Twice this week we’ve seen it reported that Ibrox will have 3000 empty seats for a European home game because of sectarian chants from the fans of the club that play there. Once in a game at home to a team called St Joseph’s and once in an away game in the strongly Catholic country of Poland.
I mean, I can see why it might been seen as “just” sectarian. It’s not as if we don’t know how much hatred pours out of those fans when it comes to the Catholic faith. When one team sounds like a Catholic school and the other turn up a week later with a massive banner of their Pope, you can kind of understand why the religious aspect would be the focus.
The thing is, it’s not just sectarian chants. The uefa charges clearly stated it was racist chants that included sectarian chants. So why are our media only focusing on the sectarian part?
Well, then they would have to admit the truth that this country, which likes to pretend it’s one country of many cultures, has a racism problem focused around anti-Irish sentiments. A problem that is often so obviously seen coming from Ibrox.
It’s not confined to just Ibrox, but as with so many of the problems in Scotland, football happens to be one of the more highlighted outlets for it.
The noises from Ibrox this week have been clear. The club have said all the right things as they apparently look to stamp out this behaviour, but if you listen to their fan groups like Club 1872 or the Union Bears, or you just read some of the twitter replies to the club statements then you can see how far they have to go.
Today will be an interesting test. At least it should be, but then I think we all know they can do as they please today because the Scottish media, the SFA, the SPFL and all the tinpot charity organisations like Nil By Mouth and Show Racism the Red Card will adopt the same “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” attitude that we’ve seen from them all week.
Uefa aren’t perfect, far from it, but they haven’t half shown up Scotland’s head in the sand mentality this week.
Personally, the songs have never bothered me. I’m not Catholic, though I get branded as being as such purely because I wear the green and white hoops. I’m two generations removed from my Irish grandfather and if I’m honest then I probably identify more with my Polish grandfather because it’s his surname I live with every day of life.
Ultimately though I know that for the vast majority who sing these songs and chant these chants, it’s nothing more than a football hatred. You go to the game, you abuse the opponents, you go back to your life afterwards. The real problems aren’t the songs, it’s the few who genuinely feel the sentiment behind them and live their life’s that way that need dealt with. And that is well beyond football governance. All football can do is remove the outlet, and hope that plays some part in killing off the archaic attitudes that we should have long since got past.
Of far more importance today is the action on the park. Celtic travel to Ibrox today knowing not only that we are the two teams with a 100% league record so far, but that we’re both in the Europa League group stages and perhaps most annoyingly that we’ve lost on our last two visits here.
Gone are the days of our vast superiority in this derby. The four games last season were tight, with all four being won by the home team and three of those four by just a single goal. Indeed it was our last visit here that broke that pattern when we lost 2-0.
Mind you, the goals we lost last season here were all preventable. James Tavernier caught Scott Bain naping last time out, and the other goal was too easy past Kristoffer Ajer. Their goal of the season came in the earlier game and was a shot that deflected in off Callum McGregor!
McGregor was a common factor in these games purely because he was deployed at left back in both of them. We know all too well how that affects our team, we’ve seen it again this season against Cluj. It’s not that he’s bad there, it’s that he’s far better in the middle of the park and therefore so are we. Hopefully we don’t see it again today.
We haven’t scored at Ibrox since the ten men won 3-2 after twice being behind the season before last. That day it was goals from Tom Rogic and Moussa Dembele that twice pulled us level, while Odsonne Edouard got the winner. We won’t see the first two today, but hopefully the latter is fit despite going off injured on Thursday night. Certainly the manager believes he’ll be ready.
The real fitness doubt is over Kristoffer Ajer, so if he doesn’t make it then we can expect to see Jozo Simunovic partner Christopher Jullien and perhaps then a debut for Moritz Bauer at right back. The other question will then be whether or not Bolingoli plays left back or we do something bizarre again there.
And then we have a goalkeeping choice to make.
Craig Gordon did nothing wrong across the two legs against AIK Stockholm but Fraser Forster might fancy his chances to get back in too. Either of them are more than capable though.
Personally, as long as we play our players in the right positions then we should be going into this game with confidence. Our domestic form is good, we’re scoring plenty of goals, and although we have lost on our last two visits to Ibrox we know that when we play to our strengths we have beaten this lot time and again.
But they will be confident too. Unlike us, they are unbeaten this season. They saw off St Joseph’s, Progres, Midtjylland and Legia Warsaw with six wins and two draws across the eight games. They thumped Hibernian 6-1 in their only domestic home match, while they ground out wins away to Kilmarnock and St Mirren as well. Even their win away to East Fife in the League Cup was solid and better than us scraping past Dunfermline in extra time.
They’ve also shown they’ll fight to the death. Steven Gerrard’s comment about games ending on 86 minutes was probably more to do with pushing his team to do better at the end of games than anything else, and it worked too. The wins over Kilmarnock and Legia both came from winning goals in injury time.
We’ll need to be at our best today if we’re going to get a positive result. Even though we’ve thumped this team a few times in recent years, only one of them came at Ibrox. Every other win here has been a narrow one, and they’re probably at the best they’ve been right now. They’re also desperate to stop us winning nine in a row, and I think we all suspect that it’s these games that are going to prove crucial this season.
Better go out and do our best then. I never expect anything less when we go there. If we do, maybe the home fans will have no appetite for singing anything at all.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)