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It is in Celtic's best interests to wish for calm at Ibrox

AS theatrical genres go, the saga of Rangers surely comes into the category of 'weepie'.

Even when divisions apart, the Old Firm still take shots at each other
Even when divisions apart, the Old Firm still take shots at each other

There are those inconsolables, down whose cheeks run tears of despair, not to say incomprehension, as they witness the men who try to run Ibrox mastering the art of self-ridicule. Then there are those whose tears are in floods because they have not experienced such mirth since watching two men compete to see who reaches the top of the greasy pole first in It's A Knockout.

In the enormous gulf which lies between these two conflicting emotions, Scottish club football lies in a moribund state, surrounded by onlookers pretending that it is otherwise. Rangers not out of the woods, Hearts still on the brink, rumours swirl around Kilmarnock's survival, and although a team such as Inverness Caledonian Thistle is doing well, it is simply not a crowd puller in a league supposedly more competitive.

Celtic's Champions League demise last week conveniently reminds us that, since the most obvious solution for them - moving to fresher, more lucrative pastures - is as unlikely as seeing the transference of the Stone of Destiny back to that vault in Westminster, their astute directors will be keeping an ear open to reports emanating from the war-zone on the other side of the city to see if any stability is forthcoming.

Although Celtic owe their great rivals no charitable thoughts, they are mindful of how beneficial it would be - not just financially, but to their very psyche - to sharpen their purpose against the only club which can offer real competition in the longer term, once that old rivalry was brought out of cold storage.

Stability at Ibrox would not even represent a real and menacing threat to their domestic superiority for any considerable time, for Walter Smith admitted to me at the height of their troubles that if Rangers did return to the top flight they would need in the region of £20m or £30m to offer any genuine challenge.

How remote that all seems. But even if the playing field were uneven for some period - an experience Celtic fans had to thole when the other Murray was in charge at Ibrox, and which certainly did not dent their continuing loyalty - it would not subvert this special rivalry.

Both sides of the Old Firm have a unique resilience in absorbing adversity, simply because of the existence of the other. Even leagues apart, they still take pot-shots at each other, as witness the Celtic agm last month. Whatever its odious aspects, the rivalry still has a dynamic dimension that stretches the competitive element of the domestic game much further than just the four Old Firm meetings. Trying to climb past one of them is nowhere near as challenging as trying to split them in the league.

So although today's annual meeting at Ibrox might have aspects which will appeal to supporters of blood sports, it is underpinned by one unassailable Catch-22 situation. Whoever prevails needs total assent in the stands. In return, the support needs the club to continue to exist or they simply become nomads heading to the shops with the wife of a Saturday afternoon.

I am not sure what the quality of the propositions will be but there is little doubt that the existing board knows that they can simply state that, if a boycott was to ensue, then the game is up. Whoever holds the deeds, Ibrox would be bequeathed simply a museum. It is not exactly a stance to win hearts and minds, or to obfuscate over what might be an appalling set of financial figures, or to try to refute the notion of something unethical hovering over past machinations, but simply to remind their followers that the turnstile has been the symbol of survival and has to continue to be. Or else.

So obviously people power has its limitations. It worked for Celtic with Fergus McCann emerging from the ranks during some of their darkest days. He certainly rose above all the politicking, although not with the smoothest of rides, as I recall him being booed at a flag-raising ceremony by those who could not quite grasp that, whatever they felt was in it for him personally, he had saved the club from the self-destructive contemplation of its own navel. The stadium now stands as a monument to his prudence and commonsense.

Thus if the Rangers agm is turned into merely a popularity contest they are all doomed. The difficulty for them is that no single figure has emerged to lend coherence to their efforts, to suggest clarity of vision. It cannot be left to the promptings of a PR agency.

In expressing clear-cut views they should include, let us not forget, a distinct reference to what is happening on the field of play. Where are the crop of younger players like those reaping the harvest for Dundee United? The future was to be based on that policy. For whatever the current statistics tell us, the support is still watching football in the doldrums. Any record-breaking at that level does not bear close scrutiny.

Given what has preceded this event, it is difficult to contemplate a cessation of hostilities among the individuals involved. It is even more difficult to imagine a period of public silence from those who might end up with egg on their faces. A peaceful pact emerging with a disparate board of different elements seems as fanciful as the genre the Grimm brothers made their forte.

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