Split loyalties for the McNamara clan

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The Independent Online

Edinburgh has always been considered such an effete city by Glaswegians. It is a piece of nonsense, of course, as anyone who has ever watched Trainspotting would testify. Ewan McGregor's screen performance as the leader of a gang devoted to drugs as much as their beloved Hibernian offered a snapshot of the dark side of Scotland's capital.

Edinburgh has always been considered such an effete city by Glaswegians. It is a piece of nonsense, of course, as anyone who has ever watched Trainspotting would testify. Ewan McGregor's screen performance as the leader of a gang devoted to drugs as much as their beloved Hibernian offered a snapshot of the dark side of Scotland's capital.

Edinburgh's image took a further dent last Wednesday when Hearts and their fans lost the plot after Rangers plundered three points from Tyne-castle in controversial circum- stances. Hugh Dallas, the referee, needed a police escort off the pitch as he dodged a hail of coins. The award of an injury-time penalty to Rangers for an unseen foul provoked a bitter response to the perceived injustice.

Today the rivalry between the cities will be renewed. Celtic come to Easter Road requiring the points which will help them stay on the heels of Rangers in the Scottish Premier League title race. The champions were held to a 2-2 draw on their previous visit this season, but Martin O'Neill knows his team cannot afford any slip-ups this time.

Although the two clubs have a shared past - both were formed by Irish immigrants - there is little love lost between the two green clans. Celtic recruited their first-ever team in 1888 from the ranks of Hibernian; at Easter Road, the interpretation of events is "robbery". Yet for Celtic's current captain, Jackie McNamara, going there is like going home. The defender spent much of his childhood hanging around Easter Road: his father, also Jackie, was a Hibs captain who went on to become assistant manager. He also had a pub which acted as a social club for fans.

Yet, it was his father's first club, Celtic (Jackie Snr was a contemporary of Kenny Dalglish in the 1970s), that drew young Jackie like a moth to a flame. He moved there 10 years ago from Dunfermline for £650,000 and has been granted a testimonial at the end of the season against the Republic of Ireland.

McNamara Snr will be in the stand at Easter Road today, juggling loyalties. "It was awkward when dad was assistant manager at Hibernian and we played against his side," his 31-year-old son recalls. "My dad was my first hero, but so too was Kenny Dalglish. I used to have a pair of Puma boots like his. He was an inspiration to me even after he left Celtic for Liverpool."

Dalglish is one of six managers McNamara has worked under at Parkhead (the others are Tommy Burns, Wim Jansen, Josef Venglos, John Barnes and O'Neill), illustrating the turbulence that characterised the club until O'Neill took charge five years ago. Just a few months before, in March 2000, a Celtic side in Dalglish's care lost at Easter Road and were then humbled 4-0 by Rangers.

"That was a dreadful team performance," McNamara says. "It was about as low as we have ever sunk during my time here. I was probably a bit star-struck when Kenny came back to Celtic [as director of football in 1999-2000, with Barnes as his coach]. The most important thing for any manager is achieving success. You can have the best man-manager or tactician in the world, but if you don't have a bit of luck or get some results early on, it can all fall down. Fortunately, results are something we've rarely had a problem with under Martin."

Having relinquished control of the leadership, Celtic need to rediscover the fluency that saw them wrap up the title last season before they had even lost a game. O'Neill refused to speak on Friday about Rangers benefiting from refereeing largesse. "I have my own house to run," he declared. However, he and McNamara will not refuse a rub of the green at Easter Road.

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