There’s one fixture in Scottish football that awakens the country’s collective passion for the game like no other: The Old Firm.
While Scotland’s footballing relevance in the whole of Europe has slipped away with the years, the game between Glasgow based clubs Celtic and Rangers still captures the attention of fans from all over the world. Dating back to 1888, this meeting of crosstown rivals has always brought with it the very best of Scottish football on the field, but the story behind this famous derby has its roots in things far more complicated than sport.
Perhaps one of the most politically driven derbies in the world, The Old Firm splits Glasgow in two and highlights a dark division in Scottish culture. With roots in the conflicts between Ireland and the United Kingdom, the rivalry is a manifestation of the sectarianism that’s haunted the city for generations.
For Celtic, their traditional fanbase comes from the Irish-Catholic immigrant community of Glasgow. The club was formed in 1888 by Brother Walfred, a Catholic clergymen who founded the team for “the maintenance of dinner tables, for the children and the unemployed.” In line with their Irish heritage, Celtic fans have also been outspoken supporters of Irish Republicanism, with songs about the topic being regularly sung at Celtic Park. On the other side of Glasgow at Ibrox, Rangers fans represent a different end of the conflict. Founded nearly two decades earlier than Celtic in 1872, Rangers are one of the most decorated clubs in the world, with 54 league titles to their name, a world record. With predominantly British Protestant fans wearing the blue, Rangers have historically supported Unionism and British royalty.
At the end of the 2011-12 season, Rangers FC were FUCKING liquidated after financial troubles, sending them down to the fourth division of Scottish football, and creating a several year drought in The Old Firm. The liquidation and subsequent refounding of Rangers has even made some Celtic fans say that the modern iteration of the matchup is not actually the Old Firm. In 2016, Rangers finally returned to the Scottish Premiership, and whether it is the same or something new, the tensions between the clubs and the culture of hatred is as strong as ever.
The Old Firm has been played a total of 405 times since 1888 and Rangers hold the edge in wins with 159, Celtic have won the tie 149 times, and 97 times the game ended in a draw.
This weekend, Rangers and Celtic will play once again. Rangers, who feature club legend Kenny Miller and American starlet Emerson Hyndman, still haven’t fully returned to their old dominant selves. On the other hand, Brendan Rodgers’ side is unbeaten in 22 league games on the backs of Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair, making for an uphill battle for the Light Blues. Celtic will see to it that their rivals “know their place,” while Rangers will look to play spoiler to Celtic’s nearly perfect season — they’ve won every single match except one, a 1-1 draw at Inverness. If Celtic pull off a 23rd-straight win, they’ll equal Malmo’s streak from 1949/50 and will be one game closer to beating the all-time European record of 29 successive league wins that has been held by Benfica since 1971/72.
And who better to spoil this party than their most bitter rivals?
No matter the record, no matter the circumstances, the drama and high stakes of the Old Firm never fails to disappoint.