Cel­e­brat­ing the resur­gence of the New Firm

The Herald - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - Susan Egel­staff

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.

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