x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Celtic come up trumps in "Battle of Britain" at the Sevens

An old boys Battle of Britain between Manchester United and Celtic did most to lift the atmosphere at a low-key first Emirates Airline Dubai Football Sevens.

DUBAI // An old boys Battle of Britain between Manchester United and Celtic did most to lift the atmosphere at a low-key first Emirates Airline Dubai Football Sevens. For once United, the dominant force in mainstream English football for most of the last 20 years, were found lacking and were beaten 3-0 by their senior representatives on the first day of the "Legends" event, which finishes today.

Lou Macari, the United manager who started his distinguished playing career with Celtic, feared the worst beforehand. "I must have been the only United manager who considered resigning before his first game in charge," said Macari after his overweight squad had been overrun by leaner, fitter opponents. "I sensed as I watched my players over-indulging on the flight over here that we were going to be struggling and those fears worsened when I couldn't get them out of bed this morning. We somehow managed to get through our first game [2-1 against Chelsea] but I don't know how."

Clayton Blackmore, the former Welsh international midfielder who was one of the United Legends taking the Macari flak, responded: "It was hot out there and we didn't get here until two o'clock this morning. It was hard work." John Collins, the former Scotland captain, was one of the Celtic players who profited from the United lethargy and the former Hibs manager added his influential voice to those clamouring for annual showdowns between the two British giants. "It can only be a good thing for Celtic and Rangers to be playing against the likes of United in the English Premier League," said Collins, who completed his playing career in England with Everton and Fulham.

"So far it has been resisted in England, but the weight of public opinion will one day make it happen." Rangers also struck a cross-border blow for the Scots by defeating Arsenal 2-0 in their opening match thanks to a Gordon Durie double and then going within a few seconds of following up with a victory over Liverpool. Neil Murray put the Ibrox men in front only for Howard Gayle to snatch an equaliser for Liverpool in the last minute. The eight team Legends tournament is the feature event of the multi-competition Dubai Sevens. England's Big Four clubs have all sent representatives from years gone by to compete against the veterans from the Old Firm, AC Milan and the UAE World Cup squad of 1990. The main supporting cast at the three-day festival are the "professional" teams from eight top clubs but there are no household names among the line-ups of Arsenal, Blackburn, Leeds, Celtic, AC Milan, Brondby, Feyenoord and Olympiacos. Sunday is finals day and there will be 10 amateur trophies decided before the finale of the Professionals and the Legends tournaments, scheduled to take place at 8.05pm and 8.30pm respectively. wjohnson@thenational.ae