Friday, May 02, 2008

Boring, boring Rangers or there's more than one way to cook an egg

Anti football has travelled all the way to the UEFA Cup Final. Or Walter Smith stroked his cutaway collar and cooked up a plan that would conquer the continent.

Great periods of Rangers' campaign (not just in Europe) have been undeniably dull. A solid defence. A solid defensive midfield. A solid defending striker. Simple game, football.

Goals might win games. But clean sheets don't lose games. Rangers have tended shop at the back (sometimes with luck but always with commitment) and reaped the benefits.

Is it football? Well, clearly, yes. They've not got to the UEFA Cup Final playing water polo after all. And being defensive is not against the rules. You might argue about the spirit of the game but it's all meaningless. Rangers have done a job with the players at their disposal. And many of those players were bought to do that very job.

At times it has been dull. The home leg against Sporting when David Weir actually managed to look at least twice his age was the nadir. But the fans who booed them that night (or so I'm told, I'd actually nipped round the corner to watch the cribbage final in my local. I'd guessed, correctly, that crib would be more fun) missed the point. Wattie, like head matron, was all about clean sheets.

I would say he who laughs last laughs loudest. But I've got a feeling that little Dick Advocaat might get the last snigger. Still Smith has done amazingly well. The plan would have looked stupid if a team had started scoring against them (not least because Plan B would seem to be a work in progress) but that didn't happen. Storm's were weathered, hatches battened and barriers manned. Somehow they have survived.

Don't confuse defensive for dull. There have been exciting moments: the goals in Lisbon, Alan MacGreggor taking on Werder Bremen single handed, wondering whether Davie Weir's heart would survive against Lisbon. Tense can be exciting, last ditch can be fun.

The thing about sport is it offers different ways to win. The English rugby team, Nick Faldo taking 18 straight pars at Muirfield. It might not please everyone but the sole object at the end of the contest is victory. Time and again, based on the most important criteria, Rangers have delivered.

Sorry Paul

Let's hope that Alex Ferguson is feeling benign in Moscow.

If he chooses to play his Scottish talisman Darren Fletcher (alright, I know talisman's a bit strong) then Paul Lambert will no longer be the "last Scotsman to play on Europe's greatest stage."

No offence to Paul but it was making journalists lazy, it made him look like some sort of Champion's League rent a quote and it was, frankly, embarrassing that we boasted about one Scot playing 15 years ago or whenever it was.

So go on Darren, do something for your country.

A Scotsman playing in Moscow. A Scotsman managing in Moscow. And a Scottish team in Manchester. Happy days are here again.

Posted missing

The best laid plans and all that.

So I've missed an entire year of Scottish football.

And what a year.

Rangers in a European final for the first time since 1901 and despite failing to score a goal in the whole tournament - (I joke) and who can knock their defensive tactics now?

Gretna in freefall. The fairytale turned into a nightmare (that cliche is copyright of anyone who has written about the story) as we should have guessed it would.

Hearts' debt rises as Romanov goes missing and his little son has a benny at the AGM.

Celtic are largely crap but somehow keep the SPL alive until its last act.

Hibs lose John Collins, lose two months of their campaign then invite Mixu to shake things up and fight anyone who looks at him.

Craig Levein gets United into UEFA contention where they have to fight Motherwell, whose season has reached Shakespearean heights of tragedy and thrills, all played out on a stage that looked like all the world had trampled over it.

Scotland came close to Euro 2008 in a group they had no right to compete in. Then Alex McLeish proved that, whatever else he is, he will never be accused of loyalty and longevity.

Hamilton capture the First Division after leading from the front. Another SPL shock team, they can at least look at what Gretna did and try and do the exact opposite.

It's been fun, it's been sad, it's been farcical, it's been boring at times and it's been a whole lot more besides. And it's still not over. Ranger still have eight games to play as leg two, three and four of the quadruple loom into view. This is despite having already played 9500 games since the season began back in 2001.

All Celtic can do now is win their games and hope Rangers slip up in the SPL. As always the best scenario in Govan would make it a long, cold summer in the east end of Glasgow. Whether Mr Strachan is around to share the close season with his adoring faithful remains to be seen.

The honour of lining up in the UEFA Cup with the might of Queen of the South is still up for grabs. Motherwell's games in hand might be the ace up Mark McGhee's sleeve. Or they might not be. Hibs hopes imploded somewhat in the game against Aberdeen that meant so much to the home side that Jimmy Calderwood didn't even get off his sun bed to go. Craig Levein's Utd might be the most deserving. If they don't make it then they might well qualify for the European Cup for incredibly tall football teams.

So with three weeks to go of an elongated season it's all to play for. Actually that's not true. But some embers of competition remain even for teams that aren't Rangers. I'll be there every step of the way. I'll be there for the close season. And I'll be there next season when the whole carnival kicks off again.

But I've said that before!