Much has been written over the years over what was once referred to as the ‘Old Firm’ game. When upwards of 60,000 football supporters would descend on Parkhead and Ibrox to congregate on open terraces for the big Glasgow Derby. They would noisily back their team, with an excess of 100,000 being in attendance at games between the clubs at Hampden. In those days, no two clubs in Europe could draw crowds of that magnitude.
Many observers from far and wide were drawn to these games and spoke of the unrivalled atmosphere. Firstly, there was the colour. A mass of green, white and gold at one end in contrast to the sea of red, white and blue at the other. Then there was the noise; my God, the noise! So loud that the players claimed they couldn’t actually communicate with each other on the park. The songs may have been occasionally questionable but there was no doubt the atmosphere was unique and as a spectacle it was exceptional.
In the past Celtic and Rangers both respected each other’s fans. Until the late 1970’s Rangers fans were actually placed in a small part of the Jungle. This was an over spill area which was used by police when the Rangers end became over crowded. Each club gave the other an estimated 20,000 tickets. Until 1989 Celtic were given an allocation for the Ibrox main stand and the ‘wee’ enclosure with their allocation at that time being in the region of 15,000.
I had a friend from Manchester who used to travel north to watch Celtic play occasionally. He witnessed three derby games over a period (with an aggregate score of 9-3 for Celtic!) and he stated that nothing in England remotely came close to the sight and sound of a Celtic v Rangers fixture.
Rangers recently announced their intention to cut Celtic’s future ticket allocation for Ibrox from 7,500 to 900. As always with anything Dave King does, you have to read between the lines. He has to appeal to an extreme element of the Rangers support and, more importantly, he needs cash in the short term. Hence the decision to cut the Celtic allocation.
Confession time; I no longer go to many away fixtures. The reasons being due to family and work commitments. However, there was a period of 25 years in my younger days when I never missed a Celtic game within Scotland. My sympathies are totally with the 7,500 fanatics on each side who travel far and wide to support their team every week and look forward to a visit to their biggest rivals’ ground with great anticipation. They are entitled to support their teams and both clubs should have a duty to provide for them.
In April 1994 David Murray infamously banned Celtic fans from an Ibrox fixture in a fit of pique. It’s interesting to note from that time that many Rangers fans complained that the atmosphere was sanitized and it was noted that the match day experience was reduced. In short, it wasn’t as much fun not having Celtic fans to interact with during the game.
If Rangers announcement to cut Celtic’s allocation was childish then Celtic’s reply was churlish. Rather than take a dignified stance and take time to attempt to find mediation through the SPFL and the police, Celtic jumped in with the Doc Martin’s within minutes of the Rangers statement and reciprocated. It’s not even clear yet if the police have agreed to Rangers’ move on the grounds of safety. They are on record in the past of having objections over similar proposals with concerns over segregation, so you do have to wonder what has changed now?
We now have a situation where Hearts have cut allocations for the Glasgow clubs at Tynecastle. Hibs have made it clear that they will similarly cut away allocations if they get a good response to season ticket sales. And to compound matters, Rangers and Celtic have now cut away fans to the bare minimum.
It’s time to stop the pretence here and cut to the chase. We now have a situation where the modern Scottish football fan (in the main) has an irrational hatred of supporters of other clubs being in their stadiums and cannot tolerate the sight of opposition fans, especially when their side loses. This being the case, then let’s have a ban on all away fans and let clubs fill their stadiums with their own supporters to create a totally sterile environment ,similar to American Football games in the USA, where fans can sit and have picnics and gorge themselves on popcorn.
Let’s go the whole hog and ban away fans entirely.