Pair will meet in League Cup semi-final
4 November ~ We almost went three full years without an Old Firm derby. Now, after Celtic were paired with Rangers in Saturday’s League Cup semi-final draw, we’ll suffer three full months of fevered build-up to Scotland’s most commonly played fixture. Both supports contain elements who’ll pretend they don’t care, claiming Rangers’ 2012 liquidation changed the dynamic. Both contain factions who’ll openly relish it – the Celtic players themselves cheered the draw in their dressing room as manager Ronny Deila was interviewed on TV.
But what riles fans of most Scottish clubs, and some Old Firm punters, is the mainstream media hailing this match as the saviour of our game.
When Dundee United’s Radoslaw Cierzniak saved the decisive penalty in Wednesday’s quarter-final shootout at Hibs, veteran BBC Radio Scotland reporter Chick Young screamed: “Normal service has been resumed in Scottish football.” He was referring to the semi-final draw now including both the Old Firm and New Firm. United, Aberdeen, Celtic and Rangers are Scotland’s only European finalists. But only the Glasgow pair have been Scottish champions in the last 30 years. Hibs, Hearts and even Dumbarton have all won the league more often than United.
Defending himself on Saturday’s Sportsound broadcast Young joked he’d merely been pining for his socialising heyday of the 1970s and 1980s. But his scripted mot juste, and the fervour behind it, betrayed the opinion our game will be “back” only if Rangers and Celtic are meeting regularly again. His BBC colleagues carrying out Saturday evening’s live televised draw continually declared it a “shot in the arm” and “much-needed boost” for the Scottish game.
The BBC owns the League Cup broadcasting rights. The draw was advertised across all platforms from the moment Premiership Celtic joined Championship Rangers in the hat, even inspiring its own radio commercial. The mere chance of an Old Firm game was considered more exciting than the games taking place on Friday and Saturday. Monday’s Scottish Cup fourth-round draw didn’t provide another Old Firm derby but Sky promoted it solely on that possibility.
This season BBC Scotland’s traditional round-up magazine programme often includes a couple of games from the SPFL Championship. For years fans demanded moving from a 12- to 16-team top flight. But it took Rangers, Hibs and Hearts arriving in the Championship before Sportscene would show eight games per episode. Attendances are down and the SPFL is without a sponsor. A game between the country’s two biggest clubs is obviously good box office. However, most of Scandinavia and the Balkans produce better national teams than Scotland despite weaker domestic set-ups. Furthermore, prior to Rangers restarting in the fourth tier we’d been told the Old Firm duopoly was killing our game.
The “shot in the arm” argument is an empty defence of the tabloid-friendly hysteria inspired by Old Firm derbies. While that’s been kept on a low heat by social media, other clubs have made inroads on the trophies. As a Rangers fan I’ve attended multiple Old Firm semis and finals of the League, Scottish and Glasgow cups. As a Scottish football fan, it’s depressing that Dundee United and Aberdeen’s rival “firm” has contested just one final, 35 years ago. Scotland perhaps needs a complete change of service. Alex Anderson