Religion, football and violence: a toxic mix

Celtic and Rangers go head-to-head in a violent clash. 230 are arrested. Will bigotry, poverty and drink be the death of football in Glasgow?

Those of a nervous disposition should turn away now. This is the story of Celtic and Rangers, Scotland's two biggest football clubs both set in Glasgow. Yet in a way, it isn't about football at all.

The Old Firm derby, as its called, is the greatest club rivalry in the UK, and there's always trouble when the teams play.

But last week was worse than usual. Three players were sent off, ten received yellow cards, the rival managers almost came to blows, and police made thirty arrests in the ground and 200 in the surrounding area after the match.

For Scotland's police, enough was enough, and on Tuesday, there was a 3-hour summit meeting chaired by Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, in an attempt to come up with answers.

And no one doubts the depth of hostility. There was a recent Facebook page called 'Hunt down Neil Lennon and shoot him.' Neil Lennon is Celtic's manager. Police protection for the homes of the players is not unusual.

Why the hatred? As Scotland's two most successful teams, the results of their matches affect the league title. But that's true of Chelsea and Manchester United, and it's never like this between them.

The answer lies in religion. Celtic were formed by a monk in Glasgow's east end in 1888 to raise money for the city's poor Catholic community, and to keep the youths away from the Protestant soup kitchens.

Rangers were established in 1873 with no religious ties, but became the club the Protestant majority gathered behind to oppose Celtic.

Since then, attitudes have hardened, even though the majority of fans no longer practise their religion. Recent hostility includes cyber-bigots preaching hate on fan's forums.

The social results are tragic. The police report 66% increases in assaults and domestic abuse when Celtic play Rangers, while A&E departments are swamped with drink and violence-related cases.

Bigotry and booze
It's a football rivalry, but it's more than that. As Celtic's chief executive Peter Lawwell said, 'Football doesn't work alone – in Scotland we are blighted by multiple deprivation, alcohol abuse and violence.'

And in Glasgow, there are areas of such poverty, low life expectancy and unemployment that the sense of identity provided by Rangers and Celtic feels like a light in the darkness.

'The city is divided and you're not going to change that,' says Thomas Carberry, who runs a pub where fans drink before a match.

Football by itself cannot be the answer. But some believe it could do more towards a solution.

You Decide

  1. Martin Bain, the Rangers chief executive, said there had been an 'over-reaction' to the scenes at Parkhead last week, and 'major issues in society' could not be cured by a football club. Do you agree?
  2. Does religion cause more problems than it solves?


  1. In a group, discuss the main reasons for the trouble between Rangers and Celtic. Who's really to blame? Then come up with your own solutions.
  2. Write a short drama set in either a Protestant or Catholic family. What happens when the teenage son announces he supports the 'other' team?

Some People Say...

“Celtic and Rangers should not be allowed to play each other.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So religion's at the heart of the trouble?
Probably. The Protestant/Catholic division runs throughout the entire west of Scotland, and is perpetuated by separate schooling. If they know your school, they know which team you support.
So what are the authorities doing about it?
Various things. Bigots who spread sectarian hatred on the internet are to be targeted, and the clubs will be visited by police before the match.
They'll remind the players of their 'responsibilities', and warn them that if their behaviour provokes the crowd they'll be arrested – on the pitch!A They already play the matches at midday to limit drinking. They're now talking about closing all pubs near the ground.
Good idea.
Maybe. But this may simply transfer the violence into the home – worse in a way.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.