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UK (Mar3) – In every sports team, in every town of every country there are rivalries. Some are territorial, the Milan Derby for example, both Internazionale and AC Milan share the San Siro stadium. Sometimes the rivalry is one born of jealousy, up until very recently the derby between Manchester City and United always had an air of inevitability about it. City could never compete financially, until all the oil money came to the Light Blue side of Manchester (forget the fact that the billionaire who bought them actually wanted to buy – and thought he was buying – United).
Every country wants to believe that they have the most hard-core derby. That their fans are the most passionate, creating the most electrifying atmosphere. There are two I would love to go to, Roma versus Lazio in Italy and Boca Juniors versus River Plate in Argentina. These two seem to have it all, big stadiums, crazy fans, big name players and, of course, talent abound.
I have only been to one top-flight football derby, the subject of many news reports this morning, Glasgow’s Old Firm. The meeting of Glasgow’s two top teams Celtic and Rangers rarely manages to excite on a footballing level, but thanks to the despicable attitude of both sets of fans; violence and hatred are always on hand to substitute in to the massive void where talent should be.
Not to say that both teams do not have good players, I am sure they do. They definitely used to. Some of the greats have played for both sides of the Glasgow divide. Paul Gascoigne, Paolo DiCanio, Brian Laudrup and Paul McStay, Ally McCoist and Jimmy Johnstone to name a few from both sides.
A short history of the Old Firm for those unaware of what makes this game such a powder keg of a game. Celtic, who play in green and white hoops were founded by a monk by the name of Walfred, a member of the Marist brothers, who, it should be noted, saw a lot of their “brothers” accused and found guilty of child molestation. Then there is Rangers, the blue white and red side of Glasgow, who were not founded by a religious organization which, apparently, is cause for both teams to scream sectarian abuse at each other, and not only at games. They will do it in the pub, on the street, on the Internet.
Having not watched any of the previous Old Firm games this year, and with the last couple having a fair few goals between them, I thought I would watch last night’s Scottish Cup fifth round replay. Despite both teams being chocked full of foreigners, the old hatred is still very much alive and kicking both on the pitch, in the stands, and on the sidelines.
You do not need to hear about the idiots in the crowd, you can just imagine what 60,000 people who think that football and religion go together look, smell and act like. This is in built, there is no escaping the constant burning of sectarianism in the souls of these people. Yeah it’s dumb, but to paraphrase a semi-famous, quasi-talented Scot… This Is Glasgow!
The game itself was not all that bad. There was enough bad blood, bad touches and bad decisions to get right into it. It cannot really be argued that Celtic did not play better; they seemed more up for it. In addition, some bad refereeing made sure Rangers had an even harder time when Steven Whittaker was sent off, after a second booking, although the first booking was a terrible decision by the ref. Going into the second half, Celtic seemed to be the team most active, and they came out in the second half chasing a goal.
It didn’t take long, a fairly mediocre goal that bounced over the keeper was the result of a great strike by Celtic and as good a clearance off the line by Rangers player Papac, who may or may not have been knocked out, got concussion or broken his neck. Either way, he was stretchered off the pitch as the Celtic fans and players celebrated their goal.
Sadly, that was the only goal of the game, and really the only bit of entertaining football. The rest of the game was just a series of rash tackles and palpable tension. Even from my friends couch.
Despite keeping his cards in his pockets for most of the first half, the ref went card crazy eventually, and sent off three Rangers players, two being debatable, the aforementioned Whittaker’s first booking and the second booking for Rangers defender Bougherra, who threw himself at a tackle, took the ball and the player and was sent off. A sign that even Scottish football is going down the nasty, stained toilet of pansi-fication, for lack of an actual word.
Controversial Rangers player Diouff, whose controversy is based completely on how much of a despicable reputation he built for himself over the years, known for spitting on people, was the last of the three red cards, sent off after the final whistle, no strange thing. The central defender in my old team once was sent off in the dressing room, before the game.
Diouff composed himself well; he did not really retaliate to any of the winding up that was sent his way by the Celtic defense and fans. Although, he kind of needs to score goals. He is a striker after all.
There was a moment early on in the game when Diouff failed to control himself, and he nearly got into it with Celtic manager Neil Lennon. The scuffle was broken up, and re-started in the tunnel. It was clear that even if fights did not break out on the pitch, there would be some sore faces around Glasgow after the game.
At the end of the game the management teams came together to shake hands, Rangers Assistant Ally McCoist, and Celtic Manager Lennon had a tête-à-tête, it is unknown what was said, but the look on the face of Lennon, coupled with his reaction suggests it was something inflammatory. Naturally, there are sensible voices in the media condemning the violence, or near-violence, and have gone as far as suggesting the game be banned, or played behind closed doors, which you hear every-so-often, usually after a particularly bad game.
When the camera went round the fans, it was clear that despite the possibility of violence, there is something to be said for knowing exactly where 60,000 mad looking, angry Scots are at any one time.
As mentioned previously, this is a game that people have been killed over; its roots are based in religious segregation. It is dumb, and dangerous, but it has been that way for quite a while. It is not like this all just occurred recently… That match report could have been from any game in the long history of these clubs. Sure, it seems a little more personal these days because after the game people signed into facebook to moan about the Tims or the Huns, and all that. That should not rile you though. Sure reading that nonsense is sickening, but look on the brightside, these people are actually highlighting themselves as someone to be deleted. In a world of cluttered and growing friend’s lists, these people are actually doing you a favour.
I still remember with great fondness my first Old Firm game. I was a neutral. I appeared out of the stairwell to a sea of scarves held aloft, the sound of tens of thousands of people singing their songs, it turned nasty, but I was there. In the terrace, before seats were demanded for our safety. When someone scored, you moved about 10 yards in any direction as the crowd pulsed.
The police were out in force last night, at the stadium and, one can only assume, in the City too. The papers are reporting somewhere in the region of 60 arrests. It is a shame that these people cannot leave it in the stadium, because if they did it would be a great derby. But sadly, 60,000 people who associate a sport with something as ridiculous as religion is disheartening. I was once called blasphemous by a relative who is one of these fans, because my Uncle took a photo of me, and photoshopped me to look like Jesus. Apparently, “I look more like Jesus than the Bee Gee in my old School books” is not an acceptable angle to use when defending yourself against the charge of being a blasphemer.
Thanks to the cup-ties and regular league games, there are still a couple more Old Firm games to come this season. Strap in.
Henry Hunter WorldNewsVine UK