September 25 1976 is a day indelibly linked in my mind for two reasons. Firstly, it was my Dad’s 40th birthday, and secondly, he took me to my first ever Celtic away game, which was to Rugby Park against Kilmarnock. I genuinely can’t recall if the two events were linked.

Celtic won 4-0 on the day and, from memory, I think Joe Craig scored his first goal in the hoops with another new signing, Pat Stanton, impressing everyone with his organisational skills at the back. For the 10 year me this was a hugely exciting and significant day. Rugby Park was a lot more compact than Parkhead and I’ll always recall the massive Johnny Walker whisky advert above the covered enclosure. It was Jock Stein’s last great Celtic side which could boast such talents as Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain, Ronnie Glavin and Johnny Doyle.

The attendance was 16,000, just short of the 18,000 capacity and the vast majority of fans were Celtic’s. Understandably there was a cracking atmosphere as the Celtic fans made their appreciation known for their heroes. Kilmarnock had some fine players on show too. Future Celtic hero Davie Provan, Gordon Smith and Bobby Murdoch’s brother, Billy.

In the years that followed I had the pleasure of following Celtic to the majority of Scottish grounds. Some of them are sadly no longer with us such as Shawfield, Muirton Park and Love Street. In the late 70’s/early 80’s there wasn’t even strict segregation as fans mingled together in places like Cappielow, Fir Park and Firhill. As time passed by, there were amazing games against the ‘New Firm’ of Aberdeen and Dundee United at Tannadice and Pittodrie, respectively. Celtic suffered some heavy defeats but the atmosphere and occasions were amazing, especially Pittodrie in a midweek game under the floodlights when Celtic fans were massed inside the Beach End.

After the Taylor report was implemented in 1990, there was an influx of new shiny all seated stadiums but with the downside of very much reduced capacities. Never again would Tynecastle see a 30,000 crowd, Easter Road 28,000, Pittodrie 25,000 and Love Street 27,000. Tickets for Celtic away games now became harder to obtain and fans travelled in reduced numbers to away games. As live television took hold in the 2000’s the Celtic away support had to contend with another problem. With virtually every away game on live TV the kick off times became more of an issue. Saturday lunchtimes, any time on a Sunday and even Friday nights, with all games being all ticket with tickets at a premium due to reduced capacities in grounds and the corresponding reduced ticket allocation.

The big frustration these days is the amount of empty seats inside grounds with clubs happy to see them lie empty. St Mirren is the main case in point with thousands of empty seats yet they still reduced Celtic’s ticket allocation. There’s no problem with that if the home fans can fill the empty seats but there was the crazy situation this season of St Mirren asking their own fans to pay £30 for each empty seat, just to deny Celtic supporters the opportunity of supporting their team. This was shown to be short sighted and spiteful although Saints fans were quick to say, correctly, that it was their stadium and their business. However, when St Johnstone decided to increase Rangers allocation for the cup tie at McDermid Park in January, to maximise income, it brought howls of derision from down Ferguslie direction. So much for minding your own business. Can you imagine any other industry who would turn away paying customers and the opportunity of receiving more income ?

For someone like myself who would like to take his son to more away games there is now the sad realisation that I’ll never have the chance to take him to places like Tynecastle, Pittodrie and Easter Road which is a far cry from when my Dad took me all over the country in the 70’s and early 80’s.
Which brings us on to the Glasgow Derby away support situation. Back in the day Celtic were given the entire Broomloan Stand at Ibrox and also half of the enclosure and a part of the main stand. There were even occasions when Rangers were pretty poor and would give Celtic a part of the Govan stand as well, which amounted to a total of around 18,000 tickets, with Celtic reciprocating and giving Rangers 18,000 for derbies at Parkhead. However, in 1989, as a period of success kicked in, Rangers chose to reduce the Celtic allocation to just the 7,500 which the Broomloan Stand held.

That remained the case until 2018. With Newco Rangers now back in the top division under a new identity, Celtic won four consecutive fixtures at Ibrox. The last one in March 2018 was especially hard to bear for Rangers and their supporters. With Rangers 2-1 up and Celtic down to 10 men, the Celts fought back for a glorious 3-2 win. The celebrations in the ‘Free Broomloan’ stand were long and loud. A Rangers fan of my acquaintance said that he had walked some distance after the game to the join, where Edmiston Drive meets Paisley Road West, and the Celtic fans could still be heard chanting their victory anthems in the distance.

Quite frankly, Rangers couldn’t take any more of Celtic fans celebrating in their own midden, and they announced that they would only now give Celtic 700 tickets. Thus, the Glasgow Derby, once known as the Old Firm, a fixture renowned worldwide for it’s spectacle and atmosphere, was now reduced in value to a mere ‘normal’ league game. Thinking back to the old days when both clubs had respect for each other and gave a healthy away ticket allocation, the sight and sound was amazing and that is now, sadly, a thing of the past.

Today’s announcement that Celtic and Rangers will not allow away fans into the next two league games at Parkhead and Ibrox is the latest escalation in matters between the clubs. Celtic have genuine safety concerns for their supporters in the corner of Ibrox they sit in so it may be the best decision to make. However, it leaves it uncertain as to what happens in future.

Celtic as a club don’t really care what happens with regards to away tickets. With home clubs keeping their gate money, Celtic’s focus is filling Parkhead and there is no great concern if clubs reduce ticket allocations for away games. If Celtic were serious about resolving matters then they could take a harder stance when TV contracts come to be renewed. TV income from Scottish games is a tiny fraction of Celtic’s income, yet TV monies remain a life saver for other clubs. Celtic may choose to play hardball in future but I would sincerely doubt it.

With this being the case, it may only be a matter of time before there are no away supporters at any Scottish Premiership games. That certainly looks to be the direction in which things are heading. Strange days indeed,