Tag Archives: self-delusion

Are Celtic Just a Scottish Version of Man U That Leeds Love to Hate? – by Rob Atkinson

The Old Firm divide

The Old Firm divide

Wisely or not, this blog decided over the weekend to stick its nose into the current kerfuffle between those two friendly members of the “Old Firm” – Celtic and Rangers, both of the Glasgow parish (I use that word in its loosest possible sense). This latest spat has arisen from the decision of some Celtic fans to take out an ad in a Scottish Sunday paper, announcing to the world that they don’t recognise the post Ibrox crisis Rangers as the club that has existed since March of 1872 (they somehow managed to survive those first 16 years before Celtic were formed to give their lives some meaning…)

For these bright, media-savvy Bhoys, who invested a cool three grand into said advert, the team currently playing as Rangers is a new one that the mighty Celtic have no history with. Old Rangers are dead, they say. The Old Firm is dead. 126 years of history can simply be wished – or advertised – away, apparently. All specious nonsense, of course – but understandably, feelings are running high on both sides, as each attempts to out-justify the other.

My main aim in writing the original article (and one previous follow-up) was simply to highlight the advert nonsense, point out my quaintly romantic notion that a football club is about fans, history and tradition and not money, corporations and receivers – and then leave the combatants to get on with it. Which they did, and at some length too. They’re still at it, you can faintly hear the hullabaloo, just a few blogs back. And I have to say, wading through all that comment and counter-comment has opened my eyes to the depths of the mutual hatred up there. At times, it was like bobbing for apples in a cesspit.

I also have to say that, of the two, my sympathies are more and more with the Rangers lot – whereas prior to all of this, I always struggled to decide who I wanted to win a particular Old Firm match. I watched mainly for the blood and studs spectacle of it all – real old school stuff that you don’t see in England outside of a women’s hockey international.

It became clearer and clearer to me though that the Celtic side of things reminded me, more and more, of the attitude struck by those old foes of Leeds United from the Theatre of Hollow Myths – on the wrong side of the Pennines. You know the sort of thing – biggest and best, greatest in the world, don’t you dare say a word against us, blah blah blah. The fans of the Pride of Devon – as we fondly refer to Man U hereabouts – have swallowed all the propaganda, hook line and sinker. They really believe all the merchandise market-inspired guff the media feed them, and they recycle it as fact. Laughable, if irritating. We all know a deluded scum fan – so you know what I mean. But the club itself is just as bad, always wanting an unfair advantage, always demanding the benefit of the doubt, always cynically cheating, lying and manipulating – even now that Ferguson is history. And so, to an extent, it appears to be with Glasgow Celtic.

The quote below is from a Rangers fan in the thick of the argument that has been raging on this blog for a few days now. There is so much there that reminds me irresistibly of Man U and the way they try to go about getting the best of everything and sod everyone else. It’s a really, really harsh thing to say – but aren’t Celtic simply Man U-Lite?

“So, did Celtic play by the rules when they signed Juninho using the same EBT scheme that their support slaughter Rangers for. Did they play by the rules when we got to the UEFA final and asked for an extension to the season to avoid playing four games in one week? I think your CEO said that you were going on a Far East tour and couldn’t agree. Did those matches ever take place? What about the game you got cancelled following the death of a player who had left you years previously? If you can’t remember it then it was when you were in the middle of an injury crisis. Remember the qame where you had to beat our score to win the league and your star striker accused the team we beat at home 6-1 of cheating while his team mates accused the goalkeeper of the team you were beating 4-0 at the same time away from home of trying too hard. I think you even missed a penalty that day. What about when you caused a referee strike in Scotland and we had to import refs from Europe because you said they were all cheats?

Oh you play by the rules all right. That’s why you ran to the SFA to try and get titles and trophies stripped from us so that you could jump from our shadows. You knew the rules all right when you got the Swiss team thrown out of Europe who had just humped you and then a few years later your knowledge of the rules came to the fore again when Legia had to get thrown out of the CL after also humping you because a player they had assumed had served a suspension played two minutes when they were 6-1 up on aggregate. Remember a few weeks later when you signed the guy on loan and you went to the SPL and said I know we signed him late however it is just a technicality …..don’t be sticking to them rules.

