The biggest football game on the planet. (Read soccer for all you foreigners!) Is it Manchester United v Liverpool? Barcelona v Real Madrid? LA Galaxy v San Jose Earthquakes, yeah right!!! None of the above. The answer is simple, straightforward and recognized by the rest of the planet as being the most vicious, anticipated, meaningful, bigoted, wonderful match in the history of the game. Glasgow Celtic v Glasgow Rangers, otherwise known as the OLD FIRM. It’s Catholic v Protestant, with the Jews split 50/50 down the middle. It’s been going on for over 130 years, it used to take place at least twice a year, then it went to four times a year (minimum, depending on cup competition line ups) and now it doesn’t happen, for reasons I will explore later in the post. In the old days, the 1920’s up until the 1980’s, you could guarantee a crowd of at least 85,000 plus and on some occasions, over 100,000. I was once at a cup final, the Scottish cup final at Hampden Park, Scotland’s national football stadium, where the crowd was estimated at 146,000. It’s mental, it’s madness, it’s enthralling and it’s just the most intense 90 minutes of football on this planet.
I am a Rangers fan, and we absolutely hate all things Celtic. My friend Howard is just the opposite, being a Celtic fan and hating all things Rangers. This is our life, this has been our life, there is nothing else. It’s in our blood, our veins, our heads and our passions are ignited quite simply, by out playing, out doing, out shouting, out singing and out witting our opponents. But, at the end of the day, unlike a lot of other people in Scotland and around the world, at least Howard and I remain friends. That’s just not the case for hundreds and thousands of other fans, who, by birth, or by pure chance, end up as supporters of either one club or the other. I was fortunate to be brought up a Rangers fan, and I’ll now tell you why.
My mother told me I could recite the whole Rangers team by heart before I was 2. Probably an exaggeration by a very proud parent, but none the less, probably also not too far off the truth. My Great Grandfather Barnie, was a mad keen Rangers fan and my mother used to tell me that he would sit me on his knee and recite the Rangers team to me for hours on end. Unfortunately he died before I reached my 3rd birthday, but he, amongst others was the first contact I was to receive from anything remotely Rangers. My dad was also a Rangers fan, but he wandered as the years went by, claiming that he was too aware of his other responsibilities in life to be bothered with his football team. It turns out, after a brutal interrogation one evening, when I was around 15 years of age, that he just lost interest and decided he didn’t want to be classed as a football hooligan any more. It was he, however, that took me to my very first game, at the famous home of the Glasgow Rangers, Ibrox Park, in Govan Glasgow. Govan is a suburb of Glasgow, located on the south side of the city and was famous for two things, shipbuilding and Rangers. It’s really a desolate place, filled with red sandstone ‘tenement’ buildings, which house many people who are or indeed were, working class and unable to afford life in one of Glasgow’s more up scale suburbs. But, that’s OK and that’s also the reason why all of the folklore surrounding Glasgow Rangers, and Celtic, was built. (Celtic are located in the east side of Glasgow.) Football is all these people had, including me. We were slaves to a Saturday afternoon at 3PM when kick off commenced. We sometimes had an occasional mid-week game, which broke up the monotony that came from living in a city famous for closing at 9 PM. Things are different now. Glasgow is well on its way to being a city with the best night life in the whole of the UK. But, back then it was different in so many ways, and even before that, in the 20’2 and 30’s, then into the 50’s and 60’s, Govan and it’s connection to football, ship building and working class people, went hand in hand. Religion also played a massive part in segregating the east side from the south side of the city, and as the years went by, the issues that this bias created, was no more evident and forthright than when the two teams met either at Ibrox or Parkhead, home of Glasgow Celtic, when all frustrations could be vented in both a vocal and often violent manner.
