March 2002
Old Firm dominance

Old Firm dominance then and now. Mikel Arteta - going to Rangers or not? Guest writer Gus Lauchlan looks at Berti Vogts' first Scotland squad.


Deja-Vu All Over Again

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 Celtic’s 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 didn’t 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 Celtic’s 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 Ireland’s 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! UEFA’s 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 season’s 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 Advocaat’s 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 isn’t’ farce surrounding the proposed signing of Mikel Arteta from Barcelona is the latest and most ludicrous example. First there’s 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, there’s Alex “Clueless” McLeish, playing the role of trusty dogsbody and claiming that he doesn’t 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 Arteta’s 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 they’d 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 won’t 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. That’s 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.

Today’s painkillers may be subtler than the cortisone of old but that doesn’t 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 player’s 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. You’ll get better odds on Elvis going synchronised swimming with the Loch Ness Monster than you will on Ferguson wearing a Rangers jersey next season.

Berti’s first squad

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 it’s 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 same.

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 he’s in the UK.



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