There are few Ibrox fans who were not swept up in the hysteria of last season. A club that had failed on the domestic front had somehow convinced itself that it was a sleeping giant in Europe and that they only had to turn up in Scotland to win the top flight crown.
There have been warnings this season that this was sheer fantasy, and dangerous fantasy as that. The result in Belgium, against a side that weren’t that great but who played them off the park, was the first one and until Saturday the most serious.
It is astonishing that this lesson was so easily, and readily, forgotten. They won the return leg, and all of a sudden they were world beaters again. That they then drew at home with PSV has been almost completely brushed aside by the memory of their win in Holland, a win that was the result of an appalling defensive lapse. It was not a vintage performance.
In hindsight, the PSV result is the worst thing to happen to them this season. Those on their board and in the stands who took it as affirmation of their “standing” latched onto it as the transfer window hours were ticking down. The squad was in good shape. How could it not be? They were a top European side and had proved it.
Well, it’s not for nothing that the philosophers state that the greatest lies are the ones that we tell ourselves. Nobody does self-deception better than the mob across town.
Part of the problem, of course, is that they were juggling two delusions at the same time, both equally ridiculous, both equally dangerous. This belief in their European greatness was the first one. The other was this mad idea that we are not a good team, and that we would be found out in Europe and thus prove that the Ange Revolution is over-rated.
In the space of just four days, both have been ruthlessly put to bed. Both have resulted in epic humiliation and embarrassment. Although Celtic lost last night, our performance offered much to be encouraged by, and we started from a place where we had tempered expectations due to the quality of the opposition. Ibrox never does that.
They never do it because they simply refuse to accept that any level of quality is match for them. Their own expectations were through the roof just one week ago. They were telling themselves all sorts of supremacist rubbish.
Before Celtic Park. Before Amsterdam.
Before the transfer window shut, leaving them a choice of two bad keepers, no cover at right back, no quality on the right wing, with an injury plagued central defence, one reliable striker and short of a midfield player with anything like the skills of a McGregor, Hatate or O’Riley. They didn’t even accept that this was a problem until the weekend.
The weaknesses of their squad are now staring them in the face. The sight of Tavernier sitting tonight with an ice-pack on his knee ought to be terrifying for them. An untested kid is now quite possibly heading to Aberdeen and then into a match against Napoli and God knows what after that. The damage might be enormous, on top of what’s already been done.
Because what’s been done is pretty savage. Two 4-0 thumping’s inside of four days. The team they genuinely believed they could best just by showing up dismantled them at Celtic Park. Tonight the Dutch champions made them chase the ball like kids in a playground trying to get it from a teacher. That’s how one-sided that was.
Nobody at Ibrox is kidding on anymore that they are a European giant. Few of their fans believe they will stop this rampaging Celtic side in the league. We look more likely to qualify from our group than they do; even as I write this, it’s obvious that Napoli are a vastly better side than they are as they run rings around Liverpool. Who themselves are expected to win comfortably against the Ibrox side which parades about in the colours of a corpse.
That, tonight, was their NewCo’s first exposure to the elite level of European football, something I’ve pointed out many times over the last 12 months. The gap between those teams and the rest is absolutely vast. They have five more games like it to come.
We are not an elite club. But we are on a different planet from their pitiful side right now, and that was made plain on Saturday. Those who spent last night trying to convince themselves that we have been “found out” now know what being found out looks like, and so they should be more than capable of telling the difference.
They got their second lesson in four days tonight.
Lessons about their limitations. Lessons about all the failings they’ve spent months trying to ignore, and being assisted in that by a media that simply did not want to acknowledge that this Ibrox side has staggering vulnerabilities.
They know it now alright. And that scares them. Which takes care of the fear.
Believe me, that club’s fans have never been so afraid of the future, not even back when they were scrambling their way up the leagues. Because back then they could tell themselves that they were still getting their feet under them. Last season they got to a European final, and what they are witnessing now is the utter ruination of the club they thought they were … and across the city the rise and rise of the one they imagined, because King told them, was destined to collapse.
(Because King told them! Right there is the basic lunacy of their support. If King told you the sky was blue, you’d look out the window and then get a second opinion. When he talked about how Celtic would collapse after we’d lost one league they believed him.)
Which brings us to the loathing, and there is more than enough of that to go around tonight. It is directed at their board, their manager, their players and even amongst each other. In the aftermath of an entire day of off-field car crash stories, that result has driven some of them beyond even the limits of their usual irrationality.
They are going batshit. Check out their forums. It is glorious.
As I write this, the press is reporting that Van Bronckhorst has told the media that it is “too much to ask” that they compete at this level.
Ange would flay any player alive who dared say such a thing at Celtic and the press would be on hand to crucify him if anything like those words left his lips. For Ibrox fans who have spent fortunes on tickets, to be told by their manager that they shouldn’t expect too much … that might well be the final insult.
We are watching a club fall. Not from the heights at which it actually stood – which would be funny enough – but from the heights which it imagined that it had scaled. Think about that.
Bad enough to fall from a high hill, but to fall when you think you’ve scaled a mountain?
You know what they say; if you die in your dreams you die in real life, just like in the Matrix. It doesn’t matter if they imagined it, if it’s all a hallucination. To them it was real and so the fall feels real and the landing hurts like a mother.
And it’s going to get worse, of course.
Because there is a whole lot of this season to come, and they are going to go through many more nights like this one.