THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

18 September ~ Amid the usual socio-political posturing around today's Glasgow hate-fest, one explanation of the tension will be ignored: it's the eighth Old Firm clash in less than 11 months. And this one has arrived late enough in the calendar to allow Rangers and Celtic to negotiate their way to the top of the table. Despite having played one game less than most of the SPL, despite this being only their seventh game of the domestic season and despite postponing SPL fixtures to play lucrative friendlies, it's already a battle between first and second. Celtic are top scorers and Rangers have conceded once. Natch. It just wouldn't be that special derby atmosphere if there wasn't "absolutely everything" riding on the game.

For me this has always been the main ingredient of Old Firm enmity. We play each other more than we play anyone else and it's almost always "make or break". As Barcelona and Real Madrid have also been discovering recently, coming second in a never-ending two-horse race creates a rare feeling of football inadequacy which must be diffused if it's to be borne at all. The colour-coded bigotry, the bar room politics, the screaming hysteria and gnawing paranoia all pile in after the result. But, then, as a Rangers fan I would say that, wouldn't I. After all, how else does one justify a life of ethnic hate crimes and Protestant fundamentalist plotting.

I can't stand Old Firm games. Except when Rangers win them – and sometimes even then. There's been a long-held belief among the blue half that we're only allowed to talk about football when Celtic triumph. Basically, it's felt that when Rangers lose, they lose but when Celtic lose they change the subject. However, last season saw a deviation or two from that format which may reflect a wider sea change in the hugely stereotyped Old Firm dynamic. While Celtic were once the "biscuit tin" misers, Ibrox now has HM Revenue and Customs banging on the door; while pre-war Celtic fans were the outcasts of an anti-Catholic society, Union Jack-waving Bluenoses have little place in evolved and devolved 21st century Scotland.

In last season's Scottish Cup replay at Parkhead Rangers had three players sent off, two in rather attention-seeking fashion. Ally McCoist – now our manager, then Walter Smith's assistant – had a serious handbags confrontation with Celtic gaffer Neil Lennon. The game sparked an intervention by the Scottish government and statements to the nation by the first minister, live on Sky Sports News. Most of the coverage was noxious drivel but, amid it all, hardly anyone noticed Celtic had won. Rangers had changed the subject. In fact, McCoist's calm, in-the-face confronting of Lennon seemed to be drawing a line in the sand as regarded the Celtic manager's shit-stirring style in the five derbies to that point, three of which we'd lost. Celtic eventually won the Scottish Cup but Rangers tied up the other two domestic honours at their direct expense.

Rangers are widely and often wildly reported to be on the verge of bankruptcy. If it happens it will be Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs who pull the plug. So much for our famed reputation as loyal Royalists favoured by the Establishment. Yet facing financial ruin for the last few years has lent our continued domestic dominance and frequent European triumphs a sheen of romantic defiance usually reserved for the Bhoys. The SFA seem unable to defend Rangers from increased UEFA sanctions for decreased instances of sectarian singing. Yet the same institution, historically rumoured to be riddled with freemasons out to sabotage Celtic, has done all it can to have the Parkhead club reinstated to the Europa League competition from which they were fairly eliminated by an unfairly constructed Sion side.

While the infamous 1976 statement that Rangers "would sign a Catholic if one good enough came along" was seen as final confirmation of our institutionalised sectarianism, it's now 22 years since we signed the genial genuflector Maurice Johnston. Countless Catholic signings followed and we've subsequently lauded a Catholic captain and manager. No one cares at Ibrox anymore. It would now seem the religious hysteria is driven by Celtic's board – particularly chief executive Peter Lawwell – and for the very same venal reasoning behind Rangers' Protestant cantera of the early-late 20th century: brand protection.

No one at Parkhead went out their way last season to acknowledge the vast majority of Rangers fans would no more think about sending bullets and bombs to Neil Lennon than they would report him to the police for cupping his ears at the Ibrox Main Stand. Celtic plc need to keep the oppression myth alive or else they're just another football club. Thus, one dodgy penalty award demanded a root and branch investigation of the SFA and one bad day in court for the beleaguered Lennon now means the entire Scottish legal system is bent.

