I’ve watched Rangers games in many strange places. I listened to the 1994 New Year’s Old Firm in a flat in Dakar on a short wave radio; I watched Paul Le Guen’s first game in 2006 in a hotel in Bombay; and in January this year I sat in a ski lodge in Japan while Georgios Samaras dispatched Rangers at Ibrox.
Last week’s location topped the lot. I sat with a Celtic-supporting friend outside his house in Hua Hin, Thailand, at 3am on a warm Thursday morning with the most recent installment of the Old Firm saga unfolding on a laptop perched on his dinner table.
Around 5am I went to bed, drunk, thinking I’d just witnessed a ragged end to an ill-tempered, fairly poor game of football. I woke up, hungover, to find out that I had in fact witnessed some combination of the “Rumble in the Jungle” and the Battle of Waterloo.
Reading the headlines after this week’s “Old Firm Summit” – something about a six-point plan – I thought the Scottish Parliament had decided to impose a points penalty to give Hearts a helping hand in the league. After all, isn’t First Minister Alex Salmond a Jambo?
Alas, no. Commitments to codes of conduct, academic studies, pan-Scotland police forces… things that sound nice but won’t make any difference.
Let’s review what happened using… six points:
(1) Steven Whittaker was sent off for two bookable fouls – bad tackles, sure, but the likes of which you see many times in every Old Firm game from both sides (witness games 1, 2, 3, and 4 this season).
(2) Majid Bougherra was sent off in the last minute for a second bad tackle. Again, something you see every OF game, and this one probably borne of frustration as much as anything else.
(3) El Hadji Diouf was given a red card for bitching at the ref after the final whistle. He had plenty reason to.
(4) El Hadji Diouf was given a second red card for running over to the Rangers end after his first red and dispatching his possibly less-than-sweat-soaked shirt into the angry masses. (He’s supposed to go straight down the tunnel.) A technicality, no?
(5) On the sideline, Ally McCoist called Neil Lennon an ugly ginger **** (or something like that) and Mr Lennon didn’t like it.
(6) Fuming fans, haughty hacks, and pompous politicans.
In summary? More handbags than you’ll see in Bryant Park during New York Fashion Week, but nothing more. I saw three Rangers players (and Peter Grant) sent off in a cup tie at Parkhead in 1991 which had 17,000 Rangers fans at the Janefield Street end of the ground singing “we’re going on the pitch” in front of a few dozen terrified policemen.
Now *that* was interesting.
Brazilian legend Pele, the best football player the world has ever seen that wasn’t Scottish, was in Hong Kong this week to promote the return of the New York Cosmos.
I’d like to say I had the privilege of meeting the man, but he was kept well away from the likes of me. I did get to be in the same room as him a couple of times to hear him talk, though. I was surprised at his knowledge of Scottish football, which emerged during a Q&A session on Tuesday.
Favourite player he’s played alongside? Garrincha. “But only because I never played with Tosh McKinlay.”
Best goalie he’s ever played against? Gordon Banks. “I’m still mad at him for saving my header in the World Cup,” said the Brazilian legend. “Mind you, Andy Goram would have held it.”
A few years back, I had the privilege of playing on the same field as Pele – in Downing Stadium in New York. Of course, he played there about 30 years before I did, in front of thousands of fans, whereas no-one turned up to watch me play in a Cosmopolitan League Third Division game against Irish side Shamrock. But I still remember waking up that Sunday morning thinking, “I’m going to run about on the same park as Pele once did.”
He must have felt the same way on Tuesday afternoon when he attended a coaching clinic at the Hong Kong Football Club in scenic Happy Valley, because I overheard some of the conversation as he was shaking hands with various HKFC blazers.
“Is it true Bomber Brown once played here?” asked the world’s most famous footballer. Yes, Pele, he did.
And finally… I can exclusively reveal what McCoist said to Lennon that incited his fiery response: “I’m fat, but I can diet. You’ll always be ginger.”
You heard it here first.
Celtic x Rangers – Rivalidade mais antiga do Mundo é marcado por violência generalizada