If you read the papers today you’ll be forgiven for thinking that something momentous happened yesterday, and in a way it did. I said last year, before the 5-1 game, that the best way to deal with the media’s touting of “the return of the Old Firm” was to make the phrase redundant by opening up a gap, beating them resolutely every chance we got, and showing even if the club calling itself Rangers was actually the same one that no rival existed anymore.
Well, to me, yesterday was the last nail in the coffin.
The awesome spectacle of away fans at Celtic Park celebrating a late draw isn’t a new one.
It’s not the last time we’ll see it in the Brendan Rodgers era. Inverness fans celebrated our draw with them earlier in the season like a cup win, and if a team beats us during this campaign I fully expect their fans to be dancing in the streets afterwards.
Apart from a league decider, or a European tie with points or qualification at stake I’ve never celebrated a draw in my life, except once; the Ibrox cup tie back in 2011 where Scott Brown’s pile-driver got our ten man team a crucial result and gave us a replay at Celtic Park, which I knew and everyone who watched that day knew we would win.
Other than that? Not a single one.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been relieved at the end of a lot of them.
Our equalising goal against Rangers in the Year We Stopped The Ten came in the last minute, and the relief washed around Celtic Park like a Mexican wave.
That was a massive result, but I didn’t celebrate it.
A win was what we’d gone looking for that day, and to snatch a draw wasn’t a particularly good outcome. In the end it mattered; history will record the stone cold fact that defeat that day would have cost us the title if everything else had gone the same way, but I didn’t know that at the time.
In the aftermath of the game I said they’d won a moral victory, and that was all. It’s even truer today when you read the nonsense emanating from some of their websites and from Keith Jackson who gushes about how our days of laughing at Sevco might be over.
If I were him, I wouldn’t bet money on that.
Here’s a thought that should keep their fans up at night; there’s no guarantee Caixinha will be able to get that kind of performance out of those players, either on cup semi-final day or anywhere else. Perhaps Murty’s proven himself, and earned a shot. That we’ll never know might well turn out to be the most hilarious aspect of all this and add an unexpected postscript to yesterday’s game. It might be the rope on which Brother Pedro eventually swings.
To me, this didn’t feel like an Old Firm game; even psychologically, I just didn’t feel as if we were going into a match of any great significance against a worthy rival. It felt like just another SPL tie. Any buzz that I felt about it in the weeks leading up to it went the second I realised we couldn’t win the title at home, in front of 60,000 fans. That was more important than who the opposition would prove to be. Now it’s Tynecastle that beckons for decider day; not the ideal scenario, for the lowly number of our supporters who’ll be inside the ground.
When they scored late the sense of anger and frustration I felt was exactly the same as that I experienced when Motherwell scored to go 3-2 up at Fir Park after we’d clawed back a two goal deficit. Had we gone right up the park and scored, as we did that day, I’d have considered it no more than a return to business as usual. The winning run ended; I am miffed about that. I would have been exactly as miffed had it ended against St Johnstone.
Which is all just to say that I didn’t feel like I was watching a Celtic – Rangers tie yesterday in any way at all. There was no big build up to the game, there was no rush of emotion at kick-off time, and there was no major outpouring of emotion afterwards. A 1-0 win would have been a decent result but not a particularly brilliant one considering the respective league positions of the teams. A 1-1 draw at home feels like a lousy way to bring a run of victories to an end.
It’s been clear for a few weeks that our team needed a kick up the backside.
They’ve lost the chance to set fresh records for the number of wins in a row. If they play like that in other league games the unbeaten run will end, and if they do it at Hampden in either the semi-final or the final they are risking blowing the treble itself.
This wasn’t an “Old Firm” draw.
We conceded our winning run to the team third in the table yesterday, that’s all.
Rangers’ fans would never have celebrated a draw at Parkhead. They would have been relieved with one, but they wouldn’t have been anywhere near as ecstatic as they are today. They know, on some level, what their club is now and what that was worth; a one day good news story, already torpedoed by the dark cloud Dave King has cast over everything this afternoon.
Their five year old club came to Celtic Park and snatched a point.
If I were in their shoes, I’d be celebrating that too.