The Old Firm play each other too often for any sustained sanity to exist between the fans and there's copy and cash to be made in keeping the hate alive. In maintaining this equilibrium over the last century, the only thing Rangers and Celtic haven't swapped is shirts. But what would be the point – both brands are ridiculously overpriced and the sizes far too big. Alex Anderson

Comments (17)
Comment by A Doctor Speaks 2011-09-18 10:14:59

Yawn. More cliched cr*p.

And only the ignorant see it as the nonsensical 'old firm'.

Comment by Véndovos Mareo 2011-09-18 13:51:06

"McCoist's calm, in-the-face confronting of Lennon"
"the Celtic manager's shit-stirring style"

Priceless.

"the same institution, historically rumoured to be riddled with freemasons"

"Rumoured" in the same way as the Pope is rumoured to be a Catholic, I take it...

"Countless Catholic signings followed and we've subsequently lauded a Catholic captain and manager. No one cares at Ibrox anymore. It would now seem the religious hysteria is driven by Celtic's board – particularly chief executive Peter Lawwell – and for the very same venal reasoning behind Rangers' Protestant cantera of the early-late 20th century: brand protection."

Recent Rangers players seem to have a different view.

Nacho Novo to the witness deck: "As soon as I signed for Rangers I was warned not to bless myself".

Thank you, Mr Novo. Will Mr. Mikel Arteta now please make his way to the deck? "I've always been a Catholic. At Rangers they didn't like it and I have to respect that". Thank you Mr Arteta. Don't forget to collect your Uncle Tom Prize on your way out.



Comment by SoccerLimey 2011-09-18 13:58:52

I like the article but I disagree with your conclusion that because of the frequency of the clashes, that the so-called insanity has increased.

Let me first say that I'm English and not a part of the Glasgow Old Firm hotbed, but I am a Manchester United fan and back in the day I was a regular Stretford Ender so I appreciate the gist of what you're trying to say.

I think that if you fast rewound back to the 70's, or maybe back to the 50's, you wouldn't necessarily find anything different about the rivalry. If anything, I would suggest that the rivalry has become a little muted simply because we have moved forward to a different era where football does not dominate out lives so much anymore.

I think sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that events or circumstances are always of the extreme nature when we discuss the current era. I remember having a conversation about football hooliganism back in the 70's with my grandfather who was in his 80's and was a regular Preston North End fan back in the 20's. He laughed when I said hooliganism had got out of control.

He told me a story of the 1922 FA Cup Final when Preston played Huddersfield. Apparently there was only one train lane in those days so both sets of fans made the trip on the same train. It was like the Wild West he said. The train stopped several times for hours on end along the way while the fans battled it out. He wasn't that type of person but he had to persevere under the circumstances.

The rivalry will never be any different. It's in the Glasgow and Scottish culture. As long as it's controlled, both on and off the field, let it be.

It provides quite a spectacle.

http://www.soccerlimeyinamerica.com

Comment by erramacaroonbars 2011-09-18 14:11:05

Novo? Arteta? Big favourites of the Rangers fans, just like many other Catholic players - and Novo in particular absolutely loved his time at the club. Rangers and Rangers fans aren't spotless of course but certain fans of other clubs need to try to resist the knee-jerk impulse to demonise.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-09-18 20:17:24

94 minutes of football and, as promised, I only enjoyed it in the last minute of injury time.

@A Doctor Speaks - yes, I too am sick of the cliched crap spouted by the mainstream media about the old firm but the fact you read this piece and decided to comment reassures me you too must want to do something about those tabloid stereotypes. So what's your point, mate? Let's have it.

@Véndovos Mareo - you missed out Rino Gatusso. He tells the story of everyone in the Ibrox dressing room wetting themselves laughing when he pointed to the picture of Elizabeth II above the pegs and asked "What saint is that?". Wee Rino also laughed when re-telling the story after his move to Milan, saying "I didn't know what a Protestant was at that point - I just assumed everyone in the world was Catholic". That point would be after months and months of training with and playing for Rangers, after almost a year of living in Glasgow. Too bad he hadn't met you or else he'd have known "THE TRUTH" before he hit that inner sanctum.

