Tonight, on the verge of a match at Ibrox which has suddenly become less about the football (which is more or less a minor matter as we’re 16 points clear with a game in hand) than it is about other things, it’s time to ask one simple question:
Is it time Celtic fans stopped attending Ibrox?
For four years now we’ve known that the club which did play there once is no more. That’s the historical fact, and it was once acknowledged by everyone, even some of those who currently deny it. Check out the Twitter feed of STV’s own Grant Russell if you don’t believe me; he’s being flayed today with his own words back then and he’s not alone.
The fixture on which so much of Scottish football history pivoted is finished with. There will never be another “Old Firm derby.” Instead we have this new thing, this lesser thing, this thing that isn’t about rivalry at all but about hate, much as the previous rivalry was turning into that. In short, there’s no history to keep us interested and not much of a rivalry either. Because we’re streets ahead of this mob, as I expect the 90 minutes will demonstrate further, as if the league table lies and the gap it represents doesn’t really exist.
Once you conclude that we have no rival, and that the history of Rangers was cut off from the river of time in 2012 then this becomes just another fixture, no matter how the media might want to pump it full of steroids and certain elements inside the clubs might wish that it were not so, or at least be happy to pretend things are as they were before.
But times have changed in more ways than one. The clubs learned in 2012 that they are run based on consent, the consent of the supporters. I still feel that if the fans wanted real change and were willing to lobby their clubs for it that it would come.
Take Aberdeen and Hearts. Their season ticket money is in the bank for this year. But if either or both those clubs allowed themselves to be cheated out of European income by the sniggering NewCo because they didn’t press the SFA to uphold its own rules and those of UEFA then I would wonder if the season tickets will be sold against next year; those clubs have to decide what they are willing to fight for, and whether they want a clean game.
Otherwise the fans will take that decision for them.
When the ticket pricing policy for the Celtic-Sevco games was announced this season, a lot of fans on both sides were appalled. Our clubs had decided to fleece us good style, and there’s no question that both had to be united on this one. For those who’ve bought season tickets, they didn’t even feel the pinch. For the rest, they had to make a decision.
And the decision, to me, is simple enough; are you content to let the clubs away with this, and for this fixture to be marketed as a return to some perverse status quo? That applies even more so when it comes to the away legs. Do you really want to give £50 of your hard earned cash to the kind of people who would demonise our fans and try to set them up? What kind of message does that send to their board and to ours?
Going to away games in general has become a fraught, perilous and stressful affair. Police harassment is now so prevalent and widespread that a lot of guys who were going for years have decided not to bother. Ticket prices are rising faster than the average fan can keep up with. When certain other clubs in the league decided to move forward and support the £20’s Plenty campaign it would have been more admirable had they not decided that this policy would not apply to Celtic and Sevco fans; like the supporters of Rangers before them (and it’s the same people even if not the same club) these guys are fleeced as much as we are.
But going to Ibrox looks like being a different proposition again. This is our first visit to the ground since the NewCo was formed, and if the hatred was palpable before that I can only imagine the bile the guys who are there tomorrow will have to put up with.
And those guys should be asking themselves if it’s worth it.
Because if we win we’ll have beaten a football club that just got promoted; nothing more. We’ll have done to them what we’d expect to do in every other away ground. But none of them will charge £50 or make it such an unpleasant afternoon. Their directors won’t have tried to hang us out to dry. And sure as Hell we’ll not be helping keep the lights on at an institution which most of us despise because it plainly and openly despises us.
I know all the arguments for attending. I was surprised my old man wasn’t going to, but he made it pretty clear that he’ll never again set foot in that ground. He’s seen too much and heard and read too much over the past four years to think it worthwhile, and this guy never missed a match if he could help it, anywhere. He’s not missed an Ibrox game in my living memory, but he’s going to sit this one out and I doubt he will ever relent.
But I do know how some people feel about it. They want to give the team support on the one hand, and others genuinely do love the atmosphere there. It’s become like a drug; I know that feeling well, which is why I spent years going to every game there where we played (including cup games, and they were awful) even when it took me over a decade to see us win there for the first time. (And it was worth the wait, with Henrik’s 50th goal and Lubo’s magical double.)
I understand those arguments without necessarily agreeing with them, and I would never call out a fellow fan for going to watch his or her team no matter the circumstances. For many people it’s just what they do, and most clubs only exist because of them.
But Ibrox is different, and going there now represents something bigger than attending a game. I feel like it’s a tacit “buying in” and accepting of the Survival Lie. I feel like it’s endorsing something that our game can do without, the media and that club’s efforts to sustain itself with a toxic creation founded on naked hatred. It helps them at a time when they are on the bones of their arse and circling the drain, and I would not be sorry to see them go.
So this isn’t a criticism of the guys who are going tomorrow or those who will probably return there next year if Sevco is in the top six. This is just how I feel about it, and how a great number of other fans feel. There’s a symbolism to this that’s hard to escape.
I’ll tell you what would be symbolic, and send a message to the two clubs and to the wider game in this country, and I hope for it without expecting it.
That the next time Celtic returns to Ibrox that the Celtic end is empty. That our supporters take a collective decision not to attend. That the TV cameras focus on that, that the world looks at it and gets a clear sense of how we all feel.
That would be a symbol and a half; the game the fans ignored, and the world would rightly be asking why.
I think it’s worthy of consideration.