LAST week’s unveilings of Brendan Rodgers and Joey Barton by the Old Firm were a massive shot in the arm for the Scottish game.
It is hard to remember a time when two arrivals generated such excitement and optimism amongst the supporters of Celtic and Rangers.
And the timing could not have been more welcome. In the aftermath of the deplorable disturbances at the Scottish Cup Final, we were in desperate need of good news.
I was supposed to have been at the game to provide a tactical analysis for this newspaper. Instead I felt more like a war correspondent.
Hibs thoroughly deserved their historic success, a first Scottish Cup win since 1902. The match was a mirror of Rangers’ defeat of Celtic in the semi, only this time it was the Light Blues who were outplayed.
But no sooner had the final whistle sounded than the fans invaded the pitch and everything changed.
The football went out the window, and my mind went back to the notorious Old Firm Cup Final in 1980, the catalyst for the ban on alcohol at Scottish football grounds.
As a former chief executive of the SFA, it was impossible to watch the appalling scenes unfold without wondering what had gone wrong in terms of policing and stewarding.
Those questions will now be tackled by an independent inquiry, hopefully in a better fashion than by the two clubs involved in the immediate aftermath of the riot.
First we had Rod Petrie, chairman of Hibs and vice-president of the SFA, seriously under-reacting. He described the invasion – in which Rangers players had been assaulted and spat on by fans of his club – as over-exuberance.
His was an unimpressive display, overshadowed by the quick, appropriate and measured reaction from the Association’s current chief, Stewart Regan.
We don’t know what the final findings of the independent probe will be.
The intriguing possibility of the SFA being forced to fine themselves for their shortcomings as the tie’s hosts still exists. But I think it’s clear Hibs are going to get hammered for the actions of a section of their support.
As sad as it would be for the Easter Road club to be docked points, barred from playing in the Europa League or banned from competing in next season’s Scottish Cup, I don’t think we can rule any such sanctions out.
As the fallout continued, Rangers released a second statement last Sunday which was, for me anyway, an overreaction which took a scattergun approach to apportioning blame.
I know it chimed in with the feelings of many of their supporters, but I believe it went too far, especially in the naming of individuals in the media they were not pleased with.
It may have appealed to the majority of the Rangers support, but some of the high ground was lost by the Ibrox club there and then.
Oddest of all, though, was the silence of manager Mark Warburton to the loss of a game they had been expected to win.
He shouldn’t have been expected to comment on the fighting or the assaults on his players. But what he should have done was address the clear shortcomings of his team over the 90 minutes.
Given the size and profile of the match, that was not unreasonable. It didn’t even have to be done on the day. But over a week on, we still haven’t heard his views and that’s wrong.
He certainly has issues to be addressed. The defence isn’t good enough and will need to be reinforced, as will other areas of the team.
Certainly the arrival of Joey Barton will help.
Always a good player, he has added maturity and discipline. He stayed suspension-free as Burnley won the English Championship, despite being a near ever-present.
Rangers will need him, and more, because Brendan Rodgers is, I’m sure, going to hit the ground running at Celtic.
I know Brendan. He leaves no stone unturned.
He will already have opinions about the merits of the squad he is inheriting, and a clear picture in his head of the Celtic side he wants and the style of football he wants them to play.
There will already be a list of the men he wants to bring in to achieve those goals.
The early Champions League qualifiers mean everything has to be done almost instantly. So exciting times lie ahead, and it’s certainly not going to be dull.
Let’s just hope that, unlike last Saturday, it’s memorable for all the right reasons.
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