Playing by the rules…..pass the sick bucket.”

I’ve purposely posted that in blue, so that no Celtic eye will be able to read it and thus suffer some hurt to their tender feelings. But, for the rest of us, there’s this ineffable sense of one club trying to run the game – of the tail trying to wag the dog, north of the border, just as it has been over two decades in England. It’s all so undesirably familiar, so tiresomely reminiscent of the way in which Man U have gone about dominating English football ever since Murdoch bought it for them in 1992, after one too many failed title bids, thwarted by our own beloved Whites.

Given the tradition whereby Celtic fans tend to have Man U as a second team, their “English” team (Rangers are more yer Liverpool), I suppose most Celts won’t be in the least offended by a comparison between them and the Pride of Devon. But believe me, it’s not intended in a good way – most football fans who haven’t swallowed all the market-driven media pap would confirm that it’s a mortal insult to be compared to such a plastic franchise. But there you go – none so blind as those who won’t see.

A footnote to the original issue of whether or not Celtic fans genuinely consider there is no history between their lordly selves and Rangers FC in the here and now: I said it would be interesting to see the reaction among the packed Bhoys at one end of the ground if and when their favourites scored. And it was interesting – if utterly predictable. They celebrated, of course – and they celebrated wildly, exploding with delight, as though their team had defeated Real Madrid themselves in a Champions League Final. The noise damn near knocked out one of my trusty LG flatscreen speakers as the hooped hordes yelled, screamed and cavorted in triumph. Not that they were remotely bovvered, of course. Because Rangers FC means nothing to them now. Right, Bhoys?

Talk about posturing for effect. Talk about self-delusion, and striking an attitude that doesn’t stand up to any serious examination. Talk about being exactly like the intrinsically detestable Man U – the club we routinely refer to as “the scum”. Ask yourselves: can Celtic really claim to be any better than that?

It Was the Man U Myth, NOT the Job, That Was Too Big for Moyes – by Rob Atkinson

Moyes - brought down by a myth

Moyes – brought down by a myth

So the dust is settling on David Moyes’ departure from the appropriately-dubbed Theatre of Hollow Myths. It was the increasingly poignant tragedy that had been waiting to happen as Moyes appeared to become progressively more haunted and helpless with every passing interview, following each successive, damaging defeat. Now, in the aftermath of his inevitable sacking, the media have gathered like a host of scavenging vultures and they’re asking one question above all. David Moyes: was he really clueless – or merely luckless?

The thing is, though – this has not really been about David Moyes at all. His sad fate would have been the natural destiny of any inheritor of what was clearly a poisoned chalice, made more poisonous by the addition of the lethal factor of self-delusion. Because Manchester United have succeeded in convincing themselves that they are something special; the Biggest Club in the World™. It is a problem that is unlikely to go away in the short term, whoever eventually succeeds the former Everton boss. The problem that Manchester United have is that the myth they have been complicit in building up could well now be the one single factor that reduces them to the ranks of also-rans.

Manchester United have willingly, eagerly saddled themselves with this “Biggest Club in the League/World/Universe” tag, one that they were only ever even apparently able to live up to through the – let’s say “unique” – approach of former manager Alex Ferguson. His intimidatory, choleric style and remorseless insistence on the accrual of each and every marginal advantage available, resulted in a domination of the rest of the pack. In a game of fine margins, Ferguson’s regime – his mind games, his fear factor, his volcanic tantrums – continually gave his club the edge over the rest. The truth of this is amply illustrated by the club’s title success last season – with a squad probably the fourth or fifth best in the league – and conversely by their hapless capitulation this season. A serpent with its head cut off is bound to find that its biting potential is not quite what it was.

