Part 4 of our ‘Sibling Rivalry’ series moves to Scotland, where TOM FLIGHT looks at the brothers whose football careers spanned the almost impossible divide between Rangers and Celtic.
There is some dispute as to how the ‘Old Firm’ got its name. One popular version is that the term comes from a football publication called the “The Scottish Referee” which produced a cartoon in 1909 accusing Rangers and Celtic of exploiting the rivalry to drum up business, hence the old ‘Firm.’ If the origin of the rivalry was fabricated for monetary gain, the malice and hatred between fans soon became real, and the rivalry has become defined by religious bigotry and intolerance. In a piece for These Football Times Matt Gault described it as “the perfect embodiment of footballing hatred.” The idea that members of the same family could play on opposing sides seems unthinkable. But that’s exactly what happened in the 1980’s when Celtic defender Tom McAdam faced his older brother Colin who played upfront for Rangers.
The siblings were born in Glasgow and played together at Dumbarton where Colin became a legend when he scored from his own half against Arbroath. Colin, who had a reputation for being a hard man, looked out for his younger brother in the unforgiving lower leagues. “Quite often in games when we were young, if someone landed one on me, Colin would say: ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get him’” Tom said of those early days.
It’s a common story in football that those with older brothers often have an advantage in their early development, as competing with older siblings forces you to raise your game (Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are recent examples of this theory), so it is not much of a surprise that the younger McAdam, Tom, would go on to have the more successful career. After an unhappy spell at Dundee United he joined Celtic in 1977 where he turned out 261 times, winning 3 league titles, 1 Scottish Cup and 1 Scottish League Cup. He was initially signed by Jock Stein as a striker for £60,000 from Dundee United, but he struggled upfront. Towards the end of 1978-79 season, with a race for the title against Rangers going down to the wire, Tom was moved to centre-back. In Celtic’s last game of the season against Rangers, Tom was magnificent as he helped Celtic to come from 1-0 down to win 4-2 (Rangers only really needed a draw, as they had two matches left to play) to clinch the league for Celtic. The match made Tom a Parkhead legend.
Colin joined Rangers in 1980. With his flowing mane of hair, he became known as “The Beast” and gained a reputation for being a courageous, hardworking striker. He quickly entered fan favourite territory when he scored twice against Celtic in a 3-0 win three months after arriving at Ibrox. “He never let me live it down,” Tom said of the match.
The brothers faced each other in eight Old Firm derbies, and fittingly, both found themselves on the winning side four times each. The most high-profile clash was probably the 1984 League Cup Final at Hampden which Rangers won thanks to a hat-trick from a young Ally McCoist.
The story of the McAdam brothers is one of the more sanguine stories to come out of Old Firm history. Both are fondly remembered by supporters to this day. They were close off the pitch, but would run through brick walls for their teams, and their battles on the pitch added extra spice to the derby at a time when Rangers’ and Celtic’s dominance was waning due to the rise of the ‘New Firm’ of Dundee United and Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen.
Sadly, 4 years ago Colin passed away suddenly due to complications following a heart attack. Reflecting on his brother’s life, Tom acknowledged that having a member of his family opposite him helped him put that little bit extra effort into a game, “The games hold great memories for me and I will always be proud of what Colin and I achieved.”
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