Ninth wonder

The 96/97 season has seen Old Firm rivalries intensify as Rangers attempt to emulate Celtic’s record of nine league championships in a row. As the traditional New Year derby approaches, Julian Taylor hears the viewpoints of Terry Butcher and Billy McNeill.

When the dust settles on the forthcoming battle otherwise known as the Old Firm showdown, how will this season‘s title race finish? Will Rangers emulate the historic achievement ofJock Stein‘s legendary Celtic side of the late ()()s and early 70s nine league championships in a row?

With all eyes on the traditional New Year confrontation. much has been made of the Parkhead side‘s psychological character. given that their latest upending at the hands of their ancient rivals a l-() home defeat in November has now seen them fail to defeat Rangers in the previous eight attempts. Undoubtedly. the rivalry remains with a slow-burning intensity. but perhaps it‘s because Scottish football has regressed in the European arena that this nine-in- a-row contest has become such an obsession.

Former Rangers and England captain. Terry Butcher agrees: ‘The nine-in-a-row has manacled Rangers in particular this season. whereas if you look at big clubs such as Juventus. their main aim is European success above everything. I‘ll be glad when this season is over, because Rangers and Celtic need time to build sides in order to create a wider name for themselves. because at the moment Scottish teams are

the laughing stock of Europe.

‘Unfortunately all the other clubs (in Scotland] are falling behind the Old Firm and the standard isn‘t as high as the English Premiership. but people have to remember that the game here doesn‘t have the financial structure or population base of England, so the comparisons are often unfair.‘ Butcher has no doubts about where the Premier flag will go. ‘Rangcrs will win it because they keep answering the big questions. they always seem to have that extra knack and spirit when it matters. Celtic have too many doubts each time they play Rangers.‘

Meanwhile. Billy McNeill believes that the New Year clash could prove particularly decisive from a Celtic point of view. The ex-captain and former manager ofthe Parkhead club feels Tommy Burns‘s team has an ardent point to prove. ‘The Celtic

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Auld enemies: Celtic’s Pierre van liooydonk and Rangers’ Craig Moore cross paths

supporters are still full of hope.‘ he says. ‘but only the outcome on 2 January will tell us which way the title could be heading. They were very optimistic before the last game. but full credit to Rangers. because they really benefited from that victory to go on and achieve some important results. At times Celtic have shown their frustration. and that has been invaluable to Rangers. Ultimately. the second halfof the season will depend on Celtic‘s ability to do well in the Old Firm matches.‘

Regardless of any present drawbacks in Scottish football‘s domestic scene. the magnetism of the Bears and the Bhoys always generates some of the most passionate interest worldwide. This latest skirmish should prove to be no exception.

Rangers play Celtic at I/)l‘().t' Stadium. Glasgow on Thurs 2 Jan.

Name game

What’s in a name? Rangers were supposedly named aiter an English rugby side, Hibernian aiter the . ancient name ior lreland, and Heart oi Midlothian aiter a Walter Scott novel. low the new craze sweeping Scotland’s lower divisions is the me change.

livingston started it when they dropped the Meadowbank Thistle title ior their move to the West

team’s name when they moved to a new stadium: Inverness Caledonian Thistle is now a permanent iixture on pools coupons. iieiuvenated Albion ilovers are to poll supporters about the insertion oi the club’s location oi Coatbridge in their name as Cliitonhill supremo David Shanks ieels the only way to keep local interest in the new ‘Wee Bovers’ is to put the area on the iootball map.

Certainly re-lnvention could be the way iorward ior clubs struggling to halt the ilow oi local buses westward to Old Firm matches, because the guli between the top hali oi the


thought about adding ‘City’ to their name alter a curious trend emerged in the English media to call Manchester United simply ‘Manchester’ and Dundee United ‘Dundee’, much to the annoyance oi the Dens Park board. United themselves had changed their name irom Dundee lilbs in 1923 in an attempt to show a city heavily in iavour oi Dundee ED. (the more successiul oi the two clubs until the mid-70s) that they welcomed more than those with Irish connections to

Elsewhere, East Stirlingshire were

When Saint Mirren won the Scottish Cup in 1987, they added ‘Paisley’ to the iront oi their name ior their European adventure, but any similarity to Paris Saint Dennain started and ended with the three-part moniker.

In American Football, clubs uproot to new cities and names with amazing regularity, but tradition dies harder in the land oi the round ball. It might not be long, though, beiore smaller clubs start to tamper with their given title to create a new brand image. What next? Alloa Wasps, Cowdenbeath Brazil, Airdrie and Lanarkshire United? Anything is possible in a country that

Lothian new town. Daley Thistle were next, when the local council called ior ‘Inverness’ to be prominent in the

Premier league and the rest oi Scottish iootball has never been wider.

in the late 80s, Dundee seriously

created under the grand Victorian title oi ‘Dainsiord Britannia’, while their current title attempts to include

those irom beyond the Falkirk suburb.

once had a club named after the 3rd Lanarkshire iliile Volunteers (Third Lanark) and the old name ior Perth, St Johnstown. (Alex llorsburgh)

64 The List l3 Dec l996-9 .lan I997