The Old Firm, the Glasgow derby that goes beyond the pitch

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Catholics against Protestants. Loyalty versus republicanism. Unionists against the Irish. The rivalry between Celtic Glasgow and Rangers goes far beyond the pitch: their importance in Scottish society has been part of the history of the British kingdom for more than 100 years.. Without the glamor or the spotlight that surrounds the great classics of European football, there is no doubt that the Old Firm is one of the most important matches in football history.


Contested 420 official occasions: 322 Scottish Premier League (52 in Scottish Cup and 51 in

Scottish League)

Victorias

Ties

Defeats

Coaches with

more matches

Disputed 420 official occasions: 322 Scottish Premier League (52 in Cup of

Scotland and 51 in Scottish League)

Victorias

Ties

Defeats

Coaches with

more matches

Disputed 420 official occasions:

322 Scottish Premier League (52 and

Scottish Cup and 51 in Scottish League)

Victorias

Ties

Defeats

Coaches with

more matches

Celtic and Rangers will meet again this Saturday, October 17, for the first time in 10 months. Their last clash occurred on December 29, 2019 in a Scottish Cup match (1-2 for Rangers). Since both clubs have been in existence, only once have they gone so long without meeting, between 2012 and 2016. On that occasion it was due to the disappearance of Rangers Glasglow for a debt of 25 million euros, which forced the Protestant team to re-found itself as Rangers FC and it took four years to rise from the Scottish Fourth Division to the Scottish Premier. This time, the culprit that so long has passed without the two meeting was COVID-19, which forced the Scottish league to be permanently canceled in May of this year. This reunion will mark the 421st Old Firm in history. So far, the balance is slightly tilted towards Celtic, who have won the great Glasgow derby 162 times to their rival’s 159. The other 99 times the result was a draw.

When brothers Peter and Moses McNeil, William McBeath and Peter Campbell founded the Rangers in 1872, the club was born without religious or political connotations and it was not until the appearance of Celtic, in 1887, when it began to adopt the Protestant movement. The one who was founded with a clear ideology was Celtic, created by Irish Marist Andrew Kerins, known as Brother Walfrid, at St. Mary’s Catholic Parish, in the Calton neighborhood, with the intention and objective of collecting resources for a soup kitchen for Irish who have come to Scotland as Catholic immigrants. It quickly became the traditional team of the Irish, Catholics and leftists and for this reason, the symbol of their shield is the 4-leaf clover, a cultural symbol of Ireland.

During the first years of joint existence Celtic and Rangers did not have the rivalry for which they are known worldwide, rather the opposite.. The late 19th century press even spoke of friendship between the two clubs. The first derby was played on May 28, 1888 and it was after the unexpected defeat of Rangers (5-2), who was 15 years older, when Rangers fans began to turn their behavior towards positions contrary to Catholicism and Republicanism. Irish and little by little it was forming a mass of Protestant sympathizers, unionists in favor of the British Empire and the elite of the city.

Although there are various theories as to why the Glasgow derby is called the Old Firm, the most reliable is that it allegedly arose from the 1909 Scottish Cup final.. At a time when there was no extra time or penalties, ties were resolved with a second match dated a few days later. The final ended 2-2, forcing a tiebreaker at Hampden Park. By then, the rivalry between the two teams was already quite strong after 20 years of living together in the city. However, in that final of 1909 it seems that the rivalry remained more for the fans in the stands than for the players on the pitch: With 10 minutes remaining in the second match, with 1-1 on the scoreboard, the players from each team began to play in a very relaxed way, making the stadium goers believe that they were fixing the tie to play a third match.

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Cartoon by The Scottish Referee of the 1909 Old Firm tampering.


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Cartoon by The Scottish Referee of the 1909 Old Firm tampering.
The Scottis Referee

The two fans, outraged, invaded the field and the match was suspended, leaving the Cup title deserted, without a champion. The Scottish Referee newspaper called the Scottish derby as ‘The old firm of Rangers-Celtic Ltd’ (Former company of Rangers-Celtic SL) for the suspicion that the matches were rigged to generate a new box office. Since then it has been christened ‘Old Firm’. That is, both clubs benefited financially from the rivalry that they professed.

Today, Both maintain that great economic relationship to the point that outside the field they negotiate everything together: sponsorships, television rights and even the request to enter the English Premier. They have even shared a sponsor on their shirts because of the fear of companies to identify with a fan and gain the sabotage of the other.

The Scottish duel has generated so many incidents throughout its history that it forced to take severe measures: it was determined that it would be played at noon (to avoid fans having plenty of time to get drunk) and the sale of alcohol was banned in all Glasgow bars and in the stadium before and during the match.

In the stands of Celtic Park they wave Irish flags, insignia of the IRA and are twinned with left-wing fans such as German St. Pauli, Italian Livorno and English Liverpool, to the point of taking as their own the famous anthem ‘You’ll never walk alone ‘. While Rangers fans wear symbols of the United Kingdom, ‘The Union Yack’ is twinned with Chelsea from London. Thus, when ‘The Old Firm’ is played, no Scottish flag is seen in the stadium.

The rivalry is so aggressive and disrespectful that, for example, when the US president of Irish origin John. F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, in Ibrox Park, Rangers stadium, the Protestant ultras began to sing during the minute of silence “Now let’s hang the Pope”.

The two great tragedies

With so many years of rivalry, it was logical to think that history has left moments for tragedy. The largest of these was the one that took place in January 1971 in Ibrox Park. After Celtic took the lead in the final minutes thanks to a goal from the legendary Jimmy Johnstone, Colin Stein leveled for Rangers in the 89th minute, sparking an avalanche on stair number 13 of the stadium. that took the lives of 66 people, including many children. To commemorate the tragedy of 1971, a statue of John Greig, captain of the Rangers in that game, was built in 2001 with a plaque with the names of all those who died.In 2011, both teams held a minute of silence for the 40th anniversary of the tragedy.

The other great drama has its own name: John Thompson. On September 5, 1931, during an Old Firm at the Ibrox Stadium, Thomson, a very young goalkeeper for the Catholic team, launched himself for a divided ball that Rangers player Sam English was also fighting for. According to the chronicles, they say that the silence was made in the stadium and only a crack was heard in the head of the goalkeeper, who collided with the knee of his rival, and the scream of a young woman in the stands, Thompson’s fiancée, who had gone to see your partner. Thomson was carried off the field on a stretcher with a skull fracture and died within hours at Victoria Hospital at just 22 years old.

Summarizing 133 years of sports rivalry in a couple of paragraphs is not easy at all. Therefore, to talk about sporting successes, it would be necessary to focus on a golden stage of each of the Glasgow clubs to focus on their greatest successes. In the case of Celtic, it clearly had its best moments in the 1960s and 1970s.. In those years, the Catholics achieved nine consecutive titles (between 1965 and 1974) and the greatest milestone of a Scottish team in history: winning the 1967 European Cup, being the first British team to do so. Three years later, in 1970, they would lose the title in the final to Feyenoord.

For Rangers, the golden decade would come in the late 1980s. Between 1988 and 1997 the Gers equaled the Celtic record in the Scottish league, winning nine consecutive titles. As for international titles, the Protestant team won the Recopa de Europa in 1972 and reached the UEFA final in 2008, which they lost to Zenit.

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