Fleabags And Scumbags: A Dose Of Reality For The Peepul As Celtic Go Six Clear.

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So that was Ibrox.

Some of our players were expecting a hostile atmosphere right out of Dante.

But from the moment we equalised, their ground fell into a dark, angry silence. Not too intimidating for us.

Today we saw Celtic take a massive step towards winning this title.

Whilst it’s tempting to declare the race over – and I said that three points today would do it – I have decided to adopt the Ange point of view; there are still six games left, and we have to keep on putting points on the board.

I write a lot on this site about reality and the twisted versions of it which exist in Scottish football. It always makes me laugh when I look through the lens of this world at one of the peripheral realities which other people within the game here live in.

Years ago, I developed a modest interest in string theory. I know next to nothing about physics, but the idea that the entire universe is made out of vibrating strings on which various threads of reality play out is just too cool not to love.

And on one of those strings is an alternative timeline in which, say, Eddie Howe became manager of Celtic and one where Rangers was saved in 2012 and another where Brendan Rodgers got John McGinn and stayed for ten in a row … you know what I mean.

Pick the road never travelled in your life; somewhere in the universe is a string of reality where you did everything differently and it continues in tandem with this one, not as our reality, but as your reality in another place.

I read a lot. And I watch a lot of cool TV.

It was inevitable that, having read so much about it, that I would stumble onto Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s acclaimed (that seems too tame a word for it) TV comedy show Fleabag.

To call it a comedy is to stretch the elastic somewhat; the titular character is not a happy person, but she is a bitterly funny one, with a sarcastic wit which is impossible not to enjoy.

It made me laugh, but it’s also an uncomfortable watch in various places because it’s about a bunch of people who feign happiness and often not particularly well.

The show is quirky and weird.

Waller-Bridge based it on a stage show she wrote for the Edinburgh Fringe, and you can tell it didn’t start its life as a small screen concept because she spends a lot of her time addressing the audience directly, breaking the fourth wall often, even on occasion whilst she’s in the middle of a conversation with another character.

Who exactly is she talking to? The audience, yes, but who else?

In season 2 another character becomes so attuned to her that they can actually tell when she stops talking to them and starts talking to us … it’s not just a great plot device, designed to show that finally someone gets her, it’s a really clever theatrical trick, one of the best I think I’ve ever seen on television.

Because it suggests that’s there’s always more going on that meets the eye.

It half hints at worlds we don’t see (it’s one of the themes of the series) and hints that there’s the character and her reality, the writer and her reality, the viewer and our reality … and perhaps another which we’re only all dimly aware of.

It also suggests that Fleabag is basically giving these little asides not to us … but to herself.

The trick of breaking the fourth wall isn’t new, of course.

People who’ve seen the US version of House Of Cards have seen it before, but they overdid it and blunted the force of it. The UK version is far superior, and when Ian Richardson, who plays Francis Urquhart, breaks the fourth wall it is not to inform you of what he’s doing but to invite you to join in, almost as a co-conspirator.

Fleabag works on the same level, but she plays with reality too.

Some of what you hear come out of her mouth is plainly bollocks; Urquhart never lies to the audience at all. But Fleabag does.

The thing is, she’s never totally aware that she’s lying to us. She’s a classic example of the unreliable narrator, but in many ways she’s really playing to an audience of one; herself. And she’s bullshitting the whole time.

Everyone lives in his or her own reality; that’s one of the truths of being alive and on this planet.

The world we see when we get up in the morning is markedly different from that which every other person sees.

We bring emotions and biases and preconceptions and a whole lot of personal history to the party every time we engage with it and so you can have five people sit in a room and see the same thing unfold and each of them will interpret it in a different way and each of them will experience it in a different way.

I read the coverage this week of the slap Will Smith gave Chris Rock during the Oscars, and I read, with some amusement, Hollywood stars claim days later that they were “traumatised” by what they had witnessed and who were “still trying to process it.”

And you read that and you think to yourself; what a world you live in where you’re trying to process witnessing a guy get a slap whilst bombs are falling and missiles are raining down on civilian populations not more than a couple of hours away on a plane. These people are obviously not cut out for real life, which is far more horrific than that.

But that comes from a different perception of the world, from what might as well be a different reality to this one, because although we live on the same timeline, in the same physical universe, at this particular time in human existence our experiences and our surroundings and our frame of reference is entirely different and so generates a different response.

If I was in a pub in Glasgow with my girlfriend and someone made an off-colour joke at her expense, that guy would get more than the slap Chris Rock got, and that’s the thing. We read those reactions from Glasgow and think “a walk down Argyle Street on a Saturday night and you’d be checking into the Betty Ford clinic this time next year …” But to us, it’s a typical night out in the city centre. Same reality, same plain of existence … but wow, worlds apart.

I mean, string theory doesn’t sound so complicated or unbelievable when you have so many people interpreting the reality of this particular strand in so many different ways.

