History of the Old Firm Derby

History of the Old Firm Derby

The Old Firm is one of European football’s most intense fixtures. The match is notorious for aggressive battles both on and off the pitch. However, the hatred between Celtic and Rangers goes much deeper than football. The Old Firm is unique in that the clubs are defined by religion and opposing ideologies, completely different clubs, yet separated by just 5 miles. Bet UK take a deeper look into the origins of this historic game.

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Origins of the Old Firm Derby

The relationship between Celtic and Rangers fans has grown even more passionate in recent years, given Rangers’ fall and subsequent rise from a financial meltdown. But the roots of the relationship go much further than that. In fact, this is similar to El Classico in that it is just as much of a political derby as it is a footballing one. Typically, Rangers supporters are native Scots that were from the Protestant community. On the other hand, Celtic fans were mainly comprised of Catholic Irish-Scots.

Although the fans never saw eye to eye, in sporting terms, the clubs weren’t initially direct rivals. Infact, Rangers were around for 16 years before Celtic were founded. The inaugural game played at Parkhead was against Rangers, after they were invited to celebrate the opening of the new ground. After the match, Scottish Sport magazine reported that Rangers were ‘favourites with the Parkhead crowd’. The two clubs worked hand in hand, sharing travel to away matches in Edinburgh, with little to no animosity between fans.

The term ‘Old Firm’ was initially coined in 1904, when Rangers and Celtic faced each other in the Scottish Cup final. Celtic were starting to threaten a spell of dominance, with Celtic and Rangers now direct competitors. The two clubs were still relatively friendly however, with many publications suspecting that the clubs were playing up their rivalry to attract bigger crowds and more money.

The true political rivalry started to brew in 1912, when Northern Irish businessmen Harland & Wolff opened a shipyard in the Glaswegian district of Govan. This opened up the mass immigration of the Irish to Glasgow, with rifts starting to form. Celtic had already developed a relationship with the Irish, as the club was founded to help alleviate the poverty of Irish immigrants in Glasgow’s east end. Inevitably, the increase in Irish immigrants flocked to Celtic park in support of their new team. After the ‘Easter Rising’ in Dublin, as well as issues throughout the first World War, opposing Irish and Scottish politics began to take over Glasgow. The Old Firm has we know it was born.

Mo Johnston’s Historic Transfer

Both clubs supported unwritten rules that forbid managers from signing players of the opposing religion. Rangers were strictly Protestant and Celtic were strictly Catholic. That policy stayed in place until Graham Souness’ singing of Mo Johnston in 1989. Johnston became the only the second player to play for both Celtic clubs, and the first openly Catholic player to represent Rangers since World War 1. Although Johnston played for Nantes in between the 2 clubs, his move still sent shockwaves throughout Glasgow. His move prompted Rangers fans to return season tickets, with their Celtic counterparts referring to their ex player as ‘Judas’. Rangers kitman refused to set our Johnston’s kit and would revoke certain privileges from the player. Celtic supported even set up an official ‘We Hate Mo Johnston’ Celtic Supporters Club.

Johnston’s move prompted ex Rangers player Don Kichenbrand to reveal he was a practicing Catholic during his time at Rangers. Kichenbrand even joined the Freemasons in an attempt to cover up his religion. Mo Johnston’s historic 1989 transfer was a huge step not only for Scottish football, but Scotland as a whole. It helped to bring together the 2 opposing groups, and although the relationship is still not perfect today, it has still improved since the 80’s.

Rangers’ Scottish Football Dominance

From the 1988/89 season to the 1996/97 season, Rangers were undoubtedly Scottish football’s top team. Prior to Rangers Premiership win in 1989, the title had been mainly exchanged between the 2 Glaswegian clubs. Graham Souness joined Rangers in 1986 as player-manager, the first person to hold both roles. In his first full season, Rangers won their first title in 8 years, before a 3rd place finish the next year. 1989 was to be a turning point in the history of Rangers however, as they won the league once more and began their period of dominance.

The season started off well, with 7 wins out of the first 8 games, including a 5-1 demolition of Celtic. Rangers managed to win 3 out of the 4 league fixtures against their Old Firm rivals throughout the season. In fact, Rangers’ closest competitors were a Charlie Nicholas led Aberdeen, who had just joined the club from Arsenal. Rangers finished the season with 26 wins from 36 matches, only losing 6 times through the season. The League Cup also went to Ibrox after a dramatic 3-2 win in the final. Alongside their domestic success, Rangers’ started to thrive financially as well, backed by Scottish businessman David Murray.

Souness left Rangers in at the end of the 1990/91 season, as Rangers secured their third title in a row. Souness’ assistant, Walter Smith, was the man who would take the reins at Ibrox. Smith was still responsible for Ranger’s 1991 league triumph, as they secured the trophy on the final day thanks to a 2-0 win against Aberdeen. In his first full season in charge, Smith began to rebuild the club from top to bottom. Several first team players were moved on and his backroom staff was reworked. His changes worked however, as Rangers secured a league and cup double in 1992, the first time The Gers had won the cup in 11 years.

