Entertainment, Sports

Celtic and Rangers should bring back full derby spectacle

What’s your favourite moment in film history? In The Shawshank Redemption, do you just love the bit where Andy Dufresne escapes from prison out of a sewage pipe? In The Lord Of The Rings, do you usually skip the first couple of hours to Frodo waking up having binned off the ring in Mount Doom? Do you prefer it when Norman Bates is in cuffs rather than chasing people around his desolate mansion in a frock in Psycho?

As football fans, we always remember the big wins, title triumphs, hat-tricks, penalty saves, defying the odds in David and Goliath ties. But we keep the lows close to us, too. Last-minute goals against, titles lost on the final day of the season. Relegations, cup final defeats, being humbled by lesser lights in the game.

You may have seen the video from the Hibs end at the Premier Sports Cup final that captures the moments just after skipper Paul Hanlon had given the Leith side the lead at Hampden against Celtic. Cue unbridled joy, a bit of gesturing to the opposing fans across the cordon, the celebrations going on with the game resuming in the background in a haze of mist. Sixty seconds pass and, like a bomb dropping in the distance, an explosion of sound erupts. But it’s not the Hibs fans celebrating this time; Kyogo Furuhashi has just fired in the equaliser straight from kick-off and the Celtic supporters are going berserk. Unbridled joy and plenty of gestures being returned to the opposite end of the stadium.

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We all know that feeling: that moment when time seems to stand still, when the sound of the ball caressing the back of net precedes the puncturing noise of the opposing fans celebrating a goal against your team. It’s a horrible moment, but there’s a painful beauty to it.

I think it was absolutely right to bring the winter break forward and hope the situation surrounding coronavirus cases improves ahead of the Premiership’s return next month. Of course, the re-arranged game etched in most people’s calendar is the Old Firm derby on February 2.

It’s a mouth-watering prospect, with Ange Postecoglou’s side hosting league-leaders Rangers at Parkhead, currently trailing the Scottish champions by six points.

Giving the game every chance of hosting a full crowd is a no-brainer; that it’s been moved to a Wednesday night under the floodlights at Celtic Park only makes it more appetising.

Who could forget the last time the two sides met in a midweek fixture? The infamous 2011 Scottish Cup fifth-round replay at Celtic Park. That clash on the touchline between then-Celtic manager Neil Lennon and Rangers No.2 Ally McCoist as the Parkhead side ran out 1-0 winners thanks to a Mark Wilson strike.

02/03/11 SCOTTISH CUP 5TH RND REPLAY CELTIC v RANGERS CELTIC PARK - GLASGOW McCoist and Lennon

02/03/11 SCOTTISH CUP 5TH RND REPLAY CELTIC v RANGERS CELTIC PARK – GLASGOW McCoist and Lennon

During the match there were three red cards dished out. El Hadji Diouf, one of those ordered off during the 90 minutes, had even taken the Celtic backroom team to task which led to a furious reaction from Lennon. In the end, the furore surrounding the fixture led to a government inquiry after a request from the police.

It was of course something of an ugly spectacle, but a spectacle nonetheless. Now, who can remember any of the Old Firm derbies played in front of a desert of empty seats at Ibrox and Parkhead last season? Those matches were like going to see a child-friendly version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre where the censors had edited out any scenes in which a two-stroke engine can be seen or heard.

02/03/11 SCOTTISH CUP 5TH RND REPLAY CELTIC v RANGERS (1-0) CELTIC PARK - GLASGOW Celtic manager Neil Lennon (right) infuriates El Hadji Diouf as they clash on the touchline

02/03/11 SCOTTISH CUP 5TH RND REPLAY CELTIC v RANGERS (1-0) CELTIC PARK – GLASGOW Celtic manager Neil Lennon (right) infuriates El Hadji Diouf as they clash on the touchline

I would go one further, however. How memorable have these matches been since the decision, first taken by Rangers and then quickly followed by Celtic, to restrict away supporters to a fraction of the ticket allocation inside their respective grounds? The decision came after a period of dominance in the fixture for Celtic under the stewardship of Brendan Rodgers, where 5-1 scorelines were not unfamiliar. The sight of the Broomloan end swaying in green and white, of Leigh Griffiths tying hooped scarves to goalposts, would have been hard to stomach at the time for the Ibrox faithful. But look at that video in the Hibs end at Hampden at the start of this month. Imagine if the climax was a barely audible band of 800 huddled in the corner of the stadium.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – MAY 02: Scoreboard during a Scottish Premiership match between Rangers and Celtic at Ibrox Park, on May 02, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

After a season without fans, we know all too well how debilitating to the spectacle crowdless derbies can be. But with this threat of restricted numbers at football matches hanging over us again, I would urge these clubs to consider the show they are putting on. I’m sure the executives at Sky Sports feel the same way. While no one wants to see things escalate quite like they did in that midweek game back in 2011, neither do we want to edit out all the juicy bits for fear of upsetting some people.

You might not like it when your rivals score at your ground and their fans, and perhaps even one or two of their players, rub it in. But that’s derby football – that’s the horrible beauty of it. It’s time to bring back the spectacle.

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