Splitting the Auld Firm?

Sometimes it’s interesting to look back on your words from the past. Occasionally one ends up with egg on the chin of course and sometimes one’s views are vindicated. I read back this article from a couple of years ago and despite a George Burley-inspired dash by Hearts and the current robustness of Hibs’ form, I wonder if anything has really changed?

The below is from a questionnaire by Colin Illingworth of http://www.squarefootball.net in August 2005. It asks fans of Aberdeen, Celtic, Hibernian, Hearts and Rangers about the prospect of the Old Firm being separated for the first time in ten years and whether this could be the year that a team outside the Old Firm could win the SPL title for the first time since Aberdeen 20 years ago.

Printed here are my answers to Colin’s questions from that time. Interesting to note perhaps as the Hibs, still unbeaten as I write this season, lie in a challenging position, how things are comparing. I had begun to believe of late that maybe the stranglehold may be coming to an end. Are we however heading inexorably towards the usual stalemate of a Celtic-Rangers one-two? You decide.

Colin’s full article, including other supporter’s views can be found at this link:


Q “The SPL season is only four games old and already both sides of the Old Firm have dropped points with Hearts currently the only team with maximum points. Some pundits have said that this could be the season when somebody from the chasing pack splits the Old Firm for the first time in ten years and maybe a non-Old Firm club could actually win the SPL. What are your views on these suggestions and why?”

A Sadly as much as I would like to see this happen I don’t believe the old firm will be split this year. Sure the Glasgow pair has money difficulties these days but one assumes funds will be found if necessary to strengthen their squads if necessary. I can never get away from the size of their crowds as compared to other competing clubs, how can ten or twelve thousand fans rack up against fifty or sixty thousand fans, ultimately?

The leading lights from the chasing pack don’t have the strength in depth to challenge over a long hard season I don’t feel. I should say that many of my fellow Hibs fans may well disagree with this of late, I’m sure some Hearts and Aberdeen fans would too. Hibs ran a close chase in 2001 but ultimately fell by the wayside in the SPL due to having to rely on the same eleven or twelve players each week. As soon as problems struck with a key player or two it was largely show over.

Q “Hibs and Aberdeen were the main challengers to the Old Firm last season with both sides going to Parkhead and coming away with all three points. What are your views on the way the Hibees have started this season and will Tony Mowbray be able to build on last season’s success?”

A There appeared to be a lot of pessimism about the club particularly after the 4 – 0 reverse at Hearts understandably. It almost seemed that Hibs were on the verge of all the good things and progress that happened last year going by the wayside. I do feel that much of this is due though to a lack of confidence in the way the club is run off the pitch rather than what happens on it. The Derek Riordan transfer saga has been a hard one to take and seems to have split a lot of the Hibees’ support in attitude – much like the issue of our last manager Bobby Williamson did. On the pitch however it’s a different story. There’s a huge confidence and feel good factor in manager Tony Mowbray, I feel that not only do the support believe in his ability and sincerity, they enjoy his philosophy on football which dictates the ball be played on the ground and passed around at speed. The conception of Hibernian playing in this style is one that many of us hold dear as a tradition.

In short I expect Mowbray to consolidate last year’s progress. The downside is that he may be hampered by the board’s reticence in speculating even to a small degree however. I do believe that Hibs will certainly finish within the top four and experience a decent cup run along the way.

Q “In recent years the gap between the Old Firm and the chasing pack has been getting closer with teams no longer being afraid to actually take the game to them. Why do you think this has been the case?”

A I do believe this is a very recent development and still conceive of teams visiting Parkhead and Ibrox on a damage limitation mission – rather like Hibernian’s 3 – 0 win at Ibrox last Saturday according to the particularly ungracious manager of the Govan club! On has to remember that a third placed Hibs finished a long, long way behind the old firm last year so I think nothing concrete has actually been achieved as yet although some potential is there to do so.

