1008 Days Later
That’s how long it had been since Glasgow had come to a standstill for the monumental clash between Rangers and Celtic. It is a fixture known all over the world for violence, controversy, sectarianism, hooliganism and occasionally even football. Ever since starting Supporters Not Customers in late 2012 I had been waiting for a chance to experience this one, and the Scottish League Cup draw finally threw both sides together at last, with a Hampden Park semi-final a fitting way for hostilities to resume.
Of course, there has never been such a thing as an ‘ordinary’ Old Firm derby, but this was about as far from ordinary as could ever have been imagined. Thanks to years of woeful mismanagement and rule breaking from their owners, Rangers were plunged into such financial trouble that they went through a liquidation and were relegated to the bottom tier of Scottish football, something that would have once seemed unimaginable for the 54 time champions of Scotland. They have earned back-to-back promotions and are currently just one more division away from making it back to the top flight, but the continued problems at boardroom level has caused Rangers to be significantly behind Hearts in the race for the title and automatic promotion – it seems likely that Ibrox will have to host an end of season playoff if the Bears are to make it back to their regular position at the earliest opportunity.
However if you ask many Celtic fans, this isn’t Rangers at all, but a new club which was created in 2012 following the financial meltdown which came to light during that season. Some Celtic fans on Twitter told me they planned to boycott the game, while the Celtic thesaurus calls Rangers a number of things, including Sevco, Newco or the Zombies. Despite this insistence that Rangers are a dead club, the stadium was a complete sell-out and there was an intense atmosphere of hatred around the ground at least an hour before the 1:30 kick-off time.
One thing you have to understand about Celtic and Rangers is that they are completely different in every way. Celtic fans campaigned for a ‘Yes’ vote in the independence referendum, while Rangers groups campaigned in favour of ‘No’. Celtic fans take Palestine flags to matches, while Israel flags can often be spotted at Ibrox. Rangers are fiercely British, while Celtic’s identity is deeply rooted in Ireland. I have been to plenty of matches where the supporters hate each other with a passion, but this felt like the fixture where the two sets of fans were so completely at odds. The Belgrade derby is the most intense game I have seen and the level of hatred is incredible, but both sets of ultras is united by a love for Serbia and can stand together at international games. This would never be the case with the vast majority of Rangers and Celtic supporters, and it gives the game a unique feel and atmosphere.
With that atmosphere does indeed come a number of chants which many people would find offensive to their religion, nationality or political view. These chants will be included throughout the report – please consider this your warning if reading them is likely to offend you.
After an appeal on Twitter and an anxious waiting process, I received a message a few weeks before the game that someone had managed to secure me a ticket. I would be standing in the Rangers section of the stadium, and was interested to see how they would react to the game and the inevitable taunts from their great rivals. After all, they were almost certainly going to be beaten heavily, and recent games ha`d seen some pretty intense protests against the board – especially a game at Ibrox against Hearts when the police fought against supporters intent on storming the boardroom. As it would turn out, this game would be the most united Rangers fans had been in years, as they forgot their financial woes for 90 minutes and focussed on what they are best at – absolutely despising Celtic.
Despite being away for three years, the Glaswegian police had a strong grip over the game and there was no trouble to be seen in the build up to the game. With both sets of supporters leaving from Glasgow Central station, Celtic fans would be taken to a train station on one side of the stadium, while the Rangers supporters would be escorted to the station on the other. This meant that there was hardly a Celtic supporter to be seen until we got into the stadium, helping to significantly reduce any chance of violence. While the Rangers fans I spoke to were not confident and only the drunkest expected them to win, they were expecting their side to at least reward them with a good performance to prevent them suffering an embarrassment.
With the recent ‘No’ vote from Scotland still fresh in the memory, there were Union Jacks everywhere you turned around the stadium, many printed with messages such as ‘God Save Our Queen’ and even with images of Elizabeth herself on them. I have seen many things on flags at football matches, including a sea battle against the Spanish, a Levski Sofia fan being cooked in a pot and Sepp Blatter’s severed head, but this was the first time Lizzy had showed up. I was hoping that she might be at the game bouncing up and down with a flare in the middle of the Union Bears ultra group, but sadly it was not to be.
The big shock of the afternoon was how relaxed the security was on the way in to the stadium. There were no searches conducted on fans before or after the turnstiles, and it would have been easy to get in to the stadium with enough pyro to be seen from space. Usually when I attend a big derby like this you are forced to get more intimate with the security staff than most of your ex-girlfriends, but this was not to be the case today and we were soon stood in the stadium without a hitch.
When you get your first look at a stadium for Rangers vs. Celtic, it feels more like an international game than a club contest. If a ‘Team GB’ ever became reality and they were drawn against the Republic of Ireland, it would be tough to tell the difference between the way that game looked and this one. The Rangers end featured more British flags than the last night of the proms, while there was not a single Scottish flag to be seen in the Celtic end – with Irish tricolours galore. Ticketing problems for the Rangers ultra groups meant they were not able to stand together for the game, but it was clear to see where Celtic’s Green Brigade had gathered at the opposite end.
