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Battle of Bridgeton

Spare us all the ‘Battle of Britain’ nonsense that’s being spouted about Celtic’s forthcoming UEFA Cup clash with Blackburn Rovers. Whenever that appellation has been trotted out in the past, I’ve often wondered what the people of Wales and Northern Ireland must think. Scots often accuse the English of behaving as if England and the UK are synonymous. Let’s not fall into the same trap ourselves.

The only sense in which the term might be remotely correct would be if it were the champion clubs of both countries involved in a European Cup tie - as in the matches between Celtic and Leeds, Aberdeen and Liverpool and Rangers and Leeds. Not between one champion side and another that finished in tenth place as Blackburn did last season.

At one time UEFA/Fairs Cup games between Scottish and English sides were commonplace. Did anyone stick this nonsensical label on such ties as Morton v Chelsea, Kilmarnock v Leeds, Dundee United v Newcastle or Aberdeen v Spurs, to name but a few? Of course not.

In any case there were just two Scots in Celtic’s last match and only six Englishmen in Blackburn’s.

What we should be focusing on are Celtic’s prospects of getting through to the next round. On the face of it these are pretty good. Blackburn are a competent Premiership team, not a great one. They are in Europe by virtue of winning the League Cup - a competition that none of the top teams take seriously. Once again, Rovers are in tenth spot in the Premiership and that seems a fair reflection of their abilities.

But of course there’s more to it than that. Although the Premiership has been declared a no-go area for the Old Firm at present, this result will be looked at as an indication of how the Big Two would fare in that set-up.

Defeat by a mid-ranking side would be a blow to their long-term ambitions as well as a catastrophically early exit from Europe.

But Rovers have far and away the worst record of any English team in Europe. In twelve matches they have won just one game - a meaningless Champions League victory over Rosenborg after they had already been eliminated.

Rosenborg are joined by Trelleborgs, Legia Warsaw, Lyons and Spartak Moscow (twice) in having beaten Blackburn. Their away goals triumph over CSKA Sofia in the last round was the first time Blackburn had won a European tie. Even here they nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Leading 3-0 in Bulgaria, the match finished 3-3.

When you look at that record you can understand why Celtic have, unusually, been seeded above the English team.

Offsetting all that of course is the presence of Graeme Souness as Rovers boss. Putting one over on their old enemy will be of greater importance to many Celtic fans than the nationality of the opposition.

Blackburn will demand respect. Even a mid-table Premiership side are light years ahead of the domestic opposition - Rangers aside - that Celtic usually face. And they are a better team than Basle too.

But Celtic should emerge the winner of the tie. Their record against English clubs in Europe isn’t all that bad. Sure, they’ve only won once - that epic European Cup tie against Leeds when they won both legs.

But in the Cup-Winners Cup back in 1966 they beat Liverpool at home and were on course to square the tie when a Bobby Lennox goal was wrongly disallowed. They drew away to a strong Nottingham Forest team in the UEFA Cup in the '80s, only to lose at home. And in their last tie against an English team, when they played Liverpool in the UEFA Cup five years ago, Celtic were the better team over two legs, losing out on the away goals rule
They’ll never have a better chance to beat an English team. They should be good enough to do it.

Game On

Jason Cousins’ testimonial match (see last week's BOTN) against Celtic went ahead at Wycombe’s Adams Park on October 8th. Martin O’Neill was as good as his word and fielded a strong line-up. Larsson, Sutton, Thompson, Petta, Agathe, Laursen and Lennon all started the match. Gould, Boyd, Healy and Fernandez completed the starting eleven though O’Neill took the opportunity of giving some of his youngsters a run-out in the second half. Only David Fernandez and Neil Lennon played the full 90 minutes.

The testimonial got the go-ahead

Larsson scored twice in the 4-0 victory. Celtic’s other goals came from Momo Sylla and, ironically, an own-goal by Jason Cousins. The total attendance was 5,072 with 1,044 in the away end.

It still wasn’t the kind of turnout Celtic fans pride themselves on but it wasn’t as bad as was at first feared and Cousins should earn something out of the night.


Having managed to avoid saying anything about the Old Firm last week, this week’s Back of the NET is full of them. Time, methinks, for a mid-season break before it becomes a habit. Yes, I know the SPL doesn’t break until January. Yes, I am aware of the Euro 2004 situation. But this website takes its breaks when it can get them.

So, next up it’s Lazio v Perugia in Serie A and Roma V Genk in the Champions League. We’ll be back at the end of the month just in time for the first leg of Celtic v Blackburn - or to give it a more appropriate name, the Battle of Bridgeton!




