Old Firm Derby: Rangers v Celtic Rivalry & History

Celtic v RangersThe Old Firm Derby between Glasgow giants Rangers and Celtic is one of the most famous and historic rivalries in football. The two clubs have dominated Scottish football with the majority of silverware divided between them. As a result, these matches often define each team's season meaning the pressure is on when it comes to matchday.

Map of Celtic & Rangers Stadiums

Map of Celtic & Rangers Stadiums

About The Old Firm Derby

Old Firm Derby LogoIs there a match in football more emotionally charged than the Old Firm derby between Celtic and Rangers? Even the phrase ‘Old Firm’ paints a picture, as though it’s two sets of warring families that are going up against each other like in an old mobster movie. When discussing footballing rivalries it’s easy to get caught up in writing about how the two sides don’t like each other, even though it’s a given. When it comes to writing about the match that takes place in Glasgow, though, it’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

On the one hand, it’s a battle of the two most successful clubs in Scottish football, with each vying for supremacy over the other. On the other hand, it is fraught with complications surrounding politics, religion and even geography. When Manchester City and Manchester United go up against one another in the Premier League there’s a feeling that the city will be a tense place for a day or two. When the two sides of Glasgow go head-to-head, however, the place is ready for it for weeks. Blood and thunder challenges aren’t unusual in derbies, yet when it comes to the tackles thrown in by the players in this one it feels as if there’s just that little bit more riding on it.

The History Of The Old Firm Rivalry

It’s no exaggeration to talk of the two clubs from Glasgow as being the most successful in Scottish football. When the 2018-2019 Scottish Premiership season came to an end, the two sides accounted for the winners of one hundred and four of the titles since 1890.

Graph Showing Scottish Title Wins

To give you some indication of just how dominant they are, the next closest team on the least in terms of titles won was Aberdeen with four. It isn’t just that they have called the league their own between them, it’s that no other club has even been allowed to get near them. The rivalry is one of the most enduring and fascinating in football, with the following likely to give you some idea about why.

Football and Religion

Church Pews It’s simply impossible to talk about the on-pitch battle between Celtic and Rangers without discussing religion. That, of course, brings in its own level of confusion and complication, not least of which because it’s as much to do with geography as it is sectarianism. Nowadays the religious aspect of the battle between the two teams doesn’t quite hold the same sway as it used to, but it’s certainly fair to say that the traditional side of the argument is not entirely irrelevant. Typically speaking, Rangers was the footballing choice of the those that were native to Scotland and the Ulster Scots. Celtic supporters, meanwhile, tended to be Irish-Scots who had moved to the country over the generations. As a result of that, Rangers fans tended to be Protestants and Celtic fans were more likely to be Catholic.

For many years, the religious aspect of the rivalry meant that neither team would knowingly sign a player that followed the religious beliefs of the other half of the city. It was something of an unwritten rule, with the practice continuing well into the 1980s. In fact, it took the 1989 signing of Mo Johnson by the then Rangers boss Graeme Souness for the rule to be broken and when he arrived Johnson was the first practicing Catholic to play for Rangers since the start of the First World War. As mentioned, though, it’s far more complex than just being a matter of religious beliefs. The religious side of things is an easy, binary way of looking at the reason that the two sets of supporters have such enmity for each other but it really is only half of the story.

The Immigration Conversation

Scotland used to be a Roman Catholic country but become Presbyterian in the wake of the Protestant and Scottish reformations. Presbyterianism became the state religion, with Catholics far less likely to be accepted by many within the communities of the country. This was reinforced when the economic hardship that hit Ireland in the early part of the twentieth century saw many Irish immigrants move to Scotland, with Glasgow being a natural magnet to many. Once in the city, many looked for a football team to offer the loyalties to and the naturally gravitated towards the one that had been formed in 1887 by an Irish Marist by the name of Brother Walfrid. He’d created the club with the intention of helping to alleviate poverty in the city and he suggested the name ‘Celtic’ as a nod to its Irish roots.

Rangers, meanwhile, had been formed fifteen years before and was the club of the Protestant community of Glasgow. As tensions over religious differences grew in Ireland, they somewhat naturally spilt over to Scotland. Given the two clubs had already been established as the ‘homes’ of the two religious groups, it followed that the football would be used as an excuse over which to draw battle lines. Soon it wasn’t just about the sport, with supporters introducing symbols and emblems that represented their religious beliefs as much as anything else. In many ways, the football being played became irrelevant and both sides simply used it as an excuse to sing Loyalist or Republican songs associated with Northern Ireland, scream about their personal identity as Brits or Scots and even demonstrate their belief in given social ideology.

