Celebrating the resurgence of the New Firm
The early eighties were an exhilarating time for the Scottish game as wee Jim and Fergie brought west coast knowhow east
STEPHEN THOMPSON, Dundee United’s chairman, demonstrated a natural salesman’s charm when he recalled, as we chatted this week, how his late father Eddie used to come home with two newspapers in the eighties – The Dundee Courier, which I worked for at the time and The Glasgow Herald, as the one I aspired to write for was then known.
It was a lengthy conversation that touched on many fronts and offered some real insight into the commitment that is required to enter into the often thankless task of football club ownership.
Our discussion was all the more timely because just a few days earlier I had proffered in print the view that Thompson’s fellow club chairman Rod Petrie really has to go before chief executive Leeann Dempster’s attempts to address the dysfunctional nature of what celebrity supporter Charlie Reid described as “the Hibs family” can properly succeed.
Listening to Thompson outline what his family has been through, for all the considerable solace they took from the touching tributes paid to Eddie when he died, gave renewed understanding of how difficult it must be for those who think they have put their money where their mouths are, to deal with what they see as such ingratitude.
That, though, is how football tends to be and, as one who attended last season’s play-offs with a Hibs supporting friend on what we referred to with dark humour as suicide watch, I very much hope Petrie does what he needs to in order to allow all concerned direct their energies more effectively. Because this is a time of great opportunity for Scottish football.
The nature of this weekend’s League Cup semi-finals inevitably invites comparison with the last time the Old Firm’s unhealthy stranglehold on the domestic game was challenged.
The early eighties were an exhilarating time for the Scottish game as wee Jim and Fergie brought west coast managerial knowhow east and repeatedly used it to out-play the Old Firm.
It properly began with United’s League Cup win over Aberdeen at Dens, the last domestic trophy to be won in the seventies. The first half of the ensuing decade saw the pair win half the 18 major domestic trophies available up to the end of 1985, while the Dons also accrued the European Cup Winners Cup and the European Super Cup and United reached the European Cup semi-finals, something no Scottish club has come close to doing since.
The New Firm era reached its peak in 1985, the year Aberdeen defended their title. It meant that, along with United’s success in 1983, the Old Firm had been denied the Scottish title for three successive seasons for the only time in the sport’s history.
After Fergie headed to Manchester to do whatever it was he did there, things were never quite the same and in hindsight the brutal response of the Old Firm was close to catastrophic for the sport.
An embarrassed Rangers embraced David Murray’s approach, Celtic initially responded in the arms race and, as others attempted to compete by over-extending themselves financially, one club after another was brought to its knees.
Now, however, the readjustment has largely taken place forcing clubs to follow the example of men like Hamilton Academical’s vice chairman Ronnie MacDonald, who told me recently how he used to scour housing schemes looking to identify talented footballers taking part in kick-about games in the street.
New Firm re-emergence, the Hearts revolution, Hamilton’s extraordinary 2014, St Johnstone enjoying their greatest year and Inverness in the top three in the Premiership all bode well in terms of re-positioning Scottish football as a high class nursery for sporting talent.
Rangers’ troubles have contributed to allowing others to have a real chance of winning things, while Celtic supporters remain sufficiently traumatised by what almost happened to their club, before Fergus McCann arrived, to remain realistic about their spending power.
That can only be good news for Scottish football and that can have a knock-on effect for the rest of Scottish sport as a whole, such is its importance to the national psyche.
That takes us back to this weekend’s events and the owner of the company whose name you will see plastered all over proceedings, QTS.
Multi-millionaire Alan McLeish’s love of football has seen him back his local club Kilmarnock for the last three years his passion for sport goes way beyond that.
Involving people like him in its running could be just what is needed to galvanise Scotland’s sporting environment and he seems keen for that to happen.
For all sorts of reasons the coming weekend promises great things...
BACK ON DIVERGENT PATHS: The New Firm’s resurgence has been a bright spot of the current campaign.