Yesterday (Glasgow) Celtic beat St Mirren by 5-0 in a Scottish Premier League football match.
Nothing surprising in that. Glasgows “Big Two”, the Old Firm, Celtic and Rangers are expected to convincingly beat the minnows from the twelve team League. Celtic FC have a modern ground and a capacity of 60,000 and St Mirren have a capacity of just 8,000.
The Scottish Football Championship has been contested on 115 occasions. Rangers (capacity 51,000) have been Champions on 54 occasions and Celtic on 42 occasions. Such is the dominance of the Old Firm.
The significance of yesterdays match…..Celtic and St Mirren……is not the fact that it happened………but that my older grandson (nine years old next week) was at his first Celtic match. Taken by his maternal grandfather.
The fact is that Celtic and Rangers is about more than Football. Celtics 60,000 and Rangers 51,000 capacity stadia are not maintained merely by “football” supporters within Scotlands five million population……but rather by a tribal loyalty which goes beyond Glasgows East (Celtic) or Glasgows Govan (Rangers). It extends beyond Scotland itself, to Ireland (especially the North) and wherever Irish and Scottish people gather in large numbers (England, Australia, Canada, United States, New Zealand). It is about Ethnicity and Religion (Catholics and Irish support Celtic while Protestants and British support Rangers). And its about Sectarianism. Sectarianism has been described by former Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell as “Scotlands secret shame”
History is about more than History (so to speak). An understanding of History adds to our understanding of Everything…..Politics, Literature, Sport……….Football. And nowhere is this more true than with Celtic and Rangers.
Essentially organised sport begins in the second half of the 19th Century….certainly in Britain and Ireland……and probably also in the United States. It requires leisure time and easy transportation. So Football begins in Britains industrial cities and towns and railways facilitate competition between cities and towns.
Glasgow was no exception. In the 1870s Rangers begins its History. Its beginnings was in Orange, Protestant and Freemasonry. Celtic was founded in 1888 by a Christian Brother, Brother Walfrid (born in County Sligo, Ireland) initially as a charitable club to feed and clothe Glasgows Catholics………largely Irish migrants from post Famine Ireland.
By early years of the 20th Century, Rangers had compelled all Catholics to leave the Club. It would be 1989 and under pressure from commercial sponsors before Rangers would sign another Catholic player. The irony is that “Catholic” Celtic had no ban on Protestants being employed by the Club.
Indeed, Jock Stein (a Protestant) and the most successful manager in Celtics history …they actually won the European Cup in 1967…was once asked if there were two players (one Catholic and one Protestant) of equal merit and he could only sign one………which would he sign. Stein replied that he would sign the Protestant “because Rangers would never sign the Catholic”.
The struggle of ethnically Irish people to gain acceptance in the west of Scotland is of course not unusual. The post- Famine diaspora of the Irish to the United States, England, Australia etc is of course a familiar one. Gangs of New York…Gangs of Glasgow.
The Irish Troubles…….re-ignited in the 1970s has given it all a very toxic mix. Rangers fans wave British flags and sing “Orange” songs. Celtic fans wave Irish flags and sing Irish rebel songs.
The clubs have both signed up to “Kick Sectarianism Out of Football”. There has been pressure from the Scottish football authorities, European football authorities, the Police, the Scottish Government and the sponsors. Ironically……or perhaps obviously Celtic and Rangers are sponsored by the same firm…..a brewery.
In Norn Iron we tend to support the English Premiership teams, such as Manchester United (my team), Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and the rest but typically we look for the Scottish results…….Celtic or Rangers depending on our tribe is everyones second (or indeed first) team.
Therefore every weekend, the ferries are packed with Celtic and Rangers supporters heading for the West of Scotland. On seperate ferries. The Police dont allow supporters of these occasionally deadly rivals to travel on the same ships.
Tribalism pays. The benefit to the Scottish economy due to the Old Firm is around £100 million annually. Now lets be frank here. This is Tribal Loyalty..or a Brand Loyalty that a Bank or Supermarket can only envy. Commercially it is not in the interests of either Celtic or Rangers to turn down the tribalism too much.
Yet I fear that Celtic and Rangers are short-changing their supporters. It is inevitable that one will win the Scottish title and that the other will come second. Winning the League is not just about the four head-to-heads in the League programme. Its about not slipping up against the also rans….as Celtic have done too often this season. Thus yesterday and Celtic’s 5-0 victory against minnows St Mirren is as important as Rangers slipping up 0-1 to Kilmarnock today. But both Celtic and Rangers will qualify for Europe………and they have long since realised that they dont need to pay English style salaries to guarantee European football………….and paying mega bucks to overcome the likes of St Mirren and Kilmarnock.
Sectarianism is of course a very bad thing. And in Scotland “lets get alongerist” and “middle of the road” people (occasionally unconvincingly) pretend to support any team other than Celtic or Rangers. Likewise in Norn Iron, it has become fashionable to denounce the sectarianism and/or tribalism…….but equally it has become fashionable to denounce Celtic and Rangers as equally sectarian.
And this is where my History skills compliment my Irish Catholic Republicanism. Rangers historic record is one of supporting and institutionalising sectarianism (not employing Catholic players) but Celtics historic record is of opposing sectarianism (employing Protestants and Catholics). It is simply lazy and untrue to suggest that Celtic and Rangers are two sides of the one sectarian coin.
The object of History is to identify TRUTH. Not just a lazy compromise which is about splitting the difference between conflicting views.
One last academic point……………..COME ON CELTIC!!!!!!