I never bet on my team.  It’s a rule I’ve followed since I was in high school, when I wagered with a Dons-supporting friend that Rangers would beat Aberdeen.  Rangers lost, and I am convinced to this day we would have beaten them if I hadn’t made that bet.

So allow me to sit on the fence while I preview this weekend’s SPL finale.

Before the final round of games, Rangers sit one point ahead of Celtic, with a lesser goal difference.  If Rangers beat Kilmarnock on Sunday, they win the league.  If Rangers draw, which they did in September 2009 with fundamentally the same set of players, then Celtic need to win at home against Motherwell to claim the title.  If Rangers lose, a draw will be good enough for Celtic.

Rangers last lost in Kilmarnock in May 1994 in a meaningless game: the Ibrox side had already wrapped up the league title.  You have to go back to 1979/80 for the previous Killie home win against the light blues.  While I won’t be betting, it’s fair to say Rangers are favourites.

So, if Celtic win the league, I will have to tip my RFC baseball cap and say “Well done, Mr Lennon.”

Ignoring all the off-field shite, about which enough has been said and no doubt more will be after the events at Tynecastle this week, you will have done a remarkable job of transforming Tony Mowbray’s appallingly weak team into champions within a single season.  Walter Smith took 18 months to claim a title after inheriting Paul Le Guen’s equally spineless side.

At the beginning of August I was sceptical as to how a group of unknowns from places like Israel, Honduras, and Scunthorpe could come together to form a team that is mentally tough enough to challenge the experienced and close-knit side built by Walter Smith.  But Izaguirre’s relentless surges up and down the left wing have made him the player’s player of the season, Keyal has eclipsed Scott Brown in midfield, and Hooper is the type of goal-hungry poacher that Rangers could use (instead of Kyle Lafferty).

Kris Commons will have proved to have been the buy of the season.  For less than one per cent of an Andy Carroll, you acquired an experienced international winger with a knack for scoring key goals and a better haircut than the player 100 times his price.  And you stole him from under the nose of Rangers.

You also achieved one of your club’s best results in years when you came to Ibrox in January and left with three points, despite having been written off by everyone outside Parkhead (except, probably, Walter Smith, who knows better than to believe the papers).  And you did it with Giorgio Samaras, too – that was a surprise.

So, Mr Lennon, if Celtic win the league I will say: well done.

But if Rangers win the league, I will call Lloyds TSB and tell them they should appoint Walter Smith as CEO.

A league championship this weekend would be one of his greatest achievements.

A club that sold its top striker halfway through the season, that is captained by a 41-year-old, that has played its right-back in every position on the park bar goalie and striker, that has fielded a team with five loanee players (one of them being Ricky Foster, FFS) – a club like that has no right to win the league.

But despite all the constraints imposed by “the bank that likes to say yes”, the divine cardigan Walter Smith has kept his team focused through moments of elation (a late, late winner at Tynecastle) and times of deflation (consecutive league pumpings by Celtic).  He kept them focused on football, ignoring the takeover shenanigans, the shame game blame, and more recently the FARE play sectarian award from UEFA.

So, Lloyds, I think Walter is exactly what you need: a seasoned manager who can coax top-quality performance out of his people while operating under painful financial constraints in the face of public opprobrium.  He can even take an Ibrox song with him: “No-one likes us, we don’t care.”  Perfect for a bailed-out financial institution in this day and age, no?

We’ll find out on Sunday if I have to phone Parkhead or call the bank.  Let battle commence, and may the best team win.  As long as it’s the Rangers.


Helicopter Sunday 2005