The Scottish League Cup semi-final will be the latest instalment in the Old Firm rivalry, which has cemented itself as one of the fiercest games in world football. That’s because for so many people it’s more than just football, with politics, sectarianism and football making for a lethal mix.
The early days
Originally, Rangers were formed in 1872, and it wasn’t until 1888 when Celtic were founded by the Irish community who had moved to Glasgow to escape conditions back in their homeland. That ensured Celtic would be the team for Irish and Catholic families, whilst Rangers had a staunch Protestant following.
In 1904, the phrase ‘Old Firm’ was coined ahead of a game by a referee which is still used to describe the rivals to this day. Over the years the two clubs would be the most successful in Scottish football, with Rangers winning the most league titles, although Celtic were the Kings of Europe in 1967 under the legendary Jock Stein, when they became the first British club to lift the famous cup.
Yet with the sides battling for success, the rivalry would be intense on the pitch as well as off it, as the political situation in Glasgow had changed to completely divide the Catholic and Protestant communities, influenced by events in Northern Ireland.
Hampden Park riot
Therefore, sectarian chanting and trouble was common at most Old Firm games, although during the 70’s and 80’s the same could be said for violence at games across the UK. However, in 1980 we saw arguably the highest profile incident at a British ground.
It was the Scottish Cup final and after Celtic had won 1-0 their fans ran on the pitch to celebrate, or taunt their rivals, whichever side you are from. Rangers fans then entered the pitch and a full-scale riot took place.
The next decade saw the rivalry sizzle, and it once again drew national headlines when Rangers signed their first ever Catholic player in 1989, highlighting how deep-rooted the issues were at the club. The Catholic player happened to be ex-Celtic hero Mo Johnston, which inevitably caused uproar.
The present day
Violence inside the stadium is a rarity nowadays, although sectarian songs still draw attention, with fans even sentenced to prison for some chants.
However, the rivalry took a new twist when Rangers encountered financial difficulties and started again in division three in Scotland. Their administration prompted Celtic fans to mock them as a new club.
This new element, and the years spent apart as Rangers worked up the divisions, didn’t soften the hatred, if anything it has got worse. The first league clash between the sides ended in a 5-1 obliteration by the Hoops, with the fallout from that clash still being felt.
Rangers suspended Joey Barton after he had an altercation with a team-mate the following day, and both sets of fans came in for criticism for vandalism and some distasteful displays.
Hopefully we won’t see similar incidents this weekend, and you can check out Coral’s bet of the day for all of the football this weekend, which covers all of the big games throughout the season!
That’s a brief outline of the Old Firm, it’s complex, it’s controversial and it’s nasty. However, for the 90 minutes that the players are on the pitch, it’s explosive and enthralling.