x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Old Firm courting controversy

As police in Scotland warn Rangers and Celtic about their behaviour in today's League Cup final, how would a hearing pan out?

Rangers' El Hadji Diouf squares up to Celtic manager Neil Lennon.
Rangers' El Hadji Diouf squares up to Celtic manager Neil Lennon.

News Report, Friday March 18: "Old Firm footballers were last night given a final warning by Scotland's top law chief - behave on the pitch or you'll end up in court!

Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini QC spoke out just days before Rangers and Celtic clash again in the Scottish League Cup final."

A young man stands in a courtroom dock. He wears heavy metal handcuffs, although they look quite dainty compared to his watch. The court clerk speaks.

"Defendant A, it is alleged that upon the 20th day of March, 2011, at Hampden Park, Glasgow, you did wilfully engage in unlawful acts of Handbaggery, that you did exceed permitted levels of Nonsense, and finally, that yourself and other parties did conspire to commit Afters. How do you plead?"

"Well, at the end of the day, and no disrespect to the prosecution, who are not to be underestimated, I'm going to back myself on this one."

"Sorry, do you mean you plead not guilty?"

"Yeah."

"Very well. The Prosecution may proceed with its opening statement."

A jowly man stands, hooks his thumbs into his waistcoat pockets, and addresses the jury.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it is your solemn duty to shoulder a most grave responsibility: to determine the guilt or innocence of this young man, a professional player of Association Football for Glasgow Rangers …"

Immediately, a fight breaks out in the jury box as six of the assembled panel shout "Guilty!" and the other six cry "Innocent!" There follows a long delay while the court seeks 12 Scots who support neither Rangers nor Celtic. Eventually, they settle for people from Edinburgh, who are not exactly real Scots, but what can you do? The jowly barrister continues.

"It is the Prosecution's case that this defendant is guilty of all the charges. Over the next two weeks - when you'd think we might have something better to do, like trying murderers - we will prove to you how this man reacted with terrible violence to a late tackle by the Celtic left-back.

"Using television replays, and hopefully one of those special Andy Gray-style pens which draw on the screen, we will demonstrate how the defendant leapt to his feet and knowingly armed himself with a puffed-out chest.

"Using this barrel-like weapon, he barged into the Celtic player in a manner which, we say, could have caused the man to stumble backward slightly. Not content with this vicious assault, he then nuzzled his jaw into his victim's face, with blatant disregard for the likely outcome of such violence. Namely, stubble-rash.

"This, ladies and gentlemen, constitutes the Handbaggery charge. "Next, the allegation of Nonsense.

"We shall demonstrate how the defendant, whilst being gently led away from the altercation by his elbow, did, with malice aforethought, fall to his knees and clutch his face as if shot by a sniper. You will hear evidence from an expert witness, an esteemed Professor of Kidology from the University of Ballamory, who will classify this incident extremely high on the internationally recognised Nonsense Scale. Somewhere between a Drogba and a Rivaldo, to be precise. Finally, we will come to the most serious charge: the conspiracy.

"The prosecution will prove to you that this young man did not act alone. In fact, we say, such incidents of Afters were encouraged by other parties - namely football fans and the media - who cannot bear the thought of yet another dour Old Firm game without something extra to spice it up.

"Well, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, would you bother to watch Scottish football without the promise of a good scrap?"

 

What’s the point if team-bonding sessions end with bust-ups?

A simple question: Why do professional footballers need whisking away on fancy team-bonding trips?

Of course, I understand why such jollies are necessary for us mere mortals: a day of paintballing or golf helps to distract the average Joe from the crushing realisation that, yes, he really will be spending the next 45 years of his life with these people, trying to sell paper clips. Plus, it can be useful to meet your workmates in a context that is more fun, adventurous or luxurious than the office.

But footballers? They live in a context that could not possibly be more fun, more adventurous or more luxurious.

They have the best job in the world. Who needs distracting from that? Surely they cannot think: “Gee, that was a tough week, what with two hours of training per day and then playing to 50,000 screaming fans on Saturday, all for a paltry hundred grand.

Thank goodness I have got that raft-building session to look forward to!”

I ask this question after the Aston Villa defenders Richard Dunne and James Collins were involved in a furious bust-up with coaching staff during a paintballing-and-luxury-spa awayday earlier this month.

They were each fined two weeks wages, which is the maximum penalty allowed by the Professional Footballers’ Association.

This is not the first team-bonding activity to go awry. Remember when Craig Bellamy mistook John Arne Riise for a ball during a Liverpool FC golfing trip to Portugal? Or how about the card schools which flourished in the England camp, when players lost up to £40,000 (Dh238,000) on single hands?

Gerard Houllier, the Aston Villa manager, still believes in such activities.

“It was a great team-bonding activity,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate the incident happened.”

Yes, that is a brilliant dam. Apart from that hole where all the water is flooding through.