Split by matters of politics, religion and culture, Celtic and Rangers have come to represent two alternative sides to one city.
Traditionally, Celtic are seen as the team for Glasgow’s Catholic, Scottish-Irish community. Meanwhile, Rangers are regarded as a protestant club that is proud to be British.
The past year has been one of the most tumultuous in recent times for the century-old rivalry.
Firstly, Celtic manager Neil Lennon was sent bullets and explosives in the post. He was then assaulted during a game by a fan of Hearts, another club with a protestant identity.
These threats to Lennon’s life created an atmosphere in Glasgow so intense that the government decided to step in and push through a new bill, the “Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act”. Under the bill, any football fan caught singing offensive songs about Protestants or Catholics faces jail.
What’s more, on February 14th this year, Rangers were forced into administration over an unpaid tax bill of £9 million. If the club goes bust, Celtic fans have made promises in song to celebrate it by gorging on jelly and ice cream.
This means that the next derby match between Celtic and Rangers on Sunday, March 25th could well be the last of its kind. And it looks likely to be more vitriolic than ever. Celtic could potentially win the league at Rangers’ home ground of Ibrox, while the home support wonder what will happen to their club.
With this drama playing out across the front and back pages of the Scottish papers, VICE reporter Kev Kharas travelled to Glasgow to speak to fans on either side, attend a derby at Celtic Park, drink, sing, and talk about a history of violence and an uncertain future.
What he wandered into was a situation far more complex than the one portrayed in the usual Old Firm clichés presented by the media.
Glasgow’s confusing football rivalry is perhaps best personified by Abdul Rafiq. Rafiq is a Rangers fan who’s been banned from all football grounds for five years for singing anti-Catholic songs. He also happens to be the only Muslim member of right-wing nationalist group the English Defence League.
VICE meets and interviews Rafiq, along with John O’Kane, former leader of Celtic’s hooligan firm; Mark Dingwall, founder of controversial Gers fanzine Follow Follow; Joe Miller, founder of long-running Celtic fanzine Not The View;
Sandy Chugg, former leader of Rangers‘ feared hooligan firm ‘The ICF’, and David Scott, who runs the anti-sectarian charity Nil By Mouth.
As both sets of fans dismiss the sectarian chants as “just a bit of banter”, we ask what will happen to the self-confessed ’90-minute bigots’ if the rivalry were to disappear.
In a season that has seen the criminalisation of supporters – seen by many as a classist ‘policing of passion’ – and Rangers staring into the real possibility of closure, VICE ask the fans: “What is so special about their team and this rivalry that they are willing to live in a divided city to protect it?”
RIVALS: Rangers & Celtic Part One
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