You can tell when it’s an international week in the middle of a domestic football season because the sports media fills up with left-field speculation and urban myths take over in the absence of any real news. This time, because England have already qualified for next summer’s World Cup, it’s even worse – no-one is really that bothered about the rest of the qualification programme except Capello, who has to pick the team and United goalkeeper Ben Foster, who should have been there but won’t be.
Nonetheless, the hacks need to fill the sports pages with something, so they’ve exhumed the old chestnut about Scottish teams joining the Premiership for the umpteenth time. I think opinion on this issue is divided on both sides of the border, but the executives at Ibrox & Parkhead have no such qualms – they want a fat slice of the EPL’s golden goose at the earliest possible juncture. In a way I suppose you cannot blame them for this, but I have to say that this eagerness to dump their SPL compatriots and fall into the arms of the EPL runs somewhat counter to the ‘Braveheart’ streak that has emerged in Scottish society over the last 20 years or so. We are always expected to swallow all the rhetoric about how proud Scots are of their culture and their country (fair enough) but of late the English are everyone’s favourite pantomime villains north of the border and can apparently be held accountable for most of the ills affecting Scots society. Apparently, though, our football set-up is exempt from such Caledonian disdain…wonder why?
Well, it’s not that anyone is going to ask me, but if I had a voice in this argument I would strongly advocate that Rangers & Celtic stay put in the SPL where they belong. My reasons for feeling this way have little to do with football but are mostly to do with the way in which travelling fans of the Glasgow clubs seem to conduct themselves when travelling away from their ain wee corner of heaven just off the M8.
The violence that accompanied Rangers losing the UEFA Cup Final in Manchester a couple of years back was awful, yes, but violence is not the sole preserve of Rangers fans – after all, very few clubs can claim to be squeaky clean in this respect. No, I think it’s more the way in which even those who never so much as raised their voice in anger simply trashed the public areas of the city, leaving a huge scurf of fast-food wrappers, empty cans and bottles behind them as they headed back up the M6.
I had witnessed this myself a few years earlier when United took on Celtic at Old Trafford in a pre-season friendly (not very, I’m afraid) to celebrate Ryan Giggs’ Testimonial. I took my 10-year old daughter to the game and we walked from Piccadilly Station, up through Chinatown (where we ate) and on to St Peter’s Square where we boarded a tram out to the ground. Green & white bodies were everywhere, outside pubs singing rebel songs in raucous groups, sprawled on the pavement in various stages of disrepair, vomiting in the gutter, ogling and harassing young women on the tram journey.
Due to the need to get the last train back to Birmingham, we actually left the match about 5 minutes from the end and travelled aboard a virtually empty tram back into the City Centre. When we arrived, St Peter’s Square looked like some bizarre post-apocalyptic landscape with drifts of rubbish and empty glasses, cans and bottles everywhere and it was a similar story in Piccadilly. Isolated figures in green & white hoops were still to be seen, sprawled or sitting, having never even made it out to the ground. In all truth, after 40 years of attending football matches of greater or lesser significance at large numbers of grounds around England, I had never seen devastation on such a scale.
Of course, football supporters of any nationality are rarely a pleasant proposition when gathered into large and boisterous groups, and usually become increasingly less pleasant in inverse ratio to the amount of alcohol they consume, but the devastation visited upon the centre of Manchester by these two sets of Scottish fans will live long in the memories of those who witnessed it.
If reason were all that counted here, I doubt that there would be many who would welcome the admission of SPL teams into the English leagues, especially if the centre of their ‘fair city’ was to be subjected to this kind of treatment on at least 2 occasions per year.
However, as Dylan would have it, ‘money doesn’t talk, it swears’ and if enough palms are greased then I’m sure that the Flower of Scotland’s travelling fans will once again be let loose to leave their unique imprint on the cities of England. Can’t say it’s a development I view with too much enthusiasm……