If you were able to go back in time, and you wanted to hear what defeat sounds like, it would be wise to head to 4 July 1187, and the Battle of Hattin, where the Kingdom of Jerusalem was routed in a battle with Saladin where the defeat was so extreme that it’s one of the few cases in history where an entire army was wiped out by an enemy force.
Bad strategy, and awful tactics, played their part in that defeat.
The army of Jerusalem marched into the middle of the desert with no water supplies.
Saladin surrounded them so completely that, in the words of one of his generals, “not even a cat could have escaped” and then, when the Christians were almost out on their feet, the Sultanate forces moved in.
In the aftermath, the Christian armies rotted under the hot sun, and the only sounds were those of the buzzards and vultures picking at the meat. That’s what defeat sounds like; almost dead silence.
A dressing room of players looking at their boots. A press corps almost too shell-shocked to offer a coherent defence of their favourite club. A board of directors who can’t even look at each other on the way back to their own ground, mentally counting the cost.
And what a cost it’s likely to be.
Bad strategy and bad tactics have done for Ibrox just as they did for the fanatical Guy Lusignan, Jerusalem’s king but also a rabid supremacist and racist who believed that because his armies fought under the cross that they were invincible.
What went through his mind in the moment where he realised that he might have underestimated the power of someone else’s God?
What do you think he thought in the moment where it became clear to him that perhaps The Man Upstairs had a different vision of what the world should look like than he did? And once you lose that faith in your own ideas how do you get it back?
Think of how much garbage we’ve had to swallow in the last few months about Van Bronckhorst. This guy’s record was given no scrutiny whatsoever.
His football philosophy was not put under the spotlight. His team got a modest bounce when he became boss, as happens with nearly all managers, and instead of acknowledging that the media hailed him as a messiah and a hero and some actually said that the club was in a better position than with Gerrard at the helm.
Our media is short-sighted, one note and stupid. They are unable to do objective analysis. Which is why you get some of them writing the direst sycophantic trash. They didn’t wait until the Dutchman had been tested. Indeed, some of them thought he was just so good that he wouldn’t be tested at all. The same principle applies to their signings.
Over this window, we brought in proven footballers who the manager has watched and knows everything about, all except for O’Riley who you suspect he’s identified recently but was not in the least doubt about.
Look what they did over the course of the last few games.
I already suggested that the failure to sign Souttar might be the biggest strategic blunder to happen at that club since it crawled out of Rangers’ grave. But the signing of the Manchester United wonderkid was just as mad; he’s hardly kicked a ball in anger in major games in his career so far. Even more bizarre is the signing of Ramsey.
Today, there’s talk that the Manchester United kid might not peak for eight games; that would be fine for Ibrox if there weren’t only fourteen left. How long will it take Ramsey to get up to speed? How many of those fourteen is he guaranteed to start?
These guys might not get “up to speed” until this is close to being over. And if that happens, what then? What good are they except to remind the board what mugs they are?
It’s expensive folly, a bowing down to the alter of bling. Celtic doesn’t do that anymore, not under this guy. The ease with which our players have slotted into the system, I discussed earlier in my lengthy piece this morning.
At Celtic, we’re doing joined up thinking again.
How much of their “strategy” in the window was about giving their manager what he needed? To me a lot of what they’ve done is simply feed their own egos.
Did they ever wonder if throwing a raw youth player, however expensive, into the game against us was a good idea? And whilst you ponder that, here’s another question; did they even have a choice in the matter?
Because when that kid was linked to teams in England, a lot of them balked at the condition United put in the contract; that he had to play, every week. They are, apparently, allowed to hook him at half time because he’s getting owned by Greg Taylor though.
How much of it was a staggering underestimation of Celtic?
How many of them couldn’t see past their team because they’ve bought, first, into the hype they’ve generated around themselves and the idea that we have a defence that was “there for the taking”?
Does that explain the utter folly of their team selection, or their failure to buy Souttar in the window instead of expensive shiny things?
Their problems are much bigger than the ones they saw on the park last night, and if they are smart they already know that.
That’s why their team-bus would have been dead quiet last night. It’s why their directors would have been stunned, silent, on the way back to Ibrox for the first of what I’m certain are many crisis meetings and “what if?” discussions which need to be had over the next few days and weeks. Because they must know it’s all crashing down.
That wasn’t a football match last night, it was a lesson. It was the equivalent of a wannabe pub hard man and loud mouth being taken out to the car-park and given a punishment beating by someone who really does know what he’s doing and is sick and tired of the tough guy act. That was the night their club learned its limits, and maybe a little humility.
And when you find out you’re not invincible, or perhaps that the God’s don’t favour you as much as you thought, how do you regain your confidence? How do you remember what it was like to swagger down the street, when your legs are jelly and your bowels are loose?
When I started calling these the Fear And Loathing articles I used the title as a joke, a backhanded tribute to the Godfather of Gonzo journalism, Hunter S Thompson, and his own Fear and Loathing pieces.
But over time I’ve come to believe that those two words sum that club up better than any others.
They epitomise everything that lies at its dark heart.
And you want to have seen the fear and loathing online last night, as their inflamed forums raged. They targeted the players. The board. The manager. Each other. The ref got it in the neck for not chopping off a legitimate goal. The Scottish Government got it in the neck for responding to a deadly virus. The league got both barrels for moving the break.
That was the loathing.
The fear is even more palpable, and not just the fear of this season but the fear of what Ange Postecoglou might do with Champions League Group Stage money.
Fear that the pain they’re in right now is just a taste of what’s in store not just for the rest of this campaign but perhaps for years to come.
Just as they thought they’d gotten out of that.
And it’s realistic for them to be afraid of that.
It’s not a wildly fantastical remote possibility but one that is very close to confronting them and if their board had any compassion for them it would not bullshit about that but talk to them straight about it, as Toby Zeigler does in a fine West Wing moment when he’s working with his friend Sam Seaborne who’s running for Congress and getting pulverised.
“I’m just getting creamed,” Sam says mournfully. Toby hugs him and says “It’s real, you’re not imaging it.”
Ibrox’s fan-base could use a healthy dose of reality like that.
But in the meantime there’s the fear, there’s the loathing … and there is the silence.
The buzzards and vultures – that would be us haha – are feasting on the slaughter, and in a faraway place a group of men have to contemplate the abyss.
And amidst the tapping of pencils on the mahogany, eventually one of them will have to speak up and start the ball rolling.
“Right, what the fuck do we do now?”
And for them, there are no easy answers to that question.