Thursday, May 22, 2008


And that was that. The much hyped Judgement Day endeth. Against large, if not quite all, the odds the SPL helicopter has landed on the streets of Dundee. The streets of Aberdeen run with the tears of a hastily reworked treble dream that has crumbled into dust like that quadruple dream of only eight days ago.

The final battles were the story of the season. Celtic somehow know how to win. Rangers just lack the quality to take the final step.

Gordon Strachan becomes the first Celtic manager since Jock Stein to win three titles in a row. Will that be enough to secure him a place in the hearts of the faithful? This might still be the valedictory moment of a Celtic career that could have delivered little more.

Where now for Rangers? A Novoless cup final where Queen of the South will surely fancy getting fired into a team that looks dead on its feet. A team that is struggling not just because of fixtures but because the sheer strength of will that carried a mediocre team this far was always going to exhaust them.

Did Celtic deserve it? Does the league table ever lie? Difficult to know. We can say that all Celtic could do was storm down the final straight. Each Celtic victory seemed to have the effect of Kryptonite on Rangers' group of Clark Kents. Every faltering step that Rangers took the stronger Celtic's claim seemed to look.

And now that's it. A season that has been tragic, farcical, controversial and exciting. A season that has been short on quality but strong on incident. A season that will no doubt be falsely remembered as a classic because of the way the title was decided.

What can we do but look forward and wait for more of the same next season?

Enough is Enough

I blame Princess Diana. We have become a nation that mawkishly salivates at the prospect of public grieving.

That Tommy Burns was a great guy I have no doubt. That we need to view his funeral through the full glare of the media is more troublesome.

Maybe it's what he would have wanted. Maybe it's what the family wanted. Or maybe not.

But this outpouring of grief that we see every time a public figure dies is beginning to devalue the very notion of heroes or legends. Every funeral is bigger, more moving and more important than the last.

I was half expecting Sir Elton John to appear singing a reworked version of Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting in tribute to Tommy's crucial role in the peacekeeping process that followed the Battle of the Boyne.

Tonight of course all bets will be off. See how long lasting this orgasm of mourning is. Listen to the Celtic fans celebrate the life of a very Catholic man who saw friendship as the path to defeating bigotry. Then listen to the vitriol pouring from the stands celebrating a conflict that took place on another island, an island that is moving on.

Listen to the Rangers fans saying how decent Walter and Ally are. How they were proud of their management team at the funeral, how Tommy was a decent guy who loved his country. Then listen to the vitriol from their stands as they celebrate being up to their knees in fenian blood. In Tommy's blood.

Read the Daily Record preach the mantra of peace in our time. Read them dedicating this peace to one man as they genuflect at the altar of St Tommy. Then read them defending, even applauding, the Rangers fans who rampaged in Manchester. Read about the carnival atmosphere but don't ask them to mention that the carnival raved to the tunes of Billy Boys and terrorists.

And then ask yourself, as we fall over ourselves to honour Tommy Burns, how hollow these tributes are. And ask if this decent guy deserves the insult of a mock national grief that is instantly forgotten when a football match kicks off.

The Fun Finally Ends

How many times have fans wished that both sides of the Old Firm would lose? Well tonight they can. And that would be the fitting finale to an SPL that might have been exciting but has been low on quality.

Despite Rangers' Euro escapade. Despite Celtic's late fightback. Despite another final day reckoning there has been a dearth of quality about both teams this year.

So maybe if they were both to lose it would sum up the season for two teams that are pale imitations of their former selves.

Certainly Aberdeen and Dundee United will be up for it. Watching another team lift the trophy in your own backyard is a fairly shit experience. At least if you beat the team you can knock some of the immediate sheen off their jubilation.

Tonight will be a test for both Rangers and Celtic in different ways. If Rangers miss out then it will be a test of their resolve that this has been a successful season whatever happens. Are the two cup competitions enough? Will defeat mean the pressure is cranked up on Smith to radically rebuild in the summer? How much goodwill has Smith got to use up?

