Rangers v Celtic, Celtic v Rangers, is always a fascinating fixture - even if you (like me) have no real interest in the perpetual two-horse race that is the Scottish Premier League. Obviously, the standard of football skills on display is hardly an attraction either, but there is no question about the commitment and excitement.
Even when the teams are largely composed of players from beyond these islands, there is a frenetic edge that you just don’t get anywhere else in Europe – with the possible exception of Barcelona v Real Madrid. Even Shamrock Rovers v Bohemians, Manchester United v Manchester City, Arsenal v Spurs, and Everton v Liverpool are in the ha’penny place.
And speaking of Liverpool, one of that club’s former managers, Bill Shankly, once said that football wasn’t a matter of life and death… it was “more important than that”. It is a quote that Celtic manager Neil Lennon might appreciate, having been attacked in the street, had live bullets sent to him by post, and had threats against his own life and that of his family’s.
More recently Lennon, who was capped 40 times for Northern Ireland, and was its first-ever Catholic captain, received an explosive device by post (as did his lawyer and a former Scottish MSP who had worn a Celtic shirt on her last day in the Scottish Parliament).
Lennon was forced to end his international career when he was subjected to abuse by a sizable section of the Windsor Park faithful after he made the move from Leicester City to Glasgow Celtic. He even received a phone call from somebody purporting to be from the LVF (Loyalist Volunteer Force) saying that he would “get seriously hurt” if he turned out for Northern Ireland’s match against Cyprus in 2002.
Even living here in Dublin, it is very hard to get your head around such fanatical bigotry. Lennon was not the most skillful or quickest of players, but he was the kind of combative, determined midfielder that any team would have been happy to call on. Someone you would really want playing on your side. For a “supporter” of any team to boo and barrack such a player – their own player – simply because he is a Catholic who plays for Celtic is breathtakingly stupid. But to threaten his life too???
Not surprisingly, since Lennon withdrew from international football, many Catholic players who were born in Northern Ireland have opted to play instead for the Republic of Ireland. And who can blame them?
Ironically, the Old Firm are like Yin and Yang - they could not exist without each other. Nobody outside Scotland could be bothered looking at an SPL match without them, if only out of guilty fascination with the anachronistic nature of the fixture, with its overtones of historic and religious antagonism, and the displays of bigotry on the terraces.
Celtic has its “Boys of the Old Brigade” contingent, whereas some Rangers fans' favourite ditty celebrates a sectarian gang that went about Glasgow slitting the throats of random Catholics (The Billy Boys). The same club had an official policy of not having Catholics on its books until relatively recently.
But even against that backdrop, sending a parcel bomb to a football manager is a new low in backwoods, hick, stupidity.
It finished 0-0.
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