Then there was Lorenzo Amoruso - our big Italian ex-Captain who was out on the Ibrox pitch at half-time today to a hero's welcome, from a crowd who'd just seen us lose 2 goals and our leadership of the table to our "most hated" rivals. Surely 42,000 bigots in a bad mood would have JUST HAAATED to see a big Catholic bloke on the pitch at that point??? Mmm? When Amoruso was stripped of the captaincy in 2001 in favour of Barry Ferguson (not because Amo was having shockers at the back, obviously, but more likely Coz he was caught with a picture of Padre Pio in his locker) he responded by wearing green boots in our next game. That got to me, a devout atheist but fervent football fan of a team in blue with a derby rival in green, more than any personal belief hand jiving ever could.

If I were concerned about abuse of Catholic symbolism - making the sign of the cross in this instance, as fixed on by yourself - I would think Artur Boruc using it as a wind-up would anger me more. I have no time for Protestantism, Catholicism, any form of Christianity or any belief centred on supernatural entities. My parents were born into different sides of the "divide" and didn't do church - I was never christened. But, if I was a Catholic, from what I know of family members within that faith, I should think the former Celtic goalkeeper using an expression of personal religious belief as a device for intimidation would upset me more. As far as I personally was concerned, Rangers fans who got upset by it were idiots - The Holy Goalie's wee half-time show meant as much to me as Mr Spock's "Live long and prosper" hand-signal and, if anything, he was cheapening that religion by using it at a rowdy football match. It does seem that your idea of who is abusing what religion is rather heavily colour coded.

But - hey - The SFA is riddled with Masons, FACT. Your main concern from the hundreds of words I've written above is that no-one, under any circumstance, goes away thinking that's just a rumour(and that these masons are all out to get Celtic is implied, I assume - just like the masons who've played for Celtic through the years were all there to undermine the system from within ... I also assume from your definite tone) especially as it's one which helps both maintain and justify your hateful attitude. So who am I to argue with a man who memorises every quote made by catholics to have played for Rangers. To me they're guys who played for Rangers who, like both my grandfathers, just happened to be Catholic but, well, what would I know - the REAL agendas obviously pass me by.

Using the term "Uncle Tom" tells us all we need to know about you. Hateful, hateful, horrible little attitude. A hand's being held out and you sh*t yourself.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-09-18 20:18:08

@SoccerLimey - great post, sir and I think you're entirely right about the increased level of reporting of increasingly smaller incidents as the 20th century progresed and media coverage became more widespread and accesible just as society has become less - well - "mental"! Imagine how Sky Sports and BBC News 24, for example, would today report that 1975 "friendly" where the Rangers support decided to cross the pitch and "take" the Stretford End!!

I actually think, however, that the Old Firm rivalry IS changing. As people become, as you say, more aware of the options they have for their leisure time, the Old Firm enmity gets more and more commercially active, like that last flickering of the lightbulb before it dies. The problem is that there is always a last, final excess of bitterness from any dying cause and while bigotry and violence were just accepted as a part of Glasgow life pre-70s,the increased social awareness these days means the Old Firm have to get busy in trying to keep the "hate" going in politically acceptable ways if attendances aren't to drop. Luckily, at Rangers, we realised 22 years ago that we would get even bigger if we dropped our sectarian signing policy and simply kept schtum while Celtic whinged and bleated about refs and penalties and whatever else Paul McBride can concoct - at Celtic, however, this poses a problem: with nothing to stand up to, with no injustice to fight, their fans can no longer see themselves as rebels so this is why there's a new desperation from Lawwell, Reid and co to find ways of characterising Scottish Football as being against Celtic, rather than almost 50% run by them. It's resulting in some real nonsense.

erramacaroonbars - that's the best nome de plume ever: but what about the Hubba Bubba? :-) And don't you dare come on here talking sense in a calm fashion! Remember - it's all about religious hysteria!!

