have been here before. In the 1967-68 season, Celtic won
30 league matches, lost once to Rangers and drew just three other
games in a 34 game programme. Should Celtic win their next fixture
their record this term will be identical save that their defeat
has been inflicted by Aberdeen.
That same season, Rangers also lost just once, to Aberdeen
on the last day of the season. They won 28 times and drew on five
occasions. This season Celtic have beaten them twice and they have
drawn a few more. Hibernian were 3rd, 16 points behind Rangers.
If this season were still two points for a win, as it was back then,
then 3rd-placed Aberdeen would be 18 points behind Rangers.
But why prattle on about a season more than 30 years ago? For this
reason. This absolute Old Firm dominance came in the term
immediately following Celtics European Cup triumph and Rangers
appearance in the Cup-Winners Cup Final! There were
suggestions then that BECAUSE it was so easy at home, the
Old Firm didnt have to undergo the punishing schedules of
clubs from bigger countries and were fresher when it came to Europe.
Of course there is a simpler answer apart from these two extremes
of thought. It may just be that in the 1960s the Old Firm happened
to be among the best clubs in Europe whereas today they are not.
It must also be remembered that success in Europe is much harder
to come by these days. It is in no way belittling Celtics
tremendous achievement in 1967 to point out that prior to Lisbon
they had defeated teams from Switzerland, France, Yugoslavia
and Czechoslovakia to get there. No team could take that
sort of route to a European Final in the 21st century.
Nor would the kind of all-in draw that took place
then be permitted today. In 1967, Ajax and Liverpool
clashed in the last 16, while Northern Irelands Linfield
were drawn against Norwegian opposition at the same stage.
And can you imagine UEFA letting a Scottish-Yugoslav clash
and a Northern Ireland- Bulgaria encounter go ahead in the
last eight as Real Madrid and Inter Milan were forced
to do battle against each other? Of course not! UEFAs
seedings would see to that
The other main difference is that in 1967 the Champions Cup
was precisely that. Only national Champions and the trophy holders
were allowed to compete. In these bloated days when England,
Germany, Spain and Italy can each send four clubs into
the so-called Champions League, it is almost impossible for a winner
to come from elsewhere. Witness the last eight in this seasons
competition- three from Spain, two apiece from
England and Germany and an outsider
from Greece. Even here, the Greeks are currently ranked 7th
by UEFA. For the last four of the UEFA Cup, throw in two Italian
teams, another German one and one from 6th-ranked Holland
and only France, of the top seven ranked countries has
no representatives left.
With that in mind, it is time to offer our apologies to any supporters
of Slovan Liberec or Hapoel Tel-Aviv who happen to
come across these web pages. We suggested in an earlier article
that the sum efforts of Dick Advocaats spending at
Ibrox had been to reach the same stage as these two minnows. In
fact, both these teams lasted longer in Europe than the free-spending
Gers. We humbly ask your forgiveness for suggesting that Rangers
can come anywhere near your level.
Taking the Mikel
The Rangers pantomime season shows no signs
of ending. The Oh yes he is, oh no he isnt
farce surrounding the proposed signing of Mikel Arteta from
Barcelona is the latest and most ludicrous example. First
theres David Murray, hailing the role of that football
mastermind, international globetrotter and all-round 007 of the
football world Dick Advocaat for his crucial role in signing
the Spanish youngster for Rangers. Second, theres Alex
Clueless McLeish, playing the role of trusty
dogsbody and claiming that he doesnt know much about the transfer
but it looks like a good one. He may have been better off trying
to sign the half-Scots, half-Spanish superstar Willie Urwonte.
Cue the entry of the villain Paris St Germain
who have Arteta on loan to the end of the season and claim that
they have first refusal on his services. Mix in added intrigue in
the shape of Barcelona and Artetas agent both denying that
any deal has been done and we are left with a recipe for the kind
of confusion that the Ibrox side must wish theyd been able
to cause in the Parkhead penalty area earlier in the term.
Arteta may yet sign for Rangers and prove to be a good purchase
but Alex McLeish's comment that the other great benefit
is that Mikel is under 21 and will fill one of the two slots in
the squad we are required to have under SPL rules."
must be deplored by anyone with the interests of Scottish football
at heart. Here we are at the start of a new era in international
football under Berti Vogts and the boss of one of our leading
clubs is delighted that he wont have to give a Scottish youngster
the opportunity to park his arse on the Ibrox bench. Disgraceful.
While on the subject of internationals though we find ourselves
having to disagree with Gus Lauchlan (opposite) as far as
Barry Ferguson is concerned. The Rangers skipper is an outstanding
talent and Scotland simply cannot afford to lose someone of his
ability. In addition it must be remembered that Ferguson has been
playing in recent weeks only after taking pain-killing injections.
Thats something which presumably Rangers and the player feel
comfortable with but it is disturbing that players should take to
the pitch with the symptoms of injury purely masked by pain-killers.
The example of guys like Allan McGraw and Tommy Smith
should not be forgotten, men who played through the pain barrier
and ended up disabled for life.
Todays painkillers may be subtler than the cortisone of old
but that doesnt alter the simple fact that all they do is
mask the pain. Underlying symptoms are not treated properly and
much-needed rest and recovery is being denied to players when they
need it most. No trophy is worth a players career.
As for Ferguson the last word on the Arteta saga (for now) involves
the Rangers skipper. David Murray claims that Arteta will be joining
players like Ferguson at Ibrox. Oh yeah. Youll get better
odds on Elvis going synchronised swimming with the Loch Ness Monster
than you will on Ferguson wearing a Rangers jersey next season.
By Gus Lauchlan
"Berti, it seems, tried hard to try to persuade
Duncan Ferguson of the benefits and the honour of representing
his country. For a man like Ferguson, who chose to lie on a beach
rather than take the opportunity to play in the biggest game he
was ever likely to be involved in, namely the 1998 World Cup
opener against Brazil, the decision was not a difficult one.
Opinions on what Scotland have lost in this Ferguson are many and
varied. For this punter, his injury record suggests that he would
not have started many Scotland games over the past few years anyway.
His absence, therefore, is irrelevant.
What is more pointed, however, is the prospect of the other Ferguson
(Barry) becoming a Scotland regular. The younger Ferguson
promises much. I believe that he could excel at international level.
His style, vision and aggressiveness could make him a Scotland great.
Watch the video of the 0-1 Wembley game and you'll see what I
mean. He was immense.
My concern does not centre on his ability, it centres on his appetite.
He is again included in a Scotland squad (v France) and if I could
get a bookie to give me good odds on a withdrawal, I would gladly
stake £100 on it (Well, maybe £50). The guy doesn't
seem particularly interested in playing for Scotland. Perhaps its
a Rangers thing? The recent Rangers chant of 'There'll
be no Tartan Army in Japan, suggests that the vocal
'British' (or is it English) core at Ibrox has come a long way from
the '60s, when the idea of Rangers and Scotland were one and the
This should really be sorted out. If the team is to regain credibility
then Bertie must base his choice around players who are not only
able but also willing. If Ferguson is going to withdraw at every
available opportunity then he should be dumped."
Gus Lauchlan is a fully paid up card-carrying member
of the Tartan Army, having followed Scotland all over the
globe since the 1960s. He currently holds the rank of major-general
in the Transatlantic division a title which obliges him
to get the beer in when hes in the UK.