Cult Tribute: Celtic F.C. vs. Rangers F.C.
Earlier today I was having a conversation with my buddy Matt Mortensen (who you may remember as “Gamblin Matt” from some of my sports columns) about sports rivalries. Never one not to be bold, Mortensen expressed his disappointment over how most great sports rivalries go unnoticed by most fans in favor of a select few rivalries in North America. He’s not wrong; when one thinks of a great sports rivalry, the most likely examples to pop into your head are Brady vs. Manning, Lakers vs. Celtics, Bruins vs. Canadiens and Red Sox vs. Yankees (somewhere, an ESPN executive just got an erection because I mentioned Yanks-Sox). And hey, all of those are indeed great rivalries that have produced sports moments we’ll never forget. But they remain the be all, end all of rivalries only because of notoriety more than actual excitement. That’s why we’re here today. All those rivalries listed above may be great; but all the way in Glasgow, Scotland there exists an even greater battle. For nearly a hundred and thirty years, two Glasgow based football clubs have waged a nonstop fight to be the kings of Scottish football, to the point where the games have transcended the sport and become symbols of political and religious unrest, a mirror of culture itself. So take a moment, crack open a cold one and get ready to learn about the greatest rivalry you’ve never heard of; this is a tribute to The Old Firm, the rivalry between Scottish Professional Football League squads Rangers F.C. and Celtic F.C.
Founded in 1872 and 1888 respectively (though some records suggest Celtic was founded in 1887), Rangers F.C. and Celtic F.C. were two of the eleven clubs to play in the Scottish Football League’s inaugural season back in 1890. The rivalry was born almost instantly and has never relented since. Overall, Rangers and Celtic have competed against each other over four hundred times, with recent statistics showing Rangers holding the edge over Celtic with 159 wins to Celtic’s 145 (the two sides have drawn 96 times). Raising the profile of the feud even more is that both clubs are the absolute class of Scottish Football, as Celtic and Rangers have combined to win 100 Scottish League Championships (Rangers with 54, Celtic with 46), 69 Scottish Cups (Celtic with 36, Rangers with 33) and 42 Scottish League Cups (Rangers with 27, Celtic with 15). Oh, and if that weren’t enough for you, no team other than Celtic or Rangers has won a Scottish Football Championship (in either the Scottish Football League, the Scottish Premier League or the Scottish Professional Football League) since 1985, and the teams finished in the top two from the 2005-06 season to the 2011-12 season. In other words, Celtic-Rangers isn’t just the top Scottish Football rivalry, it arguably is Scottish Football.
Of course, the rivalry goes just beyond the happenings on the pitch. The fan bases for clubs are fairly unique; Rangers fans have historically are Protestants who native to Scotland, while Celtic fans (as you can probably tell by the name) are Irish Catholic that are historically Irish-Scots. As such, the differences in religious and political ideology have made the rivalry heated and at times deadly. There have been several instances of fan violence during Old Firm derbies (including a famous brawl between Celtic and Rangers supporters following the 1980 Scottish Cup Final) and it’s said that many injuries and even some deaths occur the day Celtic and Rangers square off. The enormity of those consequences has led to alcohol being banned at Scottish Football games, numerous laws being passed to prevent supporters from getting out of hand and the league doing all it can to avoid having Celtic and Rangers face each other in a title clinching situation. It’s also kept players moving between both sides at a minimum. Yes, unlike the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in the states, you won’t see a massive amount of footballers moving from Celtic to Rangers or vice versa. Since the rivalry began, only nineteen players have ever played for both Celtic and Rangers, and only five have done so since World War II (the most notable of these players are current Rangers striker Kenny Miller and current Fleetwood Town manager Steven Pressley). Give it up to the great players from both Celtic and Rangers over the years (and there have been many); they’re loyal to their clubs in this rivalry. Or at least they know better than to go to the other side!
In recent years however the Old Firm has taken a step back from the limelight. The reason; Rangers’ fall from the top flight of Scottish Football. Despite all of their success, Rangers was dealt a severe blow after the 2011-12 season when the liquidation of the club’s ownership group (Rangers Football Club PLC) forced them out of the top flight and all the way down to Division Three, the fourth tier of Scottish Football. How they were forced to go from the top to the bottom is a complicated process that I don’t quite understand, but in the end the result has led to the Celtic-Rangers rivalry largely being put on hold. The two clubs have only played once since Rangers went down to Division Three; a Scottish League Cup match in February of last year that saw Celtic defeat Rangers 2-0. Thankfully, it looks as though the rivalry will be picking up once again soon, as the Rangers have achieved promotion twice in the three years since their fall, leaving them one more promotion away from returning to the SPFL and renewing their rivalry with Celtic once more.
In the spirit of fairness, we’re going to give two games here, one that features a triumphant victory for Rangers and for Celtic. Also, keep in mind that these aren’t necessarily the best moments in the history of the rivalry but are simply great moments in general that give you a taste at how emotional and intense these games are.
Let’s start with a Rangers moment. On February 28th, 2010, the Rangers hosted Celtic at Ibrox Stadium with a chance to pull away for good at the table of the SPL table. After 92 minutes of football, Rangers midfielder Kevin Thomson fired a corner into the box, leading to a mad scramble, several shots and several stops before the ball eventually found the feet of the American Maurice Edu, who buried the ball into the back of the net. Edu’s goal both sealed the game for Rangers and effectively won them their second consecutive Championship. Not bad at all!
As for Celtic, we’re going even further back to April 16th, 2008. Going into the game at Celtic Park, Celtic trailed Rangers by seven points in the race for the Championship and looked to be finished. The game would go onto become a classic, featuring an all time great goal by Celtic legend Shunsuke Nakamura (who was robbed of a second goal by a handball in the second half), some amazing back and forth action that saw Rangers equalize and even a saved penalty by hobbled Rangers keeper Allan McGregor. In the end, Celtic pulled out the victory with an amazing last second goal by Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink (yup, that’s his legit full name) that sent Celtic Park into a frenzy and almost caused a post match brawl between both clubs. The emotional victory ignited Celtic and the club would go onto win the Championship a month later.
Fifteen hundred words aren’t enough to do justice on how big the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers is. As heated as we like to believe something like Yankees-Red Sox is here in the states, it’s still at the end of the day two teams with nothing more but competition at stake. There’s so much more to the Old Firm than just that. Celtic-Rangers is about being the kings of Scotland, religious pride, political pride, heritage and so much more than I can even begin to get into. The matches have between the teams have become almost secondary, a factor that has helped make the rivalry so intense and at times so dangerous. But while I do think the break between these Old Firm matches may have been a blessing in disguise (at least in the sense that it’s calmed things down between fan bases for the time being), I can’t wait to see these fixtures return once Rangers make their way back to the SPFL. For all the negatives, Celtic-Rangers is a rivalry with a passion, an energy and the ability to immortalize though who are great within the 90 minutes the way other sporting events just don’t do. If you’ve never seen these two clubs battle, do yourself a favor and find a match, a highlight, anything and take the time to watch it. As sports fans, we tend to train ourselves to believe we’ve seen everything there is to see. Trust me when I say you’ve never, ever seen anything quite like a Celtic-Rangers fixture.