Speaking of my own club Hibs I’d say the most valid reason for this change of attitude is within the players themselves rather any outside influence. Hibernian have a very talented group of young lads who have come through the ranks together and don’t appear to show any fear, nor least more respect than is due to the Glasgow pair (or anyone indeed). Going back a few years I recall the ‘Quality Street Club’ at Parkhead – a team of young guys with the likes of one K. Dalglish, Macari, Danny McGrain et al all coming through the ranks at the same time and cock-sure of themselves too. This young set of Hibees reminds me a lot of them.

Q “Do you think that the standards of the Old Firm have slipped or the clubs around them have picked up? And why do you think this has been the case.”

A I believe both of those factors are true. The calibre of players being signed by the old firm has dropped hugely – especially when judged on their ability to perform well in Europe where mostly they are an abject failure. With those clubs being tens of millions in debt these days they tend to cast their net within the SPL for bargain buys which will only buy them (relative) success within Scotland, (and make the gap between them and the non-old firm teams even wider). As we are aware, finishing second is failure for either of the Glasgow clubs so it’s a fine line. One always has to remember the media interest in the two though; it may just prove to be their lifeline as sure enough things don’t look particularly optimistic for either of them outside of their own shores.

Q “How important is it to the Scottish game that teams like Aberdeen, Hibs and Hearts can challenge the Old Firm on a regular basis?”

A I believe it’s more important than ever. In these days of instant success being required in football and life in general, I don’t think the young fan coming into the game will be prepared to accept a couple of trophies in twenty years like the fans of Hibs have had to do in the past, albeit spiced up with a couple of pretty teams to watch, along the way plus some great individuals. As can be seen in many leagues around the world, (and this is often ignored when people talk about two teams dominating in Scotland) more competition is required.

Unfortunately what can be seen is that when a non-old firm team bring on a good prospect, Rangers and Celtic are usually waiting in the wings with a derisory offer for the player. What also hurts the other clubs is the perceived lack of quality within the SPL. This may hold some water but what can be seen is that a player of similar ability appearing in say, the English Championship will be regarded as having more worth. I’m sure if one of Hibs’ youngsters like Derek Riordan, Scott Brown or Stephen Whittaker for example were turning out every Saturday afternoon south of the border in that division their financial worth would be perceived entirely differently. Witness the likes of Riordan etc. who we assume teams feel they can pick up for peanuts – it’s all to do with the perceived lack of quality and strength of the SPL.

Q “What would it mean for you to see the dominance of the Old Firm ended?”

A Well I think they’ve had their turn haven’t they! I was brought up on stories of the great Hibernian forward line of the 1950’s, ‘The Famous Five’. For me as a young kid I didn’t believe Rangers or Celtic were any better than us – far from it indeed. I was also fortunate enough to be the right age to watch the superb footballing outfit that Hibs possessed in the early 1970’s. You might gather there is no inferiority complex here! The first point I’d make is that an old firm dominance ending might finally begin to sow the seeds of a sea change against sectarianism in Scotland. I could trot out all the clichés of ‘Scotland’s curse/shame’ etc. but I really do have to shake my head at some of the pathetic stories of some old firm followers’ extreme narrow mindedness. Outside of a pure football discussion that would be the most important factor.

On the field well I often wonder about the prospect of the old firm not being there at all any more. It’s a moot point sure, but at least the league would be truly competitive. I guess the downside might be that the media might completely ignore the remaining teams but on balance I would welcome their departure if they can find anyone who actually wants them?

Q “Finally, what are your hopes for the remainder of the season?”

A To be entertained whenever I go along to watch the Hibees play and for them to carry on the progress that was achieved so well last season. I’d enjoy the club getting back around the table more with the supporters as they did a year or two ago as I thought that was a worthwhile exercise. Third place and Europe would be just great and that has to be the main target. I’d like the team to keep playing with style as that’s important to me as a Hibby.

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