Scottish Football: The Old Firm Derby

We take a look at Celtic and Rangers' rivalry through the years

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Scottish football: The Old Firm Derby
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On Saturday, the 16th of November, Cyprus and Scotland face each other in their efforts to secure Euro 2020 qualification. The result of this game will be very important for determining who finishes in third place in the group. Inevitably, when talking about Scottish football, Celtic and Rangers are the first thing that comes to mind for most fans. Below we take a look at what makes this rivalry so special.

Rangers and Celtic have one of the most heated rivalries in world football. It is one of the few local football derbies where religion plays such a significant part in the relationship between the two clubs. Rangers have Protestant roots, whereas Celtic have a Catholic identity. Is this though the only reason the Old Firm is among the most aggressive derbies both on and off the pitch?

Scottish football: The Old Firm Derby
Glasgow city

Why is it called ‘The Old Firm Derby’?

The term ‘Old Firm’ holds its roots back to the 1904 Scottish Cup final between Rangers and Celtic. A cartoon in a magazine called the ‘Scottish Referee’, had displayed an elderly man with a sandwich board reading “Patronise The Old Firm: Rangers, Celtic Ltd” before the game, highlighting the mutual commercial benefits of their meetings. Some though claim that the origin of the term comes from the initial match of the two teams in which commentators referred to the clubs as ‘like two old, firm friends’.

Did they always hate each other?

Rangers were founded in 1872 by protestant Scots. Celtic were founded 15 years later in 1888 by immigrant Irish Catholics. The latter origin is the reason there are always Irish striped green-white-orange flags at the stands at Celtic matches, whether at Celtic Park or at away fixtures. The sociopolitical aspect adds more aggression to the rivalry as Celtic were originally founded with the purpose of alleviating poverty in the immigrant Irish population in the East End of Glasgow. On the other hand, Rangers revolve around a British national identity.

That said, hate even remotely this intence was not really present in the early relationship between the two clubs. This can be supported by the fact that when Celtic were founded, they invited Rangers for their first-ever official match, a friendly game in order to inaugurate their new ground at Parkhead. For the record, Celtic won that game 5-2. In addition, in 1892, there are reports claiming that Rangers were supported at their games by Celtic fans and that a year later the two clubs travelled together to fixtures in Edinburg.

In the early 20th century, the two sides continued having a harmonious relationship, even fighting third parties as ‘allies’. The 1909 Scottish cup final between Rangers and Celtic finished 2-2 and the replay game 1-1. Despite that the two teams agreed that the winner would have been decided in extra time if the replay game ended in a draw. This didn’t happen and a third match would have to be played instead. The fans of the two teams became very angry at this turn of events, especially as some suspected that the teams had actually played for a draw so they could get another huge crowd and financially benefit from it. As a result, the two sets of supporters joined forces to set fire to the pay boxes at Hampden Park, where hundreds of fans and policemen were injured. Ultimately, there was no winner as both clubs agreed to not play another game.

What changed and the rivalry started?

In 1912 two Belfast shipbuilders, Harland and Wolff, opened a shipyard in a riverside distinct of Glasgow called Govan. This was the beginning of Irish politics actively becoming more and more involved in the everyday life of Glasgow. In addition, subsequent events in Ireland such as the Easter Rising in Dublin and the disproportionate losses of Scottish and Northern Irish regiments at the Somme contributed to the hatred aimed towards Irish immigrants from Scottish nationals. This was followed by a major turning point in Rangers’ history: their decision to not sign any players of Roman Catholic background. This lasted up until July 1989, where Graeme Souness recruited Mo Johnston, an ex-Celtic player.

Scottish football: The Old Firm Derby
Mo Johnston

Endless Competition

Apart from religious, sociopolitical and economic differences between the two clubs, competition on the pitch is what has kept the rivalry of Celtic and Rangers on top of Scottish football. Since 1890, when the Scottish Football League was founded, 122 championship battles have taken place. Out of those 122, Rangers won the title 54 times against Celtic’s 50. Some are of the opinion that Scottish football is somewhat boring as a competition as it’s very rare for a third club to win the league. The last time this has happened was in 1983-84 and 1984-85 when Aberdeen won the league under Sir Alex Ferguson. In terms of Rangers versus Celtic themselves, there is a more equal divide. The two teams faced each other 418 times. Rangers have won 161 of their meetings, Celtic 158 times, and 99 matches have ended in a draw.

Scottish football: The Old Firm Derby

When it comes to European football, Celtic are right to be proud of the Lisbon Lions, them team who won the European Cup in 1967 by defeating Inter Milan 2-1.

For Rangers things are a little less illustrious but still significant for a Scottish club. They celebrated winning of the 1972 European Cup Winners Cup at Camp Nou, where they faced and defeated Dynamo Moscow with a 3-2 score.

The modern era

2012 can be characterized as another significant turning point for the the Old Firm rivalry. Rangers suffered a financial collapse leading to the liquidation of the commercial entity with the sporting assets being acquired by a new company. In simpler words, Rangers continued participating in Scottish Football, but having start competing in the lowest division since that event. As a result, for the first time in 120 years there would be no Old Firm derby in league competition.

Four years later in 2016-2017, Rangers were back in the Premiership after being league champions in the fourth, third and second tier of Scottish football. In the meantime, two cup semi-finals were played between Rangers and Celtic, with Celtic winning both games due to naturally superior and more expensively-assembled squads. In addition, Celtic won all four league titles during that time, by a significant point difference (always 15 or more points) from the runner up to boot.

Scottish football: The Old Firm Derby

Celtic have been the holders of the Scottish Premiership title for the past 8 years. The last time Rangers won the league was before their financial collapse, in 2010-11. However, this season, there is greater competition between the two Glasgow rivals. Rangers and Celtic are both on top of the league equal on 31 points after 12 games. Their current battle for this year’s title is much more reminiscent of their past than more recent seasons.

Scotland in Cyprus

The national team of Scotland travels to Cyprus on Saturday 16th of November for may be an interesting game with third place still up for grabs. Five players from Celtic and one from Rangers compose the call-up of Steve Clarke for the upcoming matches against Cyprus and Kazakhstan. A number of Scottish internationals, as always, compete in the English Premier League or in lower divisions of English football. Examples are the captain of the Scottish team Andy Robertson (Liverpool), John McGinn (Aston Villa) and Liam Palmer (Sheffield Wednesday). Cyprus lost to the Scotts in their last game by two goals to one, with Robertson and Burke helping their side take all three points.

by Joseph Violaris, BSc in Sports Science (Brunel University), MSc in Sports Management (Loughborough University)

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