On 15 March 44BC a group of Roman senators, believing they were striking a blow for freedom, ambushed and murdered one of the most important men in history, Gaius Julius Caesar, the dictator, general, politician and statesman.
They had expected the acclaim of the masses. They had, after all, killed a tyrant.
Instead of celebrations, they were greeted with sullen silence.
Caesar’s closest friend, Marc Anthony, capitalised on that. He negotiated a sham peace, and then at the funeral gave an oration that sparked a riot. The assassins fled, for their own safety.
Within two years, everyone involved in the plot to kill Caesar was dead.
The seeds of their stunning downfall had been sown in the act itself. They never stood a chance.
First, the plan had left Anthony alive when the smart thing to do would have been to kill him, and second, and more important, they had reckoned without Caesar himself, who had chosen his successor with the greatest care.
It was his nephew Octavian, then just 18.
Octavian had all the political skills of Caesar.
Although not as fine a general, he was more ruthless than his uncle. Whereas Caesar had spared the lives of many of his political rivals when he took power, Octavian executed everyone who wasn’t firmly fixed in his own camp.
Gaius Octavian became Augustus. He transitioned the Roman Republic out of existence, and became the first Emperor, in the ultimate irony as it was the Republic that Brutus, Cassius and the other assassins had killed Caesar to maintain.
Caesar’s assassins would never have killed him had they an inkling of the skills young Octavian possessed, and they would certainly have balked at the act had they known that for years it was the dictator himself who was the key restraining influence on Marc Anthony, who would have had many of them executed far in advance of that deadly day.
The fate of those men is history’s great cautionary tale, but it’s not the only one. It’s dangerous to carry out an assassination if you’re unsure of what might follow it, and you should never assume you know what that will be.
I think often of the Rangers fans who danced and celebrated Inverness’ stunning victory over Celtic in the Scottish Cup back in August 2000, and the sacking of John Barnes.
Had they known what would follow that night I doubt they’d have partied so long or so hard.
Likewise, I know of no Celtic fan who was happy on the day that McCoist fell, or on the day Sevco decided Stuart McCall would not lead them into a full season.
We never wanted those men gone; we liked them just fine right where they were.
I know that some of the Sevco fans who danced in the stands at Hampden on when they knocked us out of the Scottish Cup did so with a heavy heart; they never wanted to see Ronny Deila fall. Celtic winning the double would have appeased enough supporters, maybe, that the board would have risked keeping him in place for another year.
That would have suited many of their fans just fine.
As it was, Deila packed his bags. Without knowing who was coming in, it was hard to say what Celtic would look like by the same time next year, but one thing was for sure; everything would be different.
And different it certainly was. The next manager of Celtic was Brendan Rodgers. He left Scotland without losing a single domestic trophy.
His was a departure, not an execution, and at Ibrox they celebrated it like Christmas. But Lennon initially surprised them. He secured another Treble. We won four of them in a row. I look back often to the cup semi-final of 2016 … it was the worst thing that ever happened to Sevco and one of the worst things ever to befall Ibrox.
It is hilarious to me that it didn’t even end with them winning the cup.
Last season was their moment in the sun. But by this time last year, another leader was on the brink of falling. Lennon may kid himself on that we regret our protests, but I know that at Ibrox they would have kept him in charge of us for years. He was exhausted, beaten, a man with no clear idea how to move the club forward. They hated that he fell.
As if his falling wasn’t bad enough for them, their victory might have shaken up more than just the dugout. At the time, with the board making grandiose promises, it seemed as if our whole club might be transformed. But fate still had one last awful hand to deal us.
We had the fiasco of the Eddie Howe situation. Ibrox fans were gleeful when he turned us down, and plunged us into one of the great crises of our history.
And then we appointed Ange Postecoglou. Their glee was even greater. But Caesars enemies were just as dismissive of his 18-year-old heir. They never wondered what qualities had led to his choosing. They never concerned themselves with what talents he might possess. They simply saw a lanky youth whose greatest asset was that he inherited the name.
For Celtic, as with the Caesarean party, it was in fact the storm before the calm.
And at the end of the storm is a golden sky.
Because Celtic was changing, and this is what that change looks like. Change is painful and it’s dramatic and it’s often scary when you’re in the midst of it. Certainly, our early season form was scary. That’s when the press started talking about third place finishes and all manner of other nonsense, and they believed every word of it.
But our slumbering club has come fully awake for the first time since it appointed Rodgers in the aftermath of that semi-final setback, and even as it does so the club across the city is about to face a challenging summer of its own … and you know something?
They’ve already had the biggest shock since Cassius and Brutus stood watching Marc Anthony give the most inflammatory funeral speech of all time.
For one thing, they were never as good as the media would have had us believe. The league table never lies, they say, but as I’ve always pointed out, it does often exaggerate and last season’s 25-point gap was not remotely a reflection of the strengths of the two clubs.