Today we played the club from Ibrox, of course, and each of us had our own preconceptions going into that game.

Here, in the aftermath, we’ll all experience it a different way.

But on the Celtic side of it, we can all basically comprehend certain facets of the reality we’re in.

We’re six clear, with vastly superior goal difference.

There are six games left, and one of them is at Celtic Park.

Yet we are contending with Peepul who most definitely, and in no way that we can fathom, inhabit a reality which is almost mind-bendingly different from ours. It can seem, often when you watch them, that their obsessions and compulsions and ideology are so completely at odds with how we see things that they might as well live on a different planet.

But they live on this one. They just interpret it in a different way.

Their social conditioning is such that they literally inhabit a bubble which is pumped full of stuff which to us seems insane but which to them somehow all fits together to make perfect sense.

Try to remember that this afternoon and this evening as the invent conspiracies, make excuses and try to convince themselves that this gap can be bridged, that we”re a lucky team rather than a very good one … and that their season can still end in glory.

Everything that they see and feel and hear makes total sense to them within their little bubble, within their perceived reality, where we are not a good football team, where Ange is not a good manager, where they have been unlucky this season or the victim of said conspiracies …. a world in which last season was a signifier of change and not an aberration.

Honestly, try to hold this in your heads; today was not just a victory in a single game of football or three points towards the title or the vindication of Ange’s system and ideas but the savage, brutal shattering of many, many, many illusions and the intrusion of The Real World into the one in which they have immersed themselves so completely.

It is impossible to get into their heads, and I wouldn’t advise that sane people even try.

But they do spend a lot of their time talking to the rest of the world from that place they inhabit, as if consciously breaking the fourth wall like Fleabag does.

It’s just that when they talk to us from that space they do so in the same fundamentally dishonest way.

See, a lot of their bluster is bullshit and it always has been.

You cannot read their forums, wading through stupidity and semi-literacy and illogical thinking and blatant paranoia believing that these people are well educated and doing alright for themselves.

The whole ethos of supremacy and superiority – which is encapsulated in their slogan We Are The People – is worn the way the characters in Fleabag wear their happiness; as a mask to cover their insecurity, their sense of worthlessness and their self-loathing.

See it dawns on me, from time to time, that this is where the hate comes from and this is why it’s so bottomless.

Because if it had a legitimate target, if it had a straightforward cause, then surely they’d be able to expunge it by expressing it?

But self-loathing doesn’t dissipate that way.

You can’t get rid of what’s buried down deep inside you like that, especially if you don’t even want to acknowledge that it’s there.

Fleabag tries to conquer hers by having sex with different men … but when you see the sort of men she chooses you come to realise pretty quickly that they are a reflection of how she feels about herself; if these are the sort of men she “deserves” then something dark lies deep in her soul.

Think of Ibrox’s hate-mongers the same way.

You have to remember that their fury over Australia was based on stuff that to the normal person would be totally and utterly inconsequential, and certainly not something for which you would demand that your club left many millions of pounds on the table.

“Celtic never even uses our name,” one of them wailed the other day.

Their club’s official position on it is that it’s because they couldn’t call it an “Old Firm game”.

Ryan Jack was whinging about Giakoumakis disrespecting them the other day … do you remember when these same Peepul used to sign “no-one likes us, we don’t care?”

But that was back in the days when Rangers had all the power, and all the money which underpinned it, or at least they seemed to. That, also, of course, was an illusion, a lie, a shadow on the wall, making them seem bigger and stronger than they were.

Back then though, with that feeling of invincibility they believed that they didn’t care, because they didn’t have to care.

They could convince themselves that all that loathing they felt from the rest of Scottish football was rooted in jealousy, and so they couldn’t care less because they still felt like they had the upper hand, they still felt like they were in charge.

They still sing “no-one likes us, we don’t care” but without conviction and they contradict it every other day with their incessant bitching about who is against them and how everyone hates them … if they don’t care, why do they care so much?

They care now because deep down they know their club is weak.

That the pillars on which their version of reality rests are crumbling. That nothing is as strong as it seemed to them only twenty years ago, that one by one the walls are tumbling down.

Scotland almost went independent in 2014, and we’ll have another go before long. The institutions of power – politics, the media, the judiciary, the cultural centres, the arts – are now filled to the rafters with people who view them as backward, anachronistic and an embarrassment in the modern world. Across the water, the odds on a Sinn Fein First Minister are growing by the day and their foot-soldiers can’t muster enough “give a shit” to even protest. They wonder what’s next; the breakup the union? Irish unification? Local authorities which finally end the spectacle of Halloween in July? And whatever else their dark imaginations can conjure.

If Britannia ruled the waves and they ruled Britannia who was there to stop them?

Certainly not the likes of us, uppity fenians who used their exclusions from the factories and shipyards and the trades to do the two things immigrant populations are left with; we got education and we organised like Hell.

