Celtic & Rangers: Old Firm, Old Enmity, New Century

By Mark  |   The Ball  |   March 10, 2011  |     14

Imagine different circumstances surrounding Manchester United’s defeat at Liverpool last Sunday. Leave aside Jamie Carragher’s nasty tackle on Nani, Nani’s ability to race to the referee before collapsing in an injured heap and the glorious sight, which may stay with me forever, of referee Phil Dowd, arms folded, watching from a distance like a disapproving dinner lady on playground duty at a primary school as players from both sides got their handbags out.  Imagine instead, that United had three players sent off and nine booked. Imagine Nani crossing three-parts of the Anfield pitch to the Liverpool bench to confront Kenny Dalglish et al after the first dismissal. Make Carragher’s tackle a genuine yellow card offence, rather than the red card offence it was and have Sammy Lee pointing an accusing finger at Paul Scholes as the team’s entered the tunnel at half-time.

Then imagine Wayne Rooney, already booked for raking his studs down the back of Dirk Kuyt’s leg with the ball elsewhere, sliding in on Luis Suarez in the last minute and dumping him into some pitch-side photographers before joining two-thirds of his colleagues in buffeting Dowd and attempting to snatch the yellow card from Dowd’s hand. Move on to the final whistle and imagine United’s players are into Dowd again, jostling him and threatening him, with Ryan Giggs sent off for his part. Then imagine Giggs walking half the length of the Anfield pitch, shirt off, ignoring police advice to head straight for the tunnel, before throwing his shirt to the United fans and being bundled away by said constabulary.

Meanwhile, back in the managerial technical area, imagine Dalglish embracing Mike Phelan but recoiling in anger at something Phelan says (with apologies to fans of the perennially mild-mannered Phelan, strong imagination needed here) then snarling in Phelan’s face and gesticulating threateningly. And finally, imagine that Liverpool become the focal point of all subsequent press criticism that doesn’t lump both sides together, while United’s thirteen cards of varying hues and generally appalling conduct on the pitch is largely disregarded.

You have to imagine it because it simply would not happen. However, substitute ‘Celtic’ for ‘Liverpool’ and ‘Rangers’ for ‘Manchester United (as I’m sure you all did long ago) and you have to imagine nothing at all. It is what has happened in the aftermath of Celtic’s recent Scottish Cup victory over Rangers, where there were twelve bookings and three dismissals, disgraceful touchline and dug-out scenes and stupidity of both green and blue hue. Some friends tell me I shouldn’t find it difficult to understand why Rangers provided most if the disgraceful behaviour, both on and off the Parkhead pitch last week, yet Celtic received most of the criticism. Rangers are the Scottish, protestant, ‘establishment’, Celtic the second-class, catholic, underclass. And even in the more homogenised modern football culture, such divisions remain intact.

I’ve never bought all of that. I’ve seen justification in many accusations of Celtic ‘paranoia’ over their treatment in Scottish football. As a kid I knew about the aftermath of Celtic’s 1970 Scottish Cup Final defeat to Aberdeen. The excellent 1987 Celtic club history The Glory and the Dream is littered with perceived injustices being meted out to the club, usually, though not exclusively, in contrast to the treatment afforded Rangers in the same circumstances. That book’s explanation of the events which allegedly conspired against Celtic against Aberdeen was a simple “the referee had a poor match.” And way more often than not, the injustices are perceived, not actual.

I do sometimes wonder, however. My first sight of Hampden Park on the telly begged the question “why is only one end covered?” The answer I got from an old Scottish guy I knew – “because it’s the Rangers end, son” – was the only definite one I ever received. And in the three decades since, I’ve been given no reason to doubt that explanation. For my sins, one of my reactions to last October’s controversy when referee Dougie McDonald gave Celtic a penalty at Dundee United only to change his mind because Dundee United players protested was “I can’t imagine that happening to Rangers.”

And maybe it was paranoia which led to my disbelief a couple of months back at the reporting in the English press of one midweek round of SPL fixtures. Rangers won 2-0 win at Hibernian, with Rangers striker Nikica Jelavic scored both goals and that they were his first after a four-month injury lay-off. Celtic, the SPL leaders, hosted third-placed Hearts, who were on a run which threatened to separate the old firm at the SPL’s summit for the first time. It was the big match, first against third could not have been bigger with second-placed Rangers playing someone else. It was the big story, Hearts genuinely challenging the SPL’s long-derided duopoly. And the match itself was a story, too, as Celtic won 4-0. Had I been asked as part of my journalism training to write a 400-word round-up of the night’s SPL fixtures, I’d have been taken to task for leading with the Rangers game. Yet the press agency report which supplied the English press did just that.

