Explained: Why Scottish League decider is more than just another game

Celtic beat Rangers FC 3-0 to come out on top of the latest edition of the Old Firm Derby that pitted the long-time champions and old rivals — originally divided on religious lines — against each other.

This was manager Ange Postecogluo’s first Old Firm Derby and it could not have gone better as the victory saw Celtic establish a one-point gap between them and the second-placed Rangers.

Celtic absolutely dominated the first half of the match scoring their first goal in the fifth minute, courtesy of Japanese midfielder Reo Hatate. They then proceeded to score two more goals late in the first half with Hatate being involved in both goals, scoring one and setting up winger Liel Abada for the other in what was a man-of-the-Match display from the new signing.

The second-half saw Celtic concentrate more on defending and they did it well. The Rangers’ most promising chance was Ryan Jack’s 79th-minute long-range effort that hit the crossbar, with the defending champions being unable to muster much offence, despite manager Giovanni Van Brockhorst making a bunch of changes after half-time.

Coming into the match; the spotlight was on Manchester United loanee Amad Diallo, but he, like the rest of the Rangers team, had an Old Firm debut to forget as he was subbed almost immediately after half-time.

One of the only Rangers players who could leave the match with his head held high was 40-year-old keeper Alan McGregor, whose spectacular saves were the only reason the scoreline wasn’t higher than it already was.

Celtic came into this match with a host of injuries to their midfield, forcing them to play three midfielders who had never been in action together before and despite that, they still dominated, illustrating the gap between them and their rivals.

This loss sees the Rangers fall behind in the title race and also saw their 21-game unbeaten streak in league games snapped, but the real reason for its stinging defeat goes way deeper than anything on the pitch.

Both clubs are based in Glasgow, but they represent two completely distinct communities. The supporters of Celtic are the Irish Roman Catholic community, while those of the Rangers come from the majority community of Scottish Protestants.

Celtic, in fact, were founded as a charity for the poverty-stricken predominantly Catholic Irish immigrants. In stark contrast, the Rangers had an unwritten policy of not signing any Catholic players, a policy that was abandoned as recently as 1989, more than 100 years after the derby had begun.

This divide is best illustrated by the fact that despite both clubs being based in Scotland, Celtic supporters fly the flag of Ireland, while Rangers’ backers wave the Union Jack, a perfect representation of how this rivalry has been driven by sectarianism and xenophobia.

This rivalry has been fuelled by the frequent clashes between the supporters of the two clubs with one of the most brutal being the one that followed a 2-2 draw between the clubs on October 17, 1987, in a game called the ‘Shame Game’. It ended in 62 people being arrested in the stands.

Another infamous instance took place after a 0-0 draw on May 10, 1980, which saw violence between the fans spilling onto the pitch. Called the Hampden Riot, it led to both teams being fined 20,000 euros and a ban on alcohol in all football grounds in Scotland.

Combine this history with the fact that these two are by far the most successful Scottish clubs. Between them, they have lifted the Scottish premiership title 106 times. It should not come as a surprise therefore that a game between the two is about as fiery as a football match can get.

The significance of this game cannot be understated, with former Celtic striker Henrik Larsson stating: “I never experienced anything, either before or after, that compared to my Old Firm games in Scotland. That was the best atmosphere and those were the most fierce encounters I ever played in.”

Lofty words indeed from a man who has also been a part of El Clasico.

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