Martin ONeill has done a magnificent
job in his two seasons with Celtic. He looks down on
all challengers from the peak of the SPL, master of
all he surveys. But like a warlord of old, he is constantly
seeking new battles to fight. And in the absence of credible
opposition from within the ranks of Scottish football clubs,
he has trained his guns on a new enemy the SFA,
and in particular, its referees.
Hopefully, like many a military warrior before him, ONeill
will find this a battle too far. If he pursues his pending
appeal against the dismissals of Johan Mjallby and
John Hartson in the latest Old Firm encounter
he risks losing his hard-won reputation for fair play.
What happened at the end of the Celtic-Rangers game
was nasty and brutish with players wading in on each other.
It was also mercifully short. Had referee Kenny Clark
not sent off the offending pair, along with Rangers
Fernando Ricksen, he risked further trouble, both on the
pitch and in the stands.
If this sort of trouble can emerge at the end of what was
a meaningless league encounter, think what might have happened
in a game of greater substance the coming Cup Final
Clarks swift action has ensured that the players will
go into that game, knowing the penalty for physically attacking
another player will be prompt dismissal. It may help to concentrate
Ex-players turned commentators Mark Hateley, Andy Walker
and Charlie Nicholas all thought it was handbags.
When will these guys stop their knee-jerk defence of the
indefensible? If you believe this trio, no player is ever
guilty of a bad tackle or a serious foul. At least not in
the domestic game opponents in European games are always
dirty cheating continentals. Funny how they all clean up their
act once signed by the Dirty Duo.
For ONeill to suggest his players were blameless is
laughable. His defence of John Hartson as a peacemaker
would bring tears of laughter to a glass eye. Hartson
a peacemaker? Aye, and Big Arnies
next movie is Conan The Humanitarian.
Celtic have already demonstrated amazing chutzpah,
as the Americans would say, or bare-faced cheek to give it
its true name, by appealing against Bobo Baldes
sending-off against Hibs in order to free the defender
for important matches.
We said then and say again now, that there is only one way
to deal with this contemptuous manipulation of the rules.
That is to increase the offenders suspensions and make
them run from the start of next season. That way, ONeill
will think again.
Should the unthinkable happen, and the appeals are allowed,
then referees might as well give up on Old Firm games and
let the managers take over.
Rangers are not blameless here either. It was Ricksens
assault on Mjallby that kicked everything off. At least they
have had the sense to say no more about it. Alex McLeish,
in his post-match interview made no attempt to defend the
Dutchman who has a penchant for dismissals in big games.
The Ibrox whingeing has come from their support, annoyed that
Clark didnt play the additional four minutes signalled
by the fourth official. They reckon that with ten against
nine, they might have won the game.
They may be right. But Clarks decision, while technically
wrong, was the common sense one. At 1-1 and tempers boiling,
he did the right thing in blowing the whistle when he did.
No League positions would have been affected by playing another
four minutes. But there may well have been further trouble
on and off field. For once, the referee was right.
Just a pity then that Clarks appearance on Inside
Scottish Football a few days later confirmed the
long-held suspicions of every fan in the country. Who told
the whistler that it would be a good idea to go on TV sporting
a Specsavers sweatshirt?
If Celtic and Rangers are determined
to join the ranks of the Nationwide League, then theyre
going to need some new songs to sing. In a spirit of fairness
Im prepared to give them some ideas. Feeling generous,
Ill even let them keep their old tunes.
For Celtic: Tune: This Land
"This land's not Ireland
This land is England
From the Scilly Is-les
Up to Car-li-sle
From the river Mersey
To the Humber Fe-e-rry
This land belongs to Sellic FC"
Tune: We shall not be moved
"Were on our way to Grimsby
We are going to move
Were on our way to Grimsby
We are going to move
Were going to Crewe,
To Watford and to Gill ing-ham
We are going to move"
For Rangers: Tune: Wandrin Star
"I was born under a Saint George cross
I was born under a Saint George cross
Where the hell is Walsall?
Thats where were going to play
Then were off to Millwall
On the following Saturday"
Tune: The Green Grassy Slopes of the Boyne.
"On the brown muddy slopes of the Thames
The Rangers play in the greatest of gemmes
Well get gubbed
By both Brentford and Reading
On the brown muddy slopes of the Thames."
When David Beckham lashed out at Diego
Simeone in France in 1998, he saw more World
Cup finals action with that single kick than Man Utd legends
Eric Cantona, George Best and Ryan Giggs did
throughout their entire careers. So why all the fuss over
his foot? Could it be that Beckham possesses one quality denied
the aforementioned superstar trio? That he is English?