Paranoia? A minor issue? Well, maybe and maybe. Yet clearly Rangers were considered bigger news, despite the context and the SPL table. But I’ve never bought the theory that Rangers and Celtic are “as bad as each other.” As a kid, I knew that Rangers fans had rioted in Barcelona after the 1972 European Cup Winners’ Cup final. But I didn’t understand when my cousin told me Rangers had won. Surrounding Rangers loss in the 2008 Uefa Cup final in Manchester to Zenit St. Petersburg were what my Rangers-supporting mate mischievously referred to as approximately “120 isolated incidents” in Manchester city centre involving Rangers fans. Surrounding Celtic’s loss in the 2003 Uefa Cup final to Porto in Seville were approximately 120 fewer “isolated incidents.”

Yet last week, amid all the ‘even-handed’ ballyhoo surrounding the game, the focus in England was on Celtic manager Neil Lennon’s behaviour in the touchline clashes with Rangers soon-to-be-boss Ally McCoist and the lovable scamp El-Hadji Diouf, rather than Diouf’s and Bougherra’s behaviour on the pitch. The Rangers Supporters Trust has called for an investigation into allegations of racist behaviour by Lennon against Diouf, which must have been made by lip-reading experts among the Rangers armchair support, as the clashes between Lennon and Diouf took place in front of rows of Celtic fans, half the pitch away from the Rangers following at Parkhead. And, lest we forget, the clash also took place half the pitch away from where the game was stopped after the first Rangers dismissal of the night. Oh, and Diouf denies there was anything racist about their clash. By the way. Nonetheless, Strathclyde police are investigating. And doubtless they’ll be as thorough in those investigations as in those concerning the bullets sent through the post to Lennon this year, and the hoax nail bomb in the days after the game. That’s the bullets sent through the post to Lennon and the hoax nail bomb in the days after the game. By the way. I haven’t seen the Rangers Supporters Trust’s take on that, although I’m happy to assume there is one and that it is condemnatory. So what of the fact that Rangers had nine bookings and threeplayers sent-off during the evening? Well… so what?. The behaviour of Diouf and Majid Bougherra (the third player dismissed, Steven Whittaker, was unlucky, his first yellow card unjustified, in my opinion) apparently paled into insignificance alongside Lennon’s callous positioning of his post box in the path of an envelope full of bullets and a hoax nail bomb.

Diouf, apparently, was just being Diouf. And Bougherra apologised to the referee. So that’s all right, then. Time to get to the real question, which is, apparently: “Why are there Catholic schools at all?” This beauty came from the unlikeliest source, Jeremy Paxman on the BBC2 nightly Newsnight programme on March 8th. He chaired a brief end-of-programme discussion on the holding of the “Old firm summit” which was part of the response to last week’s match. With him in the studio were former Scottish first minister Lord McConnell, who had instigated a previous summit, and “writer and comedian” A.L. Kennedy who… er …well, it seemed to be her job to tut disapprovingly at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

But the longevity and depth of the religious divide in Scotland was the focus of the conversation, especially compared to “other parts of the union”, which meant Liverpool in this context. Paxman was quick to blame “apartheid in education” and Catholic schools, hence his question. McConnell answer was “because they are successful,” a comprehensive debunking of Paxman’s offensive slur, itself the sort of sectarianism he described as “political immaturity” later in the discussion. This view was admirably debunked by Kennedy. But the damage was done. Even worse, though, was the filmed introduction to the discussion, which took great pains to detail the historical context of the Old Firm’s rivalry, leaving no issue unhighlighted, no sectarian attitude unexposed.

Except one. Rangers’ decades-long refusal to field Catholic players, which might, you’d have thought been a key component of that historical context. I know the response this article will receive. Much of it will be accusations of bias (my name hardly hides which side of the divide I come from on this issue). Much of it will be prefixed by “yeah but what about…?” and variants thereof, as I’m reminded of the many times Celtic have been guilty of misbehaviour, violence and singing shi’ite Irish dirges about some bloke from Galway nicking some corn in the 1840s.

