Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Old Firm Derby, #382

There are many great derby games in the world of football.

In Portugal, there's the Lisbon derby between Benfica and Sporting. In Italy, you have AS Roma and Lazio. Argentina's Boca Juniors against River Plate is always a fiery encounter, and there's no love lost between Rio's Flamengo and Fluminense, or for that matter, between the two giants of Turkish football, Galatasaray and Fenerbah├že.

But it is in Glasgow that you'll find one of the oldest, and most fiercely contested derby games in world football today. The two teams involved are no longer the power they once where in world football, when, in the sixties and seventies, Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers won European silverware to add to their already impressive collection of domestic honours. That's not to say that the rivalry that was created in the earlier part of the century has in any way waned over the years - there's no such thing as a meaningless fixture between these two sides.

What makes the Glasgow derby stand out from the others is that the rivalry is based not just on economics (such as the Flamengo and Fluminense derby), or politics (right-wing Lazio against left-wing Roma) or culture (CSKA Sofia, the team of the intellectuals against Levski, the team representing the working man), but a combination of some of those, with a dash of religion thrown in. Celtic, the team with the poor Irish Catholic background, against the staunchly Protestant, unionist, prosperous Rangers.

Its hard to believe that from the very first fixture, played in 1888 in such good spirit that one commentator at the time was inspired to write that the teams "got on so well that you would believe that they were old firm friends", the game has somehow mutated into the tense affair it is now. The teams certainly started out with quite a close relationship, playing many friendlies in front of huge gates. But like all good things, this relationship came to an end as the games became bitter, hard-fought encounters with pitch invasions, mass brawls, arrests - even deaths. An activist group that monitors sectarian activity in Glasgow has reported that on Old Firm weekends, admissions to hospital emergency rooms increase nine-fold over normal levels, and journalist Franklin Foer noted in his book, "How Soccer Explains the World", in the period from 1996 to 2003, eight deaths in Glasgow were directly linked to Old Firm matches.

Season 2008/09
In the first encounter between the two sides earlier on in the current season, it was two goals from Kenny Miller, a former Celtic and Rangers player back in his second spell at the Ibrox side that helped Rangers win 4-2 at Parkhead. Celtic got their revenge in the return fixture just after Christmas - a single goal by Scott McDonald proved enough in a game played in treacherous conditions.

There's a lot to play for - as always - in tomorrow's fixture: whoever wins, goes top of the Scottish Premier League. Celtic and Rangers lead the table by 15 points from the team in third, Dundee United, so let there be no doubt that one of these two teams will win the league.

Players to watch
Normally it is the league's top scorer Kris Boyd who gets all the focus, but should he play on Sunday, it's 17 year-old John Fleck who may well be the one to make the headlines. He's only played a few games since breaking through to the first team last year, but already he's been widely tipped for a glittering career. There's even talk of a Scotland call-up against Holland next month. An attacking midfielder, he follows in the footsteps of his uncle Robert Fleck, who also played for Rangers before moving south to Norwich. Manager Walter Smith reckons Fleck is ready to make his Old Firm debut, but it's a lot of pressure to heap on a player this young - this is no ordinary game.

Predicting the outcome of any Old Firm Derby is tricky; the first thing to do when trying to work out who will win is to throw the form guide of out the window and hope you've got a decent referee who can handle the pressure. We predicted a Celtic win in our 'Four To Follow' competition if only for the fact that Celtic are at home and that Kris Boyd, for all his 20 goals cannot seem to score in the big games. So, a Celtic win - but only just.

Celtic v Rangers
Sunday 15 January 2009
Venue: Celtic Park
Kick-off: 12.30 GMT

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Good article.

The term "The Auld Firm" (one, which us Celtic would now like to see stop being used) was coined in the late 1890's as both clubs were using each other to make money.

This arrangement cumulated in a Scottish Final Reply after a draw had been arranged before hand.

The sectarianism angle did not come in until a member of the R*ngers board, think it was a guy called Ure Primrose, decided that they would make more money if they adopted an anti catholic policy and promoted themselves as Protestant and Unionist.

So they went from a simple rowing club to a club that adopted a stance of hate.

It bugs me when I hear people talking about R*ngers traditions as they look proudly at photies of the queen and do the dishes wie their King Billy tea towels.

They should really be paddling doon the clyde in a bloody canoe.

To the game: Both teams are pish and whoever scores first is unlikely to lose the game.

Celtic 2-1, McDonald and Brown.


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