Too many heard King’s glib “house of cards” prediction and believed it. More fool them. As I’ve said over and over again, Celtic is too strong for that to happen. Too many of our fundamentals are good. The power of this club has been consistently underestimated … because bad leadership has shackled us when we should have been pushing ahead.
The media which lauds their club, and the fans who follow them blindly, were labouring under an enormous – and dangerous – misconception, that just because Celtic was stagnant and vulnerable looking that we were somehow as weak as they are.
But it was not true. Our club is immeasurably stronger than theirs is. The resources at our disposal absolutely dwarf what they can bring to bear. Our financial position is rock solid. With the right man in the manager’s office and the right strategy behind him we were always capable of burying any threat they, or anyone else, was likely to pose.
This is all about the fundamentals, and when you break down the facts and the figures we are in front of them by every accepted standard. We sometimes appear less than we are as a consequence of appalling management.
But this doesn’t offer an accurate picture, and only a complete fool would believe that it does.
Let’s take but one example; the stadium.
Our stadium has a higher capacity than Ibrox, and this haunted David Murray all the way through his last years at Rangers. Those 10,000 extra seats represent more than just bragging rights. As Fergus understood full well when he laid the plans for Celtic Park, they confer a huge financial advantage upon us if we can fill them.
With the supporters behind Ange in huge numbers, those seats allow us to open up a gap Park and his cronies simply cannot bridge, no matter what they do.
Their club is still years from any comparable merchandising deal.
Even without Champions League qualification next season, there should be no question of us failing to reach the Europa League Groups at the very least and this, in itself, makes up at least some of the monies that would be lost to us if we didn’t win this title.
And we will win this title. Because this club looks even stronger than it was now in the year before Brendan Rodgers got pissed off with a summer of transfer market stasis.
It’s been ten years since Rangers was washed away in the aftermath of Craig Whyte’s disastrous reign, but what Whyte did was simply acknowledge the truth that still dare not speak its name; Rangers was a financial basket case.
Sevco is a financial basket case too, for all their recent boasting in the papers.
What we think of as Rangers’ strength and power was built on sand. Stripped of the bank funding that allowed their glory years, they fell into complete ruin and then oblivion. Whatever the club playing out of Ibrox might call itself, no matter what history it might shamelessly and fraudulently claim, the similarity ends with blue jerseys and the logo on them.
I cannot accentuate this point enough, and yet I’ve had to over and over again.
The Rangers we knew never really existed; it was smoke and mirrors, a shadow on the wall. They were never a financial superpower, merely a club whose owner was hyped up and feted by a bank that was out of control in an era when reckless spending seemed almost virtuous. Without that there’d have been no nine in a row, no Gazza, no Laudrup.
On its own, Rangers could never have bought these players.
When Murray and his flexible friend were no longer on hand, that club was only heading one way; “Express elevator to Hell … going down.”
Without a sugar daddy in charge, this was inevitable and Sevco is making every mistake that they made and probably a few more besides.
In the meantime, over at Celtic Park, a long dormant engine has growled back into life. The gears may need a little grease and some of the spark plugs might need replacing in the summer, but this machine is essentially sound and it’s already rolling.
Ange has had a mere eight months. By the time the next campaign we be a ten-ton tank next to their refurbished Vauxhall Velox. Oh they can pretty up theirs as they like, but when the time comes we’re going to drive our war machine right over it.
We have emerged from a period of turmoil when to the outside world it looked like we’re mired in crisis. To Brutus and Cassius, Marc Anthony’s political manoeuvring must have looked a little like that, like the scrambling of a desperate man, determined to hang on to what little he had left in the world. And all the while they ignored the boy who would become the man. The man who would become the emperor.
The same mistake was made with Ange Postecoglou.
When this season ends, and Celtic has resumed its spot at the pinnacle of the game, putting in place something that could dominate it here for years, there will be a lot of casting about for blame over there, but they ought not to feel so bad about it.
The historical tendency of those who win a major battle is to believe it’s the same as winning the war. They won last season’s title, and that was good as far as it went … it stopped the ten, and so it seems to mean more than it actually does in the long historical sweep. We have other goals, and they will become clear in time.
For now, let’s not dwell on the battle; let’s dwell on the war.
One of the most potent examples of winning the battle but losing the war came on 7 December, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, achieving as they saw it the conditions that would allow them dominion over the Pacific.
One senior officer knew it was not so, and although there’s no evidence he used the words which are often ascribed to him, Yamamoto’s foreboding proved warranted. “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
At the end of last season, those words should have been ringing round the halls of Ibrox. Because this club is fully awake now, and Ange Postecoglou is the leader it has been waiting for. Tonight we play in Europe … but the real damage will be done here at home.
Our summer was the storm before the calm.
What a wonderful place we’re in as we await the action tonight, friends.