But I’m not here to defend any of that. There was no good behaviour at Parkhead last week, with the possible exception of Pat Bonner and Neil McCann in the Sky Sports studio. But there were TWELVE bookings and three red cards. There were disgraceful touchline and dug-out scenes. And there was plain stupidity in both blue and green. It’s just that most of it came from Rangers, while most of the criticism has been directed at Celtic. And that is just plain wrong. 

Twohundredpercent is aware that the Celtic vs Rangers rivalry is an emotive subject. We would, however, request that comments on the subject are constructive. Abusive comments will be deleted without being published and the comments section will be closed if we deem it necessary. We’re sure it won’t be.

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  • March 10, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Brendán MacFarlane

    As a young teenager of Irish descent my patience has worn thin. There is no way we’ll ever be accepeted as equal cititzens in Scotland so long as such media bias is evident. My thanks go to the writer for helping to raise awareness of our plight, but ine most concede you have forgotten to highlight the anti-Irish racist singing which was in abundance at the game from the Rangers end. I was there. I felt the pain when I heard the songs. It’s time FIFA said enough is enough.

  • March 10, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Casper Williams

    First paragraph demonstrates problems with this article.

    Diouf was called over to talk by McCoist, he didn’t cross the pitch to remonstrate with official or Lennon, who was the one to blame.

    Hard to take it seriously after that, even if it is honest enough to acknowledge its bias and lack of interest in being accurate.

  • March 10, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Player 1

    Mark, your article is patheticaly one sided. You don’t even seem pleased to have won the game.

    I don’t know what makes you think the media has been devoid of critiscism for Rangers. You maybe live down south and so haven’t seen some of the Scottish media, but they have been fairly scathing.

    Also you re-tread the tired old Celtic supporter’s motto “I don’t believe in any conspiricies, but…”. Either shit or get off the pot. Does everyone have it in for you? And if so, who is to blame. Who are these shadowy figures of doom who ensure that “Rangers are the Scottish, protestant, ‘establishment’, Celtic the second-class, catholic, underclass” and given Celtics win in the cup replay, why are they making such a bad job of it?

    Paxman’s questions were relevant in the context of the Scottish Government’s Summit, which was intended to tackle the larger problem of sectarianism. I’m not alone in beleiving that sectarianism in Scotland starts in the schools. Do you disagree? Wouldn’t we be more likely to love our fellow man if we weren’t kept apart over 12 years between the ages of 5 and 17.

    If it’s the football you wish to discuss, then I agree that Whittaker didn’t deserve his first yellow (masonic refs, eh). I also don’t think Bougherra deserved his second as I think he won the ball. Diouff’s second yellow, for dissent after the whistle, I can’t comment on as I don’t know what he said, but I’d give the referee the benefit of the doubt on that one as Diouff deserves his reputation as a bit of a hot head.

    Incidently, are you aware that Rangers have the best disciplinary record of any team in the SPL? Or does that fact not suit your agenda.

    That Neil Lennon has received death threats is shocking, and the sooner the culprits are found and locked up the better. The person or people responsible in no way represent the feelings of the vast majority of decent Rangers fans. That doesn’t mean all his actions should be excused, and any suggestion of racism should be treated seriously and investigated accordingly. I hope there is nothing to it, and the police investigation proves that beyond a doubt.

    It’s fair to say though that Lennon’s behaviour over the season hasn’t been great, and he is now looking at another 4 games in the stands, to add to the 4 match touchline ban he has already had. This surely merits some of the critiscism from Scotland’s “holier than thou” newsmen.

    You can of course retread the arguments about Rangers signing policy, never mind the fact that there are many catholic players (inluding Laurie Blyth (1951–1952), Don Kitchenbrand (1955–1956), Hugh O’Neill (1976), John Spencer (1985–1992)) who played for the club before Mo Johnston signed 25 years ago. It is however fair to say that Celtic Football club was formed as a vehicle for Catholic young men, and as such has sectarianism at it’s core not that Brother Walfrid formed the club becuse he was worried “about the dangers of young catholics meeting protestants in their place of employment or leisure”, and how he believed that “a catholic football club could keep young catholics together in their leisure time, free from the temptations of protestants and protestantism”. Also not how Celtic did not have a non-RC Director on the board until 1996, and refused club legend Jock Stein a place on the board for the very same reasons.

