The portrait artist Samuel Cooper was famously instructed by Oliver Cromwell to paint his portrait “warts and all” i.e. no 17th century airbrushing to remove the growths on the Lord Protector’s face.
To his credit, Cromwell wanted his portrait to be an accurate representation of his real self and appearance – the face of a plain man, not the artistically contrived face that other rulers often required of subservient artists. Cooper was renowned for being a stickler for accuracy and also an artist who did not kowtow to his clients
Warts and all has passed into the vernacular as a means of describing an unvarnished description of a matter or person. It often means that certain failings or shortcomings be accepted as just part of life’s realities but which are inferior in importance to the greater good. The greater good, in other words, transcends and eclipses the imperfections present in a person, organisation or endeavour.
This warts and all approach is a pragmatic one and takes account of the fact that nobody is perfect and that both recognising and accepting this helps us to appreciate the positive rather than highlight the negative in something or someone.
It is arguably a valid approach to the subject of the Old Firm in Scotland, the validity of which as an ongoing concept has been recently dealt with in excoriating terms by the notorious John James. JJ’s opposition to the Old Firm label is rooted in his belief that the Rangers recently promoted to the Scottish Premiership is a new club – a viewpoint despised and rejected by virtually 100% of Rangers fans.
JJ and his acolytes are scathing of the Scottish football authorities’ promotion of the Old Firm as a marketing winner. The problem being, if you remove the Old Firm from the Scottish football marketing mix, you are left with straw and a box. Because make no mistake, the Old Firm is THE product our country has to offer in footballing terms. Take it away and you are left with very little else.
The John James view is one shared by many, certainly by Celtic fans who lap up his new club rhetoric. Even Rangers supporters, who abominate the new club mantra, would grudgingly agree to his position on the Old Firm matter. By and large, Rangers and Celtic fans want nothing to do with each other and reject the very notion of an Old Firm still being discernible after the past few years of bitterness in our game.
Ironically, it is this mutual antipathy that ensures the ongoing viability of the Old Firm. The loathing and despite shared by both sets of fans only help make the product more lucrative. In short, rivalry sells and if that rivalry can be augmented by hate and myriad number of perceived grudges and offences, all the better.It only adds both value and desirability to the product.
The John James site has become well-known for its blistering views on corruption in our game. Sadly – in my own opinion – this has been founded upon a skewed premise of Rangers bad/Celtic good and a magic mushrooms look at the present make up of Scottish football governance based on old superstitions about Masonry and Proddyism ruling the halls of power at Hampden. The predominant role of Celtic placemen in key boards is ignored in favour of the narrative that never fails to whip up the fevered imaginations of the legions of suspicious Celtic fans and others who see Scottish football as the fiefdom of a Masonic Rangers-serving cabal.
My own take is simpler and more pragmatic. Football has its fair share of corruption and dodgy dealings but to paint the picture of Rangers as the diabolical club mired in vice and criminality, while every other club is the very epitome of probity and integrity is more the stuff of a Disney film plot than an attempt at recording the realities that exist in the real world.
Moreover, having a go at the likes of Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan for bigging up the appeal of the Old Firm rivalry and the encounters between both clubs is petty in the extreme. We should have a problem when our legislators don’t promote the strengths we have to offer in our game.
For various reasons, many fans of both Rangers and Celtic despise the Old Firm label, while fans of other clubs detest the Old Firm emphasis. But the cold, hard truth is that the Old Firm is our biggest and possibly only export from a footballing perspective. Traditionally and historically, the Old Firm dominates Scottish football. My use of the singular here is entirely intentional as both Rangers and Celtic have for decades functioned and operated as a cartel, shrewdly allowing the onfield rivalry to go on unfettered while off the field they held a conjoined iron fist on the game, largely using this arrangement to maintain their mutual joint interests.
Charles Green made what some may consider to be a noble attempt to bust this cartel and its “understanding” in the interests of a more widespread fairness and this proved to be a fatal move on his part. The subsequent years of limbo that ensued have now been consigned to history and we can expect the Old Firm to be back in business, perhaps more than ever in these lean times for Scottish football on and off the pitch.
The irony, of course, is that those who rage against the machine and rail at people like myself who even mention there is an Old Firm, are actually making it stronger. Because the Old Firm is run on the fuel of hate, loathing, prejudice and bigotry.
This preponderance to control freakery and manipulation by the Old Firm, along with its reliance on the passions of religious and cultural hate and despite, are the warts on the face of our game.
Now, you can take the moral high ground and seek to campaign against these things. Some are choosing to do that with resolutions, petitions and other impotent means. Or you can check out and go and watch Junior or amateur football.
You can also accept that what is, is. The Old Firm is what we have that grips a watching world. For some, it is the only show in town worth watching. We need to promote it to keep our game viable. It is Scottish football at its best.And worst.
I have long advocated that we accept the Old Firm concept and promote it because the alternative does not exist. Until it does, the Old Firm is what we have to offer.
Warts and all.