Whatever people say about the quality of Scottish football, the rows can’t be topped. If there was a coefficient table for rancour, England, Italy and Spain wouldn’t get a look in.
This summer has witnessed the biggest national dust-up since Scotland’s independence referendum of 2014.
A return to Premiership action should mean a let-up in the bitter in-fighting over the SPFL’s decision to call last season to a halt. Yet when ten in a row is on the line, peace in our time is as likely as Hearts hiring Neil Doncaster.
For Neil Lennon and Steven Gerrard, there will be nothing civil, nothing joyous about the journey to judgment.
Managers of both Celtic and Rangers are accustomed to spending Christmas dinners staring vacantly at a plate of sprouts.
Mix in the demands of winning or halting ten in a row and the job becomes suffocating.
If Lennon fails to deliver ‘the ten’ all those fans who never really wanted him back in the first place will claim vindication.
And if Gerrard fails to stop him, the longest managerial honeymoon of recent times will be well and truly over.
Had Graeme Murty or Pedro Caixinha gone a full two seasons without winning a trophy, they’d have been out on their ear.
Why Rangers should be so efficient in Europe while struggling to overcome St Johnstone and Hearts on the domestic front remains one of life’s complex mysteries.
Whatever the reason, the SPFL decision to call the season didn’t rob the Rangers boss of a title. It spared him the harsh scrutiny which comes with another barren season.
The last time ten in a row was an issue in Scotland, Wim Jansen’s Celtic tenure began with league defeats to Dunfermline and Hibernian, a new signing by the name of Henrik Larsson gifting a goal to Chic Charnley.
Gerrard has neither the time nor the latitude to turn around a start as iffy as that. To last the course, he has to hit the ground running in Aberdeen and keep going.
The same might be said of Lennon, of course. The only certainty of a ten-in-a-row season is that one of the managers will eventually become a casualty. Maybe even both.
In October 1997, a jaded Walter Smith had won nine in a row but then announced he would depart in the summer at the Rangers AGM with seven months of the season still to run. Stopping the ten that year earned Jansen a small place in Celtic folklore, yet it was never an accolade he craved. The Dutchman was pretty much scanning the small print of a break clause in his contract from the minute he arrived.
Season 97-98 felt like two knackered heavyweights of the British game rolling around the ropes, sweat oozing from every pore. Towards the end, the exertion was such that none seemed to have the strength to land a knockout punch.
Rangers lost a 94th-minute goal to Kilmarnock’s Ally Mitchell and Celtic travelled to Dunfermline the next day knowing victory would secure their first title in a decade with a game to spare.
Despite leading at half-time, they travelled back over the Kincardine Bridge with a faltering 1-1 draw.
For Celtic, the days leading up to the finale against St Johnstone were like tip-toeing barefoot through a foundry furnace. The heat almost finished them.
Paul Lambert recently described the experience as ‘horrendous’.
Defender Alan Stubbs said it was the most intense pressure he had ever experienced in his career.
When Harald Brattbakk scored the goal which secured the title, the joy of players and supporters was underpinned by pure, unadulterated relief.
For Rangers, it was end-of-days stuff. Smith was calling it quits, Paul Gascoigne was sold, Brian Laudrup was set on a move to Chelsea. In hindsight, the band should have gone their separate ways after the nine.
With new £5million goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas replacing Fraser Forster in goal, Celtic will feel they have enough in the tank to go where no other Scottish team has gone before.
If or when they reach the ten, the time will come for a strategic review from top to bottom.
There will be some serious thinking to be done about where they stand as a club and what comes next.
For now, the tunnel vision of ten in a row means their horizons now stretch no further than the other side of Glasgow. In reality, one club winning nine or ten straight titles is not an especially healthy state of affairs for any league.
It’s not just Scotland. Bayern Munich have just secured an eighth straight Bundesliga title. In Serie A, Juventus have all but secured the nine.
Across Europe the growing dominance of a posse of wealthy superclubs is a source of concern. The very essence of competition is under threat.
Yet, to Celtic supporters, a slice of footballing history has assumed the status of a holy grail.
The be-all and end-all, it’s something to be cherished and feted.
Elsewhere, the obsession with ‘the ten’ must seem like a strange business. To those who think footballing excellence is measured in more tangible ways, it’s a parochial bunfight.
Like winning a cuddly toy at a funfair, the achievement might bring some fleeting pleasure. But if Scotland’s champions make it to the promised land in May the whole business will be quickly discarded.
It will make no real difference to whether Odsonne Edouard stays or goes. There will be no public holidays or commemorative plaques.
There will be no receptions at the City Chambers or guards of honour. The plaudits from the rest of the country will be grudging and the football world will offer a collective shrug.
For Bayern and Juve, winning the title every year is a means to an end. It secures them another crack at the Champions League, where Europe’s elite really should be judged. Yet, for Celtic, ten in a row is now an end in itself. Some fans would take domestic history before another Europa League run hands down.
With Covid-19 taking a wrecking ball to club finances, Europe should actually be more important than ever before. Qualification for the Champions League or a crack at the latter stages of the Europa League should define the success of their season.
But if Lennon’s side crash out of the Champions League in Zagreb or Copenhagen or Maribor in the coming weeks, there will be gnashing of teeth for a day or two. After that, they’ll get back to obsessing over what really seems to matter this season.
The lure of ‘the ten’ doesn’t lie in another Premiership trophy with green and white ribbons or the opportunity to earn a few quid in Europe.
It’s real significance lies in the local bragging rights which come from achieving something neither Glasgow club have ever managed before. Stein’s Celtic came close in 1975 and Rangers stopped them. Smith’s team came close in 1998 and Celtic returned fire.
In a tribal footballing city like Glasgow, this is the story of an eternal struggle. It’s never enough to win. The other side must also be seen to lose. Painfully.
And this season there is no better opportunity to inflict deep and lasting misery on a bitter enemy than by winning — or stopping —ten in a row.