Nobody can argue that Scottish football has seen better days. The national team consistently has the nation in a state of despair and the SPFL is becoming increasingly overshadowed by its older and frankly more exciting brother, the Premier League. However, an aspect that will always keep the league somewhat interesting is one of the oldest and most dramatic footballing rivalries in the world; the Old Firm. Celtic and Rangers football clubs have headlined the newspapers for decades mostly for all the wrong reasons. From knife crime to alcohol-induced brawls, the fans of these two clubs have struck up quite the reputation, with most impartial opinions being, they are both as bad as each other, a sentiment that each side would argue against. However this history of hate is not as ancient as most would assume and to the surprise of many the teams actually began their careers as what might be described in Glasgow as good pals.
The origin of the title “The Old Firm” actually comes from a comment made by a commentator at their first meeting in 1888. He stated that the two sides were “two old, firm friends”. This blossoming friendship lasted a mere twenty or so years before religion and politics divided the city of Glasgow. In 1912, Belfast shipbuilders opened a shipyard in Govan that threatened the harmony between the teams, and consequently Irish politics became the influence of the rivalry with the Catholic community following Celtic and the Protestant, Rangers. Although this was the beginning of violent and destructive meetings between the clubs, it was soon noticed that this was where the money was. Financially there wasn’t any other clubs in Scotland that came close to Celtic or Rangers, and the infamous hostile relationship benefited both teams as joint sponsors rolled in. In 2003 Carling lager signed a 12m-pound sponsorship deal with the two clubs, with another multi-million pound deal coming to them from Tennents in 2010. Both sponsors stated that the reason for the deals was the world-renowned reputation the Old Firm held, a reputation that neither club would have without the other.
Sponsorship is just one of the aspects of the Old Firm’s mutualistic relationship. Besides this, the vast crowds that each match draws and the adrenaline fuelled atmosphere when match day comes around, should be enough for both clubs to admit the benefits the other brings them. However this is not so much the case. In 2012, Rangers plc entered liquidation and were subsequently relegated to the third division, meaning that for the first time in 120 years, there were no Old Firm fixtures to be seen. Although the news of Rangers’ downfall was met at first by cheers and celebration from the Celtic fans, Parkhead began to suffer, losing an estimated 10 million pounds per season. Although there is argument that the demise of Rangers helped Scottish football become more than just about the Old Firm, there is no denying the figures. Crowds and engagement from fans dropped and although Celtic fans continued the “Rangers are dead” façade, absence did make the heart grow fonder. In 2016, after 4 long years, the fans (perhaps begrudgingly) were ready once again for an Old Firm derby and although Celtic went on to win 3 out of 4 of their premiership clashes, it was well established the old rivalry was back and better than ever.
Within every footballing community and every divided city, the chants and jeers are what are heard. The passion for your own team and hatred for the opposing drives competition in professional sport and with culture and religion as thick as that within the Old Firm, it is no surprise that these two clubs are opposed the way they are. Whether they were friends as they were all those years ago or rivals as they are now, one thing cannot be argued; these teams need each other. They are at their best when they are together, they keep Scottish football exciting and relevant and although neither side would admit it, deep deep down they know that they wouldn’t be what they are today without the other.
Laura Hannah, Sport and Welfare Editor