Comment by RobM 2011-09-18 23:51:57

'increased social awareness these days means the Old Firm have to get busy in trying to keep the "hate" going in politically acceptable ways if attendances aren't to drop'

Here's an idea, why don't you both accept that you're football clubs and not athletic wings of your paramilitaries of choice. Old Firm fans are hilarious when they've got a gripe (which is pretty much all the time these days). Cry me a fucking river.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-09-19 09:21:24

RobM - I 100% agree. Just don't see why you're all upset with me for writing a piece and a post which agrees with you.

Your default setting perhaps?

Comment by RobM 2011-09-19 11:14:11

Sorry Alex, was more a general point about OF fans rather than a pop at your piece, can see how it read that way - left it all a bit ambiguous there.

Comment by jameswba 2011-09-19 11:46:24

It's a well-written, even-handed piece for sure but I suspect any fan of Rangers OR Celtic trying to achieve the kind of balance this manages is always going to cop it - either from his own side saying he's being too fair to 'them' or from the other side pinpointing further wrongdoings of his own lot.

All the posturing and symbolism have indeed become very very alienating to those not directly concerned with these clubs and also, clearly, to many of those who are.

A couple of the direct 'footballing' points are interesting. The first is that this rivalry has become a contempt borne out of familiarity. Possibly, though some of the worst trouble at the West Mids matches over the years has been when the clubs haven't faced either for ages and are really 'geared up' for the renewal of the derby - the infamous Blues-Villa games of 2002/2003 being a good example.

Secondly, Rangers-Celtic are the only two real domestic contenders and that a similar pre-eminence has poisoned Barcelona v Real Madrid. Barca-Madrid does indeed seem to have plenty of Glasgow echoes (the oppressed v the oppressor theme rears its head again) but it could equally be that Rangers and Celtic would be at least as obssessed with each other if neither were any good. I recall several WBA seasons finishing in utter mediocrity but with people saying 'at least we beat the Wolves, so it was a decent season'.

Only speculating of course, because there's little chance of the Celtic/Rangers dominance ending anytime soon.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-09-19 15:21:44

Dammit, RobM! Come ooon, man! That was some of my best sarcasm there and now you're telling me it counts for nothing. "Default setting perhaps" - that's one of my wanki*st little lines ever - I was so chuffed with it - and now you tell me I've watsed it on someone who was agreeing with me. Bugger ... :-)

Sorry sir - takes about 24 hours for the tetchiness to wear off after ye olde firmee derbee - I can probably chat like a semi-normal person sometime after tea tonight ...

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-09-19 15:23:48

Good points, JamesWBA - and, amid all the recent talk of Rangers going bust we have been wondering what it would be like if we were punished for entering administration or insolvency with, for example, relegation to the Scottish third division. First thing everyone says, after agreeing Rangers will never actually be chucked out the SPL and we're in fact indulging in a sick kind of fantasy of a whole season or three with no Old Firm league fixtures, is "Bet you we'd draw Celtic at Parkhead in the Scottish Cup ... and beat them!" and, yes, there is a part of us which thinks it would almost be worth the turmoil of financial collapse just to inflict Celtic's most humiliaing defeat ever.

But that, as you say, is the small-mindedness which will crop up at any club in any division in any country - there's always a rival you particulalrly enjoy beating or dislike losing to. Let's be honest, the act of following 11 men kicking a ball about various patches of grass is small-minded in itself - in a healthy way - so enjoying a rivalry with one particular club is just an extension of that willingness to create some safe drama in our lives.

The problem for me is when it becomes "love to hate". This oft-used phrase, which in 999 out of 1000 footballing instances is just a bit of bad English (I've never experienced "hate", in its literal sense, in a truly footballing context and if I did I'd just walk away) is terrible for the Old Firm dynamic because so many people DO experience genuine hate through religious differences. It's just so easy for the tabloids up here to chuck regular small-penised football stupidity - ala the incidents at the 2nd city derby or the 1980 cup final riot up here - in with a neck-and-neck league race, red card incidents and general competitiveness and cover it with a thick coat of "sectarianism in the West of Scotland" to make people at Old Firm games think they're being genuinely hated or hateful.