My first encounter with the word ‘fuck’ came at that very same first game. Rangers reserve team played Kilmarnock reserve team. We sat in the main stand, which in these days, was the only section with seating. It held about 7000 fans and the rest of the stadium held another 80,000, all standing room only. We watched, my father and I, as Rangers lost 2-1. I cried. It was terrible. Rangers never lost, and this, being my first game, left an everlasting impression of what it was like to lose. I didn’t appreciate the feeling, nor the word ‘fuck’ which reverberated around the crowd for at least twenty minutes after we conceded that second goal. I had no idea what ‘fuck’ meant, but I could tell from my dad’s face, that it wasn’t good. I soon learned that you only said that word if you were annoyed with Rangers, because at every game we lost after that, that’s all the fans seemed to say! And there were many games after that one. This was just the beginning of what became a love/hate, frustrating, wonderful, uplifting, depressing, sensational, mouth-watering, disappointing, abominable, incredible, relationship with THE, most successful club football team in the history of the game.
Glasgow Rangers is not just an institution in Scotland, but all around the globe. Just to give you an example of the fanaticism that we endure week in week out. Rangers managed to get to the UEFA cup Final of 2008. Every year there are two European cup finals. One is the Europa League and the other, the prestigious Champions League. After a great run in the CL, we were placed into the EL. Each year, a neutral venue is decided for each final. This decision is made a year in advance of these finals taking place, and in 2008 it was Manchester City’s ground, the Etihad Stadium, in Manchester England. We were to play a team from St Petersburg in Russia, called Zenit. The stadium holds about 48000 people, and they estimated that Rangers would receive 25000 tickets. On the day of the final, more than 250,000 Rangers fans descended on Manchester. It was later claimed that this was the largest migration of Scottish people in history. They, to a certain extent, all behaved themselves, but that demonstrated to the whole planet, the ferocity of our support and the lengths that we, the Rangers nation, will go to just to watch 90 minutes of football anywhere on the planet to support our team. I live in CA now, but when I lived in Glasgow, I used to have season tickets. I would also try to go to see all the games away from home. It’s hard to get seats for any game involving either of the Scottish giants, Rangers or Celtic, at least it was, back in their heyday Their supporters are the best on the planet. I have been to American Football, Baseball, Hockey, and Basketball. I have been to Tottenham v Arsenal in England, AC Milan v Inter Milan in Italy, but none of the above comes anywhere near what you experience at Rangers v Celtic. Both sets of fans are extraordinary, both sets of fans can be completely vile and both sets of fans are the loudest on earth, but, and it’s a huge BUT,both sets of fans are the most loyal fans of any sport in any country. I took my business partner from CA to watch Rangers play Storm Gratz from Austria, at Ibrox in September of 2000. She came out, after 2 hours, elated, deafened, and stating enthusiastically it was one of the greatest experiences she’d ever had in her entire life! Rangers v Celtic, is 20 times that experience, no joke!. There is NOTHING like it on earth. Nothing!
The Old Firm as they are called in Scotland, have been battling for over 130 years, as I mentioned before, and the trophy count reads incredibly even, in terms of honors achieved, except, Rangers have won the league championship 15 more times than Celtic. The cup competitions is another story. The Scottish cup has been won by Celtic 35 times, Rangers 33 times. The Scottish league cup has been won by Rangers 27 times, and Celtic 14 times. Celtic have won the European Cup, now the champions league once, in 1967, the first ever British club to do so, then in 1972, Rangers won the European Cup Winners Cup. Celtic at one stage in the 1960’s and 70’s won the league championship 9 seasons in a row. Rangers equalled that in the 1980’s to 1990’s. So, you can see, it’s really tit for tat, with any victory in any competition rankling heavily on the opposite set of supporters. We Rangers fans always say, “any defeat for Celtic is a great defeat!”
In Scotland, if your team looses (Rangers or Celtic), it’s hard to show up for work on a Monday morning and face the opposition support, which happens a lot more than you’d think. There are fans of both clubs in all companies, mixing, mingling, socializing together, until Saturday comes along, and then, well, then it’s segregation, separation and perhaps even salvation, if you’re fortunate enough to show up on Monday morning and confront a loser from the opposing faction, giving you the chance of redemption from previous defeats of your own team. Even though the workplace is often a sanctuary of peace between opposing fans, anything outside of that environment is classed as fair game for open warfare. Perhaps my descriptive skills are not doing justice to the true friction that occurs daily in Scotland, so here are a few examples.
