Easter Weekend has passed and with it, a sporting feast. Many of you will have taken in the GAA finals in Croke Park, have forked out a few quid on the Joshua v Parker fight on Sky Box Office or be wallowing in a pool of beaten dockets and hungover self-pity after Fairyhouse yesterday. A world of opportunity, in a weekend that aroused many sporting socialites up and down the island.
On Saturday morning, at Belfast docks, ten or fifteen coaches lined up to board the seven – thirty crossing to Stranraer. There was a similar cargo on board at half four – all on a route of sporting pilgrimage to Glasgow. Bleary eyed and bottle of suds in hand, many make the weekly trip across the Irish Sea from these shores. And whilst the craic is great and the beer is sweet, one has to question the logic of anyone travelling to watch the dross that is the Scottish Premier League, at £100 a head.
A few facts.
Celtic hold the record in the UK for most consecutive competitive games without defeat. Their 69 game unbeaten run, came to an end the week before Christmas.
Dundee beat already crowned champions Celtic in the final game at Celtic Park in the 2000/01 season. Celtic were not beaten again at home until almost three years later when Aberdeen beat them in a mid-April league clash. Perfect symmetry in that Celtic were, again, already champions.
In 2017, Celtic clinched their sixth title in a row in record quick time, with eight games still to be played, doing so with the most points ever amassed in a Scottish top flight season.
From the turn of the millennium, Celtic have collected twenty six trophies from the fifty two domestic competitions they have entered. Half.
Out of the remaining twenty six available, Rangers can account for seventeen. Between them, that’s just shy of 83% of SPL, Scottish Cups and Scottish League Cups over the past 18 years. What’s more, by the end of this current season, Celtic will have won the league again – and there’s a highly likelihood another Scottish Cup will head to Glasgow too with the two meeting each other in the semi final on Sunday week.
Are you bored yet?
I certainly was on Saturday. For after the pints and the songs and the cards, came the realisation of having to watch an hour and a half of a mind-numbingly one-sided football match, on a drizzly afternoon in East Glasgow. Celtic ran out 3-0 winners against Ross County, who, to their credit, managed two efforts on goal during the game. There has been worse.
The Scottish papers make a song and dance over people who don’t know Scottish football slating the quality – and I’ll be the first to say I’m no expert when it comes to football north of Hadrian’s wall. But I know what £35 buys me at a game in Manchester, and I know what the people who walked into Celtic Park got for their £35 on Saturday.
If anything – it’s the real fans that are the losers.
Gone are the days of Souness, Gazza, Larsson and Sutton. Big names for big games. The greatest rivalry in football. Christ, dare I suggest, that the clampdown by authorities on the things that made Scottish football bearable to watch throughout much of the eighties and nineties has played a part too.
The fact of the matter is this, the most memorable and entertaining thing I’ve seen in Scottish Football this past while was Rod Stewart off his face making the Scottish Cup Draw last January. And entertaining it was.
And to coin Sir Roderick, surely it’s time his dear old Celtic went “Sailing”.
The monotony of the will-they-won’t-they Premier League flirtation still lingers. But perhaps more realistic for Celtic and their fans, has been rekindled talk of an Atlantic Football League. In the past, Dutch giants Ajax and PSV have mooted such an alliance, along with big hitters in Scandinavia, Belgium, the Portuguese and the Greeks. Each time the suggestion has been mooted – UEFA are quick to mute it.
With teams from outside the big four European leagues only managing to win the Champions League on three occasions since it’s inception over a quarter of a century ago, surely it’s time for a new brand. Even the Europa League has become easy prey for Spanish, English, Italian and German teams, who fall short in capturing the big prize.
The question must be asked – how long will UEFA starve these clubs of the revenues, atmospheres and competitiveness that such a league would generate? Things do not look encouraging, going on previous.
One thing is certain, that whilst the boats will still leave Belfast on a Saturday morning, I for one will not be on them. I doth my hat to the hearty souls that will, and pray that one of these days you get a competition that you deserve. Maybe then, we can all have a glimpse again of Paradise.