Well done the Celtic fans who crowd-funded a full page advertisement in the Sunday Herald to advise their Rangers counterparts that Sunday’s collision of the teams would be a football first.
Specifically, their contention was that a venerable institution from the east end of Glasgow would be playing, for the first time, a bunch of chappies from Govan who had poked their heads, like blinking new-born chickens, into Scotland’s bottom league back in 2012 and had now graduated to the vertiginous heights of the QTS Scottish League Cup semi-finals.
It was a splendid example of an old Scots tradition – also enjoyed by the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons – known as flyting, which consisted of a ritual exchange of public insult and abuse.
Flyting was a spectator sport in its own right and, certainly, every Celtic and Rangers supporter of my acquaintance took the advertisement to be an amusing wind-up prior to the main event.
And it was a glorious gift to the rest of the mainstream media, print and broadcast alike, who interrogated every available character with a connection to one or other of the sides, starting with the former Rangers players who gathered at Ibrox for Fernando Ricksen’s testimonial match on Sunday and gathering momentum with Kenny Dalglish and Mark Hateley.
It was reminiscent of what was arguably the most entertaining exchange between the two Glasgow tribes in April 2003. When Celtic beat Boavista to book their place in the Uefa Cup final against Porto in Seville, an Old Firm derby at Ibrox four days later gave the exultant Hoops support the perfect opportunity to taunt their arch-rivals with the achievement.
Just before kick-off, the Broomloan Stand was a seething sea of fans wearing sombreros and bouncing innumerable beach balls and inflatable donkeys into the air and on to the pitch, against a backdrop of banners urging the Rangers support to “Video The Bill for us – we’ll be in Seville.”
The home fans stopped short of applauding this virtuoso display of one-upmanship, but there was considerable admiration among the blue ranks for the display. Of course, in football rivalries, there is always payback. Celtic lost that epic Uefa Cup final to Jose Mourinho’s gifted Porto side and when Martin O’Neill next brought the Hoops to Ibrox, the Rangers fans exultantly paraded in London bobbies’ helmets, with banners to match.
Taken together, the displays at both games comprised a classic display of flyting and this correspondent must confess to having hoped that the three-year break from these derbies would allow the two supports to reacquaint themselves in similar style, with humour prevailing over rancour.
Which is not to preclude debate about whether or not Rangers are a club with a continuous history, or one that suffered an irreparable rupture of its narrative when financial meltdown occurred at Ibrox in 2012. There is evidence which can be adduced to support both contentions and the only safe prediction to be made as we approach the weekend is that nobody who holds one of these views will be persuaded to embrace the other.
And, while not all Rangers fans have acknowledged that there remains a legacy of justifiable resentment elsewhere in Scottish football that previous proprietors of their club left a trail of chaos and uncollectable debt, it is also true that the Ibrox faithful have been tormented and disgusted by much of what has passed for boardroom leadership in the past three years.
Me, I take the simplistic view that if footballers play at Ibrox, train at Murray Park (although for how much longer?) and wear blue shirts, they are Rangers, as was. I would have said the same about Celtic had the situations been reversed and I guess most football fans would, too.
But, hey – football is famously a game of opinions and yours might coincide, they might not. Many Rangers fans, who refuse to attend matches at Ibrox in protest against an unpopular regime, will ensure that their half of Hampden is filled for an occasion which transcends internal strife.
Meanwhile, some in the Celtic half of the stadium might regard the opposition as a newly minted football entity – but they will be far outnumbered by those who will claim a record Old Firm victory if the result matches the 8-1 bookies’ odds offered on their team.
Oh – a last word on that Sunday Herald advert. Had its authors delivered exactly the same message online, what would have distinguished it from the ceaseless deluge of internet manifestos? But the old-fashioned medium of a full-page print newspaper advertisement guaranteed the attention they craved.
And, by the way, in medieval times a flyting session usually ended with the winner awarded a jug of beer – and then inviting the loser to share it. Now, there’s a custom that really would mark a new beginning on Sunday.