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5 Most Controversial Old Firm Games Of All-Time

We are counting down the 5 most controversial Old Firm games in Scotland’s most famous famous footballing rivalry between Celtic and Rangers.

Why Celtic v Rangers is Called The Old Firm

Clashes between Celtic and Rangers are the dubbed the “Old Firm” since the early 20th century when they played in the 1904 Scottish Cup Final, the magazine “The Scottish Referee” drew a satirical of both sides making light of the commercialisation of the game which attracted massive crowds and intense support.

Today the game is estimated to be worth £120 million to the Scottish economy. A panel in the comic showed a man with a sandwich board that read: “Patronise The Old Firm: Rangers, Celtic Ltd”.

Another theory is the term came from commentators describing early meetings of the sides as “like two old, firm friends”.

Roots Of The Old Firm Rivalry

The clubs are the most successful in the history of Scottish football with a staggering 231 trophies between them, 117 for Rangers and 114 for Celtic which is only one element of the rivalry. The real tension between the clubs is rooted in opposing opinions about religion, identity and politics in Scotland and the wider Irish and British region.

Traditionally, Celtic fans tend to be Irish Scots and Catholic and Republican. These very strong links between Celtic and Ireland can be seen in the large number of Celtic supporters in Ireland. In another post we took a look at Celtic’s best ever Irish players.

On the other hand, Rangers supporters consider themselves as native Scots or Ulster Scots as well as Protestants and Loyalists. Despite the strong Protestant links to the club there have been a small number of Irish players that have donned the blue of Rangers.

Due to the Rangers club’s connection to the Protestant faith between the 1930s and 1970s, the club had an unwritten rule where a Roman Catholic would not be knowingly signed. It wasn’t until Graeme Souness became manager that this changed when he signed ex-Celtic forward Mo Johnston in 1989.

The Glasgow Herald at the time reported him to be the club’s “first major Roman Catholic signing”, which caused some fans to demand their money back for season tickets”.

Even today there is only a total of nine players to play for both clubs, Alec Bennett, Scott Duncan, Robert Campbell, and George Livingstone, who played before the rivalry intensified before 1912 and more recently Alfie Conn, Maurice Johnston, Kenny Miller, Steven Pressley and Mark Brown.

Controversy is never too far away in the Old Firm, it’s estimated from 1996-2003 eight deaths were directly linked to matches between Celtic and Rangers, along with thousands of assaults and arrests. Thus, we decide to profile our most controversial games from throughout the decades.

The 5 Most Controversial Old Firm Games

5. Rangers 1 Celtic 2 Scottish League Cup Final 2023

While certainly tamer than the above, the most recent Old Firm derby was not without controversy, this time for off-the-pitch matters when a section of Celtic supporters booed during the minute’s silence forcing it to be cut short after only 34 seconds.

The silence was done to commemorate the 52nd anniversary of the Ibrox disaster when 66 people died in a crush at Ibrox in 1971.

Celtic had informed their travelling supporters about the minute’s silence before the match. “Please note that prior to kick-off at Ibrox there will be a minute’s silence to remember the victims of the Ibrox Disaster” but this did not stop a minority of fans which prompted an angry reaction from Rangers supporters.

4. Celtic 1 Rangers 0 Scottish 5th Round replay “The Shame Game”

When both sides met in the Scottish Cup replay in March 2011 it was more controversial than usual. Celtic won a scrappy aggressive game 1-0 as Steven Whittaker and Madjid Bougherra were sent off for Rangers, while El-Hadji Diouf was dismissed after full-time.

The coaches also got involved in the fighting when the game ended as Neil Lennon and Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist had to be dragged apart.

They had initially shook hands but it set off when Lennon reacted angrily to something McCoist had seemingly said. Staff, stewards and players separated them, as the crowd erupted. That incident plus the numerous red cards makes this clash one of the most controversial Old Firm games of all time.

3. Celtic 0 Rangers 3 1999

Rangers came into the Old Firm clash on May 2nd 1999 knowing that a victory over Celtic would win them back the league title which they duly won 3-0 but it was again it was a game blighted by bad behaviour on and off the pitch!

Celtic were reduced to 9 men on the pitch as tempers boiled and the referee Hugh Dallas was struck by a coin from the crowd. While another Celtic fan attempted to attack the official after invading the pitch but he was restrained by stewards and policemen. Pure and utter chaos yet again in an Old Firm.

2. Rangers 1 Celtic 0 1989

Mo Johnston was a striker who signed for Celtic in 1984 and would go on to score 72 goals in 128 matches, win the Scottish Cup in 1985 and the Scottish league championship in 1986 before departing for Nantes.

However, despite professing his love for Celtic he would “turn his back” on the club opting to not sign back for them and instead signing for Graeme Souness’ Rangers. Johnston became the highest profile Catholic signing since the World War I era and angered both sets of fans in the process.

Rangers supporters burned scarves and threatened to hand in their season ticket while Celtic fans called him Judas. Rangers kitman Jimmy Bell even made Johnson arrange his kit and withhold chocolate until he scored v Celtic.

Johnston won over most Rangers fans in November 1989, when he scored a late winning goal in the Old Firm.

1. Celtic 1-0 Rangers 1980 Scottish Cup Final

This game is remembered more for the riot that occurred off the field at full-time rather than what happened on the pitch during the game despite the 105th-minute winner from George McCluskey that got Celtic the win. Following the victory, some Celtic fans scaled the fence to join in celebrations which the Rangers fans took objection to and rushed onto the pitch to confront them.

The pitch descended into chaos where the 12 on-duty police officers could not control it as beer cans and missiles were thrown as the overworked police on horseback tried to quell the riot. Over 200 people were arrested. This event led to the banning of alcohol sales at Scottish Football games which makes it number one on our list of the most controversial Old Firm games of all-time.

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