The Biggest Derbies and Rivalries in World Football | The Old Firm Derby

The Biggest Derbies and Rivalries in World Football | The Old Firm Derby

05/04/24 23:12

There’s not many things that football fans can agree on. But there is one thing I’m sure every fan around the world will agree on - no matter where they are from and the team they support. Rivalries make football so much more interesting.

The added spice of two clubs just hating each other more than anything else is simply perfection. You know that those two teams will put it all on the line to better one another. And that just makes it ten times more enjoyable than any other game.


This article is going to be the first in a series of pieces where we analyse some of the biggest and best rivalries from around the world and show you why they are just so special. But which rivalry do we start off with? Well there’s no better way to begin than with arguably the biggest rivalry in Britain - The Old Firm Derby.

This weekend the 439th meeting between the two biggest clubs in Scotland takes place as Rangers take on Celtic. If you know British football, you will know that this game is always nothing short of a spectacle.

Huge tackles, fights, late drama, loud fans and everything in between this rivalry has everything and is nothing short of exceptional - even if the quality of Scottish football is seen as worse. But where did this rivalry begin?

Rangers FC were founded in 1872 and 15 years later in 1887 Celtic were founded. Originally, this rivalry was simply just a battle between two local sides. It was somewhat friendly with the only thing either side concerning about was being the better team on the day and the better team in the city for that time.

However, it was religious and political tension in Glasgow in the 1920s and 30s that really made this rivalry what we know today.

As an influx of Irish Catholics entered Glasgow (specifically the east of the city) with it came increased competition for both housing and employment. Something that the Protestant side of Glasgow didn’t take too well. This caused a divide in the city and a divide between the two local football clubs.

This divide meant that the two clubs were separated more so than before with Celtic being claimed by the Catholic side of the city and Rangers the Protestant side. This led to the majority of Celtic fans at the time advocating for Northern Ireland to leave the UK and be reclaimed under Irish ownership. Whereas Rangers fans were incredibly pro-UK wishing for Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom.

Celtic Fans

Religion is such a major part of this rivalry that it wasn’t until 1989 that Rangers would sign a Catholic player for the first time. The first being Maurice Johnstone - a man that formerly played for Celtic. Johnstone would go on to make 76 appearances for the Gers scoring 31 times.

This was the real starting point for the rivalry we know today with many of the supporters of both clubs still falling into the specific religious categories. Celtic fans mostly being Catholic and Rangers fans mostly remaining Protestant.

The tension between these two clubs is clear as day to see. It isn’t very often you can watch a game between Rangers and Celtic and not see any sort of aggression or passion - on or off the pitch.

The 1980 Scottish Cup final between the two sides at Hampden park is a prime example of the aggressive nature of this rivalry. Proving that these two clubs hate each other more than anyone else.

The final, taking place at the home of Scottish football Hampden Park, saw Celtic come out victorious over their city rivals. Come the full time whistle hundreds if not thousands of fans flooded the pitch and began fighting. Using anything they could to harm anyone in their way. The use of bricks, pipes, bottles and so much more led to the arrest of over 200 fans on the day.

The incident was so big in fact that it caused the ban of alcohol from all football matches by the Scottish Football Association.

Despite the ban, this sort of thing continued to happen. Fights constantly occur between the two sets of fans - something that still continues today. A Bleacher Report article from 2011 stated that between 1996 and 2003 at least eight deaths were directly linked to the games between the two clubs. This as well as thousands of arrests. Considering this is just a seven year period, that statistic is nothing short of insane.

It speaks for itself that both Rangers and Celtic fans are currently banned from attending games at the opposing team's stadium (although that ban is set to be lifted next season).

And it isn’t just off the pitch that this rivalry gets heated. It’s on the pitch as well. Let’s give a couple of examples.

Firstly the October 1987 clash between the two sides which is dubbed “The Shame Game.” A game that ended 2-2 but was filled with a number of fights and outbursts. The Hoops ended the game with 10-men but more shockingly the home side ended it with just nine on the pitch.

Punches were being thrown throughout the game and it even led to multiple court cases. Four players were charged with “conduct likely to provoke a breach of the peace” and ordered to appear in court. A trial that lasted multiple days. Chris Woods and Terry Butcher each were handed fines of £500 and £250 respectively. Graham Roberts and Frank McAvennie, on the other hand, managed to avoid punishment with Roberts being found “not proven” and McAvennie being found “not guilty.”

This wasn’t the last time that actions on the pitch were taken a lot further off it though.

Paul Gascoigne was often known for his antics on and off the pitch. He didn’t really care who he annoyed and would do whatever it took to not only win but get under the skins of his opposition. One example of this was shown in 1998.

In January 1998, during the Old Firm derby, the English international playing for Rangers, mimicked playing a flute towards Celtic fans. This is considered an offensive gesture to many Irish Catholics.

The action led to Gascoigne being fined but also, as reported by the Belfast Telegraph, being threatened by the IRA. Although this hasn’t been 100% proven, it is telling that it was just two months later that he would leave the club, joining Middlesbrough.

As mentioned, this rivalry is like no other. It is rooted in history and hatred. There are no two teams in all of Britain that have the same distaste for one another as Rangers and Celtic.

The quality of Scottish football is a topic that is always brought into question. Rangers and Celtic are often the only two teams fighting for the title in the league and there is a clear gulf in quality between the two and the rest of the league - that much is obvious. Aberdeen were the last team to do it and that was back in 1985.

Rangers Fans

But arguably that is one of the things that makes this rivalry so outstanding. Not many other rivalries have the added extra of, near enough, always being a title deciding fixture. Not like this one. The hatred between these two teams is like nothing you will see anywhere else in the world. They hate each other more than anything else and it always means so much more than just football bragging rights.

Rangers vs Celtic, the Old Firm Derby, is by a long margin, the biggest rivalry in British football.


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