Even on the morning of Moyes’ sacking, as BBC radio went into debate and post-mortem frenzy, the usual suspects were still at it. Ex-Man U player Mickey Thomas talked fluent bollocks about Moyes taking charge of “the biggest club in the world”, having to cope with “the biggest job in the world”. This lazy tendency towards hyperbole has long caused hysterical laughter in places like Munich, Madrid, Barcelona, Milan and Turin – even in London and Liverpool – and understandably so. Take any empirical measure of the size of a club – stadium capacity, attendance records, trophies won – anything – and Manchester United would have to acknowledge, in the cold light of day, that they are not world leaders. And yet the myth has persisted, has thrived even, as the club and the media have deliberately nourished it. It has been an extremely useful marketing tool in the interests of encouraging the mass-delusion of the particular type of people – of whom Dr Freud would have had so much to say – that choose to support a club based on perceived size and power. There is now a nervous terror out there in Singapore, Nairobi, Bangkok and Milton Keynes, at the thought of not being the biggest and the best – and that is very much the product of expectations fostered by extravagant and untrue claims. But, perhaps fatally, it has become self-delusion on a grand scale too.

Some of the sound-bites from the morning of Moyes’ dismissal were risible – and frankly insulting to other institutions of the game. Moyes, it was said, “lacked big club experience”. This is a man, let us not forget, who was in charge for over a decade at Everton – an undeniably massive club of illustrious history and achievement; one which was able to win League Championships in the eighties on a pre-Murdoch, pre-Sky level playing field – something which conspicuously eluded the alleged “biggest club in the world”. This casual denigration of fine and dignified football clubs is very much a part of the modern Man U psyche, and it is something that – aided by a complaisant media and a gullible support – they were allowed and able to carry off under the bluster and tyranny of Ferguson. But it’s a dog that will no longer bark when reality sets in; when the tyrant is deposed and when the superior quality of rivals has consigned the fallen champions to the hinterland of mid-table mediocrity.

Manchester United today stand in dire need of a wake-up call. Like it or not, they are not the biggest club in the world, and a continued insistence on such a demonstrably groundless claim will do them more harm than good in the future. Whoever next ascends the hot-seat will find that he is playing catch-up as thoroughbreds like Liverpool, City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and – yes, Everton too – threaten to disappear over the horizon. One thing Man Utd do have going for them is a large and, in parts, fanatical support – but even this is an asset that will eventually be diluted by foolish attempts to perpetuate a dying myth. All football fans share a common “we are the greatest” delusion to a certain extent, but at Man U it’s been elevated to the level of brand identity – and that cannot be sustained in a harsh, post-Ferguson reality, where there is no longer a fulminating Govan Svengali to hold the rest of the game in thrall, and to inspire fear and terror in the corridors of power.

Man U is a huge club and one that should be able to sustain success along with the other huge clubs. But they have no divine right to that success, and certainly not to utter domination as they have rather stupidly come to expect. Whoever comes next will have the best chance of long-term recovery if they have the wisdom (and if they are granted the time) to introduce a modicum of humility and respect; two qualities that have been sadly lacking over the past two decades in this part of Greater Manchester.

A failure to embrace and deal with this new mid-table reality is going to mean that things will steadily get worse before they can feasibly get better. The days of domination – of a near-monopoly – have gone, and for the game of football as a whole, that is definitely A Good Thing. The current big four, and the pretenders just behind them, will not allow that situation to be repeated. Ferguson was a one-off and not in a particularly good or healthy way. His time is gone, and now football goes on without him – and without the skew effect his tenure imposed on the game’s honours list. Manchester United now have to learn to live with this – and if they are wise, they will commit to a manager who is capable of finding for them a place in a game where it’s a lot tougher at the top than they have been used to.

Who that man will be is a matter for speculation. But again, whoever comes in, it will be necessary to be realistic. This is still a poisoned chalice of an inheritance in terms of exaggerated expectations from a global, glory-hungry fan-base; yet there is no Champions League football, possibly no Europe at all next season. Will the top players come in at that price? Will the likes of Rooney, van Persie and even Mata relish at least a season out of the Champions League limelight?

Whoever the next manager of Man Utd might be, he certainly will have a job on his hands dealing with just these problems. To expect him to labour under the weight of a hollow myth as well, is likely to be too big an ask. The spurious label of “Biggest Club in the World” proved to be a fable too far for the hapless David Moyes. His successor will have to hope – probably in vain – that wiser and more realistic counsel will prevail from now on.