Without getting too amateur psychologisty, I reckon there's plenty people who go to the football who hate their own lives in some private personal way and a simple process of transference sees them vent it all by, for example, spending 90 minutes slating a referee or one of their own mis-firing strikers. No matter which country we watch our football, we've all seen guys at games who unleash volleys of abuse totally disproportionate to what's happening on the pitch. Well, when it's the Old Firm we have religion and politics chucked in there too which makes such venting seem all the more acceptable - link it all to the serious drak stuff which happened in Northern ireland over the decades and you're sometimes feel like more of a weirdo for not going bannaas when Rangers play Celtic.

In a weird way, one of the quietest Old Firm derbies I ever experienced - even though it effectively tied up the title for celtic - was back in 1988 and it came afte that IRA funeral in Belfast where the "mourners" got a hold of two undercover SAS guys and, with the cameras rolling, dragged them out their car and executed them. Stuff like that just made all the paramilitary posturing in Govan the next day seem so sick and so empty. Anyone from Northern Ireland who'd lived through the troubles would want a BREAK from that shit when they cross the water for a game - that's why most genuine hard-line Republicans or Loyalists support Man U, Arsenal, Liverpool or the like. If an Old Firm game was genuinely full of hard-line bigots - well, they'd just never take place as they'd all end in a blood bath. What we have is a big crowd infected with bunches of people with oridnary, safe lives who decide they want to play at terrorists because it makes them feel "hard".

... there's more ...

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-09-19 15:24:26

... I totally agree that the OF rivalry would not go away if they played each other less often or - heaven forfend - we ended up in different divisions for a year or two. If we didn't play each other for YEARS then the first derby would be crazy - absolutely. What we have now though is the other extreme. I just want us to play each other twice a season in the league and we'll inevitably meet in a cup final or two every other season. Middle ground is best.

The present minimum of 4 league fixtures between Rangers and Celtic creates a de facto boredom within the coverage of the game which means other factors have to be chucked in so we can still keep it living up to it's reputation as the most heavy-duty derby in Britain (coz without that rep, which offsets the inferior standard of football to La Liga and the English top flight, Sky and ESPN won't buy it and the Scottish game will become even more skint).

The 7 games we had last season resulted in the kind of bitching between players which, in any other derby, would be good soap opera but in ours becomes used as an excuse for politicians to forget about the real problems in Scottish society (mostly health-related) and score easy political points by making empty pronouncements about sectarianism in society. There's riot police, horses and baton charges taking place on the pitch at St Andrews but it gets less press than 3 players being sent off as 60,000 people go home at full time in Glasow.

Add to that the Celtic board's current desire to turn Neil Lennon into a cult (again a distraction tactic) and we have a football manager receiving death threats simply coz, ultimately, it makes a football fixture more saleable and prevents the Scottish Government having to do anything about complicated serious issues like, for example, the horrendous rates of alcohol and substance abuse and knife crime in this wee nation of ours.

If anyone in football has any reason to experience anything like proper hatred in a football match then I have to defer to the AFC Wimbledon piece on this site when they were on the cusp of meeting MK Dons in last season's FA cup. And the main reaction there was that the AFC Wimbledon people just didn't want it to happen. They couldn't face it. Too darkly emotional. Real hate actually makes people want to avoid and get away - that's why it's extra sickening to see 50 - 60,000 being encouraged to REVEL in plastic hate, at least 4 times a season. What I and, I feel, the vast majority of those present, experienced yesterday was a fantastic second half display by my team against our derby rivals and main challengers for the league title - it'd be nice if that's all it was in the eyes of everyone. Because that suffices for me.

Comment by Griff010 2011-09-19 17:23:34

In a weird way, I'm gonna miss this since I'm not living in Glasgow anymore. 7 Old firms, including actually going to the one which caused the government to step into stop sectarianism once and for all, and working at Ibrox long enough to think that the Orange symbolism was normal was still enough to make me feel I should get out of the west coast.

Two points I thought I'd make. Interesting that you say Alex that hard-line republicans and loyalists would probably go for the english giants. What I found is that the old firm on would regularly link their support to the Manchester clubs. As a City fan, I first moved up and found a good chunk of rangers fan decided I was their best friend for being blue. Equally, so long as they didn't support liverpool first, celtic fans would fly ther stretford red. With rangers in particular it seemed to be a religious link, despite the fact that City's church team roots and united's traditional irish catholic support is more coincidental rather than a celtic-style mission statement.

