Tonight's Old Firm derby sees in-form Celtic with a chance to leapfrog Glasgow Ranger in the SPL... Cue the usual chaos.
The seminal Alan Moore penned Batman graphic novel, The Killing Joke centres around one relatively unfunny but highly symbolic joke shared between Batman and The Joker. The anecdote involves two guys in a lunatic asylum trying to break out. Making it as far as the roof, they need to make a big jump onto some adjacent rooftops to escape. The first guys leaps it no problem but the second is too scared. The first guy then offers to shine his torch beam across the gap so the other can ‘walk across it’ to freedom. “Are you crazy?” the second guy quite rightly questions, before revealing his irony laced punch line: “You’ll turn the beam off when I’m halfway across!”
Whilst it’s difficult to draw direct parallels between Batman and The Joker and Rangers and Celtic, there is a certain Arkham quality of madness to the Glasgow football fraternity. Both managers spend the week prior to an Old Firm derby talking around the football. The usual team selection chat, thoughts on formations and injuries take a back seat. What becomes more pronounced is the discussion around discipline, refereeing and the acknowledgement that the sheer madness of the occasion almost takes on an entity of its own. Words and phrases like ‘unique occasion’, ‘cup final’ and ‘treat it as a one-off’ pinball around the press. A collective ‘group think’ occurs amongst both tribes and the ever attentive press and fascinated neutrals and it becomes accepted that this match is football madness personified. That this game is a globally recognised festival of sheer unadulterated hateful psychosis on a scale like no other and that all sanity goes out the window on any given fixture between the Glasgow giants.
Tonight’s game is no exception either. Celtic midfielder/defender Joe Ledley has already asserted that Celtic are not favourites to win. This due, according to the diminutive Welshman, because they are of course, second in the table. The bookies disagree however and have Celtic at evens for the win. These confident odds are largely down to a run of good form that has seen the Hoops record eight straight league wins and close the gap on Rangers to a single point.
When the derby in question is the Old Firm, the form book is fired through the window from a cannon containing a wild mixture of gunpowder, plot and sheer madness.
The fact that Celtic were a colossal 15 points behind their rivals on Bonfire Night says as much about Celtics new found consistency as it does Rangers erratic form. Problems with discipline, an inability to close out games, a key injury to Steven Naismith and a seeming uncertainty from Ally McCoist as to what formation to play has seen his side falter under pressure. Celtic meanwhile have been a team transformed. The days of Neil Lennon being two games away from the sack seem a distant memory. Since those much scrutinised and brinkman-like wins he has guided his team with an authority and calmness that was sadly lacking in the early part of the season. All of a sudden he has the dressing room onside. The defence, which was once as shaky as a B&Q wardrobe is now the model of confident impenetrability with the previously untrustworthy centre-halves, Majstorovic and Loovens now playing like a late-Eighties era George Graham is managing them and an early-Seventies Beckenbauer is mopping up in front.
But who need Franz when you have the absurdly brilliant Wanyama and the combative Scott Brown breaking up play before it becomes dangerous? Added to that, there is the suddenly commanding presence of Fraser Forster calling the shots behind them in nets. Like Paul Atreides in Dune he appears to have suddenly found his voice and started giving the defence a new one every time things get a bit sketchy. Not only that but he’s saving penalties and goal bound shots like a man possessed. If he keeps this up he’ll soon become the type of keeper Celtic have lacked since the ‘Holy Goalie’ departed for the continent. Perhaps the most telling site though is the aesthetically confusing site of Samaras charging around on the left flank like a footballing version of Buckaroo, scoring goals and creating chances for others. Cynics would suggest this is down to the January transfer window fast approaching on the horizon but regardless an in form Samaras in the SPL quickly begins to resemble a vengeful Greek footballing god and his previous form against Rangers would suggest he has the blue team well and truly in his crosshairs.
Form, as the saying goes, departs out the window on derby day. When the derby in question is the Old Firm then surely the form book is fired through said window from a cannon containing a wild mixture of gunpowder, plot and sheer madness. Just when you think one team will walk across the beam, the other turns it off. Anything goes on derby day in Glasgow. That is the killing joke and the beauty and the beast of the greatest club game in the world.
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