When Walter Smith left the managerial hotseat at Ibrox in May, he declared that the one element of the job he would not miss was Old Firm games.
Lenny v Ally: now it’s time for battle The heat is on old firm managers in the race to be scotland’s top dogs Firm rivals: The battle between Celtic manager Neil Lennon (left) and Rangers counterpart Ally McCoist over the course of the new SPL season, which starts tomorrow, promises to be fascinating
I could see where he was coming from because before, during and after clashes between Celtic and Rangers the bitterness that spews out is disturbing.
But if we’re being honest here, ahead of a new SPL campaign which starts tomorrow, it’s the fixture and rivalry that makes Scottish football interesting and effectively keeps it alive.
Celtic and Rangers aren’t just the biggest names in Scotland they are massive throughout the world.
If a 20-team world league of the top clubs on the planet is ever introduced, for my money both Glasgow teams should be in it alongside the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Manchester United, AC Milan and Bayern Munich.
Agreed, the quality of Scottish football doesn’t come close to what you will watch in Spain, or England come to that, but the crowd appeal and emotion that the Old Firm generate deserves respect.
That was in short supply last season when the teams seemed to be meeting on a weekly basis.
The stand-out image, not to mention most unneccesary, of those fierce derby encounters was Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon going head to head on the touchline after a volatile encounter at Parkhead.
With wily old fox Smith departing with head held high and another SPL crown in his hands, McCoist and Lennon will go head to head all season after the Scot was promoted to succeed his mentor at Rangers.
While this will be the first season in charge for McCoist, the greatest goalscorer ever for the Teddy Bears, former Northern Ireland midfielder Lennon isn’t exactly a veteran either.
This will be his second full campaign as Celtic boss and he has already admitted that he needs to win the SPL title this time around, or else face the prospect of the sack.
And this despite being one of the most popular figures amongst the Celtic fans in modern day history — right now he’s their golden Bhoy.
The Lurgan man had a collective, protective arm put around him by the Hoops faithful last season when confronted with all manner of madness, from death threats to some clown attacking him during a match against Hearts at Tynecastle.
Lennon wondered whether it was all worth it, but managing Celtic has been a lifetime ambition and although the opportunity arrived sooner than expected for the 40-year-old, he has no intention of giving it up for a long time to come.
As boss, Lennon has already made some shrewd signings in the transfer market — most notably Kris Commons and Gary Hooper — but tactically he has much improving to do.
This season he is going to have to learn very fast.
McCoist has enjoyed a wonderful education under Smith, but now he’s the main man, which will be a whole new ball game, dealing with the head-bursting pressure of managing a club like Rangers.
Just like at Celtic, demands are sky high, even if in common with Lenny, Super Ally is loved by the followers of his club.
When I was watching him larking about on A Question of Sport with Sue Barker, manager McCoist were words I never thought I would write.
He’s still a fun-loving guy, but the Old Firm is serious business and he has to deliver.
In the weeks and months ahead it’s going to be fascinating watching these two, who will be box office gold in interviews.
The heat will be on the pair of them. The one who stays cool will come out on top.