In George Orwell’s 1984, one of my favourite books, nothing is quite so frightening as what lies behind the door to Room 101. Winston Smith, the main character, is vaguely aware that this room terrifies people, but he has half convinced himself that he does not know what’s in there. O’Brien, his interrogator, comprehensively cuts through that nonsense.
“You asked me once,” said O’Brien, “what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world,” he says, before going on to elaborate. “’The worst thing in the world varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.”
For Winston Smith, it happens to be rats, and O’Brien, of course, has provided for that.
For sensible football bosses, what lies beyond the door of Room 101 might well be the Ibrox managerial hot-seat.
I cannot think of a worse job in the sport right now.
Toxic fans who will not accept any defeat, against any level of opposition.
A board more in thrall to its fans than any other in Britain. A media which amplifies every slip into a disaster. A rival which has far greater resources and can up its game at any time it chooses. And a gloating Celtic support which can taunt and goad everyone involved over there into making every imaginable wrong decision.
Do not underestimate the impact we have on their club. Our voices are amongst the loudest in football cyberspace, and I firmly believe that we have helped to frame their image of their club in the way the media of the early 90’s was able to frame ours.
Our mockery has fed their anger. Our laughter has fuelled their boos. We have turned them against their players, their managers and their board. On some occasions, even against each other.
The slide started with our win at Ibrox. They can talk all they want about the opening day at Kilmarnock and the Champions League exit. Hell, most of them were willing to excuse going out of that competition as a good deal because they think they can go further in the Europa League, and considering that pitiful draw they got they can and will.
It was Celtic going there with half a team and winning that did it.
It always comes down to us.
That, for them, was the cardinal sin, that was the unforgivable result.
That is why they’ve spent the time since pulling their club apart and why today their summer rebuild lies in ruins after less than ten games of the domestic campaign. Because we went to their house and brought three points back to ours. Other than that, this guy would have been given more time.
That club cannot escape from our shadow, no matter how hard it tries.
And really, it doesn’t try that hard.
It permanently inhabits that space, and it cannot shake us off. Their club has been completely upended because we’re seven points in front. In October. I wholeheartedly believe that The Mooch was a dreadful appointment, but then I said so from the start, and predicted that it would turn out exactly like this, although the speed of it has amazed me.
But the only reason he got the job in the first place was the mad fantasy they indulged in that he and Gerrard masterminded a title triumph and had made their club the top one in the country. They closed their minds to the unique circumstances and conditions of that campaign, and refused to even contemplate that it might have been a freak result.
We won the five out of the next six trophies. Still, they refused to consider that their single season victory might have been more to do with COVID than with the brilliance of their management team. They hired The Mooch because he “knew how to win” against us, there’s no other reason, he had no other accomplishments to speak of.
That’s the level they work at. That’s the depth of their obsession with Celtic, that they hired a complete novice on the basis that he had some unique understanding about our club.
His understanding of the one he took over was summed up when he took the players on a tour of the museum in the aftermath of our win; as I said at the time, if his intent was to infuse in them the idea that they played for a massive institution, even those who didn’t know that the history is only 12 years old only had to look at him, managing it, to know better.
It has ended how it was always going to end, and whoever they bring in knows from the start that the average shelf life of a manager there is months, not years.
Since they reached the top flight five separate men have sat in the managers office and this is the second one they’ve sacked in 12 months. Two others fell in much the same manner, crushed by their inability to “win when it mattered.” Which means against us.
Even getting them to a European final and winning a domestic trophy did not save Van Bronckhorst, so what exactly does the next manager have to do to be considered a success?
Beat one club. Beat Celtic. No other consideration matters, nothing else comes close.
And that’s why the next guy has a noose around his neck before he ever starts the job.
That’s why he should ignore the name-tag on his office door and take to calling it Room 101 instead.
Because what’s in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.
Whoever that poor sod is, he’s going to find that working at Ibrox comes pretty damned close to that.