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  • Shauna Rush


Updated: Jun 2, 2020

This article was originally published on December 26th, 2018.

This weekend we will see the biggest occasion in Scottish soccer take place, the Old Firm.

When it comes to a rivalry game there are few more rooted in hostility than Rangers vs. Celtic.

This is a rivalry that exists far beyond the soccer field and even the country the game will be played in.


You have to take a look at 1800s Ireland, to understand what a complex minefield the fixture is today.

During the 1840s the city of Glasgow received a mass influx of Irish immigrants, trying to escape the Great Famine.

At the same time, Glasgow had become the second city of the British Empire. Due to its shipbuilding industry and trade with worldwide colonies. This brought many new Scottish and English Protestant workers to the city looking for work. Leading to the city becoming heavily segregated due to the new influx of Irish Catholics.

The religious division began to intensify when soccer was added to the city.

In 1872, Rangers were formed by four young men, brothers Moses McNeil and Peter McNeil, Peter Campbell and William McBeath. The would choose the name Rangers after Moses McNeil suggested saw the name Swindon Rangers in a book about English Rugby.

For the first few years of existence, the club would grow and supply players for the Scottish national team.

Celtic was founded in 1887, by Irish Marist Brother Walfrid. Walfrid's purpose for the creation of the club was to raising money for his charity the Poor Children's Dinner Table. Which was aimed at alleviating poverty in the East End of Glasgow.

For Celtic's first game they invited the now-famous Rangers to play a friendly to inaugurate their new ground at Parkhead. Celtic would go on win the game 5-2.

Both teams would go on to become founding members of the Scottish Football League, with 9 other teams in 1890.

At this point, both teams seemed to have established a great friendship. With the magazine Scottish Sport reporting in 1892 that "the Light Blues are favorites with the Parkhead crowd". The following year the clubs traveled together to fixtures in Edinburgh and the same publication commented: "They are getting very pally. And why not?".

The Glasgow clubs quickly established themselves as powerhouses in Scottish football. With the fixture drawing in bigger and bigger crowds, often over 100,000.

Suspicions began to grow in Scottish football, that both clubs saw the rivalry as a money-spinner. The frequency of encounters between the teams had increased, particularly replays encouraged the idea of a conspiracy between the two clubs to inflate the proceeds from ever-increasing match takings, which the media happily promoted.

In 1904 the Scottish Referee, the most influential sports newspaper at the time, wrote “we have a notion that the clubs themselves and the public, not to mention ourselves, would like to see them less often, and less seldom monopolize.” Creating a cartoon, referring to the fixture as ‘The Old Firm,’ with the label sticking.

The Old Firm title started to become apparent to fans in 1909, during the Scottish Cup final replay.

After the first game ended 2-2 and the reply would end 1-1. Fans believed that if the game ended in a draw there would be extra time, to find a winner. When it became clear to the crowd that extra time would not be played, and fueled by rumors that the results were manipulated to increase ticket revenue, the crowd invaded the pitch. In the ensuing disorder, the goalposts were torn down, parts of the pitch were ripped up and the wooden pay-boxes were set alight. Mounted police and fire brigade came under attack and in total there were over 100 injuries.

Both clubs requested the SFA not schedule a second replay and subsequently, the trophy and medals were withheld. The Glasgow Herald said, “Saturday was a black day in the history of Scottish football.”

1904 Old Firm cartoon. Credit:


As Glasgow entered the 1910's, the city saw multiple huge shipyards open in the city. Many just a short walk from Rangers’ Ibrox Stadium. Which was proceeded by an influx of workers from Ireland.

One of the largest shipyards Harland and Wolff's infamous “Catholics need not apply” company policy soon spread to the local area. Rangers quietly introduced an unwritten rule that the club would not sign any player or employ any staff member who was openly Catholic.

The clubs’ identities were shaped in direct opposition to each other, with Celtic associated with socialism and Irish Republicanism, Rangers with conservatism, and Northern Irish unionism.

Rangers' policy was kept a secret until 1965 when Ralph Brand revealed to the News of the World newspaper, that Rangers operated a Protestants only policy.

In 1967, Rangers vice-chairman Matt Taylor was asked about perceived anti-Catholicism with the "No Catholic" signing policy, he stated "[it is] part of our tradition ... we were formed in 1873 as a Protestant boys club. To change now would lose us considerable support"

However, some Catholic players did play for Rangers during this time despite the policy with Don Kitchenbrand keeping his Catholicism secret and Laurie Blyth; who left the club after his Catholic faith was discovered.

In 1986, Graeme Souness became manager and declared his intention to build a team based on merit rather than relying on personal restrictions, a year later he signed Mark Walters.

Furthermore, in 1989, Souness made the most controversial transfer in soccer, signed Mo Johnston. A former Celtic player, who was openly Catholic.

This was Rangers' first signing of an openly Catholic player since the unwritten policy was introduced.

Despite Scotland seeing a rise in people describing themselves as having no religion, the Old Firm has failed to free itself from the sectarian rhetoric.

“In a time where religion is less important in society it is almost as if it has become part of the identity of football in Scotland,” said Duncan Morrow, a lecturer in politics at the University of Ulster. “In a sense, sectarianism now is a way of behaving rather than a way of believing.”


Tensions have flared up multiple times over the years between the two sets of fans. Most famously the 1980 Scottish Cup final, which was described as the "most infamous case of disorder" by the BBC.

