Rangers vs Celtic in the Old Firm
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The Old Firm: Europe’s Fiercest Rivalry

This Saturday, May 11th, 2024, Celtic will host Rangers in the biggest game of the season. Not only is this fixture a huge derby but this weekend’s Old Firm also has the potential to decide the Scottish Premiership title, as if Celtic beat Rangers, they will effectively be crowned champions once again barring a catastrophic collapse in their final two games.

Here is the history of this deep-rooted clash.

The Old Firm: A Fixture Rooted In Religion

This rivalry is deeper than just sport and geography but instead rooted primarily in religious and political differences between the two. Green and blue, Catholic and Protestant, Republican and Unionist—the two sides couldn’t be more opposite.

For years, Rangers even refused to knowingly sign players of Catholic faith. This was until Graeme Souness changed it by signing former Celtic forward Mo Johnston.

The political aspect of the feud developed strongly in the early 20th century, with perhaps the most significant development occurring in 1912 when Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff (a company that already had anti-Catholic hiring practices) set up a new yard in Glasgow due to instability in Ireland.

Hundreds of Ulster Protestant workers, many of Scottish descent, also made the move, and they adopted Rangers, the closest and largest club to the Govan yard, as their new team. Due to other events, such as the First World War and the Easter Rising, the club came to represent the Scottish Establishment and British Unionism in the face of the Irish Catholic uprising personified by Celtic’s success. As a result, many people in Scotland and Northern Ireland began supporting Rangers or Celtic over and above their local teams in accordance with their own political and religious inclinations.

Later down the line, in 2005, both Celtic and Rangers joined a project to tackle bigotry and sectarianism in sport, but there was little change in the behaviour and subsequent prosecution of the fans. While the majority of Rangers and Celtic fans do not involve themselves in sectarianism, serious incidents do occur and tend to dominate the headlines.

The most well-known incident of disorder between fans occurred on a Sunday evening in May 1999 at Parkhead, with the usual tensions heightened by the fact Rangers needed a win to secure the league title at the home of their biggest foes.

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Celtic supporters threw a number of objects, one of which struck referee Hugh Dallas, forcing the game to stop while he received medical attention. Many fans in attendance had also spent a full weekend drinking alcohol prior to the event and at least four Celtic fans would go on to invade the pitch to confront Dallas throughout the match.

Additionally, more missiles were thrown at players on the pitch after the game. Since the events of that day, Old Firm league matches have normally been played in the early afternoon and the possibility of an Old Firm title decider has been deliberately avoided. When interviewed, supporters of both clubs have been known to state that they often don’t enjoy Derby Day due to the tense nature that comes with it.

The Events of 2012

In February 2012, Rangers suffered a financial collapse that would lead to the liquidation of the club. This came about after they were put into administration following years of financial mismanagement and a tax evasion investigation by the British Authorities. It was discovered that the club owed £100 million in total debts, including £79 million in unpaid tax and £9 million due to HMRC. HMRC also voted against a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA), meaning that Rangers would be liquidated and reformed within a new company structure.

Rangers would face, and lose, a vote as from the other SPL clubs as to whether or not they would be allowed back into the Scottish Premiership straight away. It was revealed on July 4th, 2012, that Rangers had lost the vote 10-1, with the old company of Rangers being the only side to vote in favour of an SPL return.

This led to a proposal of an automatic Scottish Football League entry by SFL and SFA executives, meaning Rangers were able to rejoin the Scottish pyramid from the fourth tier and would have to work their way back up to the top division. A 12-month transfer embargo was also placed on the club but this did not stop their progression back to the top flight, as Rangers won three promotions in four years to get themselves back to the Scottish Premiership.

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Many Celtic fans claim the Old Firm died when Rangers liquidated in 2012 and instead refer to it as the Glasgow Derby. They also often refer to Rangers fans as “Zombies” or “the undead.”

It should be noted, however, that Rangers are considered a continuation of the same club by SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster.

Away Allocations Slashed

During the summer of 2018, Rangers announced they would be slashing Celtic’s Derby Day allocation at Ibrox from 7,000 tickets, the entire Broomloan Stand, to just 800. Fans would be situated in a corner, usually used for smaller numbers of travelling supporters. This was decided following a fan survey backing the proposal as well as an upturn in season ticket sales.

Celtic would retaliate by doing the same, therefore bringing to an end a long-standing tradition of the two clubs offering generous away allocations for the clash. Since there have been no away supporters at all for the past couple of years, both former players and fans have criticised this decision for “diluting the atmosphere” of the Old Firm Derby.

Unfortunately, during the first Old Firm fixture at Celtic Park under the new arrangements, there was a crushing incident. In the minutes before kick-off, the main access road was closed as part of the amended segregation plan and thousands of spectators approaching Celtic Park from both directions were directed to the narrow enclosed walkway below the North Stand to reach the opposite side of the stadium, along with those trying to enter that stand via turnstiles.

The volume of people in the walkway area built up to the extent that many were unable to move forward with more approaching from either side, and crushing was experienced in the congested area for some minutes, causing panic, with several fans scaling a high perimeter wall and fence to escape; one of them fell from the wall and later required hospital treatment, while four other people were treated at the scene as the situation subsided. Those involved expressed their anger afterwards regarding the arrangements and the policing at the stadium on the day, with Celtic issuing an official apology to the fans.

The SPL, Rangers and Celtic have recently reached an agreement to allow 5% of their respective stadiums as away allocations from next season onwards. This will see roughly 2,500 Celtic fans allowed at Ibrox and just over 3,000 Rangers fans make the trip to Parkhead.

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Saturday In Scotland

Having covered the history of the derby and major talking points between the two sides, it is now time to look ahead to this weekend’s clash. It will be the 420th edition of the Old Firm as Rangers look to keep their title hopes alive by overcoming the odds to win away at Celtic, something they haven’t managed since October 2020. This was a game that was played behind closed doors due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Rangers’ last win at Celtic in front of fans came nearly five years ago, in December 2019, when Ryan Kent and Nikola Katic found the net in a 2-1 win.

Rangers currently sit three points behind Celtic in the league table and are five behind on goal difference, meaning a win by three or more would take them to the top of the table with two games left to play this season. After Saturday, Celtic will face Kilmarnock and St. Mirren, while Rangers will take on Dundee and Hearts. Rangers are yet to get the better of Celtic this season, having suffered two defeats and a draw in the three meetings so far this campaign. Celtic are unsurprisingly the bookies favourites at 10/11, while Rangers are 3/1 to pick up a sizeable win on Saturday afternoon.

Rangers will be without experienced centre-half Connor Goldson as well as Rabbi Matondo, who scored a last-gasp equaliser against Celtic in a dramatic 3-3 draw at Ibrox just a few weeks ago. Top scorers James Tavernier and Matt O’Reilly will no doubt be hugely influential for their respective sides as they look to battle it out for supremacy at the top of the Scottish Premiership.

In a game bigger than any other, Saturday could turn out to be one of the best Old Firms in recent memory and certainly isn’t one to be missed, no matter who you support.

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