The Old Firm

Photo: celtic park. Helen Rose Hill Diary - November, 2008.

Some years ago, I realised I had led a sheltered life so I decided there were certain things I wanted to do and one of them was to attend a football match. However, I decided to aim for the top and go to a Glasgow, Celtic and Rangers Game known as the Old Firm. Both clubs have stadia in Glasgow and only play Old Firm matches four times a year so tickets are hard to buy due to the number of season ticket holders. Since it was something I had to do on my bucket list, I paid a large amount of money for a corporate ticket at Celtic Park, known as Parkhead. I had exhausted all possibilities of obtaining a ticket free or at a lower price. As I was on my own, it was an interesting but potentially frightening experience. The whole event was very informative but I did not understand the football as I am not a supporter. This article includes my perceptions of the experience but I am aware that Old Firm games are considered sectarian.

I took a taxi to Parkhead and had a good discussion with the driver who was a Rangers supporter. He felt that I should also go to an Old Firm game at Ibrox, the Rangers stadium, to allow a balanced view. I had no preference on being at Celtic or Rangers but Celtic happened to be hosting the first game of the season. The driver put forward the opinion that press reporting on Old Firm games fans' behaviour was biased against Rangers as more incidents were reported. He quoted that Protestants in Glasgow far outnumbered Catholics but there were probably the same number of fans for each team. I have no view on this and mention it merely as an observation. The general rule seems to be that Rangers are Protestant and Celtic are Catholics.

Photo: mounted police celtic park. The taxi dropped me near the stadium and I walked the short distance noticing babies in prams wearing club colours. Outside the stadium there were police on horses with riot shields. A group of Celtic supporters were standing beside them. I asked the Police if I could photograph them and one of the fans quipped 'Ye'll no get that hoarse to smile, missus!' - typical Glasgow humour. I made my way up to the top floor corporate suite where people were tucking into breakfast. No football colours are allowed in the corporate area. I carried on to emerge in the balcony of the stadium and took my seat to the strains of 'The Fields of Athenrye'. This is a lovely song but the connotations in this setting concerned me as the flag of Eire was flying above. To me, this did not seem relevant to a football match and could incite sectarianism in some people. Rangers fans flying the Union Jack at Ibrox would have the same effect.

The stadium appears to accommodate about 90% season ticket holders and only 10% visitors so there were only a small number of Rangers fans in a closed off area lined with stewards and police. When I took my seat, the atmosphere reminded me of going to a pop concert and I did not see any trouble around. I was surprised at the number of women fans. The Celtic fans were throwing around beach balls and lilo inflatables. I asked the people around me about this and they said it was because Celtic was in Europe and Rangers were not. Rubbing salt in the wound!

Photo: inflatables. When the football started I was amazed how far away the action was as everything is so close in wide screen television. I know nothing about football but it appeared to me the players were very aggressive and intent on knocking lumps out of each other and red and yellow cards were issued. One player seemed particularly balletic and a good mover. My advisers told me he was Pedro Mendes. That boy should go far but I wish I had been closer to see the fancy footwork! The half time came quickly and I had a traditional pie and Bovril in the corporate suite.

Most of the people I spoke to there had 'Attaboy' tickets from their employers. Every time a goal was scored, there was polite applause much to my surprise as I expected a lot of shouting. The final score was 4 goals to 1 for Rangers and people told me later I certainly had my moneys' worth. I did notice the police were quick to move into the sidelines as soon as a goal was scored, presumably to stop fans invading the pitch.

Photo: pub. As I left the stadium, I did not see any Rangers fans and the police advised me it would be several miles away from the stadium before the two sets of fans met up. I walked with the Celtic fans and they were all in good humour but a bit depressed about their team losing. As soon as we approached Bridgeton Cross, things started to heat up as a pub there had Union Jack flags outside of it and was letting off fireworks. A thought occurred to me at this point that if Scotland were ever independent, it would be strange for Rangers to continue to use the Union Jack and I wondered if they would use the St Andrews flag which is also blue and white?

It seemed to me as an observer that too much of this sectarianism relates to Northern Ireland and this is not relevant to Glasgow. It is time that Rangers and Celtic moved on and simply became football clubs with supporters and no links to the politics of other countries. It should be a sport and not a political statement that could incite sectarianism. The sheer size of a 60,000 crowd was overwhelming but I realised that every step had been taken to contain any problems. It was an interesting and enlightening experience and if anyone offers me a ticket for the Old Firm Game at Ibrox on 27 December, I might just go!

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Coming attractions: Arran and Glen Nevis weekend.