The last encounter to be played against such a backdrop was the Wednesday, December 28 fixture in 2011, when Joe Ledley’s second-half header settled the contest in favour of the home side at Celtic Park.
Earlier the same year, a certain Scottish Cup fifth round replay between the pair in Glasgow’s east end also took place in in the midweek 7.45pm slot.
Won 1-0 by Neil Lennon’s side, that particular match on Tuesday, March 2, 2011 has entered infamy as “the shame game”, a footballing occasion that rocked wider society, and led to a Scottish government summit on sectarianism within a week. From which ensued the creation of the wholly ill-thought-out Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012. A bill that set a different tariff for criminality for those attending football games, and which was repealed in 2018 having proved an abomination of law-making.
The reaction to the events at Celtic Park almost 11 years ago now seem ridiculously overblown. Especially in relation to Celtic’s limited role in a tawdry spectacle. They were dragged into the outcry as a result of an altercation between Lennon and Rangers’ then assistant manager Ally McCoist as the two exchanged a handshake at full-time. Something whispered in the ear of the Celtic manager by McCoist led to Lennon going berserk and prompted a finger-wagging, eyeball-to-eyeball, remonstration with his adversary.
Across the game itself, during which tempers frayed, it was the conduct of Rangers players that proved most indefensible as they had three men red-carded in going down to a Mark Wilson goal early in the second period. Bad blood had simmered from the initial tie 10 days earlier, in which El-Hadji Diouf had a running battle with Scott Brown. In the bitter rivals’ fifth meeting of the season, the striker had lost all control even before he was dismissed by referee Callum Murray on the final whistle, then refusing to leave the pitch before shoulder-bumping a Celtic physiotherapist as he made his way up the tunnel.
Prior to that, Murray did as much as he could to keep matters in check as the atmosphere turned toxic. It was raised umpteen notches when Steven Whittaker was red-carded for a second bookable offence just before the interval. A touchline melee resulted from the brandishing of red, members of both benches becoming involved in an aggressive confrontation after McCoist was left incensed over Celtic staff reacting with fury to Whittaker’s game-ending swipe on Emilio Izaguirre five minutes on from the auxillary attacker's initial caution.
In the second period, with the Ibrox team unable to make any impression on the football contest, frustrations boiled over with brutal challenges. Following one from Madjid Bougherra he could not let go unpunished, he was man-handled by the Algerian as he attempted to prevent the official showing him a second yellow card. It all added up to an absolutely chaotic close to a tie in which the police, who made 34 arrests inside the stadium, ensured how it would be forever remembered in describing the scenes across the evening as “shameful”.