The Battle Against Sectarianism

British and Irish Flags

It would be a lie to suggest that both clubs have worked hard to remove the sense of division and religious identity over the years. As well as Rangers refusing to sign Catholic players, Celtic had a pro-Catholic mindset behind the scenes even whilst they signed many Protestant players over the years. Celtic supporters would wave the Irish flag at matches and Rangers fans would have a Union Jack to hand to respond with, whilst both clubs simply turned a blind-eye to the hatred and animosity with the stands. As the twentieth century turned into the twenty-first, however, there were calls from all sides to ty to put that side of the rivalry to bed once and for all.

There have been numerous attempts to end the religious aspect of the rivalry between the two football clubs, though not all have been successful. In 2003 Rangers launched a campaign entitled ‘Pride over Prejudice’ in and attempt to persuade fans to abandon offensive songs and banners in favour of a more inclusive attitude. This involved fifty thousand supporters being issued with a ‘Blue Guide’ that contained a list of acceptable songs and chants. How much of a difference the initiative actually made is debatable, but the fact that Celtic’s staff and some fans were sent explosive devices and bullets in 2011 suggests that it wasn’t as effective as the organisers would have liked.

Religion as a False Motivator

Old Business Accouting Ledger

Perhaps one of the ironies of the anger and hatred that is generated when Celtic and Rangers go up against each other is that there are many who believe that Celtics attempts to ‘look after the poor Catholics’ was just an excuse to generate money using the football club. Walfrid feared that Catholic families were being forced to renounce their religion in order to be fed and watered by the local Scottish churches, therefore attempting to find ways to feed the poor Irish immigrants in a manner that was more palatable to their original beliefs. It seemed as though the entire enterprise was more about Catholic businessmen in Scotland easing their conscience than actually making a difference, given that the club’s accounts in the early part of the 1890s showed that no money whatsoever had been donated to the local food halls, as Walfrid had attended.

As the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth, Celtic had become a limited company. This allowed the club’s directors to pay themselves a dividend for the running of the club, as well as pay money to the new professional footballers who were looking to ply their trade north of the border. Celtic were soon posting record receipts on the gates, not just for Scottish football but throughout the British isles. The club had enfranchised a group of people that had been readily ignored before then and were reaping the benefits. It didn’t take long for the religious links to cause issues between the supporters and fans of other clubs in Scotland, the reality is that it had mostly been used as an excuse by those behind the club to gain an audience and then sustain it. At the early stages of the development of the rivalry with Rangers, religion didn’t play that big a part as Rangers didn’t have any religious men behind the club when it was established.

Fan Disorder

British Police Officers

One of the most over-riding images around the on-field clashes between Celtic and Rangers is that trouble has been just as likely to occur off the pitch as on it. Perhaps no moment is more iconic for all of the wrong reasons than the aftermath of the Old Firm Derby that was the 1980 Scottish Cup final. Played at Hampden Park in Glasgow, the match finished 0-0 at full-time and so extra-time was played. Celtic won it 1-0 despite the fact that Rangers had been the favourites according to the bookmakers. The players went to celebrate with their fans and the Scottish Football Association had given permission for the trophy to be paraded around the ground after full-time, mainly because of its confidence in a new ten-foot high fence that had been installed.

The fence didn’t do enough to stop Celtic supporters climbing over it in order to celebrate with the players. This angered those Rangers fans that had remained behind, made even worse when a Celtic fan chose to kick a ball into the goal in front of the opposition supporters. Rangers fans chose to take it as a personal affront and ran on to the pitch to attack them, with supporters from both sides joining in. Soon bricks, cans, bottles and anything else available were being used as weapons as the two sets of fans attacked each other almost without mercy. The police match commander, Archie MacPherson, would later describe the incident in similar terms to Apocalypse Now. More than two hundred supporters were arrested and the two clubs were fined £20,000 each, whilst the two clubs blamed each other. The Secretary of State for Scotland, George Younger, blamed alcohol and an Act of Parliament was passed to ban the sale of it within sports grounds in Scotland.

Whilst that is the most obvious example of fan disorder when the two clubs have gone up against each other, it’s far from the only one. In 1999 the two teams played at Celtic Park, for example, with tension turned up an extra notch by the fact that a win for Rangers would see them win the title. When The Gers began to dominate early on, Celtic supporters began to throw things onto the pitch, some of which hit the match referee. He stopped the game to receive treatment and a few Celtic fans invaded the pitch to confront him. More missiles were thrown at the players, with many believing that the late kick-off time allowed supporters to drink all day. Since then, Old Firm matches have tended to be played early in the day to reduce the risk of this happening. Whilst the vast majority of fans don’t get involved with violence, bigotry or religious intolerance, a minority do and it is their actions that taint the event for everyone else.