It was obvious that Celtic’s tifo before the game would be related to Rangers being a dead club, but I was interested to see what they would come up with. Along with the Holmesdale Fanatics of Crystal Palace, the Green Brigade are one of the most recognisable ultras groups of any British club, and have been no strangers to controversy. So would be the case here, with a pre-match display that infuriated many people both in the Rangers sections and watching at home on television (a Twitter search after the game for ‘Celtic display disgrace’ returned almost as many results as if I had entered ‘I love Beiber’), referencing the anti-poppy stance taken by the Green Brigade on Remembrance Day for the last couple of years.
For any non-British readers of the website who are not aware, it is traditional to wear a poppy around November 11th to mark the deaths of British soldiers in action, particularly during the two World Wars, but also for all the conflicts since that date. The Green Brigade have fiercely resisted this and any move from Celtic to wear a poppy on their shirts at this time of year, with one banner from the past reading ‘No blood stained poppy on our hoops’ – a reference to the British involvement in Ireland during the troubled times for the nation.
No other issue has bought such criticism upon Celtic in recent years as this, with the Green Brigade showing how little they cared about this criticism by having a poppy themed display to mock their city counterparts. A famous war poem was slightly readapted, alongside signs which read 1872 – 2012. The banner read “At the going down of the hun, and in the morning…we will remember them”, with a finishing touch of a huge poppy with a Rangers badge on it. I expect Celtic will get plenty of criticism in the coming days and weeks for the display, but what good is a derby match if you don’t take the opportunity to make your rivals as rage filled as possible?
Display by the Green Brigade (click to enlarge)
In addition to this display, there was also a great deal of green smoke released, proving that it was not just my section we had not been subjected to searches before entering. While Rangers did not have a display prepared, they did have plenty of pyrotechnics, and ignited several flares, firecrackers and blue smokebombs in response to the air on the other side of the ground being turned green. With one last defiant roar as the teams took their places, it was time for the waiting to end and the game to finally begin.
It was very quickly obvious that time had not been kind to Rangers, and they were under pressure almost instantly. Indeed, Celtic could have been ahead in the first minute with a more composed pass as they threatened to break through within seconds. The players in blue did not seem to be up for the fight, and it seemed more like a question of how many Celtic would win by, rather than if they would win at all.
Rangers tried to get their team going with a range of songs, including ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘Derry’s Walls’, but they might have been better off swapping shirts with the players on the field and playing instead if they wanted the call of “no surrender” to be heard. Celtic took the lead after ten minutes, Leigh Griffiths heading in from close range after a simple cross into the box was not dealt with. It was exactly the sort of goal that you are furious to concede in a derby, and Griffiths did not help by running to celebrate in front of the Rangers supporters with his hands on his ears.
A number of Rangers fans surged towards the front of the stand, causing even more police officers to arrive. This happened a few times during the game, similar to when you think that the last clown has emerged from the clown car, somehow they’ve managed to squeeze another one in there.
The Celtic fans reacted with the kind of joy that does not translate to Rangers being a new club, with their end of the stadium going completely wild. Club hero Scott Brown also got involved, running away from the main celebrations to goad the Rangers support individually, following in the footsteps of Gary Neville vs. Liverpool and Alan Tate vs. Cardiff to name just a few. It’s an instant way to further increase your hero status, not to mention your ‘hope you get run over by a combine harvester’ status with the opposition supporters.
Along with their chant of “You’re not Rangers anymore”, the Celtic end launched into a version of the techno classic ‘Kernkraft 400’, performed by the one and only ‘Zombie nation’ – another clear taunt in the direction of their rivals and the 2012 meltdown. It was quite a sight to see 25,000 or so people bouncing up and down to the song, perhaps the wildest reaction this tune has caused since a school disco in 1999. Celtic fans also reacted by ‘doing the huddle’, something similar to the backwards jumping which Manchester City supporters ‘borrowed’ from Lech Poznan for a couple of years.
If the green and white army was happy now, they were about to go to the next level. Rangers continued to sit too deeply, and allowed Celtic to pass the ball around them with ease. As good as Rangers were in the stands, that is how poor they were on the field. It did not take long for Celtic to score again, doubling their lead and effectively ending the game as a contest (if it ever was one) after 30 minutes. This time there was a stroke of fortune about their goal, an unfortunate rebound allowing Kris Commons too much time and space to fire home past the keeper with little trouble. Commons resisted the urge to taunt the Rangers fans too much, instead running to the sideline to celebrate with his manager and the entire squad. 2 – 0, and the Celtic fans once again celebrated the goal with glee.
I was unsure what would happen next with the Rangers supporters, although I was certain that their reaction would go in one of two ways. They would either give up altogether, abusing the team or simply being silent and even leaving early, or they would ignore the contest on the field, and show a defiant support for their club which has been through so many hard times in the last few years. As it turned out it wasn’t even a question, as Rangers fans used the remaining hour to show that their love for their team (or their love for causing as much offence as possible to Celtic fans) would never die.
