There’s a moment in Season 1 of HBO’s excellent show Rome, a fictionalised account of the last days of the empire, when Pompey and his generals are sitting around a table dividing up the spoils of wars.
There’s just one problem; the war isn’t over.
Caesar lives and he still has a formidable army.
Cicero is the sole voice urging caution. “We are cooking rabbits that haven’t been caught,” he tells them. Of course none of them listens and not long afterwards the Senate’s armies are smashed at the Battle of Pharsalus. In reality, there was a certain amount of over-confidence in Pompey’s ranks, aided by the fact that they had Caesar outnumbered.
A modest victory over his forces shortly before, at Dyrrhachium, was part of the reason why. Victory can create an awful lot of false assumptions.
Last week, I was convinced we’d beat them on Sunday. Why wouldn’t I be? We have the better players, the better manager and the better style of football. 30 hours after the game, all those things are still true in spite of the result.
Celtic will win this title. That’s not cooking rabbits that haven’t been caught, that’s a statement acknowledging that we’ve had an exceptional season and that it would take a momentous collapse for us not to get over the finish line.
Could that happen? Of course it could happen, but the odds are very much against it and it would be the greatest shock in the recent history of Scottish football if we were to flog what amounts to a seven point lead with five games left to go.
Yesterday’s result, curiously, makes it even more unlikely. Whatever vestiges of complacency there were in this team must have been well and truly shaken loose by the calamitous nature of that defeat. Callum pulling the players towards him for an after-match huddle in which he reminded each and every one of them of what’s at stake has driven that home.
But check out the Ibrox fans today if you want to see what skinning rabbits which haven’t been caught looks like. They are quite confident that the Scottish Cup is won already, they believe that they are capable of adding the Europa League to it and now they think they can roll into Celtic Park and take home the three points that will make it all a lot more tense for us.
It’s not impossible. But it’s highly, highly unlikely.
But it matters not; until we’ve secured the wins that secure this title they will continue to believe that they are the best team in the country. Even after we’ve secured the prize itself, and thus confirmed that the accolade belongs to us, they will try to convince themselves that securing the Scottish Cup is another step on “the journey.”
Which it certainly is, but it’s not the journey that they think it is.
Caesar was one of the greatest generals in history, but he lost at Dyrrhachium before turning the trick at Pharsalus, and it’s the victory that all but ended the Civil War, although he would not defeat Cato and Scipio until Thapsus.
In the end though, everyone in Rome acknowledged that he was the victor. The Republic lived on, but in a handful of men whose assassination of Caesar on the Ides of March was one of the, if not the greatest, strategic blunders of all time, leading directly to the rise of Octavian as the first emperor and consigning the Republic to history.
The seeds of Ibrox’s defeat have been sewn in their moment of triumph.
They’ve overestimated its value, misunderstood its meaning and set themselves up for an even greater fall.
By the time this season ends, we’ll see who holds the more glittering prize.
By the conclusion of this campaign even they will have to acknowledge the reality of where our two clubs are, and which of the two is on top.