Which gave us the smarts and the political muscle to batter down the doors that were once closed in our faces.

It was a scriptwriter, William Monahan, who in The Departed put these words into the mouth of Jack Nicholson; “Twenty years after an Irishman couldn’t get a fucking job…we had the presidency.”

And that’s how it worked right here at home too.

Oh and one other thing … in 2012, their football club died.

And that, my brothers and sisters, was the big one.

Because none of them believed it would happen or even that it could happen. They deluded themselves and they allowed themselves to be deluded that someone, somewhere, would come to their aid because they were Rangers and that meant something when, in fact, that idea only existed in their own heads.

When they feel that things are slipping away from them, they’re not wrong … because they are. But the choice that’s opened to them – to change, to grow, to become more – is the one thing they pointedly refuse to do, and so they reconstruct the world into something that makes sense to them, to something that they can live with instead.

But as Fleabag could have told the scumbags, you can lie to everyone for only so long as you can maintain the illusion for yourself.

And today we smashed through their bubble with a sledgehammer.

As we party tonight, try to remember that.

Try to remember that all over this country the people who have poured out their hates and their bile and their supremacist guff over the last 12 months are picking up the pieces of their own shattered illusions.

Look at where we are and understand that we are back in the ascendency, that more great days are just around the corner, that we were supposed to be the club on its knees and that we’re on our feet and punching harder than ever.

So pour yourselves a drink friends, and enjoy it.

Because having had to deal with them at their very, very worst in the long stretch of the last year, I sure as Hell intend to.

Above all else, remind them of this; whatever parallel realities there are out there on those various strings which make up the universe, we’re living in this one. And in this one, Celtic are the biggest club in Scotland.

Whether they like it or not, they’re going to have to find a way to cope with living in it.

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  • Smokey says:

    Too long winded indeed James!!! Gave up a few lines down:)
    Johnny Green spot on….

  • Scud Missile says:

    Scumbags and fleabags you need to stop being so complementary when describing sevco fans.


    Doctrinal dissertation par excellence James.

    Their ‘bubble’ hides a colossal Black Hole at the centre of their Universe where the light of day dare not go. Misconceived ‘Exceptionalism’ and unmerited ‘Entitlement’ are the keystone of their existence. The’ve spent generations hiding under their cultural blanket. Hiding so long that the’ve missed all the signs that the world around them was evolving. Becoming more multicultural, welcoming of differences with former outliers now part of the fold.

    2012 should have been a watershed event, a Damascene experience that their ‘world order’ was a myth and wasn’t inviolate after all.There could have been a place for them if they had been willing to take that first step.But no, they retreated into a ‘Kultur’ even more xenophobic, sectarian and of such rancid toxicity that they are now irredeemable. A slow death awaits their ‘Kultur’. Their Northern Irish Brethern have now been cut adrift by a Brexit Government. Irish Unification is on the horizon with a significant number of pragmatic young Protestant men and women open to the concept. It will take a while yet but the appetite is growing.

    Closer to home Scottish nationalism is the ultimate threat to their way of life and more and more of their younger members are crossing that divide. The rump of hard core, embittered and delusional adherents won’t change, can’t change and have nowhere to go. Their days are numbered. Another two generations or so they will be minuscule in numbers and looked upon as eccentric. Scottish Independence will hasten that process.

  • Les Bagan says:

    James a bit heavy for me the first part but can get my head round second part: Keep up the good work cheers

  • john clarke says:

    James, Referee William Collum had a good game. CC-V blocked the cross with his chest; did not extend his arms at all and at least 95% of the ball surface area hit his chest and a little bit his upper arm. Correct decision Willie. After the game Rangers supporters were accepting the result graciously. Celtic defense was too good. A couple of supporters blamed Gio V B a coach that has taken the team deep into the Europa League. The Scotsman had a comment, probably lifted from a Tweet “#Gio to Go”. Shame on that person. There were complaints about shirt pulling by a Celtic player which didn’t influence the Rangers player’s control of the ball. Rangers were also guilty. Willie let the game flow for insignificant infringements. It was a top game to watch. Rangers supporters went home with their fingernails eaten to the quicks. Celtic fans had a few anxious stressful moments in the second half but Joe allayed their fears and Celtic’s defense was magnificent. Not all, but some Rangers fans were sore losers. What was silly and juvenile, was the use of “The Old Firm” over the arch from the players tunnel and in other places. Great ammunition for the Sydney litigants. How Dumb

  • Jim Duffy says:

    That was a hard read James for a humble football fan,don’t get me wrong I like to read ,a j Cronin,John Buchan ,Wilbur Smith ,who would have been a him,jack London , brilliant, would have been a Barrie,but apart from that you’re right.

  • JT says:

    Excellent article, especially nailing the rangers/sevco/hun world in which they live. Alice in Wonderland stuff.

  • YorkshireBhoy says:

    James, amazing piece! Excellent! Thanks for that!

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