Wednesday, July 24, 2019
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The Return of the Old Firm

Record Cover of Two TribesWhen two tribes go to war, one is all that you can score.’ Frankie Goes to Hollywood insisted that was the case in their 80s hit single, but this weekend in Glasgow those associated with Celtic and Rangers will claim that the stakes are far higher than that.

 

 

War isn’t exactly on the agenda so much as the prize of a place in the League Cup final, but the two tribes in question are feverishly anticipating this clash as it’s the first time in almost three years that the great rivals have met.

 

Rangers’ financial and board room woes have been well documented since the club’s meltdown and ultimate descent into liquidation back in 2012, but the ramifications for Scottish football, of course, have been acutely felt.

 

Former Rangers boss Alex McLeish recently opined that Celtic have missed their old adversaries, and few would disagree with that. Not only the competitive edge provided to all tournaments – the rows of empty seats at Celtic Park on match days are perhaps testament to a degree of boredom, however plausible Aberdeen’s title challenge this season – but the opportunity to put their rivals to the sword at least four times every season was something the fans relished.

 

And the TV companies and fans who had loyalty towards neither club loved it too – the hype, the religious bile, the controversy, the drama, the raw emotion all wrapped up in a tidy package of lunging tackles and hundred miles per hour mayhem.

 

Whether we like it or not, Old Firm clashes galvanised us all in a way that, say, Dundee United and St Mirren just can’t, and never will either (with the greatest of respect to them).

 

We say Old Firm, but a section of the Celtic support continue to scoff at this, insisting that the old Rangers is defunct, and its latest incarnation represents an entirely new foe.

 

 

To demonstrate their strength of feeling on the matter, some fans went as far as taking an advert in The Herald newspaper last week to make that very point. An approach that has been met with disdain by former players and coaches from both sides, most of whom insist that Rangers remain alive (in the sense that, whilst acknowledging the technicalities with regard to liquidation, they still play in blue, at Ibrox, with the same fan base, etc.). And, for all their recovery remains far from complete, to all intents and purposes we have an old rivalry restored this Sunday.

 

Kenny Dalglish, a man who is no stranger to the issue at hand, put it succinctly the other day when he rhetorically asked whether a win for Celtic this weekend would be any less celebrated by the club’s fans, whatever their views about Rangers’ status.

 

Talking of which, for all the hyperbole surrounding the fixture, relatively little has been said about the probable outcome of the game itself. The clear rationale being that Celtic will surely emerge victorious, and the only serious question is by how many goals they will do so.

 

Of the two clubs, Celtic are obviously in by far the healthier shape, and for all that they have looked far from convincing at times during the current campaign, they should be far too strong for a Rangers side which has been blighted by inconsistency all season as their off-field troubles continue.

 

Whilst they boast players who have played at the top level of the game in Scotland, operating in the lower leagues over the last two seasons has visibly diminished them individually and collectively to a shadow of their former selves. This to the extent that many commentators are suggesting anything less than a three-goal winning margin for Celtic can be regarded as a moral victory for the Ibrox club.

 

Then again, Celtic would not be the first team to falter under the weight of expectation, and it remains to be seen how they handle the hitherto unheard of tag of odds-on favourites going into an Old Firm match.

 

 

If nothing less, we must assume that the Rangers players, driven by the sight of their great rivals amid a frenzied Hampden Park atmosphere (and, if nothing less, the absolute need to avoid a humiliating score line) will play with a fire in their bellies that has been absent for some time.

 

The feeling persists, however, that Celtic will ultimately triumph with something to spare, in the process dispelling the theory (and well-worn cliché) that the form book goes out the window whenever these teams go head to head.

 

Quite simply, it is no longer a level playing field between these two, although they have surely missed each other. Like it or not, for all the all-too-predictable nastiness attached to the fixture, (sectarianism, violence, etc.) Scottish football has missed it too, even if its absence from the fixture calendar has not quite been the death knell for the game north of the border that some had predicted.

 

 

Another line from Frankie’s song: ‘You’ve got two tribes, somethin’ this good died.’ Perhaps Sunday’s clash will enable us to judge whether that sentiment applies to the Old Firm.

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