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Firm Friends

If it was entertainment, excitement and action you were looking for, then the first Old Firm match of the season didn’t disappoint. End-to-end stuff, played at a furious pace resulting in a 3-3 draw.

The game apart, much of the Scottish press focused its attention on the BBC. The Corporation broadcast the match live throughout the UK and RTE did likewise in the Republic of Ireland.

The Scottish media reaction to the BBC coverage took two distinct paths. There was the lofty, almost holier-than-thou approach of Graham Spiers in The Herald with his condescending admonishment of BBC pundits Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker. Strangely, the other member of the Beeb’s troika - the pseudo-Irishman Mark Lawrenson - was omitted from St Graham’s strictures.

Spiers’ position could be summed up as follows: people have died as a result of sectarianism, the Scottish press talks the talk but won’t walk the walk and demand that these games should not take place (presumably with the exception of Spiers himself). English-based commentators don’t know anything about sectarianism otherwise they wouldn’t go on about how marvellous a match it was. ‘ Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.’

The cynic might say that Spiers is seeking a bit of redemption himself after his comments on Neil Lennon’s withdrawal from the Northern Ireland set-up. Certainly to go from suggesting that Lennon might be the author of his own misfortune to calling for a total ban on Old Firm encounters fits Spiers’ quasi-biblical tone. A conversion of Damascene proportions if ever there was one.

The Old Firm game was a thriller

Over in the Record, they resorted to that traditional Scottish sport of English-baiting. Lineker was accused of trying to goad the panel into criticising Celtic keeper Rab Douglas and readers were told of how manfully Hansen and Lawrenson refused to rise to the bait.


Sorry, but that’s the only way to describe the Record article, written, incidentally, by an Englishman. It was Lawrenson who led the attack on Douglas. Furthermore, in the same edition of the Record, Douglas was told he’d ‘never be forgiven’ for his lapses by the Parkhead fans. This was in a piece by regular columnist Murdo MacLeod.

Since then, the hapless goalie has had to endure a further slagging in print by both journalists and phone-in contributors.

The truth of the matter is that Douglas was badly at fault for two of the three Rangers goals. No one hates the sight of English commentators laughing at Scottish keepers more than this website. But the fact remains that Douglas was poor. It’s not the first time either that the keeper has disappointed on a big occasion. In this case, Lawrenson, Hansen and Lineker ( and previous articles will show these are not exactly the first names on our xmas card list) were merely stating the obvious.

As for the BBC coverage, there were two aspects which neither the Herald nor the Record saw fit to mention. So we’ll do it for them.

Firstly, there was the ghastly build-up to the game, presumably intended for non-Scots, with shots of dead shipyards and new shopping centres as a funereal voice-over (the actor wasn’t credited but to our ears it sounded like Ian McColl - of Rab C Nesbitt fame, not the Falkirk boss) intoned the supposed ‘majesty’ of the game.

The ‘biggest club game in the world.’ Oh how they must have bowed their heads in Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Turin, Munich, Manchester, and Buenos Aires to name but a few places where that appellation might just be contested.

Just when it looked like the BBC were going to get away without mentioning the ‘S’ word, they did. ‘Sectarianism,’ the undertaker’s voice intoned, then without warning the film flipped to scenes of happy, smiling Chinese and Asian children.

Ah, what a fortunate city Glasgow is to be bathed in such multi-cultural harmony where kids grow up supporting one side or the other untainted by the bigotry of the past. Where racism is a long-conquered scourge from a distant era. Where, peace, happiness and joy reign eternally in the souls of humanity.


There we go with the swearie words again. But here’s only so much of the BBC’s patronising drivel that can be stomached. Sure, it was well-intended, but what happened to telling it like it is rather than what we’d like it to be?

The other item that the Scottish press didn’t pick up on happened right at the end of the broadcast. Just before they went off air, Gary Lineker announced the results and latest scores from the other games played that day - at Arsenal, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Fulham, Liverpool and even from Wimbledon v Ipswich where only 3,000 could be bothered to attend.

There was just one senior match played in the UK that day that Lineker didn’t mention. Livingston v Hearts. That’s right. The BBC made a great song and dance about their first live UK-wide coverage of the SPL and couldn’t be arsed to give us the latest score from the only other SPL match being played while at the same time making sure we knew what was going on at Selhurst Park!

And how many column inches did the Scottish press devote to this astonishing omission?

Well, think of a number, multiply by ten, add the square root of the original number, divide by the first figure to come into your head then subtract the Herald and the Record’s combined column inches and you’ll get the answer.

Provided the number you first thought of was zero.


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