There was a buzz about the place as we were all lined up outside. Car horns wailing, anticipation for the big occasion, the colour, the giddiness of those draped in banded scarves, the famous crest on hooped jerseys. Meanwhile, some cowering in the shadows had glasses, sticks and lightning-bolt scars on their foreheads.

No, this wasn’t the Celtic end at Hampden on Sunday (we’ll come back to that), it was World Book Day outside the school gates. This, er, tradition of dressing up as your favourite fictional character has grown arms and legs in recent times and is now giving Hallowe’en a run for its money in the “why-did-this-become-a-thing?” stakes. For every 10 kids clad in Harry Potter get-up, all striped red and orange and resplendent in Hogwarts insignia, there were smatterings here and there of other fictional furries, fiends and, frankly, freaks on display. Gandalf and an orc walking side by side, Peter Pan and Captain Hook swapping Panini cards, a lion, witch and – it took several squinted glances, and a sprinkling of imagination – a wardrobe playing tag in the playground. One of the primary sevens was dressed as the inimitable Gruffalo, with his little sister by his side in the costume of a mouse.

“I’ll bet your big brother is scared of you, alright,” I said to her with a knowing smile. I might even have winked. I hope I didn’t. Either way, unlike the charismatic little rodent in Julia Donaldson’s modern classic tale, she merely eyed me with scornful contempt. “If you must know,” she retorted, eyes rolling, “I’m the mouse from Aesop’s fables.”

Unfortunately, the bell rang, and she scurried off, tail flapping behind her, before I could rip into a lecture on how The Gruffalo is a lazy reimagining of the moral fable. In aul’ Aesop’s day, of course, the mouse strolling through the forest as if he owned the place would have been eaten. He’d have been eaten every day of the week and twice on a Sunday. The Gruffalo would have had a three-course meal: Roasted fox, followed by scrambled snake and owl ice cream for dessert, and the little brown mouse would be but an after-dinner mint. The moral of the story might have been don’t strut around the place thinking the law doesn’t apply to you.

Back to Hampden on Sunday, and I was reminded of another Aesopian fable: The Lion, the Ass and the Fox. After this eclectic group of hunters clubbed together to hunt for the day, they were trying to decide on how to divvy up their bounty and the Ass, having the temerity to suggest an even share, was skelped to death by the Lion for his cheek. Recognising the folly of the Ass, the Fox offered the Lion, well, the lion’s share of the offerings and made do with his paltry lot. The moral? Learn from the mistakes of others.

This all got me thinking about what might have happened inside the national stadium during the Old Firm match when, erupting from almost every section of the ground, we saw flames, flares, pyro, smoke bombs, heard booming emanating from what appeared to be a makeshift bazooka protruding from the arm of one supporter behind the goal in the Celtic end. Aesopian fables are useful tools in how we understand the complex social machinations surrounding us, and learning from mistakes is the first thing we teach our children. I’m not sure the template fits the mould on this occasion, however.

It makes for another reimagining of the moral fable for a 21st-century audience. I call it The Lisbon Lion, the Ass and the Fireworks. Just imagine a supporter, one who has followed the team since the fabled days when Jock Stein brought the European Cup back to these isles for this first time, had showed up at Hampden on Sunday as they have to every other cup final for the past five decades, and that Ass blasted a Firework into their face. Is it only then that we’ll understand how dangerous this new trend is for lighting pyrotechnics inside stadia?


Sections of both sets of supporters put on pyrotechnic displays inside Hampden

Sections of both sets of supporters put on pyrotechnic displays inside Hampden


The whole “ultra”-themed phenomenon has grown bigger arms and legs than Hallowe’en and World Book Day combined. The justification for the inaction of security personnel and police inside the ground, meanwhile, is that they will take retrospective action; that to avoid a situation spiralling out of control, it is better to let it fizzle out than detonate. Quite. So the hunt for the balaclava-donned thug dressed up for the occasion as some guerrilla-styled freedom-fighter, firing November’s leftover supply of Sky Storm rockets off a broom handle towards some abstract enemy at the other end of the stadium (not the Lisbon Lion, but the Barca Bear), becomes the search for a little titmouse in a great wood.

The moral of this story is that prevention is better than the cure. If the authorities are serious about preventing this accident waiting to happen, they’ll throw the book at the pyro perpetrators in our stadiums. Otherwise, it’s going to all blow up in someone’s face.