At Celtic will the board have the guts to stand by their man in the face of a support that has been resolutely unconvinced by Strachan? Will Strachan feel that his luck has been spent to its very limits this year and walk away?

Big questions for another day. But, for tonight, lets hope we get our excitement from who can lose by fewest rather than who can win by most.

What the Champions League final told us

1. History counts for something: Man Utd over egg the historic legacy/club of tradition/do it for Sir Matt stuff. But are Chelsea fans not embarrassed that the only dignitary they can find to lead the team up the steps at the end is Peter Kenyon? United had Sir Bobby Charlton, arguably the most famous English footballer of all time. No doubt Kenyon was relishing leading the winners. Hubris.

2. Edwin van der Sar's honesty: "Fucking hell" is the most refreshing post match quote for some time.

3. England's brave John Terry: Mr Chelsea volunteered to take the final penalty. The culmination of years of believing his own hype. He was the wrong man to take it. An old fashioned centre half (and arguably the worst centre half on the pitch) should be aware that he was the wrong man. He is blind to this because he feels Chelsea's destiny is now linked inexorably to John Terry's destiny. The sight of Terry on his arse, crying gladdened the heart.

4. Frank Lampard: It would now seem official that the media consider Francis to be the only man in Britain to have ever lost a loved one.

5. Take your chances: For all their dominance in the second half Chelsea's only goal was lucky. They couldn't get another. Likewise Manchester United came very, very close to regretting the chances they missed in the first half. Profligacy led to penalties.

6. Ronaldo: Can score against Chelsea and perform on the big nights. But is still prone to stupidity and took the worst penalty of all time. Until John Terry's.

7. Drogba: A moody wastrel. Justice that this big girls blouse should be sent off for handbags. If red wasn't deserved on the night it was deserved for the pathetic figure he has cut this season.

8. Ashley Cole: Is actually a decent player. He should remember that.

9. Rooney: The cross for Tevez and the pass to Ronaldo proved just how good he is. World class, if jettisoned by tactics.

10. Essien: Terry could take lessons in character from his team mate. Roasted by Ronaldo for 45 minutes in the second half he was a man transformed. Quality.

11. John Terry, Referee: Two players are having a minor tiff. Terry sprints across and starts shouting and shoving. This is not peacekeeping. Time and again he does it. Clive and David on ITV thought Vidic over reacted to Terry trying to calm things down. Terry was calming Vidic down by grabbing him round the neck. The man is an idiot and Chelsea should sell him. Ironic really that in a team of millionaire buys it is a homegrown player who has developed the biggest, and potentially most divisive, ego.

12. Avram Grant: A strange looking man who appeared to have some sort of disability at the end. Got them one further than Jose though. That should, but won't, be enough for Abramovich.

13. ITV: Their "Russian" video pre match was patronising and quite probably racist. Never failing in their search to find the lowest common denominator and then lower the bar even further.

14. Ballack: Unlikeable but quality when he chooses. Could have eased the pressure in the first half had he not wanted to spend most of the night copying Jonny Wilkinson. A great player though and looked like he cared at the end, unlike:

15. Anelka: Crap penalty, crap person. As his manager and teammates teetered on the verge of total emotional breakdown he stood and smiled at the end. Odious, stupid or both.

16. Paul Scholes: Ran the first half show. Legs gave way in second half and that helped Chelsea as much as it hindered United. Should have been replaced earlier.

17. Fergie: The greatest of the greatest. Looks stupid without his glasses though. And Nike should be aware that dressing a 66 year old in a white cagoule makes him look like a refugee from a bowls tournament.

18. Andy Townsend: "Chelsea could have done no more, genuinely, they could have done no more." Terry and Anelka could genuinely have scored.

19. Steve Ryder: Copious lacquering or wig. We deserve to know.

20. The game: Was a belter. Thankfully.

And finally:

21. David Taylor: The big UEFA job turns out to be as one of Platini's man servants. In the past eight days must have handed his boss about 1500 medals. Hope he's paid well.