The 1992/93 season was the pinnacle of Walter Smith’s first stint as boss. The club managed a historic treble winning season, as well as an incredible European run. Due to the format of the Champions League, Rangers entered the group stage after 2 knockout rounds. The remaining 8 teams were split into 2 groups, with the winner of each group progressing to the final. Rangers finished the campaign unbeaten in Europe, despite being in a group with eventual winners Marseille. A win in their final game would have been enough to take them to the final.

The next few years were dominated by high profile signings at Ibrox. Brian Laudrup and Champions League final goalscorer Basile Boli were signed in 1994. The latter would go onto become an integral part of the side for the next few years. In 1995, Paul Gascoigne joined the club from Lazio. The Englishman played for 3 years, winning 2 league titles before leaving for the Premier League. Rangers eventually won 9 titles in a row, between 1989-1997. 1998 turned out to be a year of change at Rangers, as the club failed to win a 10th title in a row. Manager Walter Smith left for Everton, and first team stars Ally McCoist, Brian Laudrup, Stuart McCall and Richard Gough also departed. Although it wasn’t long before Rangers won another title, they haven’t come close to replicating the ‘9 in a row’.

Celtic’s Rise To The Top

The turn of the millennium was perhaps the pinnacle of Scottish Football, with Rangers and Celtic closely competing as well as regularly progressing in European competition. Both teams mostly shared the Scottish Premiership, until 2005/06 when Celtic won the first of 3 titles in a row. After that, Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller led Rangers to a treble of their own. As Rangers won the title in 2011, rumours started to emerge of financial difficulties at the club. A second place finish in 2011/12 was Ranger’s last season before they liquidated and reformed, starting again in the Scottish Third Division. Rangers 3 league relegation opened the door for Celtic to dominate Scotland again.

Neil Lennon was a Celtic hero as a player, representing the club over 200 times in 7 years at the club. He joined the club as manager in 2010, following Tony Mowbray’s departure. Although his first season saw Celtic finish as runners up, the following year was the start of Celtic’s current league winning streak. 2011/12 was a difficult campaign for Celtic, who were struggling to put together any sort of form after a poor start. At half time during a home game against Kilmarnock, Celtic were 3-0 down, with Lennon admitting he would have resigned had Celtic conceded another. The Celts did eventually regain the Scottish Premiership however, partly down to Rangers being deducted 10 points as they entered administration.

2012/13 was the first season that Celtic were not challenged by their Glasgow neighbours. Although they got off to another shaky start, Celtic eventually wrapped up the title at home against Inverness. Their European campaign was the highlight of the season however. A historic 2-1 win over Barcelona on the clubs 125th anniversary saw 18 year Tony Watt score the winning goal, with Fraser Forster being described as the ‘Great Wall’ by foreign press. Celtic advanced from Group G, but were knocked out at the first hurdle by Italian champions Juventus. Although they didn’t get past the round of 16, Celtic were still praised for the way they played.

The club continued to cruise through the Scottish Premiership. Ronny Delia took over from Neil Lennon before Brendan Rodgers took charge in 2016. Rodgers brought Scott Sinclair, who he worked with at Swansea, and Moussa Dembele to Celtic. The two combined perfectly at the start off the season, with Dembele scoring a hattrick against Rangers in a 5-1 victory. Domestically, Celtic were unstoppable. After 19 consecutive league wins, they had a 27 point gap over 2nd place at the start of February. With 8 games left to play, Celtic secured the Premiership in record time. After a final day win against Aberdeen, Celtic became the first team in 116 years to finish the league season unbeaten. Aberdeen were the opponents again in the Scottish Cup final, where a Tom Rogic goal wrapped up a domestic treble, as well as securing an entire unbeaten domestic season.

The good form continued into the 2017/18 season for Celtic. On 4th November 2017, Celtic won 4-0 to secure break a 100 year old record for games without defeat. The streak eventually ended away at Hearts, where a 4-0 loss saw a 69 game run come to an end. The run included a remarkable 60 wins and 90 draws, as well as 38 clean sheets. Celtic responded by winning 6 of their next 7 games, but could not put together another strong unbeaten run. 4 defeats before the end of the season was not enough to take the title away from Celtic however. A 5-0 Old Firm win secured the title again, with Celtic now becoming champions for 7 years in a row.

The Upcoming Old Firm Derby

With only 3 games left in the 19/20 SPL before the season was suspended, we were left without the final Old Firm of the season. Celtic were due to travel to Rangers on the 15th March in a match that could have all but secured another Scottish title for the Hoops. Neil Lennon's side currently stand 13 points clear of Rangers, although Rangers do have a game in hand. Regardless of the result of both the match and the title, it can be classed as another success for Steven Gerrard. This is the closest a Rangers side has come to dismantling Celtic so far, and combined with a Europa League knockout run, Gerrard will have plenty of hope for next year.

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