Belfast Telegraph

Billy on the Box: Nothing new about the Old Firm

By Billy Weir

You know it's a big game when you have a booming voice over a montage of images, some of them in black and white for extra oomphability, and, of course, the Sky hypeometer turned the whole way up to 11.

"All great cities have an icon, a symbol to be admired the world over. To lose that symbol would strike at the very heart of that city," said the big, booming voice as we awaited the return of Celtic vs. Rangers.

In fairness, Paris was never in danger of losing the Eiffel Tower because someone splashed out squillions to bring in Tore Andre Flo, nor did the Opera House dive into Sydney Harbour having spent a million quid on Marcus Gayle, but I digress.

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"Glasgow has experienced such a loss, the footballing fixture that defines this city - gone. But now, after four years, it's back," they said, although technically they played each other in April, but a bit like Rangers' tax returns, why let the facts get in the way?

Presenter David Tanner had read the script as his opening gambit showed: "Glasgow seemed incomplete without this iconic fixture. Now the Old Firm game is back. This is Scotland's truly global game," he said, or it is for half an hour until the Manchester derby kicks off.

"We apologise for the interruption, we can now return you to our normal schedule," said David, labouring the point somewhat, so thankfully there was a little light relief in the shape of Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, who, Tanner said, bore the mental scars of being manager of Celtic.

"There are physical scars too, I used to be red-headed before I took the Celtic job and look at me now," he said, before gingerly welcoming his old foes from across town back into the community.

"They've served their time, the madness is back, the excitement is back and this is where the madness and humour comes out," he added, as talk turned to Joey Barton's comments that Celtic skipper Scott Brown was not in the same league.

"He's in the same league today so we'll find out," snorted Strachan. "When they get together put your seatbelts on because there could be turbulence."

There were other dangers too, Tanner warning that 'it's friends reunited Glasgow-style, but it's not an old pals' act', that there will be 'fireworks, stand well back' and even more terrifyingly, Rod Stewart was 'up for the big one.' There were no further details, but my money is on a blonde.

The pre-match hype at an end it was time for the game, and a bit more hype at high noon, this time from commentator Ian Crocker.

"High drama and high intensity are pretty much guaranteed - it is a rivalry unrivalled (they've clearly never witnessed Carrick against Barn United). They're back, and every time it's personal," he promised.

But there was more.

"There is huge potential for pandemonium, the most fiery fixture in football is back on the calendar. The players are told to stay calm and be professional. Good luck, because in this fixture self-control can soon turn to self-destruction."

And for once the game lived up to the hype, a roller-coaster of a first-half ending with Celtic 2-1 to the good and colour visibly returning to Strachan's follicles.

"If anybody says they haven't missed Rangers they must be mad because that is wonderful football," he said, and there was more to come after the break. Well, for the green half of Glasgow, as the Celts ran riot to win 5-1 and leave Barcelona quaking in their espadrilles. Or not.

The post-match highlight was reporter Luke Charnley trying to be cheeky with Hoops' boss Brendan Rodgers by asking 'Leigh who?' in reference to the injured Leigh Griffiths, whose replacement Moussa Dembele scored three of the Celtic goals.

"Don't be disrespectful," growled Rodgers, although given all the shenanigans amongst both sets of fans at the game and afterwards, if cheekiness was the worst crime then we'd all be laughing.

"The wonderful spectacle of the Old Firm made its return today and it is Celtic who were the most spectacular of all," concluded Tanner.

And he was right, to an extent, for this is the new Glasgow. Let's forget about the past and move on. All is well, apart from the sectarianism, vandalism, waving of effigies and utter mayhem, but that isn't how everyone sees it, especially those wearing Sky-tinted glasses.

Belfast Telegraph


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