There are many great soccer rivalries: El Clasico, the shared home of Milan, the highly anticipated Manchester derby, and Argentina’s biggest rivalry between Boca Juniors and River Plate. But there is one feud in world soccer that just seems to surpass all others: The Old Firm derby between Rangers and Celtic.
Scotland’s two most successful clubs are two of the most successful clubs in the world. They have been the dominant force in Scottish soccer since the 1890’s, inciting fans across the country to create an incredible atmosphere. I should know. Many times, I have been there to witness some of the greatest games ever played.
However, the scary thing in Scotland is that this rivalry could and to a certain point may already have died.
It is well documented that Rangers suffered some tough times in recent years and at one point it appeared as though they might not make it through at all. In the end they did, however, at the expense of playing top flight soccer. They were soon relegated to Scotland’s lowest tier, and despite winning the division by a country mile, they are still years away from being where they once were.
In the meantime, Celtic dominated Scotland like a shark in a fish tank. They tore through their closest “competitors” with ease and turned in some tremendous performances on the European stage. Most notably, a 2-1 win over Barcelona at Parkhead that saw them qualify for the last 16 in the Champions League in 2012.
This season has been no different. Celtic continue to dominate the SPFL, having lost just one game, a narrow defeat in February. Celtic were even able to set a new clean sheet record just to prove their dominance. Rangers have been similar, dominating performance in Scotland’s League 1. However, their financial problems have not dissolved even when the club did.
If I am honest, I don’t think anyone really has a “scooby doo” about what is happening at Rangers. They were hemorrhaging money for months despite having an average attendance of around 45,000. They lost a reported £14 million in 11 months, which provoked a response from those controlling the club as they asked for players to take a wage cut. In all fairness, players in Scotland’s third tier shouldn’t really be making £5,000 or £6,000 per week. The players’ argument that non-playing staff should accept lower wages should not be ignored as well.
In my opinion, Rangers are trying to function like a top European club but they simply cannot. The club is spending big money and employing over 30 non-playing staff trying to please the fans, but the money is not being regained.
Recently, Rangers took a loan of £1.5 million, which sent worrying signals for all fans. I myself am not a teddy bear, but there is only so much mistreatment a soccer fan can stand to watch his team go through. When Rangers almost lost an entire team of top players, were deducted 10 points, and forced into liquidation, it was just one bad thing after another for the fans. Yet the fans turned up in thousands to the first game Rangers played in the lower league campaign.
It probably seems like I am just yapping on about Rangers’ financial troubles but the reason behind all the talk will be the determining factor to whether or not soccer’s greatest rivalry will survive. I miss the days when I would go to school on a Monday morning and have relentless banter about the Old Firm game with my best friend. The bragging rights you would have if your side came out on top was one of my favorite aspects of football, and I can’t bear to think of a world where my kids won’t be able to go to school and have the same banter with their friends.
As I look into my crystal ball, I will make a wild prediction. Next season, in the Scottish Cup semi-final, a moment of madness will flood Scotland as the most highly anticipated draw in the Cup football history is made and the Old Firm come face to face again.