Living abroad, there is much I miss about Glasgow. Kelvingrove park, Offshore, Nice N Sleazy, Monorail, and – of course – the inimitable scene that spawned so much great music. Equally, there are things that I gladly left behind. The wind and rain, Destiny nightclub (now there’s a blast from the past), and, topping it all, the religious sectarianism perpetuated by the ‘footballing’ rivalry of the ‘Old Firm’.
When introduced to someone for the first time, here in Warsaw, I hear the inescapable question. It’s irrelevant whether I’m a football fan or not. That I’m Scottish triggers the tedious, relentless inevitability. “Who’s your team?”, “What colour are you?” or simply just, “Rangers or Celtic?”.
Trying to briefly explain to someone abroad the intricacies of the dominance of the Old Firm actually hurting the Scottish game; or the spectre of sectarianism in Scottish football; or even the general contempt, antipathy or simply cold indifference that provincial fans feel for the Old Firm is akin to showing a puppy a card trick. They meet me with wide-eyed surprise, nodding, but no real understanding.
Support Your Local Team
Politely and patiently sidestepping the issue, I reply that, no, I support a team from the third tier. Their name? It’s Airdrieonians. You’ve never heard of them, you say? I surely must also have an allegiance to one of the ‘big two’, you say? I see. No, I surely mustn’t. Now, away wi’ ye.
On the rare occasions I let my ire get the better of me, the unfortunate enquirer will endure an unnecessarily detailed homily, normally beginning with the words “support your local team” or “it was my dad’s fault, really”.
The Old Firm
So, to the Old Firm?. If you haven’t lived in central Scotland for any length of time, it is difficult to understand just how complex the issue of religious bigotry is within the city. Of course, it is important, an obligation even, to say it is certainly an undercurrent and not overt as part of the fabric of city life, but you can feel it and never more so than on the Old Firm derby day.
Picking one random incident out of the air, when Rangers won the title at Celtic park in 1999, there were three red cards, two invasions of the pitch and the referee was struck with a coin thrown from the crowd.
In 2012, Kev Kharas of Vice produced a fascinating, if profoundly depressing, documentary, called “Rivals: Rangers and Celtic”. I would encourage any football fan interested in the Scottish game to take 45 minutes of your time and watch it.
The filmmaker travels to Glasgow and is shown around the city by an array of characters, from fanzine founders to former soccer-casuals. He speaks to the excellent Nil-by-Mouth charity, and quite refreshingly avoids political PR. It’s worth noting at this stage – as it’s mentioned in the film – that this was during a time when Glasgow Rangers F.C. were in financial difficulty and would eventually fold and return as a new entity, The Rangers F.C.
While it isn’t flawless – for instance, Orange walks are mentioned only once, and not by the film-maker, which is a glaring omission – there is clearly a lot to cram in to 45 minutes and Kharas does so well. And of course, Glasgow looks like Glasgow. The shots of the city, especially the Gallowgate, made me homesick and nostalgic for the days living on Watson and High Streets.