Nil-all draw hailed as good result . . . by the police

Mon, Apr 25, 2011, 01:00

Rangers and Celtic supporters were on their best behaviour, but Celtic manager Neil Lennon cannot help but wind people up, writes MARK HENNESEY

CHARMING, HELPFUL and talkative, the taxi driver was as non-sectarian a man as one could expect to meet anywhere, but even he found it difficult to understand that one could be neither Rangers nor Celtic.

“Oh, really?” he said, clearly a little taken aback on the eve of an Old Firm derby driving down Jamaica Street, where few revellers were to be seen.

“Aye, people tend to stay at home on the night before an Old Firm game. Save their money for the day, don’t you know.”

In Gallowgate, the Celtic side of the city, neutrals were nowhere to be found in Baird’s Bar. There, religiosity mixes with pop-art, with a doctored copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna Of The Yarnwindershowing the Virgin Mary wearing a tricolour.

Celtic memorabilia line the walls of the pub, which was used by Kenny Dalglish in his time as manager of the club, while a photograph of the Beatles has equally not escaped amendment, showing them wearing Celtic’s hoops.

Though such derbies are always a tense, if sometimes exhilarating, affair, yesterday’s match – the seventh this season in league and cup contests between the sides – could well have decided the outcome of the Scottish Premier League.

Preparations were particularly exacting following the sending of parcel bombs to Celtic’s Armagh-born manager Neil Lennon and two well-known club supporters over the last six weeks by persons unknown.

Up to 1,000 extra police were on duty, according to Strathclyde Police, though Rangers fans were perfectly behaved as they walked down Paisley Road West in Govan to the 50,000-seater Ibrox Stadium, past mounted police and horses. The horses wore visors.

On the other side of the stadium, up to 10,000 Celtic fans waited behind a line of horses to enter the Broomloan stand – the traditional “away” supporters’ domain. Yesterday, Rangers’ officials had placed 40,000 Union Jacks on the remaining seats. None entered Broomloan.

Near a hoarding trumpeting Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond’s call to voters in the May 5th election, a hawker sold Rangers flags and scarves, including one declaring: “If You Cannae Do the Bouncy, You’re a Tim.” Translation was hardly required.

Memorabilia for Friday’s royal wedding were on sale, though few purchased the Union Jack flags adorned with images of the prince and his bride. Glasgow, after all, is not to have a single street party to mark the event.

Before the game, Rangers manager Walter Smith, a veteran of 56 Old Firm derbies, seemed glad that he’d be leaving it all behind when he retires shortly: “I have reached the stage where I’ve had enough of them all.”

Hailed to cries of “there’s only one Neil Lennon” by his own when he walked onto the pitch 20 minutes before kick-off, Lennon was jeered by many in the Rangers seats: “If you hate Neil Lennon, clap your hands.”

The game itself had little to recommend it, though police fretted near the end when referee Craig Thomson awarded a penalty, ruling Celtic substitute Anthony Stokes had been fouled by Steven Davis inside the box.

But Georgios Samaras’s shot was saved by Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor.

Rangers fans crowed, while Celtic’s threw their hands in the air, deprived of the added pleasure of copper-fastening their hold on the title race in the home of the arch-enemy.

Leaving the pitch, Lennon, who had said on Friday that he was “baffled that my persona can cause this type of poison in people”, turned to the Rangers fans, cupping his hands to his ears, provoking the fury of some.

“Don’t ask me about that, it’s called humour,” he said later. “Don’t distract away from my team’s performance, don’t even write about it. You’ll have photographs of it tomorrow, I’m sure; it was just a bit of fun.”

After the final whistle, Rangers’ fans left quietly, with just a few making desultory efforts to sing, while fife music played endlessly, including a rendition of The Sash My Father Wore, from a car stuck in heavy traffic.

On the junction of Copland Road, a police inspector looked content as he watched the disappointed fans depart: “A draw is a good result for us, whatever about them. We always like a draw, far less trouble that way.”