Introducing ‘Love to Hate’, a series which explores the gritty roots of football’s most intense rivalries. Pete Syme, Online News Editor, kicks us off by investigating the Old Firm Derby, where Scottish football’s heavyweights Celtic and Rangers clash.
Scottish football may not have the most prodigious history, with their national side never having progressed beyond the first round of the World Cup finals. But in an age where rising prices are desaturating fan involvement, the SPL still has some of the most passionate derbies in the world.
Glasgow-based Celtic and Rangers have dominated the league since its inception, winning 104 league championships between them over the years. And although The Bhoys have the won the last eight in a row, they still trail Rangers’ total by four. Whilst some see Vinnie Jones or Roy Keane as the last ‘hard men’ in the Premier League, there’s no shortage of aggressive tackles and intimidation tactics north of the border – as a case in point, a YouTube compilation highlighting “The dirty side of the Old Firm” boasts over a million views.
The ugliest aspect, however, is what occurs off the pitch, with the derby marred by sectarian insults rooted in the religious history of Glasgow, and Scotland as a whole.
Celtic F.C. was founded in 1887 by the Irish Brother Walfrid, with the intention of raising funds to aid poverty in Glasgow’s East End, inspired by Edinburgh’s Hibernian. Whilst Presbyterianism was adopted as the state religion following the Scottish Reformation, many Irish Catholics immigrated following the Great Famine in the mid 19thcentury. As a result, antagonism was rife as conflicts grew out of religious differences and nationalist bigotry. In fact, Rangers fans have been known to chant “The famine is over, why don’t you go home?” in reference to the event at the root of the Irish-Scots identity.
“ANTAGONISM WAS RIFE AS CONFLICTS GREW OUT OF RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES AND NATIONALIST BIGOTRY.”
The Irish War of Independence only added to the tension as the Orange Order, a group named for the Protestant William III who replaced the Catholic James VII and II in 1689, grew in popularity in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Troubles were worse still, with each club accusing the other of associating with the paramilitary forces of the IRA and the Ulster Volunteer Force. Indeed, flags with the red hand of Ulster can still be seen in the hands of Rangers fans at Old Firm games today, whilst the home dressing room at The Ibrox has a framed portrait of The Queen. Divisions came to a head again at the end of August this year as loyalist counter demonstrators disrupted an Irish Unity march planned by a Republican flute band in Govan, a traditionally working-class district which is also where Rangers are based.
The rivalry suddenly became very one-sided in 2012, however, as Rangers was forced into administration, and restarted at the bottom of the pyramid in League Two. Former owner Sir David Murray came under fierce scrutiny after he had sold the club for £1 a year earlier, and the quote that was once praised for its ambition “for every five pounds Celtic spend, we will spend ten” became evidence of poor financial management.
Some Celtic fans today claim that the Old Firm is dead, referring to The Gers only as ‘Sevco’ – the private company that was formed to save the club from extinction. The two clubs now sit on equal points and equal goal difference at the top of the SPFL, with Celtic only narrowly leading after nine games. They have met once so far this season, with The Bhoys winning 2-0, but with a total of four league matchups a season, it is still all to play for.
It’s political and often ugly, but not every Celtic fan is a Catholic or a socialist, and neither is every Rangers fan an EDL-supporting Protestant. As the Scottish FA continues its campaign to stamp out sectarian violence and bigotry, The Old Firm still makes for one of the most high-stakes games in all of football, with some of the most zealously passionate fans in the world.