Football, or fitba’ as it’s pronounced locally, is one of Glasgow’s great passions – and one of its great blights. While the city can claim to be one of Europe’s premier footballing centres, it’s known above all for one of the most bitter rivalries in any sport, that between Celtic and Rangers. Two of the largest clubs in Britain, with weekly crowds regularly topping 60,000, the Old Firm, as they’re collectively known, have dominated Scottish football for a century; in the last twenty years they’ve lavished vast sums of money on foreign talent in an often frantic effort both to outdo each other and to stay in touch with the standards of the top English and European teams.
The roots of Celtic, who play at Celtic Park in the eastern district of Parkhead, lie in the city’s immigrant Irish and Catholic population, while Rangers, based at Ibrox Park in Govan on the Southside, have traditionally drawn support from local Protestants: as a result, sporting rivalries have been enmeshed in a sectarian divide, and although Catholics do play for Rangers, and Protestants for Celtic, sections of supporters of both clubs seem intent on perpetuating the feud. While large-scale violence on the terraces and streets has not been seen for some time – thanks in large measure to canny policing – Old Firm matches often seethe with bitter passions, and sectarian-related assaults do still occur in parts of the city.
However, there is a less intense side to the game, found not just in the fun-loving “Tartan Army” which follows the (often rollercoaster) fortunes of the Scottish national team, but also in Glasgow’s smaller clubs, who actively distance themselves from the distasteful aspects of the Old Firm and plod along with home-grown talent in the lower reaches of the Scottish league. All important reminders that it is, after all, only a game.