The Old Firm derby has gained notoriety across Europe for its violent outbreaks on and off the pitch, constant trading of religious insults and famed ‘90 minute racists’. This is a centuries old Protestant vs. Catholic dispute that pits English mentalities against those of the Irish, whilst seemingly casting Scottish pride aside for the duration of each match.
Now that Ronny Delia’s Celtic have drawn Rangers in the semi-final of the Scottish League Cup, with the tie due to be played at a neutral venue in early 2015, the debate surrounding the Old Firm fixture is well and truly reignited. We are left to ask where the derby stands in today’s current football climate? And whether or not it will carry the same weight as it has done in previous seasons now that Rangers are outside the Scottish Premier League?
Rangers’ unceremonious fall from grace to the lower echelons of Scottish football has been well documented of late. After a complicated process involving several bureaucratic buzz-words, such as administration, insolvency and liquidation, Ally McCoist’s side currently sit second in the Scottish Championship after winning the Scottish League 1 in 2013-14. Their rise back up the ladder of Scottish football may be going in the right direction, but it has nevertheless been a slow and painful process for the Ibrox faithful.
As for Celtic, the Hoops have certainly profited from the absence of Rangers in top flight Scottish football, as they have been the clear winners of the SPL in the past two seasons. The Scottish Premiership, as it has been formally known since 2013, now sees the likes of Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Dundee United try to fill the void left by Rangers in 2012, with the aforementioned sides simply unable to provide the intensity and excitement that the Celtic vs. Rangers top-of-the-table clash used to produce.
For what was once the most exciting fixture in Scottish football, the Old Firm derby has been almost completely obliterated from today’s game, both in the league and in the cups. The tense grudge-match always served as the pick of the bunch for spectators, but in its absence, the overall popularity of Scottish football is now at an all-time low.
It was common place to hear that there are only two teams ever going to win the Scottish League, but now with Rangers temporarily out of the picture, Celtic seem to be the only side left in it. Whilst Delia’s team will certainly share no sympathy towards their arch rivals, many Celtic fans would have to admit that they do miss the intense rivalry and purpose that has left their club in the absence of Rangers.
However, don’t expect the Old Firm clash to disappear just yet. Now that the two historic sides have drawn one another in the cup, the derby is still very much a realistic prospect for fans across the country. It is an age old dispute that has its roots in events that took place long before football became popular on these shores. For that reason, and for that reason alone, three seasons apart from one another has done little to end the feud between fans of Rangers and Celtic.
Although it hasn’t had a chance to flourish in recent years, the Old Firm derby has been quietly bubbling away under the surface, just waiting for the chance to rear its ever-controversial head once more. That is not to say that religious fuelled fights will definitely break out onto the streets of Glasgow when the two sides next meet however, and nor should they, but the dangerously obsessive desire to beat one another will still nevertheless be a present factor when Celtic face Rangers in the Scottish League Cup early next year.
As the notorious grudge match has been forcibly removed from the top flight of Scottish football in the past few seasons, expect this latest offering of the Old Firm derby to carry more meaning, more attitude and more passion than ever before.