Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Old Firm

In honor of the more than century long rivalry between the two Glacgow, Scotland Football Clubs, that will be renewed this weekend, I thought I would do a little research into the "Old Firm":

(An "Old Firm" match at Celtic Park, in Glasgow)

The term "Old Firm" refers to the rivalry between the Scottish football (american soccer) teams Celtic F.C. and Rangers F.C., both based in Glasgow.

One theory has it that the expression derives from Celtic's first game in 1888, which was played against Rangers. A newspaper report stated that both sets of players "got on so well that you would believe that they were old firm friends." However, William J. Murray states that the term derives from the commercial benefits of the two clubs' rivalry, which were viewed with distaste in some quarters in the early days of the game.

The two clubs are easily the most successful in Scotland, having won between them 63 Scottish Cups and 93 Scottish Premier League championships (as of 2007). Interruptions to their ascendancy have occurred infrequently, most recently with the challenge of the New Firm of Aberdeen and Dundee United in the first half of the 1980s. Starting with the 1995-96 season, the Old Firm clubs finished in the top two places in every season until 2005-06, when Hearts finished second behind Celtic. As of May 5, 2007, Rangers and Celtic had played each other 375 times, with Rangers winning 149 matches, Celtic 134 matches and 92 draws. The two clubs normally compete four times a year in the SPL and are regularly drawn against each other in the two Scottish cup competitions.

The clubs' large supporter groups, which are far greater than those of other Scottish clubs, means that the Scottish Premier League - which has always been dominated by the Old Firm - has become less competitive. Even in cities such as Edinburgh and Dundee, there is a large Old Firm fan base, in addition to support for the cities' own clubs. The other clubs in Scottish football have traditionally had far fewer football successes (except for spells in the 1890s, 1950s and 1980s), supporters, and money than the Old Firm teams. This has led to some acrimony between these teams and the Old Firm, which is amplified by widespread disgust towards the religious bigotry some associate with these two clubs, and by a general feeling that the primary national loyalties of Rangers and Celtic fans lie not with Scotland, but with the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland respectively. However, it has been said that the presence of Rangers and Celtic is worth £120 million to the Scottish economy, and that if the two clubs left the Scottish Premier League, the other teams would lose out.

The result of the combination of the two clubs' dominance of Scottish football, and their significance in social, cultural and political terms, is that both Celtic and Rangers are prominent institutions in Scottish life, to a degree beyond what would be expected for large football clubs elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

The competition between the two clubs has its roots in more than just a simple sporting rivalry. It is infused with a series of complex disputes, sometimes centred on religion (Catholic and Protestant) and Northern Ireland-related politics (Loyalist and Republican). The result has been an enduring enmity between fans that has extended beyond the kind of intra-city footballing rivalry that might be expected in situations where two clubs dominate a country's footballing scene. This has been manifested in a history laden with sectarian violence, sometimes leading to deaths.

Increasingly in recent years, both clubs have frequently participated in initiatives and campaigns along with religious organisations and the Scottish Executive directed at removing the sectarian undercurrent, including supporting pressure group Nil by Mouth. However, disagreements about what constitutes sectarian behaviour have undermined progress in these matters, and consensus over what types of songs and flags are acceptable remains difficult to achieve.

The ferocity of the rivalry has made it rare for a player to represent both teams during his career. Players who have played for both sides of the Old Firm include Alfie Conn, Jr., Maurice Johnston, Kenny Miller, Steven Pressley and Mark Brown. Rangers' signing of Johnston caused particular controversy because, although by no means the first Catholic to play for Rangers, he was by far the highest-profile openly Catholic player to do so since World War I.

All that said:



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