Celtic v Rangers, Rangers v Celtic. Either way round it’s currently half the game it ought to be

The absence of away fans continues to diminish the Old Firm fixture and that’s hard to ignore even when the game was as good as this one

It was a cry into the void and seemed to sum up this whole sorry business of there being no fans shouting for the other team at a football match.

“Come on Rangers” came the ‘shout’, which is one you would have expected to come from those who follow the fortunes of the light blues. But it arrived only via social media. A plaintive, unheard urging typed out by a member of the Rangers media team and then posted onto the Ibrox club’s X feed. It got to the heart of this stalemate between two clubs who are meant to be the curators of what many claim is the jewel in Scottish football’s domestic crown. Celtic v Rangers. Rangers v Celtic. Either way round, it’s currently half the game it ought to be.

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The sides emerging at the start is supposed to be a spine-tingling sight to behold as the players applaud their respective supporters. We had a pretty good rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone but it’s become a bit overly well-rehearsed and speaks of other games, such as European nights. With no fans in the away end – or corner – to genuflect in front of, the Rangers player kicked their heels, standing around in pairs while the song was completed and Celtic performed their huddle routine.

Celtic Park was decked out solely with home fans - and the spectacle suffered as a result.Celtic Park was decked out solely with home fans - and the spectacle suffered as a result.
Celtic Park was decked out solely with home fans - and the spectacle suffered as a result.

So far, so hmmmm. Were the foreign journalists sitting in the press seats going to return with tales of being present at the greatest, fiercest derby in the world. You doubt it. One had even made the trek from Honduras.

Oh it was loud at times. And Rangers were clearly rattled as they were ridiculed by around 60,000 people. Todd Cantwell was cheered when he was subbed off, John Lundstram too. Rangers manager Philippe Clement said pre-match that his side had survived recently in Seville so they would survive this. Sadly for them they didn’t but it was character building and the mini-comeback near the end underlined how the league title race is far from over. That was not the impression for much of the second half as Celtic toyed with the visitors and Rangers looked broken and then depleted, following Leon Balogun’s red card.

In a way, it didn’t really matter that there were no Rangers fans allowed in because there would not have been many left anyway as Celtic played keepie-ball against the ten men with the usual “ole!” exclamations from the crowd. But imagine a few hundred had stayed on to cheer their – at that point – bedraggled heroes. Just think of the delight as James Tavernier rattled in yet another free-kick to change the tone. And then the board went up. Eight minutes added on! What a roar would have gone up from the away supporters! Instead only nervous agitation rolled around the great arena. The clenched fists and other gestures of defiance came in the front rooms of houses and in bars and wherever else Rangers fans gathered to watch on TV. It made for great TV but what would have made for better TV is the away fans chorusing in the background.

Surely we have not reached a point where cheering the away team off outside their ground on the other side of the city is going to become the tradition? Painting bridges red, blue and white? Surely this won’t be the extent of the opposition fans providing some colour to the spectacle. I mean, is it even a football match without some back-and-forth. And yes we know the back and forth is sometimes not what we want to hear but if the fans had been banned for sectarianism, then fair enough. But of course they have not been. The SPFL ain’t going to make that call. Rather, it is some sort of power play between the clubs which doesn’t look like it is going to be sorted anytime soon.

Rangers Abdallah Sima walks off during the Celtic defeat.Rangers Abdallah Sima walks off during the Celtic defeat.
Rangers Abdallah Sima walks off during the Celtic defeat.

As a result, the continued absence of opposition supporters is in danger of relegating this fixture to just another game. It was of course partisan in the extreme. But then most games at Ibrox and Parkhead are. Even the Rangers substitutes were booed on as they emerged to take their perches on the bench. And the home goal celebrations were chaotic and intense and led to an injury being suffered by a steward caught in the tumult at the Green Brigade corner of the ground as the fans spilled onto the track. One reason cited for banning away fans is health and safety concerns but this proved that even then it’s impossible to eradicate risk completely when so many people gather in one place.

On the pitch, the teams tore at one another with an intensity that is always guaranteed but the quality was lacking except in some obvious individual cases. Kyogo Furuhashi again showed that he would be a welcome addition for almost any team in the English top flight, including Spurs. He even made a fallacy of the criticism – if it is a criticism – that he is only a penalty box striker by sticking one into the net from 22 yards. He can be as anonymous as he likes for the most part if this is what he does when he bursts into life.

Celtic had the ball players. Paulo Bernardo scored his second goal of the week and came up with a strike that was far more pleasing on the eye than that scuffed effort against Dundee. There was even talk that one wasn’t his since it appeared to take a deflection off an opposition player. There was no debate about this one, rifled in from 16 yards after Abdallah Sima’s clearing header fell invitingly at the Portuguese player’s feet.

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Tavernier’s late free-kick might have been the best of the lot. It was met by stony silence, like the last time he scored a stunning free-kick at the same stadium. And regrettably, the same response will probably greet any request for these two clubs to think again about away supporter arrangements.



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