  • March 10, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Yer Maw

    Give it a rest Brendan, you’ll have my reaching for the Kleenex in a minute. If your poor wee Irish descent sensibilities have worn that thin then do us all a favour. Go and live in the land you hold so dear. I think you might find yourself even less welcome there than the land you live in, should you choose to transport your IRA loving ways from Celtic Park to Ireland. The truth of it is Brendan, the land you long so much to call home doesn’t want you and your shower of pseudo terrorists. Get used to it son. Sob sob.

  • March 10, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    robbhoys

    Casper, if Spit the Dog (Diouf) was called to the touchline by McCoist, why did he see fit in elbowing the Celtic physio who was running onto attend the injured Izziguire who had previously been felled by Whittaker?
    Could he not simply have went over to his own dug out and discussed whatever matters where being raised by his own management team without feeling the need to (yet again) become embroiled in something that could have easily beeen avoided?
    Yet another example of selected viewing / thinking / belief (delete as appropriate) from the Rea-rangers support. Amazing stuff – keep saying it long enough and it will become fact you know!!!!

  • March 10, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    jocky bhoy

    “Incidently, are you aware that Rangers have the best disciplinary record of any team in the SPL? Or does that fact not suit your agenda” Is that before or after the umpteen cards? Anyway I refer you to your masonic referees comment ‘o)

    The press reports were also frothing about the number of arrests inside the stadium at the replay game. 34! It turns out only 9 of these were Celtic fans – our 53,000 fans got less cautions than the Rangers team!

  • March 10, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    Yer Maw

    Well said Jocky Bhoy. That would kind of piss on the author’s assertions about Rangers being the “Establishment” club as well, would it not? Cheers m’dears.

  • March 10, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    Mark Murphy

    Hi guys and gals,

    Sorry to interrupt. Just a quick note to Yer Maw…the mention of Rangers being the “establishment” team is followed by the phrase “I’ve never bought all of that” which means…well…what it says.

    Righto, carry on…

  • March 10, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Mick

    It’s always the other lot isn’t it?

  • March 10, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Sean Thesheep

    Brendán, you need to get a f*cking grip of yourself. Anti-Irish racism? are you serious? You lot invaded our country then decided to blow us up and expect to be treated like normal human beings? It’s nothing to do with racism, but rather the fact we don’t like to be invaded or blown up, I’m sure most people around the globe would share those feelings.

    Your people were taken in by the brits when the famine hit Ireland and the thanks we get is Anti-British drivel from you lot and shouts in support of the IRA from Celtic park every week.

    Then there’s the plastic paddy, the guy who’s never set foot on Irish soil, who’s great great grandparents knew a guy who came from Ireland, who’s more Irish that the Irish themselves yet scream Anti-Irish racism at every opportunity.

    Ireland has a long, rich and complex history, yet a small number of you feel the need to only remember the bad times, how the big bad brits treated you all those years back. It might be time for these people to move on, get a grip and playing the victim card all the time.

  • March 11, 2011 at 12:04 am

    Steviemc

    Sean, go and read your history, who invaded whose country?

    Get a grip, fud!

  • March 11, 2011 at 12:14 am

    FFFFFC

    ***Twohundredpercent is aware that the Celtic vs Rangers rivalry is an emotive subject. We would, however, request that comments on the subject are constructive. Abusive comments will be deleted without being published and the comments section will be closed if we deem it necessary. We’re sure it won’t be.***

    Delightfully high-minded and hypocritical warning there. Publish an article written by the paranoid and dare us not to treat it with due reverence.

    Starting the piece by whining about bias and then spending the rest of it blaming everything on one side of the argument – this is probably the most childish piece of writing I’ve ever seen on this usually excellent blog.

    And I’m not in the slightest bit taken in by the author’s claims to be a neutral party. Only someone born in that Old Firm mentality could be so locked in that shuttered mindset as to imagine that the saner parts of the country care a toss about whether you’re Catholic or Protestant argument. Paxman pursuing a sectarian bias against Catholicism? Can you even hear what yourself saying that? If not, possibly it’s because you’re being drowned out by the hoots of laughter from those of us in parts of the UK where the Enlightenment wasn’t just something that happened to other people.