Sectarianism is as much an inevitable part of this derby as Tottenham losing is to the North London derby, and so it proved. Here are a selection of the chants I heard directed at the Celtic fans in the second half: (If you are a Catholic or Irish, you may wish to skip this section!)
No, no Pope of Rome
No chapels to sadden my eyes
No nuns and no priests
No Rosary beads
Every day is the 12th of July
The famine is over, why don’t you go home?
**** Bobby Sands, he’s dead!
We’re up to our knees in fenian blood, surrender or you’ll die, we are the Billy Billy boys!
There were also a number of songs relating to the child abuse allegations made against Celtic in the past, including “Big Jock knew, oh Big Jock knew” (a reference to legendary manager Jock Stein supposedly being aware of what happened at the club) and “Oh Jimmy Savile, he’s one of your own!” (A reference I don’t really need to explain).
On the face of it, it seems as though the hatred which this fixture has become well-known for was well and truly still present, but I heard a number of interesting conversations amongst Rangers fans which suggested another motive. “If we sing sectarian songs we’ll get fined and Mike Ashley will have to pay, **** it, let’s do it!” said one behind me, and this was reflected by many others. While there are of course some Rangers fans who hate Catholics, I believe they mainly sing these songs due to their hatred of Celtic and being willing to do anything to anger them. As I have stated previously, the hatred at this game really is on another level to any other fixture I have witnessed.
With Celtic being such a deeply Irish and Catholic club it is no surprise that chants of this nature are heard from the Rangers fans, and the same is true for the IRA chants which have previously been heard from Celtic fans. Speaking of IRA chants, I did not personally hear any inside the stadium, but there were plenty to be heard from lone drunks wandering around Glasgow later that night.
As much as Celtic were strolling to victory in the second half, the contest in the stands was certainly being won by Rangers. With Celtic so comfortable in the outcome of the game, their fans seemed to lose their interest in the game, with only the Green Brigade making any significant noise. Meanwhile, almost every single man, woman and child in the Rangers end was on their feet singing their hearts out for the duration of the second half. With so much uncertainty about the future of the club, it was obvious to me that the Bears fans were ensuring that if this was to be their last stand, it would be a memorable one.
“We’re bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy nah nah nah nah!” they chanted, dust falling from Hampden Park’s roof as the old stadium was shaken to it’s very foundations by 25,000 bouncing gers. They taunted their rivals with “We forgot that you were here” and “Can you hear the Celtic sing?”, and responded to a chant of “Go home you huns” with derision.
While it is true that much of the Celtic end was silenced in the second half by the show of defiance from the Rangers support, the Green Brigade had a number of banner actions and a nice pyro display throughout the closing part of the game. Throughout the half-time break much of their section had been covered by a large banner, making it clear they were up to something that they did not want the police and stewards to take note of. So it proved, as they unleashed a number of flares to start the second half, along with dozens of inflatable monkeys. The banner read “The monkeys died”, and was explained to me as a reference to Rangers fans not having evolved into human beings.
They had another display as the game reached it’s final moments, holding up a number of Rangers flags and scarves that they seemed to have stolen at some point, with a banner reading ‘These are your colours, this is OUR city”.
The final whistle blew, and the Rangers end barely noticed, singing ‘Rangers ’til I die’ and ‘There’s not a team like the Glasgow Rangers’, before giving their players a standing ovation they absolutely did not deserve. Whether or not this game ever becomes a regular fixture in the Scottish Premiership again, it is clear that nothing can be done to stop the hatred between the two lasting forever.
Rangers fans sing on in defiance
Celtic vs. Rangers is always going to be controversial. It’s always going to feature chants which will upset and infuriate people, and it’s never going to be voted as family day out of the year. There are many things that surround this fixture that seem completely alien to those of us who are not immersed in it, and we probably shouldn’t even try. But when you look past this dark side to the game, you are left with a derby which can rival almost anything in Europe. It is certainly the most ferocious I have seen in the United Kingdom, and only a few of the hundreds of football matches I have attended can come anywhere close.
Violence once again erupted around the fixture, with 39 arrests and a 10 year-old Rangers fan hospitalised after the mini bus he was travelling in was stopped by Celtic supporters and a bottle thrown in his face by a grown man. A senseless and cowardly act which demonstrates just how crazy this fixture sends people, can you imagine hating anything so much that you would break the jaw of a child, and potentially even cause a permanent injury? Final and decisive proof that Rangers could go away for three years or for thirty, and it would do nothing to change the way these sides feel about each other. As long as there is a Rangers they will hate Celtic, and as long as there is a Celtic they will hate Rangers, and no board, liquidation or division can ever change that.
1008 days seems like a long time, until you consider that these two sides have hated each other since 1888. Rangers aren’t going away, and neither is the unique passion and hatred that surrounds the Old Firm. To slightly adapt one of the most common Rangers songs, everywhere, anywhere – hatred follows on.