Monday, July 24, 2006

Too Orangey For Popes

When I got in from work this evening, I sat down and watched the somewhat infamous Rangers-Celtic derby match from 1987. As I said yesterday, this watch something that I'd been delighted to find in order to download. It's a match that has gone down in history as one of the most ill-tempered in the history of British football.

In 1987, Rangers had brought in a number of Englishmen to bolster their squad, with immediate results. Graham Roberts, Chris Woods, Mark Falco, Terry Butcher and Trevor Francis were amongst those lured north by a pot of gold, and the dividends were immediate when they snatched the title back from Celtic (who themselves had, the season in before that, only won the league from Hearts on the last day of the season by beating St Mirren 5-0 away from home whilst Hearts blew their chances by losing at Dundee). The early 1980s had been the leanest time that either of the Old Firm could remember, but as their challengers (Aberdeen and Dundee United) faded, the big Glasgow clubs scented blood, and by 1987 their hegemony was well on the way to being restored.

There was nothing much to indicate that the match between the two sides would go off in the way that it did. Celtic were four points clear (in an era when Scottish clubs still played two points for a win), so it was a vital match for Rangers to win. Watching it back, I'm struck by the sheer intensity of the atmosphere. The crowd is a wall of noise from the very start, and the players waste no time whatsoever in kicking lumps out of each other. The key incident came after seventeen minutes, when self-proclaimed "playboy" striker Frank MacAvennie clattered into Rangers goalkeeper Chris Woods. The words "handbags" spring immediately to mind, but the full-on assault by Graham Roberts and Terry Butcher that followed was anything but. To general disbelief, MacAvennie and Woods were sent off, and Butcher went into the book. This being the age before substitute goalkeepers, Roberts went in goal for Rangers.

It should, of course, have been all over at this point. Celtic raced into a two-goal lead - Rangers might have had all manner of attacking options, but their defending with ten men was atrocious. It was only a mixture of profligate Celtic finishing and surprisingly competent goalkeeping by Roberts that kept Rangers in the match. With Ally McCoist having pulled one back for Rangers, it was time for Butcher's moment in the limelight. After challenging Alan McKnight for the ball (and deservedly conceding a foul), he took a well-aimed kick at the prone Celtic goalkeeper. A straight red card followed, even though he had already been involved in the earlier flare-up.

With the roofs of the Ibrox stands threatening to lift clean off, Richard Gough scrambled a last minute equalizer. Graham Roberts then covered himself in a very dubious type of glory at the other end of the pitch, first by clearly diving at a challenge from Owen Archdeacon, and then following that up by leading the supporters in one of their oh-so-charming sectarian songs. After the match (as noted in the comments below), the three players sent off (along with Roberts) found themselves in court on criminal charges, although the charges were later dropped. On the pitch, Rangers' dramatic point didn't make much difference in the long-term. Celtic won the league with a record 72 points.

I'm told that the sectarianism isn't as bad these days. Money is the name of the game nowadays. Celtic sign Protestants and Rangers sign Catholics, because winning and making money are more important than anything else, including upholding long-standing religious bigotries. Having said that, though, if or when Kenny Miller (who has joined Celtic from Wolverhampton Wanderers) plays for Celtic, he'll be only the third player in recent times to have played for both the blue and green halves of Glasgow. Both clubs have banned sectarianism chanting from their grounds, and most of the bile within the Scottish domestic game is aimed towards the big two from the other SPL clubs and their supporters, who largely wish they'd just piss off to England so that their league had an element of competitiveness about it again. Of course, English clubs don't want two rich clubs with average crowds of over 50,000 joining their league and further lessening their (already rapidly receding) chances of winning anything. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas.

Hearts, of course, blew their duopoly apart last season by beating Rangers into second place and winning the Scottish Cup, but whether they can continue this form next season or not is open to debate. Their season was pleasingly pantomime-esque, of course, what with George Burley quitting because the chairman was reported to be trying to pick the team and all. If anything, it was a miracle that they held off Rangers' challenge. It's doubtful that they'll have a better chance to break the big two's stranglehold on the league, though. But still: at least with two teams having a realistic chance of winning the league, Scotland is twice as competitive as England at the moment.


Moore said...

A contender for the most violent game ever, but I can't wait to read your piece about Honduras Vs El Salvador in July 1969.

colin said...

I may have unintentionally misled in the previous comments. If I remember correctly, Woods and Butcher were found guilty of Breach of the Peace, McAvennie not guilty and Roberts Not Proven.

It's difficult to tell whether it's better or worse than before these days. Celtic have been signing Protestants for 100 years and Rangers will now more openly sign Catholics.

Certain songs have been unwelcome at Celtic Park for quite some time now, but they still crop up when they play away - and Rangers are beginning to get the picture after being investigated by Uefa last season.

Personally, I think one of the biggest problems Scottish football has in this area is the line peddled by every other club that it's an Old Firm problem and, therefore, they don't have to do anything about it.

I still reckon some of the worst examples I ever saw were at Tyncastle, for instance - which developed last year into a cheery new habit of concentrating abuse on Asians in the visiting support.

And, perhaps more to the point, there's no real value in Celtic and (belatedly) Rangers confiscating season tickets for the singing of certain songs if the very same behaviour is tolerated in Dundee, Aberdeen and so on.

twohundredpercent said...

Ah, "not proven". That clever law that says "we know you did it, but we can't definitively prove it". Out of interest, if, say, an employer was to run a criminal record check on someone that had been found "not proven" of something, would it show up?

Ed said...

The more remarkable thing that the number of people who've played for Celtic AND Rangers are the similarly limited numbers of players who've appeared for both Liverpool and Manchester United. No sectarianism there, just good old-fashioned chips on shoulders.

colin said...

A quick check of my Disclosure Scotland record* reveals that a Not Proven verdict wouldn't show up on a Basic, Standard or Enhanced disclosure.

*The guidance. Not the bit about me. Obviously.

Anonymous said...

It seems very strange to consider the Woods-MacAvennie spat as "handbags", whilst calling the equal intervention of Butcher and Roberts an assault.

MacAvennie started the whole thing, having heavily clattered into Woods on two or three previous occassions, but referee Jim Duncan chose to avoid those and is guilty of letting the situation escalate.

Even MacAvennie was surprised by the fact he got off and the others were punished or received "not proven" verdicts.

Your other comments relating to sectarianism also reveal a bias.

Anonymous said...

The previous anonymous poster is right. MacAvennie clattered into Woods several times previous to their sendings off.

The referee, Jim Duncan as I recall, should have had a word earlier, or even booked MacAvennie.

Butcher and Roberts didn't do anymore than they did. The description of it being a "full on assault" is way off the mark.

Finally, Rangers didn't sign these players in 87. It was 86. So apart from these omissions, errors and inaccuracies, it was an otherwise mediocre article.

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