THE dancing shoes have barely been away long enough to gather dust but it is a tango with a twist that begins again this afternoon as the curtain comes up on the Scottish League campaign.

A full house at Celtic Park will shout itself hoarse, not so much in celebration of the league title flag that is unfurled before kick-off against St Johnstone but rather as an opening ceremony in a season that could yield the Parkhead side their ninth successive league Championship.

And the tension that will bring will do strange things in the months ahead.

You can expect scrutiny like no other in recent memory this season. You can expect a feverish element to each contested decision, microscopic analysis of penalty calls and wrong calls, dismissals and any decision that impacts negatively on the team in question.

It is not the season to consider tipping a toe into refereeing waters.


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And nor will it be a time to hang out on social media for too long. Any exposure to twitter may well require the use of hand sanitiser afterwards given the bilious nature of what will most certainly unfold as tension rises.

Neil Lennon is well into his second stint in the Celtic managerial position but significant in his appointment was the fact that he appreciates the unique demands this campaign will give rise to.

Securing the nine will open the door to the 10, an historic achievement that carries much weight in Scottish football circles. Few on either side of the Glasgow divide will need schooled in the fact it is a feat yet to be celebrated by Celtic or Rangers. Both can brag about their own nine; whoever takes 10 will claim a last laugh that is likely to resonate long into any muscle-flexing arguments.

Rangers, of course, will be enveloped in a desire to stop it by any way possible. And in amongst the wish to stop Celtic’s domination by hook or by crook is the other sideshow to the season which is the performance of Steven Gerrard.

The Rangers manager conducts himself impressively in the many media performances that are required throughout the course of a season but there is a narrative this season, given just where Celtic are, that demands the deliverance of a league title as front and centre.

In another season the addition of any significant silverware may well have been sufficient. But as we have established this season is different.


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Will a Scottish Cup or a League Cup be enough to keep the wolves from the door? Essentially, only the Ibrox support will answer that one. But if Celtic find themselves on the cusp of a 10th successive title this time next August, then the pressure on Rangers will be absolute.

Former Celtic players such as Paul Lambert have often described the uniqueness of the season in which the Parkhead side, then under Wim Jansen, stopped Rangers winning 10. Lambert, who can boast a Champions League winners’ medal among his collection, has referenced his goal at Celtic Park against Rangers in the festive fixture between the teams that season as one of the most important of his career. It was a win, he says, that finally gave Celtic the belief required that they could take themselves to the finish line.

He also admitted that it was a season no-one could ever enjoy such was the indescribable, suffocating tension. It was as if there was a collective holding of breath as Celtic stared down the barrel of the 10-in-a-row shotgun. No player wishes the ignominy of being on the wrong side of that particular stat.

In so many ways, social changes in the two decades since then mean such pressures have been magnified rather than diluted.

It frames the season that begins today as significant in so many ways.

Lennon arrived at Celtic as they were coming out of the other end of a period of sustained Rangers domination. He will have heard the stories from some of the survivors of that period but Gerrard, who has had no real insight into it as a player, will have a different kind of exposure to it now.


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Both men will be under a kind of pressure that is different to anything that has gone before. Neither will step inside a pub or a cafe or a petrol station or a restaurant without being reminded of it. How they handle it, and how each respective dressing room handles, it may well be key to how the season unfolds.

ABERDEEN have gone about their business quietly but professionally this summer.

Their progress through their Europa League campaign has been impressive and it may well prove that there is a misguided arrogance in assuming Celtic and Rangers alone will jostle for first and second this season.

One had to raise a smile this week when a BBC pundit suggested that Sam Cosgrove’s early season goalscoring form may well invite a big money move from China but it is intriguing to see just how firm Aberdeen can afford to stand between now and the end of August.

The English transfer window closes on Thursday evening and there is every possibility of a further offer for defender Scott McKenna, who has been the subject of heavy interest in the last two windows from both sides of the border.

They aren’t the only ones who may well have decisions to make.

For all of Arsenal’s posturing and game playing in this summer’s transfer saga – and their apparent penury was blown out of the water with the £72m signing of Nicolas Pepe from Lille – there was always the likelihood that they would return to Celtic. If they meet the requirements for what the club are asking for the Scotland internationalist then there’s every chance the deal will go through at the last moment.

Whether there are any other surprises waiting to unfold this week will be interesting.