Most of the time, the two clubs that first come to mind when you think of Scottish football are Celtic and whichever one is playing out of Ibrox.
Their rivalry is infamous, visceral and enduring, and it goes way beyond the game itself.
The story between the (three) clubs is long, involving history, politics, and religion.
Simply put, the clubs cannot coincide peacefully, and matches have often ended in violent clashes. The rivalry has been going on for so long that a lot of the newest generation of fans don’t even know why it began, so let’s explore.
The Start Of It All
Scotland was predominantly a Catholic country up until the 16th century, when the Protestant and Scottish reformations took place, and that is when sectarianism in Scotland really started.
Catholicism took a backseat during that time, and Presbyterianism became the default.
As a result, Catholics became a minority. This flipped again during the turn of the twentieth century when Irish migrants from the North flocked to Glasgow in search of employment.
Rangers was founded first in 1872, and Celtic followed in 1888.
Rangers have always been defined as a Protestant football club, although their religious affiliations were not always overt. Celtic has roots in Catholicism but never was, either overtly or covertly, a Catholic only club.
Originally, the two clubs were perfectly amiable.
However, the problems began when a shipyard was opened in Govan, which was near to Rangers’ home ground of Ibrox. The schism between the two clubs is rooted directly in this. The company had an incredibly discriminatory employment policy which turned away Catholics. As a result, Rangers became more openly Protestant and Unionist. Celtic always had links with Socialism and Ireland – founded to help the poor and starving amongst the Irish community in the East End, how could it not? – and their success on the pitch led some in Scotland, and in particular the media, to start looking for a “local hero” club to tackle the “Irish upstarts.”
Rangers, with its now unionist and Protestant support base, became that standard bearer.
The two clubs began to become more and more entrenched in their separate identities.
The divide only got bigger as the different sides had very different reactions to defining events like the Easter Uprising in 1916 and the losses incurred during World Wars one and two. Rangers implemented an unwritten and unofficial policy whereby they refused to sign a Catholic player; this policy was only abandoned in 1989 when Rangers signed Mo Johnston.
Celtic have never been so narrowminded, and a lot of their more influential figures have indeed been Protestants.
The Ripple Effects
Celtic and Rangers aren’t alone in their religious divide; take Edinburgh’s two biggest teams: Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian, as an example, they also stand divided by religious and cultural differences, but their rivalry is far less acrimonious than Celtic and Rangers. The rivalries seem to spike when Celtic or Rangers get involved.
The truth is that most of Scotland’s teams can be divided by religion, with most cities or counties often having Catholic and Protestant affiliated teams. However, there is a reason why only Celtic and Rangers ever seem to come to mind when rivalries in the Scottish Premier League are brought to mind.
The Rivalry Today
Traditionally, the teams were made up of local talents. The teams today are made up of players from all nationalities, which has helped to diversify religious, political and cultural affiliations.
The Good Friday Agreement of 1995 also helped to ease tensions as sectarian violence became scarcer across the water.
This does not mean that the rivalry is over; far from it.
Even the death of Rangers, in 2011, did not end it … a new club with that name, wearing its colours and carrying all the baggage, rose in its place … and the myths that surrounded that period, stoked by people like Charles Green who claimed that death of the first Ibrox club had been prompted by sectarianism, made sure it was as fierce as ever.
The rise of social media has made it a lot easier to perpetuate extreme views anonymously. Social media has helped to bring a fire back to the rivalry, and unfortunately, it has also led to a rise in sectarianism too.
For the most part, the rivalry has been reduced to a simmering hatred expressed through heated exchanges, taunts, and mockery.
Fans also show their support for their team by betting on their success.
Gambling has become engrained in the football experience for a lot of fans, from betting on matches to any number of online casino games. There is a wide selection of casino games available, which football fans might enjoy. Football fans can use services such as Online Casinos to find the best sites to play on.
There have been several controversies in this storied history, mostly pertaining to Rangers.
Before the Hillsborough disaster, Scottish football had its own tragedies.
Ibrox stadium has seen a number of accidents and claimed lives. During an England v Scotland match in 1902, a stand collapsed, injuring 517 people and claiming the lives of 25. In 1961 a crush on stairway 13 took two lives and led to injuries in 1967 and 1969 too. Finally, in 1971 a match between Celtic and Rangers took place in the Ibrox stadium, and as supporters went to leave via stairway 13 again, a crush ensued, 66 people died, and a further 200 were injured.
Another scandal to affect Rangers is their propensity to look for loopholes.
They exploited a loophole for years to avoid tax, and eventually, they were found out and slapped with a massive bill. They could not pay it, and this is what led to the first Ibrox club’s demise in 2011.
The assets were bought and the new club had to join a lower league. It took them four long years to get into the Scottish Premiership. While they were doing this, Celtic went from strength to strength, basically unrivalled in skill and funding, and they have never let the Ibrox fans forget that their new club is a phantom construct.
Unfortunately, riots, fights and even attacks are commonplace among fans, although these incidents are rarer nowadays. The frequency of these incidents actually led to an alcohol ban for fans attending Scottish matches. Celtic and the Ibrox club have also been handed heavy fines, and the rivalry was even discussed in the houses of Parliament.
The rivalry won’t make much sense to those from more secular areas outside of Scotland.
But the religious divide and subsequent cultural divide had several generations in a chokehold. People associated, married, worked and socialised within their own religion. While these attitudes have lessened over time, the effects are long-lasting in some respects. Celtic and the club from Ibrox will always be bitter rivals regardless of whether the fans know why or not; it has simply become a part of the fan experience, and, honestly, it can make the matches far more engaging.
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