Scotland is no footballing giant, the Scottish Premier League pales in comparison to the English Premier League. Scottish teams are no where near English teams in terms of continental success. The roster on the teams in the SPL cannot hold a candle to those in the top 6 in the EPL. And yet there is one match up that no English derby can rival – the Old Firm Derby.
It is this match up that takes place in Glasgow which is arguably the most dangerous, and fiery of any footballing derby on Britain.
A match between Celtic Glasgow and Rangers FC is more than 90 minutes of football. It is a battle not for the faint of heart, the roots of which are set deep in religious creed and cultural origin. It is in essence more than a rivalry, it is genuine bad blooded hatred for the other.
And it takes place in Glasgow.
Whereas the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid takes political turns the one between Celtic and Rangers is a decidedly more enmeshed on that turns and shapes the very identity of its fans.
Rangers was founded in 1872 by a band of brothers in the Scottish & Protestant West End of Glasgow and in their first decade had established themselves as the dominant team in Glasgow. Celtic was formed in 1887, by a Catholic Marist brother to help provide some sort of positive social motivation to the the poverty stricken East Enders in Glasgow, many of whom were of Irish Catholic descent. In the geographical distance as well as the religious creeds lay the gunpowder to launch an explosion.
All that was needed was the spark.
And the Scottish League provided it.
The challenge of a new comer was nothing if not for the fact that Celtic dominated the newly formed Scottish league right from the get-go. Now there was a younger, equally competitive upstart in the same city that also had a completely different way of worshiping. The rivalry fomented more hatred.
Many periods of Scottish and World history added more layers to the conflict – the flooding of Ulster Protestant Scots to Scotland as the Irish economy crumbled in the 1910s, the Easter Rising of 1916 (where Irish people rose in Ireland to try to overthrow British rule), of the Troubles and the challenge of a divided Ireland, the clash took on a sheen of politics – Unionist versus Republican, identity – British versus Irish Scots and ideology – conservatism versus socialism. The conflict between the two has not just reflected the sectarianism in Scotland but sometimes reinforced and worsened the division – from 1920 to 1989, for example, Rangers had a no Catholic policy towards their footballing signings.
There have been numerous violent brawls between players, fans and officials. Deaths even, as is unfortunately, no surprising for a footballing rivalry.
The rivalry has produced a side effect too, precisely because no side can stand the other winning, this butting of heads has created the two most successful teams in Scottish footballing history. Between them the they have won 103 out of 121 Scottish top flight championships (that goes back to 1890). Their supporters and the rivalry keeps Scottish football alive through its current phase of ailment.
The rivalry is continued by the fact that the two teams are relatively evenly matched. If one does not include the latest match (March 31st 2019), both sides have faced each other 415 times, Rangers has won 160, Celtic have won 156 and they have drawn each other 99 times – virtual parity.
Recent history has not been kind to Rangers. The club was liquidated in 2011-12 and dropped down three leagues. But the identity and stature of the team meant that the players and coaches slogged to regain promotion. In a short span of 4 seasons, Rangers FC won promotion three times and have now returned to the top flight to challenge Celtic once again.
A fan walks towards the Ranger’s Ibrox Stadium
The hatred seems to be fading as time. passes and identities are less rigid (Catholic-Protestant marriages are rising, more coallesing around a modern Scots identity etc) but the rivalry still continues.
Ironically, precisely because they hate each other, they need each other; for without the other team they have no reason or motivation to fight on.
And it it precisely this vital rivalry that places the Old Firm in Glasgow as one of the largest footballing rivalries in the world.
Cover Image Source
ON THE MAP (Rangers’ Ibrox Stadium)
ON THE MAP (Celtic Park)