A widespread sense of indifference towards Scottish football has developed across England over the past 30-odd years. Where once players for our top-flight clubs were regularly sourced north of the border (Scottish players are credited with introducing ‘pass and move’ to the English game), nowadays they’re much more likely to hail from continental Europe or beyond.
Yet while English supporters’ apathy towards Scottish football has slowly taken root, there is one tartan-clad fixture which continues to stand out: the always noisy, often disorderly, occasionally lawless and invariably tumultuous Old Firm derby, a game which epitomises the phrase ‘intense rivalry’.
It wasn’t always like this. After the teams first met at Celtic Park in 1888 (Celtic won 5-2), the players and officials enjoyed supper together followed by an evening of what was described as “the happiest character”. Indeed, so convivial were relations between Rangers and Celtic that they continued to hold post-match social evenings and would invite each other to watch English teams play at their respective grounds.
Unfortunately, it was not to last. For a variety of partly religious, partly nationalistic reasons, sectarianism became – and remained – an ugly, bigoted feature of the Old Firm derby. A deeply partisan undercurrent is still evident on match day. In fact, the specific timing of the fixture about which Richard Wilson writes and bases this excellent football / social history – the New Year derby involving the pair – had been banned for a decade before it was re-introduced in 2010.
Wilson, a Glaswegian, captures the Old Firm matchday mood perfectly. Whereas some British derby games are renowned for their friendly nature, when Glasgow’s ‘big two’ meet, there’s little room for affability. Significantly then, Wilson sets the match in a wider, social context, explaining why there is so much animosity between supporters.
There have been several books written about the Old Firm, but Wilson uses the fixture to develop his theme and go beyond a single football match, examining the integral role the game continues to play in working class life. It makes for a fascinating, thought-provoking read – one which could resurrect English interest in the Scottish game.
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We’ve teamed up with Sports Book of the Month and have a copy of Inside the Divide to give away.
To win this week’s sports book, go to their website (www.sportsbookofthemonth.com) and answer the following question:
Who were the last non-Old Firm team to be crowned Scottish champions?