When Celtic sent out their now infamous Tweet in the aftermath of Ibrox’s delusional statement on the trouble in George Square, the backlash from that club’s supporters was instantaneous, but so carefully weighted that you just know that it was someone inside the inner sanctum there who gave the nod on the “Old Firm” trademark.
Their club wanted that fact in the public domain. But for what purpose? To embarrass the Celtic board? I sent the board an email with some questions about that trademark and as far as I’m concerned I got back reasonable answers.
Celtic does not really buy into the concept. I know I criticise the club at times for leaning towards it, but I know that our policy since way before the collapse of Rangers has been that we are a club that exists on its own terms and its own merits.
At Ibrox, the push the Old Firm concept like a drug. Challenge it, in any way, and their supporters are instantly infuriated and even threatened. Celtic fans want nothing to do with them or the institution they claim is the one that died in 2012 … why, then, is it that the more we try to pull away from them, the harder they hold on? Why don’t they just let it go?
The best way to understand it is to think of the Old Firm as a relationship that we got sick of years ago. Imagine for a minute your other half was a drinker and a lunatic and a heavy gambler and a public embarrassment. Now, imagine you tell that person that you want out. The analogy is not perfect, but it does stand up when you think about it.
Because Rangers was not a socially acceptable club outside of its own peculiar bubble. Sectarian, arrogant, insular, prone to moments of despicable conduct which should have brought shame to all involved. Celtic fans were right to disavow this “two heads of the same coin” garbage; when Rangers was getting done for sectarian singing and the bigoted behaviour of its fans in Europe we told the world we wanted damn all to do with them.
And Celtic stopped using the term, and made it clear that we would not have the stains of their disgraces on us. Their problems were their own. All we said to the rest of the world was “leave us the Hell out of it.” That’s been the policy ever since.
We are a strong and stable club which has reached out beyond our doors and made a name in the rest of the world, and we’re famous for our tolerance and our respectfulness – or we were until we started behaving like arrogant sods on our own, something that hopefully the new regime will put right. The world has a certain picture of us as a warm and friendly tolerant club, a “club open to all” as the saying goes.
We would be welcome in a European Super League, on our own merits as a gigantic institution, even if not right now for footballing reasons. We need nothing to prop us up or give us an extra boost. We just need to get our act together on the pitch again.
Now, we might have friends in many parts of the world, and a lot of admirers out there, but our neddish former partner does not. Everything he or she had is tied up in the “relationship.” Our former partner is wound so tight into that relationship they have lost all sense of what it’s like no longer to be in it. How many people do you know like that?
People who have stopped being a “them” because they are so subsumed in the idea of being part of an “us”? These folk have become estranged to the very concept of a separate identity; they wouldn’t know, they don’t know, what to do out on their own.
To understand Ibrox’s obsession with the Old Firm you have to remember that the fundamental characteristics of much of their fan-base are hatred and the supremacist mind-set
But what if those you hate don’t let it bother them? What if they have a clearly defined sense of who they are that you can’t touch? What if your triumphs are of no real consequence to them, and that they only care about fixing their problems so they can be better next time?
What’s the point in hating if the object of your hate doesn’t care? You can only be supremacist, furthermore, if you have someone to lord it over, and if the people you think of as your worst foes consider you a joke, or worse; the resurrected husk of what came before, and refuse to acknowledge your self-image … well then what?
And in case all that psychobabble isn’t for you, try this; “we” are “their” only selling point outside Scotland, and that has knock-on effects.
If you were a marketing guy trying to make money off of them, what would your pitch be? Support the new club from Ibrox and pretend that they are the old club? And then what? Even if you accept that, you’re basically pitching a club which still defines itself through a narrow spectrum of light; they are unionist, insular, distrustful of outsiders, paranoid and elitist. Even without the sectarian baggage, it’s a hard sell and with that baggage it’s a nearly impossible one.
But add us into the mix and suddenly you’ve got tribalism and politics and history and “the biggest rivalry on the planet.” Suddenly, as part of that set-up they have meaning, they have some dark gravitas. Without us, what are they really all about?
What does “Rangers” stand for these days? What makes them unique? What makes them “special” to their supporters? And the answer is obvious and it’s the reason the Ibrox fans fight and claw and try to pull us back, even as we try to pull ourselves clear.
We are what makes them unique and if they don’t have the Old Firm to cling to they are just another football club watching as the demographics move in the wrong direction.
They have no long term future because the universe they live in doesn’t.
When you cut right down to it, they are a small planet, revolving around their sun.
Like our sun, theirs rises in the east. The east end of Glasgow.
Without it, they are a lifeless world, in a cold and uncaring universe. They cling to us because they need us … because without us what do they have left? The memories of some lower league trophies and one top flight title. If we weren’t here it would be hollow and empty.
Be honest, how many of us would have missed them, and their hateful fans, had nothing risen to take the place of Rangers? I wouldn’t have given them a second’s thought, and I would have been glad never to hear the phrase Old Firm again.
Celtic exists on its own terms, and we always have.
They crave an identity … and if they didn’t have one running counter to ours they’d have nothing.