A heavyweight rematch between Celtic and Rangers, four weeks after the battle of Parkhead, was not exactly the party turn the Scottish Football Association had in mind for the unveiling of the new-look Hampden Park yesterday. The renovation of the grand old ground was costly enough, some pounds 65m. The good name of Scottish football could simply not afford another damaging Old Firm encounter, particularly on such an auspicious occasion, with an estimated world-wide television audience of 100 million.
Fortunately for those of us in attendance, the first Old Firm Scottish Cup final for a decade passed off with nothing more than the traditional hostility observed at these parochial spats. At the ground which takes its name from John Hampden, an English Civil War Parliamentarian, the latest skirmish in Glasgow's historic football dispute was settled with more civility than warring - inside the stadium, at least.
There was no repeat of the events of 2 May, when Rangers clinched the title at Celtic Park, Hugh Dallas, the referee again yesterday, was struck by a coin, three players were sent off, a handful of restive natives ran on to the pitch and pitched battles raged on the streets outside. It did, though, require the biggest security operation in Scottish sporting history to maintain a fragile peace, with some 500 officers of the Strathclyde police force deployed in and around Hampden. There was also a printed plea for calm which filled the first three pages of the Daily Record.
It was heeded not just off the pitch but on it too. Only once before the hour mark was Dallas obliged to flourish a cautionary card, though it was still a testing time for the Motherwell official. Police officers had been posted outside his house on Friday night and he arrived at the ground with bodyguards in tow. In such trying circumstances, Dallas did well to keep his faculties so keenly trained on the ebb and flow of the match, ignoring a couple of Greg Louganis impressions by Henrik Larsson and fierce appeals for a late Celtic penalty when television replays showed that Lorenzo Amoruso had blocked Paul Lambert's shot with his right-shoulder.
The contest was actually rather muted by Old Firm standards - on the pitch, at any rate. Down the road from George Square, where a BBC crew was filming Songs of Praise, the Hampden congregation sang their anthems of bigotry with traditional bile. In terms of the football they witnessed, they had precious little to shout about. Even the goal, when it arrived, four minutes into the second half, was a scrappy affair, a freak deflection giving Rod Wallace the first clear chance of the game.
Not that the blue half of Hampden could care about that as they celebrated their team's domestic treble and the first victory by Rangers in an Old Firm Scottish Cup final since 5 May 1973. It was no classic, but at least we were spared the lethal potentiality of a shoot-out in the wild west of Scotland.
There was no provision for extra time, let alone penalties, back in 1909 when the final replay gave way to what became known as the Hampden Riot, with punters invading the pitch to attack police, ground officials and one another. They also set the old ground alight - a house-warming we were thankfully spared at Hampden yesterday.Reuse content