Rangers fans will never ever wear anything green. Celtic’s colors. We will never buy a green car, wear a green sweater, or buy pistachio ice cream, which is also green, my dog has to wear blue too, and scream and howl when we score!. At Ibrox, all the seats are blue, and yes, since the 1980’s the whole stadium is seated. It holds 50,000 people, all dressed in blue, with a tinge of red and white. At one point the club even investigated the possibility of painting the grass blue, just like Boise State! We sing songs that are derogatory and distasteful, as do Celtic fans, all containing bigotry references to each other’s religion, political views, or directed at certain individual players who have supposedly sinned in their checkered pasts. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t hate one another, we ABSOLUTELY HATE one another! In the past, Rangers v Celtic games have seen pitched battles in the middle of the field once the game is finished, violence in the streets before and after games, and even deaths, tragically in 1971, when 66 Rangers fans lost their lives as they tried to re-enter the stadium after their team scored an equalizing goal against Celtic in the last two minutes. They had already given up on Rangers getting a tie out of the game and decided to leave. The goal was scored, the stadium erupted and those inside decided to go outside and those on the outside came back in causing the worst scenario possible on stairwells that used to rise up at least twenty stories. 66 innocents, all dead. This led to a re-vamp of Ibrox making it the very first all seater stadium in the UK.
I have attended over 50 Rangers v Celtic games in person and watched many more on TV, live and often with a crowd of supporters at 4 30 AM in a bar in San Jose, where we used to gather for every single Rangers game, no matter what the time,day or place, we were there. Myself and a friend of mine Johnny, ran the Rangers supports club in San Jose for years. In the past 4 years, it’s disintegrated and now dissolved, due to the advent of direct broadcast of all the games on the internet by Rangers, therefore ending the pub camaraderie that was once unbeatable, in favor of a late lie in and a computer under the pillow. Far more civilized! I do have to say that for some of Rangers more important games, four or five of us try to get together in one of our homes so we at least have some semblance of an atmosphere. Last season, we were all at my place at 4 am for a crucial league game. The next door neighbor came over later that day and told me he’d heard some huge roar from our house. and asked if I’d heard it too. I told him next time he should join us, and he couldn’t believe that us mad Scotsman would get up that early to ‘watch a soccer game’. If only he knew. I once flew from LA to London on a Thursday, got in Friday morning, flew to Glasgow Friday night, watched the game on Saturday, at Ibrox of course, then flew back to London and was back in LA by 5 PM Sunday night. Madness, but worth every single goal we put past our greatest rivals that particular day! I’ve canceled meetings, trips abroad, wedding anniversaries, birthday celebrations, just to watch games. I have been in 15 countries with the team, watching them play live in European action. I have had good days, great days, unforgettable days, and days that have been so desperate that all you want to do is hide! Rangers is my religion, as it is for many tens of thousands of others. Rangers is my life, as they will be for ever. Rangers is more than just a hobby, a game to watch, a football contest, a team in Glasgow. Rangers is a proud institution that will never ever go away. Last season the new owner of the team was caught red-handed participating in financial irregularities inside our great club. We went into liquidation and were relegated (demoted) to the lowest division in Scottish football. This has been a long drawn out process filled with so many ups and downs, falsified records, and a distinct lack of information and respect to all the fans who supported the club for 142 years. The club was sold again, and now languishes in Division 3. Having said all of that, we still get 45,000 people coming to every game (all other clubs in that division get between 400 and 600 fans!) and we have fought off all the critics in favor of beginning again at the very bottom instead of seeking favors from those who would like to see us destroyed on a permanent basis. It will take at least three years to climb back up to the giddy heights that we all enjoyed for the past 100 years plus, but we will return, stronger, leaner and meaner than ever before. I urge you to go to YouTube and search Rangers v Celtic, and watch listen and marvel at the ferocity of such a contest. it’s unlike anything you will have ever experienced.
Our club song goes, we are ‘simply the best, better than all the rest’. Let me know if you’d like to hear more. This is the short version without too many swear words and no bigot filled lyrical blasts at Celtic.