Famous Matches

Whilst violence and tension off the field might make the headlines in the tabloids, there have been many examples of the two teams creating waves for more of the right reasons than the wrong ones. Here’s a look at some of the Old Firm clashes that people still talk about today:

Rangers Battle Back: Scottish Cup Final, 4th May 2002

If you were to list all of the Scottish Cup finals that have ever taken place, it would be much quicker to identify the ones that haven’t featured both Celtic and Rangers than the ones that have. It’s no surprise, therefore, that one of the first matches that comes up when you want to talk about classic games between the pairing is in that very competition. It was the final of 2002 and Celtic took an early lead thanks to a John Hartson opener. It didn’t last long, however, with Peter Løvenkrands equalising just two minutes later. The Bhoys went ahead again five minutes after half-time, only for the Gers to draw level in the sixty-ninth minute.

Most people were expecting the match to peter out to extra-time once Barry Ferguson’s equaliser found the back of the net, but Løvenkrands had other ideas. With Celtic having already won the Scottish League earlier in the season, Rangers were keen to deny them a Double and collect one of their own. Celtic were looking tired as the second-half wore on, which the Danish international took full advantage of when he nipped in at the back post to smash home McCann’s cross with just ten seconds remaining of normal time.


It was a match that is remembered for all of the right reasons, with both sets of players giving their all in an energy-sapping atmosphere at Hampden Park. A ding-dong battle that saw Rangers move within one Scottish Cup victory of Celtic in terms of how many times they’d won it.

Celtic Go On The Rampage: Rangers 1 Cetic 5, 29th April 2017

When it comes to talking about the Old Firm derby, many people consider there to be two different eras: pre-2012 and post. That was the year that Rangers suffered their financial collapse, with the commercial company being liquidated and the club itself sent crashing down to the lowest tier of Sottish football as a result. Since then the Glasgow club has steadily made its way back through the divisions to return to the top-tier, but it’s unquestionably a different entity and in the meantime Celtic have established their overall dominance in the sport. Whilst Rangers might not be considered to be the same club that existed in before the collapse in 2012, that won’t stop Celtic fans enjoying the moment that they went to the Ibrox and smashed five past their old rivals.


And early Scott Sinclair penalty was followed ten minutes or so later by a screamer from Leigh Griffiths to get the ball rolling for Brendan Rodgers’ side, with Callum McGregor extending the score after the half-time break. Kenny Miller pulled one back for the home side with ten minutes left, but further indignity was to follow when Mikael Lustig curled in a fifth. Rodgers rubbed salt into the wound afterwards by declaring that his side should’ve scored more, with Rangers also suffering the fate of seeing their city enemy go on to finish the season without losing a game. It was a wake-up call for the home side, who knew that they’d have to make changed heading into the following season if they were to continue their return to the top.

Rangers Serve Notice: Rangers 5 Celtic 1, 27th August 1988

Way back before Rangers suffered their financial issues, the two teams would regularly battle for supremacy at the top of the table and a win in the Old Firm would be seen as a portent of what was to come. Such was the case in August of 1988 when the two sides went up against each other in the third game of the season at Ibrox. Celtic had won the double at the end of the 1987-1988 campaign and therefore felt that they were to continue their dominance for the season yet to come. Graeme Souness’s men had other ideas, however, kick-starting proceedings with an Ally McCoist goal early on.


McCoist went on to bag another before the match was over, with Ray Wilkins Kevin Drinkell and Mark Walters also getting on the scoresheet. Not only did Rangers humiliate their rivals with a 5-1 win but they went on to beat them at Celtic Park later in the season, condemning them to third place in the Scottish Premier Division. If Celtic were hoping that that was just a blip then they were to be disappointed, given that the Gers would go on to win the title for nine consecutive seasons. Many people see the 5-1 win at the start of the season as the moment that kick-started the whole thing, giving the players faith in the manager and the belief that they could be unstoppable.

Players That Have Played for Both Rangers and Celtic

Given everything that you’ve read on this page, it’s perhaps somewhat understandable that there aren’t a whole heap of players who have made it onto the pitch for both teams over the years. Some footballer played for Rangers in their youth and then Celtic as professionals or vice-versa, but few have actually pulled on the blue in one year and the hoops in another. It was far more common before the Second World War, with the list including fourteen different names. Since the war, however, just five had done so prior to 2018:

PlayerYears Played for CelticYears Played for Rangers
Alfie Conn 1977 - 1979 1968 - 1974
Mo Johnston 1984 - 1987 1989 - 1991
Steven Pressley 1990 - 1994 2006 -2008
Mark Brown 2007 - 2010 1999 – 2001
Kenny Miller 2006 - 2007 2000 – 2001, 2008 – 2011, 2014 - 2018

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing with that list is that no player has moved directly from one club to the other in the modern era.