After winning the match, Celtic players went to celebrate with their supporters, as was the normal practice. The SFA had given both teams permission to parade the Scottish Cup trophy on the pitch after the match, as they had recently installed a 10-foot high perimeter fence around Hampden. Some of the Celtic supporters climbed over the perimeter fences and joined the players on the pitch. An investigation by the SFA executive committee found that this initial invasion of the pitch was "a spontaneous, if misguided, expression of joy."

Some of the Rangers fans had stayed behind, despite their team's defeat. One of the Celtic fans ran to the end of the stadium inhabited by the Rangers fans and kicked a ball into the goal at that end. In response to this, some Rangers fans invaded the pitch to charge at the Celtic fans, who in turn confronted their rivals.

The riot led to an Act of Parliament being passed that banned the sale of alcoholic beverages within Scottish sports grounds. The ban would be partially lifted in 2007, to allow the sale of alcohol at international rugby union matches played at Murrayfield Stadium.

Furthermore, on the field tensions often boil over. The fixture has had its fair share of heated moments throughout its history.

The 1987 shame game as it became known, saw three players sent off, and four eventually charged with conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace.

Bricks, bottles, and cans were soon being thrown along with fans using iron bars and wooden staves from terracing frames as weapons. The police had insufficient manpower inside the stadium to quell the disorder.

Match commentator Archie MacPherson described the riot "This is like a scene now out of Apocalypse Now ... We've got the equivalent of Passchendaele and that says nothing for Scottish football. At the end of the day, let's not kid ourselves. These supporters hate each other."

In May 1999, we witnessed Bloody Sunday, referee Hugh Dallas was hit by a coin thrown from the crowd. However, that was only a small part of the game. The game, which eventually saw three players sent off, boiled over in the 41st minute following the dismissal of Celtic's defender Stephane Mahe.

Rangers would go on to win the League Title at Celtic Park, that day. Celebrating through an ill-advised huddle, at the end of the game, a gesture that is made famous by Celtic players.

At the Scottish Cup replay in 2011, the Old Firm showed that its not just the players and supporters that can be overtaken by emotion.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon and Rangers Assistant Coach Ally McCoist clashed on the sidelines. During the game, 12 yellow cards were shown and 3 players were sent off. While at the end of the 90 minutes the two coaches squared up to each other. After McCoist had learned about the Celtic manager verbally abusing Rangers players El Hadji Diouf and Vladimir Weiss.


The two Old Firm teams are some of the most successful in organized sport. Between them Rangers and Celtic have won 103 of the 121 Scottish League Championships.

In total, Rangers have won 115 titles, making them the most successful team in soccer. This includes 54 League Championships, 33 Scottish Cups, 27 League Cups, and 1 Cup Winners' Cup.

Rangers saw their most successful period in the 1990s. Winning 9 League Championships in a row, under the stewardship of Walter Smith.

Celtic have won a total of 106 titles. 49 League Championships, 38 Scottish Cups, 18 League Cups, and 1 European Cup.

Jock Stein oversaw Celtic's most successful period in the 1960s. Leading Celtic to 9 League Championships between 1966 and 1974. Going on to create the Lisbon Lions, a team made up of players born within 10 miles of Celtic Park. They would go on to beat Inter Milan 2-1, in Lisbon to lift the European Cup, while also winning all three domestic trophies in 1967. Becoming the first British team to win the European Cup.

Since Celtic ended Rangers 10 in a row charge in 1998. The league has continued to swap hands. Leading to four last day deciders between 2003 and 2009. Including the famous helicopter Sunday, in 2005.

Celtic enjoyed a two-point cushion as they traveled to Motherwell while Rangers, who had a better goal difference, headed to face Hibernian, more in hope than expectation.

Chris Sutton (@chris_sutton73) would fire Celtic in front against Motherwell, while Nacho Novo's (@nnovo1010) goal for Rangers looked as if it would count for nothing. However, in the most dramatic of endings, Motherwell striker Scott McDonald (@ScottyMcD83) equalized with just 2 minutes remaining to send the helicopter towards Rangers.

Leading to the famous line by radio commentator “The Helicopter is changing direction….” McDonald would go on to scored again in stoppage time to seal an unlikely home win.


In 2011, Rangers owner David Murray agreed to sell his controlling interest in the club to Craig White for £1. Murray later saying that he had sold to Whyte because he had pledged to pay off the bank debt, settle the 'wee tax case' and invest money in the playing squad and stadium.

Whyte however had borrowed £26.7 million ($33.6 million) against future season ticket sales from ticket company Ticketus. An agreement that was reached before the sale of the club had been completed. It was also found that Whyte had failed to disclose that he had been previously banned as a company director.

Whyte would then fail to pay the pay-as-you-earn tax deducted from his employees to HMRC. While also failing to pay the debt he previously promised to pay.

Whyte then leads Rangers to file for administration, on February 13th, 2012. Forcing Rangers to be relegated to the foot of the Scottish Football Pyramid.

While Rangers were busy in the lower leagues, Celtic continued to dominate Scottish soccer. Winning 7 titles in a row.

While there have defiantly been some horrible things done in the name of the Old Firm rivalry. The fixture defiantly makes Glasgow life richer and exemplifies how important the city is, and has been, to the world's game.


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