Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Glasgow Celtic 1 - 1 Dundee United
Football in Scotland seems to be at a crossroads at the moment. Whereas before the two big Glasgow teams could compete financially with a medium tier English Premier League club, with the Edinburgh clubs bubbling under, that has all changed. Celtic's major signing this summer was a £2.4m striker from Scunthorpe United - and indeed he is one of the better players in the squad - while Rangers have been penniless and looking for a buyer for some months, although the Champions have bucked the Scottish trend by actually competing in Europe this season.
Unfortunately this lack of glamour is being reflected on the pitch. The game I watched last weekend was reminiscent of a mid-tier Championship match. Celtic had only themselves to blame for not scooping up all three points thanks to a combination of slack finishing and incredible goalkeeping. That's not to say they completely dominated Dundee United, they were just the better team with the better chances. When the Tangerines equalised in the 94th minute from a cross from a soft free-kick, the only silver lining is that I had given my dad a betting slip with the correct score on it - a 9/1 shot.
Celtic Park is a big stadium, which has yet to lose all its character through modernisation. However it would be quiet, very quiet, without the club's self-styled ultra groups - the only banner I could see was the Green Brigade, but there are others - who fill the ground with atmosphere from the little south west corner. Conducted by two drummers, the pocket of fans (probably no more than 800 in a stadium of 60,000) sang, danced, jumped and swayed in a style reminiscent of the Basle fans last December for near enough the whole 90 minutes. The game was far better for their input. However the swaying was stopped after about 20 minutes by killjoy stewards, so the fans had to make do with just jumping instead.
Meanwhile we were sat in quasi-corporate seats and behind us sat a couple of rows of older Celtic fans, but being Scottish they were incredibly belligerent and often amusing with it. It was like being sat in front of two rows populated by Scottish relatives of Waldorf and Statler. They bemoaned the lack of singing from in front of them, despite the fact that not one of them could be bothered to sing themselves. There were lots of tongue in cheek references to the help Rangers got from the referee in the earlier match against Kilmarnock, where they won 3-2 thanks to two penalties and a red card (all justified - this time).
The standard of refereeing in this game was no worse than any English game though and I certainly didn't hear any fans cursing the ref any more than what would be deemed usual at any other match. It's an odd situation that the match between these two teams last month has now sparked a referee strike this weekend and it's something that the Celtic hierarchy has got to take some responsibility for by claiming conspiracy. This has given the brain dead minority of fans the opportunity to harass football officials at home and work - leading to enough safety concerns from the Scottish Referee's Union to go on strike.
But, in the same way as Melda Dreep being hit by a dropped ice cream cone eventually led to the loss of 900 million lives in the Apocalypse War (keep up non-Judge Dredd fans), the whole thing could have been averted if Dougie McDonald had simply told Neil Lennon that he reversed the decision to give Celtic a penalty because he had changed his mind. Instead, no doubt looking to avoid a Northern Irish tirade, he told a little fib that put the onus on the linesman. Instead the linesman resigned, understandably disgusted at being scapegoated, and the Mexican stand off between Celtic and the SFA on the issue is threatening to undermine the whole game in Scotland.
Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive.