Celtic play Rangers on Sunday in a title-deciding match at Parkhead. Perhaps we’ve all been…
The Scottish football season came to a fitting conclusion on Sunday afternoon. No, I’m not talking about Partick Thistle’s relegation from the top flight at the hands of Livingston, or the continued celebrations of Celtic winning a historic, back-to-back treble. I’m talking about Michael O’Halloran.
Yes, just one day after the Scottish Cup final, pictures emerged of the Rangers forward – yes, he is still a paid, full-time professional player at Ibrox – sitting amongst Celtic fans at Hampden Park. His agent later stated that O’Halloran was in fact at the national stadium to support Motherwell, who he almost joined in January, but by then the damage had already been done.
By “damage” I of course mean pure, unrestrained laughter from just about every Scottish football fan in the land. Sure, plenty of Rangers fans took to Twitter to lament this grave act of disrespect but on the whole it was a fitting end to one of the most entertaining and genuinely enjoyable seasons in Scottish football. And I for one am sorry to see it go.
With the warmer weather and slightly lighter showers of rain, we welcome the summer off season. Usually that would mean a clean break from the sport entirely for about six weeks – a time to catch up on some reading, dig through that series you’ve had on record all year round or simply go on holiday – but this year we have the World Cup in Russia kicking off in about three weeks time.
For most football fans that’s a welcome addition to the already crowded football calendar. More games on TV, more great athletes showcasing their talents and more to talk about down the pub. The modern game preaches about its unrivalled quality at every possible opportunity, but quantity is a far more accurate metric. Ultimately, the sport that will be broadcasted around the world from Moscow or St Petersburg isn’t at all similar to the one that we enjoy here in Scotland. And as such it won’t quench our appetite while we wait for it to restart again later in the year.
2 years ago today a guy was sat on a crossbar casually scrolling through his phone during a pitch invasion pic.twitter.com/VQyvC5NYQd
— Oldfirmfacts (@Oldfirmfacts1) May 21, 2018
This isn’t a rant about the tribulations of modern football and the big, bad corporation that FIFA has since become – plenty has been written about that and you won’t struggle to find it – but is instead a simple shrug of the shoulders at the coming multi-billion-pound competition that is quickly approaching and why it won’t be half as much fun as any given match at Easter Road over the past 10 months.
We’ve all heard the term “banter years” used to describe the Scottish domestic game for some time now, but those very words have gone from being used as a sarcastic expression of how hopelessly dysfunctional the SPFL is to a genuine rallying cry for what makes it such wonderful entertainment.
Football isn’t really supposed to be clean-cut, shiny and straightforward. At its very essence it is supposed to offer escapism from the real world. After a week reading or watching news reports about Donald Trump, Brexit and global warming, a Craig Levein press conference or the sight of Chris Sutton bullying Stephen Craigan on a cold, windy Sunday afternoon at McDiarmid Park puts a smile on your face. And enthrals you far more than the Arsenal v Stoke game on the next channel.
Indeed, while the World Cup – and by extension most of modern football’s top leagues and competitions – may offer genuine competition and a level of athleticism one can only marvel at, it lacks a subplot of faltering characters, genuine rivalries and authentic tomfoolery that remains the cornerstone of Scottish football. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned the fans.
— Barry Anderson (@BarryAnderson_) May 21, 2018
After the crash of the Setanta TV deal and the financial realities facing a lot of clubs, Scottish football had a few hard truths to swallow. We weren’t going to be the English Premier League’s sidekick, buying exciting foreign players as our stadiums grew in size and attendance each and every season. And after a few difficult years we accepted that. We became comfortable in our own skin.
And that’s to say nothing of the football we’ve all enjoyed this season. Celtic may have won another treble of trophies but they’ve done so against the backdrop of a division full of exciting coaches – Steve Clarke, Neil Lennon, Stephen Robinson and of course Brendan Rodgers – doing distinct things, with Jack Ross, David Hopkins and Steven Gerrard set to join the gang next season.
The Premiership may not offer the highest standard of football, but it does offer entertaining football. This website alone is a testament to such a claim. And littered throughout our top clubs are young players getting better and more exciting by the day. It might not mean much to some teenager sitting in Berlin or Milan, but it means the world to us. It’s real, it’s exciting and it’s ours.
Some still harp on about empty stands and what needs to be done to fix that (this writer included from time to time) but the prevailing voice has gone from moaning about a few empty stadiums to celebrating just how vibrant most of our top-flight grounds truly are. As any foreign sports journalist is feverishly reminded when they berate our beloved game on social media, few countries the world over rival Scots when it comes to ticket-buying fans per capita. Our selling point isn’t Lionel Messi, Monday Night Football or squeaky-clean social media videos; it’s you and me.
While your average Manchester United fan may watch each game with one eye on Twitter’s constant stream of stats and analytics, your typical Scottish Premiership fan is most likely scrolling through OldFirmFacts’ account for the latest meme or laughing with a Raith Rovers fan at how animated Neil Lennon is on the sidelines. Celtic fans may hate Rangers fans, Hearts fans may hate Hibs fans and Aberdeen fans may hate just about everyone. But they all adore Scottish football.
In a report published today, London-based football website Copa90 released a study that showed that the modern Premier League fan is one that supports more than one team, spends less and less time focused on the actual game itself and is bored of “algorithmically fed content.”
Fans of the most popular league in the world grow more and more contemptuous of what they’re sold by the day, while in Scotland we get to enjoy a Callum McGregor volley and a meme of Conor Sammon holding a pizza box in equal measure. I know which one I prefer and I definitely know which one the World Cup won’t be able to replace in my life over the next two months.