It came out as well when city and celtic played each other in recent seasons and city seemed to naturally pull the rangers fans, and in the case of the match at eastlands it led to some ugly scenes.

Just a thought as well on the need to hype up the old firm in light of regularly meeting each other. I always found it strange how celtic fans feel the SFA are out to get them. The SFA need the old firm to keep generating interest. One of the teams could get some of the interest and money but the derby is the big winner. It just wouldn't make sense to target celtic in the way they think they do. Speaking as someone who went to Firhill for partick v rangers a few seasons ago, it was a sell out, mainly because rangers fans outnumber partick 100-1 (est. guess). But the media really only televised the match becuase rangers were on in a cup match. the fact that it was a Glasgow derby was almost irrelevant.

phew, any thoughts on the celtic board complaining about the daily record headline?

Comment by A Doctor Speaks 2011-09-20 02:03:42

There are so many fallacies spouted by the author, it's mainly unworthy of reply.

Except to perhaps agree he is a relatively self-appointed 'voice of sanity', in a sea of crazed sectarian bigots.
So, what's new?

Comment by Liffrok 2011-09-20 19:54:18

Which fallacies in particular?

As a neutral who thinks that the Gruesome Twosome are pretty much indistinguishable, I thought it was refreshing to read an article written by a partial observer who recognises that his own team/supporters are at least partly to blame for the repugnant nature of the rivalry.

Comment by markrpoole 2011-09-23 15:33:13

Sorry, bit late to the game here (I've been in Lisbon, gazing dreamily from the Cascais train windows at the floodlights of the site of Scottish football's greatest ever victory, but I digress...) but there's a few points I can't resist making.

1. The SPL did stand up for Rangers when UEFA sanctioned their sectarian singing. Neil Doncaster told them he thought Rangers had done all they could to stop it. UEFA disagreed.

2. Celtic were not 'fairly eliminated from the UEFA Cup by an unfairly assembled Sion side'. It would be surprising of any country's governing body not to support one of their clubs against a team that had ignored a UEFA transfer embargo.

3. None of us knows what Ally McCoist said to Neil Lennon after the March derby. The way he said it may have been calm but it would be naive to imply he was trying to draw a line under anything.

4. HMRC chasing Rangers for tens of millions of pounds of unpaid tax does not prove that Rangers have never been favoured by the establishment. Many Celtic fans consider Rangers to have been favoured by the Scottish establishment in the past, but would consider the British establishment either ambivalent or ignorant of their existence.

5. 'One dodgy penalty award' was rather an unprecedented example of a referee lying to a manager and his supervisor, and this subsequently being covered up by the refereeing establishment, and a linesmen losing his job, for reasons he linked to the same establishment, following the press's erroneous assertation that he'd been threatened by Celtic fans. Celtic's complaints about this were retrospectively justified by Stewart Regan's subsequent actions.

6. Peter Lawwell is not 'driving religious hysteria'. Whenever Celtic complain about a specific incident they're inevitably accused of 'keeping the oppression myth alive'. Are they the only football club never allowed to raise questions about incidents that have gone against them? Their complaints against the SFA's professional standards last season were justified by the legal decisions their complaints kicked off.

For the record, this particular Celtic fan is embarrassed when he hears unjustified claims of victimisation from other Celtic fans. I believe most other Celtic fans agree with me, and that this number is growing. So Celtic don't need paranoia to avoid becoming 'just another club.'

If you want a target for who's keeping the hate alive, look at last weekend's Record back page, not Celtic.

Now the good news: we all know the bombs, bullets, death threats and assaults are the actions of a very small number of violent idiots. We all know 99% of Rangers and Hearts fans are as disgusted by them as anyone else is. We know Rangers are not the club they used to be, pre-Murray, Souness and MoJo.

It just seems a bit perverse to blame Celtic on this subject when it's Lennon that's suffered from these attacks.

And one final (hopefully positive) thought: last weekend's derby was a great Old Firm match, for reasons that had nothing to do with Protestant and/or British identity vs Catholic and/or Irish identity.

Cheers, Mark

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