• MySTV

Old Firm derby reduced to a mere sideshow? Only in Scotland

Opinion: Any other league in the world would give anything to have a showpiece title deciding fixture between its top two teams but the SPL would rather bow to the bigots.

Painful memories: The 1999 title decider between Rangers and Celtic ended Old Firm title deciders.
©SNS Group

This weekend’s Manchester derby at Eastlands has turned into a high-stakes match for both clubs. United still retain an interest in chasing the Premiership title, whilst City are pursuing a cherished Champions League slot, as well as bragging rights over their detested rivals. It will be a visceral encounter, replete with juddering tackles, players flinging themselves into the fray at 100 mph, and supporters involved in a raucous battle for supremacy, employing language inappropriate for a pre-watershed audience.

The last time I looked, nobody was talking about switching this game to a less flammable date or trying to avoid a clash of the Manchester behemoths. Yet what a contrast with the situation in Scotland, where the SPL authorities have got themselves into a right guddle over the logistics of the last Old Firm tussle of the season: a fixture which, one suspects, they would like to schedule outwith Glasgow, and possibly on St Kilda if they could arrange it.

In most other countries in Europe, the meeting of the top two teams would be a sure-fire ratings winner, both for fans at the stadium and for a massive television audience, but not apparently for those who run the sport in these parts.

Yet the SPL’s decision to push the Old Firm’s last derby of the campaign into May, hopefully, from their perspective, once the championship has been settled, is surely pandering to the idiots on either side of the Glasgow divide. Obviously, Strathclyde Police has a responsibility to maintain public order, but here we are in 2010, we have a scenario where Rangers have a 13-point lead over their traditional adversaries and yet the authorities seem terrified of allowing them to lock horns before the prizes have been settled.

Given that Scottish football is hardly in the rudest of health, the competition requires healthy rivalries and matches which carry genuine intensity and meaning, but, instead, the SPL has stumbled into a series of self-inflicted travails, whether in having their governance challenged by Motherwell and St Mirren, or their refusal to countenance the prospect of the Old Firm squaring up with the title deeds still up for grabs.

We have been here before, of course, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. When the Glasgow duo convened in May 1999, the referee, Hugh Dallas, was struck by a coin, a number of fans invaded the pitch, and the players, themselves, allowed the red mist to descend, with three of them – Stephane Mahe, Rod Wallace and Vidar Riseth – being sent off, amidst Rangers’ 3-0 victory at Parkhead. In what was a poisonous atmosphere on a baking-hot afternoon, this was a reminder of the depth of tribal loathing which existed between the clubs.

Later that evening, I saw two girls fighting, a la Mike Tyson, in the car park of a normally respectable Lanarkshire bar and heard at least half a dozen police cars screech past the hostelry, in the course of an hour, to attend to a variety of disturbances, brawls and other public order offences. It was a noxious occasion, and anybody who thinks that this blight has been erased from the Scottish game needs their head examined.


But, on the other hand, rather than try to sweep the detritus under the carpet, the SPL might well be creating a rod for their own backs. By the stage the Old Firm resume hostilities on May 4, on a Tuesday night, the likelihood is that Walter Smith’s side will have long since wrapped up the championship, and their supporters will doubtless wish to use the evening as an opportunity to drive home their sense of triumphalism.

Where better to do that in their opponents’ back yard? The majority of decent Rangers and Celtic aficionados will probably be happy to watch the action in the safety of their own homes or with their mates at their local tavern. So who exactly will flock to Parkhead? That’s right, many of the very people – I hesitate to use the word “fans” – whose neanderthal behaviour has dragged the Old Firm into disrepute for the last 20 or 30 years.
Isn’t it time that far from pussy-footing around the issue, the SPL insisted that Rangers and Celtic accepted their social responsibilities and grasped the nettle in this matter? We keep hearing about anti-sectarianism initiatives, and how attitudes are less entrenched than they were during the infamous Scottish Cup final riot of 1980, but I would wager that switching the Old Firm game to May – when the outcome will be irrelevant to the destination of the title – is simply surrendering the moral high ground to the bigots, the reprobates and trouble-makers.

We keep hearing former players talking about the “unique” atmosphere of these contests; we don’t hear many of them discussing the anarchy on the Glasgow Underground, the casual violence which erupts across central Scotland and Ayrshire, and the many women on the receiving end of a battering from their husbands or partners. If any of this mayhem is to be eradicated, Old Firm matches have to operate by the same rules as the rest of the matches on the calendar.

Not, as the SPL has done, by trying to limit the damage through artificial means. If Rangers and Celtic can’t control their supporters, the SFA and UEFA, should be demanding they address their failings, not appeasing the knuckle-draggers.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check. That e-mail's already in our system. Please try again.
Forgot password?
This field is required. This must be at least 6 characters long. Did you enter your details correctly?
If you've forgotten your details then use the 'Forgot password?' link.
Need to reset your password?

We'll send a link to reset your password to

We've sent you details on how to reset your password

Please check your email and follow the instructions.

Forgotten your email address?

Have you forgotten the email address that you previously joined with? Don't worry, by emailing enquiries@stv.tv we can help.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This must be at least 6 characters long.
This field is required. This must be at least 6 characters long.
You must be over 16 to join STV.
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date
We need this to check that you live in an STV region.
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid postcode
Would you like us to email you about our great shows and services from time to time?
We'll only send emails we think you'll like (see example) based on information you have supplied and shows you have watched on STV Player. For details on emails and advertising, see our STV & You page.
Would you like to receive emails from the Scottish Children's Lottery about draws, instant games and competitions?
We support the Scottish Children's Lottery (SCL), which is managed by our colleagues at STV ELM Ltd. You can find out more about the SCL on its website, including its Privacy Policy.

By continuing you agree to our Terms of Use, and understand our Privacy and Cookie Policies.

Upload Profile Picture

Please make sure your image is under 2mb in size and a valid JPG, PNG or GIF.

Are you sure?

Unfortunately, you'll be unable to access our premium content. We’ll be sorry to see you go, but if you change your mind you can rejoin us at any time.

Please verify your STV account

Please verify your STV account using the email we sent you. If you have lost the email, we can send you another one, just click the button below.


We've sent you a new verification email.
Please check your email and follow the instructions to verify your account.

Welcome to STV
Thanks for joining us.


Sorry, you must be at least 12 years old to place a vote for your Real Hero.

Please review our Voting Terms of Use for more information.


Sorry! It seems that you are using a browser that is incompatible with our voting service.

To register your vote please copy the below URL in to your regular mobile browser. We recommend Google Chrome, or Safari.



Sorry, you seem to have already voted in this category.

Thanks for voting

Now share your vote with friends on your social network

Share on twitter Share on facebook

Cast your vote

Please register or sign in to continue.

Cast your vote

This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date

Cast your vote

Please fill out this form to cast your vote. As you are under 16 years old you will not create an STV account. Why do we need these details?

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check.
Location This field is required.
Parental Consent This field is required.

That's you. All that's left is to click the 'Submit Vote' button below. By doing so, you confirm that you and your parent or guardian have read and accept our Voting Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Cookie policy, and that the details you have entered are correct. We'll look after them as carefully as if they were our own.