Tag Archives: Old Firm

The Strange Case of Scotland’s Glasgow Rangers Football Club

11 Jul

Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson of Treasure Island fame, penned a novella that many consider to be a foundation stone of modern fiction’s addiction to substances, transformation and death – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll liked to swallow chemicals turning himself into something unpredictable, Mr. Hyde. It’s a good metaphor for the calamity that is tearing Scottish soccer apart.

Think of Scottish soccer as a test tube in Dr. Jekyll’s lab marked with skull and cross bones, WARNING – DO NOT SHAKE! Sitting at the top of the mix is the colors of Irish green and British blue – green is the substance called Glasgow Celtic Football Club bonded to the blue known as Glasgow Rangers Football Club. Mix them up and they can explode but when they sit side by side at rest they produce something called the Old Firm, a successful alliance of opposites that has largely dominated Scottish soccer, economically and culturally, for over a hundred years. The elements that make up their wholes would require too long a label to delineate – suffice to summarize it as an emulsion of historical grievance, religious division, sectarianism, and nationalist politics that produces a soccer clash unrivaled anywhere in the world. The Old Firm is the defining intense soccer rivalry. Super hot, beyond sport.

But now things have changed. The tube has been ruptured. The blue half of the mix has evaporated. Rangers have been declared bankrupt due to many years of mismanagement. They consumed a hubristic formula of reckless expenditure in an effort to destroy their other half, Celtic. They failed. And were left weak to the point of death like Dr. Jekyll.

They have been discharged from the top Scottish league. The league rules and the animosity of rival clubs and their fan bases dictated their plunge. They now face the prospect of starting from scratch in the bottom division of Scottish football, three levels below the top tier. The economic implications are negative. Fears for other teams evaporating are real. Rangers worked the pump of investment in the Scottish game – their games with Celtic broadcast globally, a premium brand – the Old Firm was the bank that all the other clubs had an interest in. No Old Firm game and it could mean less or no money from TV contracts, and therefore less monies to share with the other clubs. The prospect of Scottish soccer boiling down is now a possibility.

The Scottish Football Association believes it may be the end for the Scottish game should Rangers not be allowed to return to the top flight within a year. Besides the economic armageddon for the clubs, the chiefs have warned of “social unrest” if Rangers are exiled to the deep. It’s an extraordinary claim that social strife could result as a consequence of a soccer club going bust. The commentary from Scottish soccer fans has ranged from celebratory dances on Rangers grave to dire warnings of revenge when/if Rangers return from the shadows.

Dr. Jekyll was unrecognizable after swallowing the poison – disfigured, mean and hostile – and finally death. Will Scottish soccer follow the script or synthesize a new beginning free from the mix of the Old Firm chemistry?


Scotland and Ireland’s Hot Soccer Ticket

4 Mar

If you are small and are forced to wear a big overcoat things can get hot and dizzy and you can find yourself out of place. This best describes the intimate bedfellows of Scottish soccer, Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic. Scotland’s biggest clubs thrive on a fierce, globally supported rivalry rooted in another country’s past troubles — Ireland. Their most recent match-ups have resulted in team coaches squaring up to each other, brutal field play and hundreds of post-game arrests for violence, sectarian crimes and domestic violence. Sections of Scottish society and the police are calling for the game to be either banned or played behind closed doors.

It is almost impossible to write about Celtic and Rangers fairly without drawing derision from all sides. The weaving historical plays of Irish immigrant Catholics with Scottish Protestants and its part in the jigsaw of keeping the British political Union intact is tough territory. The danger of sparking more unrest is ever present in Scotland’s largest city. Best to wait for things to blow over after the game, after all, this decades old recurring Glasgow fever only lasts a short while. The city’s big Irish overcoat absorbs the blood, sweat and tears. Glasgow is famous for its swagger. The dizziness caused by the heat of the divide rolls into the city’s walk. Glasgow never falls down. It staggers on.

Condemnation. Why bother? It produces more of the same. Better to think outside the box.  Rangers and Celtic could play against each other wearing each others strips. That would be funny. Glaswegians like to laugh. The minority of fans who are violent, and it is a small minority, could whack tartan piñatas placed at the stadium gates. Pick up the candy with a message — Be Nice — We are all Glaswegians. Instead of the players coming out of the tunnel holding the hands of a child doomed to repeat the past, they could hold each others hands, and walk around the field together waving to the fans. And instead of the songs of the Irish tribes, the clubs could broadcast Glasgow’s national anthem over the PA system before, during, and after the game – I Belong to Glasgow, Dear Old Glasgow Toon – Of course, all this nonsense might ruin the profitable tsunami effect of the rivalry.

Maybe in a hundred years, maybe a thousand, maybe never, the city can stop going round and round and switch its green and orange Irish overcoat for one made of plaid.