  • March 11, 2011 at 12:26 am

    FFFFFC

    P.S. This is why Celtic and Rangers will never be allowed within a million miles of the English Premier League. We respect your football and we respect your Scottishness but we don’t want your religious crap and persecution mania. Look at a city like Manchester. Half the inhabitants are of Irish descent and are usually tediously proud of it. But they define themselves by the city they live in, not by what their ancestors once were and they don’t imagine that they’re still fighting ancient wars.

  • March 11, 2011 at 12:53 am

    Ian

    So, I read it and re-read it, and I can’t see where the author claimed to be neutral. But never mind.

    As for the “Delightfully high-minded and hypocritical warning”, as you put it, that wasn’t written by the author, that was added by me, and there were sound reasons for it.

    When emotive subjects like this are raised – and I don’t think anyone would try to argue that this isn’t an emotive subject – I think that the writers of this site are entitled to be protected a barrage of abuse from people that disagree with them. It’s happened before, certainly, to the point at which people have been libelling each other in the comments. And the thing is, that short message works – I don’t think it’s impolite, but it has become necessary at times. The replies above make good cases for either side of the argument and I haven’t had to delete a single comment. There are plenty of forums and blogs on the internet where people can go to shout and scream at each other. Not here, though.

    If we plain make mistakes, then we will normally correct them and thank the person that points them out. Having differing opinions, on the other hand, is a different matter. I happen to disagree somewhat with Mark, but the specifics of this are by the by. It’s not about the specifics of this particular post. I don’t want the comments section descending into a slanging match, and that’s all. We all do this for nothing. I don’t think that’s too much to ask in return.

  • March 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Chris P

    “P.S. This is why Celtic and Rangers will never be allowed within a million miles of the English Premier League. We respect your football and we respect your Scottishness but we don’t want your religious crap and persecution mania. Look at a city like Manchester. Half the inhabitants are of Irish descent and are usually tediously proud of it. But they define themselves by the city they live in, not by what their ancestors once were and they don’t imagine that they’re still fighting ancient wars.”

    This is the most sensible comment on here. I lived in Edinburgh for 5 years, yet never went to an SPL match as I couldn’t be doing with all this sectarian b*llshit, which to be fair isn’t limited to just the Old Firm.

    I think a better analogy than Man Utd v Liverpool would have been ummm, almost any other club rivalry in Scotland (other than Hearts v Hibs) where this kind of childish behaviour almost never takes place.

    But of course the Old Firm are gracing and enhancing Scottish football with their mere presence, and are only worthy of comparison to “big” teams, not those of the country in which they actually play.

  • March 11, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    FFFFFC

    Ian, I’m aware that the warning was posted by someone other than the author. However, it’s not a matter of differing opinions but rather of differing planets.

    If someone posts an article on here from Cardiff, Liverpool, London, Edinburgh or Bristol, whether I agree with it or not, I don’t have to ditch a couple of centuries of Enlightenment thinking to get where the author is coming from.

    What will we be getting next on this blog? An article from Iran telling us that the 2012 Olympic logo is a Zionist plot to brainwash the world, followed by a warning from the editor that all comments must be respectful and treat the matter seriously?

    I assumed that your call for moderation was intended to warn people off posting sectarian insults and any sentence containing the words “Fenian” or “Billy”. I didn’t realise that we weren’t allowed to take the piss out of the views that had been expressed.

    No-one is going to win an argument with the sectarians after so long. The dialectic just isn’t part of the Old Firm vocabulary. The best way to combat their medieval nonsense is to ridicule it until they’re too embarrassed to keep coming out with it.

  • March 11, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    Ian

    “Are there any site rules?

    The only thing that we ask is that you keep the comments decent and that you disagree with us (which you are more than welcome to do), you keep your criticisms constructive. All messages from people that haven’t posted messages on here before are moderated before being approved. Abusive messages will be deleted without appearing on the site, so you may as well not bother.”

    The above message has been on our “About” page since our move to WordPress in July 2008, and it isn’t going to be going anywhere soon. Mark is old enough and big enough to respond to whatever criticism is thrown at him. And as for this:

    “What will we be getting next on this blog? An article from Iran telling us that the 2012 Olympic logo is a Zionist plot to brainwash the world, followed by a warning from the editor that all comments must be respectful and treat the matter seriously?”

    Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

    Christ.

    And on that note, the comments on this subject are closed.

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