What other explanation can there be for the hourly bulletins,
the headlining news stories, the pictures of THE foot
on the front pages of the newspapers.?
The hysterical reaction of the media to Beckhams unfortunate
injury has been, like Aldo Buschs tackle, way
over the top. Suggestions that the Argentinian player
deliberately attacked Beckham during Man Utds Champions
League tie against Deportivo La Coruna has led
to calls for retaliation. Steve McManaman has been
provided with a handy list of Argentinians playing in Spain
to be dealt with (though the thought of McManaman taking
on the role of a latter-day Nobby Stiles is too ludicrous
Juan Sebastian Veron had better watch out too. Man
Utds Argentinian will be a target for every English
thug (whether on the pitch or not) from now until the
end of the season.
Now Beckhams injury is a matter for genuine concern.
Not least for his team. Already deprived of Roy Keane,
United must attempt to retain their title and conquer Europe
without their two most influential players. Incidentally,
the Republic Of Ireland have managed to face up to
the loss of Keane with equanimity. England could have done
with following their example. Other countries will miss key
players too. Yet nowhere is an injury regarded as a national
disaster the way it is in England.
As far as this writer is concerned, Beckham is a class act
and deserves to play on the biggest stage in the game. Yet,
whether he makes it this time or not, he is young enough to
play in Germany in 2006 (should England qualify)
and already has the experience of 1998 behind him. Then he
was the villain of the piece who cost his country the World
Cup. Now he is the Saviour, without whom all is lost.
The English make a habit of excuses at World Cup time. To
most of the sporting media, winning the World Cup is Englands
destiny. They can only be cheated out of it. They never fail
simply because they are not good enough.
In 1970 it was their own arrogance that defeated them.
Alf Ramsey made substitutions when 2-0 up against the
Germans, resting players for the semi-final. The Germans beat
them 3-2. But this conveniently overlooks the fact that Brazil
had already beaten England in the group stages. The Brazil
team of 1970 is commonly regarded as the best the world has
ever seen. But English folklore suggests that but for a couple
of substitutions, that glory would have belonged to the sons
of St George.
Of course in 1974, 1978 and 1994 they didnt
qualify. That was blamed on the managers, not the players.
Ramsey, Don Revie and Graham Taylor took the
rap. One forced out of the game while still in his early fifties.
Another exiled to Saudi Arabia. And the third, to be forever
lampooned as a vegetable. As the current boss is already a
Swede, it will be interesting to see what fate will
eventually befall him should he fail to bring the trophy back
In 1982 the English belief was that had the injured
Brooking and Keegan been able to play for more
than 20 minutes in the last match, glory would have been theirs.
This conveniently forgets that the same two players were leading
lights in the failed class of 78 and that England scraped
into the Finals in Spain only after humiliation in
Switzerland and Norway.
1986 of course was the year when only the cheating
arm of Diego Armando Maradona deprived the World Cup
of being won by the most deserving nation on the planet.
Maradonas magical second goal when he skipped through
the entire English defence is never mentioned.
In 1990 it was only penalties that deprived them of
a place in the Final where they would have gained revenge
against the Argies. No mention of the last minute extra time
free kick needed to overcome Belgium or the two
penalties that were converted to eliminate Cameroon.
Luck, you see, is never on the side of the English.
And this from a country that owes its solitary success in
the World Cup to a goal that never was in a tournament where
all their games were played on the one ground in arrogant
defiance of FIFA rules.
That brings us to 1998 and Beckham. The first
time a player has been blamed for failure, though the hapless
Hoddle was dismissed as coach soon afterwards. Hoddle
could have made all the insensitive, abusive remarks about
disability he wanted if he had won the World Cup. His idiocy
became a convenient smokescreen for his removal.
Now to 2002. I sincerely hope that Beckham recovers
and plays in the tournament. His talents deserve it. I hope
too that he is mindful of those who have also distinguished
themselves at Old Trafford who have been less fortunate.
Yes, it would be a shame to be deprived of Beckham, just as
it is a shame to be deprived once again of Giggs. And
it was a shame never to see Best or Cantona
in action in the finals. And a pity that after sixteen years
as an internationalist, that all Denis Law ever managed
was 90 minutes for Scotland against Zaire.
Perhaps most important of all, an England deprived of Beckham
will have a ready-made excuse for failure. If only
Beckham could become as irritating and repeated
a phrase as They think its all over.
No, when England go out, they must have Beckham in their team.
Please God, no more excuses. In the unlikely event of them
winning it, you may consider leaving the country. Try the
UK passport office here.