Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Celtic Park, Glasgow

There is no such thing as an Old Firm match without incident. This is true, but this latest reunion, the fifth of the season, with two more to come, had more drama than even the most avid thrill seeker could imagine. This game had it all.

The two previous Old Firm encounters [a 3-0 league win for Celtic on 20 February at Celtic Park and a 2-2 cup fixture on 6 February at Ibrox] Prior to this he had been marked by foul fouls, temper and bad blood, all of which stemmed from Rangers signing El-Hadji Diouf on loan from Blackburn Rovers. Diouf is a Celtic hate figure due to a terrible incident in 2003 when Diouf, then a Liverpool player, spat at Celtic fans in a UEFA Cup tie at Celtic Park.

The reason the Rangers felt Diouf would be a sensitive signing is lost on their writer and almost everyone else with a passing interest in Scottish football. It clearly irritated Celtic management and players because from the moment Diouf stepped onto the field for his Rangers debut in the original cup tie in February, he was the target of the “rope”, also known as verbal abuse, from Celtic players, but especially Scott Brown, a player that not many rivals would want, to his face.

More of the same followed in league play, with the Rangers doing their best, but at least things in those games were limited to the field.

But sure, it’s a free-for-all in this third game between teams in rapid succession and the fifth of the season so far.

Tensions were tense from the start. The tackles were late and reckless. The verbs were all over the field and in all technical areas: from player to player, from coach to coach, from player to coach, from coach to player. The whole 90 minutes went like this. There were even riots and skirmishes as players and management teams made their way down the tunnel at halftime.

Referee Calum Murray was the busiest man on the field, booking 3 Celtic players … Majstorovic (33 minutes), Brown (42) and Wilson (90 + 1) and 7 Rangers players … Whittaker (28), Diouf (37), Fleck (44), Bougherra (57), Davis (76), Davis (76) and Hutton (90 + 5), in addition to ordering 3 of them for a second yellow card. Whittaker (36), Bougherra (90 + 4) and Diouf (post game).

It was on the final whistle that this controversial game raised its own bet. As Neil Lennon headed to shake hands with Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist, something was said to himself and Lennon’s smile turned into a grunt within 2 seconds. Since then, we found out that McCoist had decided to “warn” Lennon that it was best if there were no more instances of Lennon or his players subjecting Rangers players, particularly Diouf, to more “extreme verbal abuse.” Lennon unsurprisingly made an exception to this “advice” and pointed out to McCoist that if the Rangers hadn’t hired Diouf in the first place, “then none of this would be happening.

McCoist and Lennon voiced their opinion so strongly that they had to be physically restrained and separated by officials, players, assistants, and police officers.

Needless to say, the Scottish police and government have had a grim view of the proceedings, with the Strathclyde police chief publicly calling for the party to be abandoned entirely, while the prime minister has called for a summit between the two clubs. , the police and government ministers.

As if that wasn’t fun enough, we have the Scottish League Cup final at Hampden Park on Sunday 20 March 2011. There is not much time to heal the gaps.

Scott Brown and El-Hadji Diouf are a long way from being friends and that fight seems sweet to go on for a while yet. Neil Lennon is in the papers saying that he and Ally McCoist have resolved their differences, but we don’t hear much from McCoist on the subject.

Heady stuff.

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