What’s it like to attend an Old Firm game? FourFourTwo found out…
It was the two men in boiler suits who confused FourFourTwo the most. We knew the Old Firm derby had a reputation for being feisty, but no one had warned us to dress for the apocalypse.
Decked out in white, complete with hoods and face masks, you could have been forgiven for thinking they'd been dispatched to deal with some sort of dreadful chemical attack – had they not been casually mooching around outside Ibrox before kick-off, with Rangers scarves jauntily hanging around their necks.
"We heard that the stadium's falling down, so we thought we'd better come prepared," one explained, when FFT understandably enquired what was going on. "You never know what smell might be coming from the away end too," the other chipped in.
The good news is that the stadium isn't actually falling down – the only people who said it was were Celtic fans, ahead of their first visit to Ibrox for almost five years. Inspired by an incident in 2015, when Rangers' match against Dumbarton was delayed by 10 minutes because of concerns about the roof, Bhoys supporters had planned to attend this fixture wearing hard hats. That was until the police turned into the fashion police and warned they'd be confiscated – ironically, as a safety risk.
Asking for trouble
We heard that the stadium's falling down, so we thought we'd better come prepared. You never know what smell might be coming from the away end too
As far as Old Firm arguments go, it's one of the most bizarre. This is a fixture that has courted no shortage of controversy over the years. Rivalry has often spilled over into the unsavoury, so the decision to hold this match on New Year's Eve seemed a curious one. “A Celtic and Rangers game on any other day causes animosity, so holding it on Hogmanay is just asking for problems," said Bhoys great Harry Hood.
New Year's Day used to be the traditional date for the Old Firm game, until disorder in 1994 forced a change of plan. This time the fixture computer threw up December 31 and the police surprisingly opted not to move it, instead switching the kick-off to 12.15pm and giving it the go-ahead.
Today, things are relatively calm ahead of kick-off at Ibrox though. At least when FFT gets off the subway outside the stadium, this could pretty much be any other game, against any other opposition. There's a noticeable waft of fast food in the air as fans queue outside the Louden Tavern. An array of scarf stalls dot the streets – offering the choice between simple football memorabilia or the more political 'William of Orange' and 'Keep Ulster Protestant' slogans.
Politics and religion have never been far from the forefront in this footballing rivalry. FFT walks a little further and finds flags on sale – most include the Union Jack or some sort of reference to Northern Ireland. A police van is parked nearby, just in case, although it's just a watching brief. Police are out in heavier force near the away end, where a cordon has formed to usher Celtic fans into the ground.
We have to walk all the way around the nearby roundabout, crossing four roads, to get to the point where the away supporters – green Santa and all – are gathered. This isn't exactly an undercover operation, but still some seem wary of talking, even about football. One initially talks on condition that he won't be named, perhaps wondering whether he'd be asked about politics, before later giving his name as Eddie.
"I'm looking forward to this game because it's been a while since we beat Rangers at Ibrox," he smiles with a confidence that should probably be expected, given that Celtic go into the game 16 points clear of Rangers, having won 18 and drawn one of their 19 league fixtures this season.
"Brendan Rodgers is doing brilliantly – they're playing a lot better this season. I'm hoping it continues, especially today. There's nae such thing as the Old Firm, though – this is the Glasgow derby."
Eddie and his fellow Celtic fans make a distinction between the Rangers who were liquidated in 2012 – their traditional Old Firm rivals – and the Rangers formed later that summer. "They're not the same team," he laughs. "But I've got a lot of pals who support Rangers and the banter between us is great. The atmosphere will be good, there'll be nae hassle and that's the way it should be. There's a minute's silence before the game today and everybody should respect it. Sixty-six fans went to a game and never came back – no matter what team you support, colour, religion... everyone should respect them."
The Ibrox Stadium disaster happened on January 2, 1971, when Rangers fans were crushed leaving the stadium, just as an Old Firm match was coming to an end. Wreaths have today been placed beside the memorial for those who died, underneath the John Greig statue. One of the wreaths is from the board of directors at Celtic.
The wind is whipping around Ibrox, and it sends a wheelie bin flying while FFT has a quick word with Rangers fan Alan Lee McCallion, who's here from Northern Ireland for his first Old Firm game. Rangers are second in the table, unbeaten at Ibrox for 15 months, but McCallion's confidence is tempered by the memories of the Gers' 5-1 loss at Parkhead in September’s reverse fixture. "I think it'll be a draw today," he says. "Hopefully we can win 1-0, but I'd take 1-1."
He's not the only one to utter such sentiments before kick-off. In the past, nothing but a home win would have been acceptable against Celtic. Now, Rangers supporters understand they still have a lot of catching up to do. The club's previous financial problems and four seasons outside the top flight mean that their budget is considerably lower than Celtic's. The Bhoys brought in Rodgers during the summer and then recruited Scott Sinclair in a £4.5m deal. It might still be a while before Rangers can do similar deals.
We head inside the ground and take our seat in the press box beside respected reporter Roddy Forsyth. "I wasn't going to miss this one," he tells us. "You'll enjoy it."
As he speaks, the Celtic players charge on to the pitch for the warm-up, greeted by deafening boos from the home fans. The away section is swiftly filling up too – Celtic have been given 8,000 tickets, the entirety of the Broomloan Stand.
It's soon making for a hell of an atmosphere. FFT spots a couple of Celtic fans wearing yellow hard hats, having presumably smuggled them past security and the fashion police. Irish flags are everywhere and there's even a Basque flag, too, as well as a banner saying 'No history, no money, no trophies' – another reference to the formation of the new Rangers four years ago.
There's a banner saying 'No history, no money, no trophies' – another reference to the formation of the new Rangers four years ago
High up in the top tier of the main stand, a Rangers fan dangles a 'No Surrender' flag. In the opposite corner of the ground, there's a flag containing what appears to be the hand of Ulster. Rangers club officials steer clear of such controversial gestures, although staff wave both the Scottish Saltire and the Union Jack pitchside.
Soon Simply The Best kicks in over the PA system and it's met by a thunderous roar from a crowd of 50,126 – not both sets of fans uniting in appreciation of Tina Turner, but a sign that the players are making their way onto the field for kick-off. Already, it's clear that no ground in England can compete with this for noise.
That noise briefly abates for the minute's silence – respected by all apart from a couple of unsavoury shouts from one or two individuals, condemned with booing once the silence is over.
Within 12 minutes, the deafening noise is coming only from the home fans, as Kenny Miller slides Rangers ahead. A striker who has had three spells with Rangers and one with Celtic, his joy is as evident at 37 as it was in his heyday, as he races away in celebration before booting the ball into the main stand.
Suddenly, on the hour mark, a roar goes around Ibrox for no apparent reason. It sounds like one of those roars you get on the last day of the season, when the team you're battling relegation with has just conceded a goal
"Can you hear the Celtic sing? I can't hear a f***ing thing," rings around the ground. Rangers fans are soon voicing their outrage as Celtic's Old Firm veteran Scott Brown shows signs of losing his head with a challenge on James Tavernier, which earns him a yellow card. Brown had suggested that Celtic's 5-1 win at Parkhead in September was 'men against boys' – this is briefly looking more like men against Bhoys. His frustration grows ever greater as a stray pass goes straight out of play, to huge cheers from the home supporters.
The mood changes instantly though when Moussa Dembele hammers Celtic level just after the half-hour mark – his fifth goal in three Old Firm games since moving north of the border from Fulham. One Celtic fan gets so excited that he ends up on the track behind the goal, while a green flare makes its way into the penalty area at that end of the field. For a period, Celtic are dominant and so are their fans, Icelandic thunderclap and all. Rangers supporters respond with rather unsavoury jibes about the Catholic Church.
Suddenly, on the hour mark, a roar goes around Ibrox for no apparent reason. It sounds like one of those roars you get on the last day of the season, when the team you're battling relegation with has just conceded a goal on the other side of the country. This roar is simply an attempt to lift the Rangers players. It works instantly – Rob Kiernan slides into a challenge, wins the ball and starts a counter-attack that could and perhaps should have led to a goal, had Martyn Waghorn not picked the wrong option at the crucial moment.
In the 67th minute, suddenly there's a constellation of lights in the Celtic end, as away fans hold their mobile phones aloft. "What's the f***ing hell is that?" Rangers fans ask, probably well aware that it's a display to mark the 50th anniversary season of Celtic's 1967 European Cup triumph.
Celtic won't be winning the European Cup this year but they were on course for victory at Ibrox three minutes later as Scott Sinclair – undoubtedly the game's most talented player – fired the visitors ahead at the far post. Rodgers' attempts to celebrate were swiftly cut short, though. "I tried to do a wee sprint but I slipped and pulled my calf," he said later on, after limping into the post-match press conference.
Celtic fans had no such problems, and were soon going through their full repertoire. Phase 1: Bounce up and down. Phase 2: Turn your backs on the pitch and do 'The Huddle', sometimes known in England as 'The Poznan'. Phase 3: Sing Jingle Bells in a noticeably thick Glaswegian accent. Phase 4: Er, Kernkraft 400?
Meanwhile, frustration is growing among Rangers fans as Miller hits the post, and it swiftly becomes ever clearer that an equaliser isn't going to come. Supporters are already starting to head for the exits before the final whistle leaves Celtic players and fans leaping with joy, celebrating together for nearly five minutes. It felt as if they'd won a trophy. In many ways, winning an Old Firm match is just as important.
Perhaps understandably, Rangers boss Mark Warburton attempted to play it down. "We've lost a game of football," he made a point of saying twice in his post-match press conference, in a way that suggested he knew full well that this was not just any old game of football.
Miller was less keen to underplay the defeat, looking almost on the verge of tears at first as he sat down to talk to the press. "We're devastated, and I'm devastated for the fans," he said. "We've lost a proud home record, undefeated in 15 months, and we definitely didn't want to give it up today. I should have got the equaliser."
"The magnitude of the game was unbelievable," admitted match-winner Sinclair, a man who has played in the Champions League for both Celtic and Manchester City. "I'd never played here – to score the winner was great."
"It was a great advert for Scottish football," was how Rodgers summed it up. No matter which club your loyalties were with, that fact was indisputable. It may not have been the highest-quality football match that anyone has ever seen but it was entertaining, it was passionate and it was loud.
There certainly isn't a game in England quite like it. There may not be a game anywhere quite like it.