Why Celtic, Rangers and the Scottish Government require a united front to ensure a peaceful derby

Off the pitch, these past few days have been one of those bleakly unedifying periods for football rivalry in the west of Scotland.

Celtic's Odsonne Edouard holds off Rangers' Connor Goldson in the pair's last derby meeting in January. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

The febrile atmosphere created by the scenes of thousands of Covid-19-breaching Rangers fans celebrating their team’s title success, and the Ibrox club’s reaction to what ensued from that sorry spectacle, now threaten the staging of their trip to Celtic Park on March 21.

It shouldn’t be like this. The fixture ought to be contested as scheduled because there remains the opportunity to ensure it passes off peacefully and without large crowds anywhere, of any allegiance. To do that requires will and a fraternal approach.

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That begins with appreciating now is the time to turn down the temperature, to step back from the abyss. It is time for a unified front from all of what - in modern parlance - they call the stakeholders in the Scottish game. And that means Rangers, Celtic, the Scottish government, the police and council officials acting together, and acting decisively and sensibly.

Now it might appear there is more chance of Harry and Meghan being invited round for tea at the Palace than that prospect. Yet that is what Douglas Park, Peter Lawwell, Nicola Sturgeon, Steven Gerrard, John Kennedy, Scotland chief constable Iain Livingstone and Glasgow city council leader Susan Aitken must do. They require to sit, socially distanced, on a stage together and impress upon the two sets of supporters, unequivocally, that on March 21 they must stay at home and under no circumstances come anywhere near Celtic Park. We are not talking the Yalta Conference here, we are talking about sane people promoting a sane message for the good of Scottish society and the Scottish game.

It is not about some Old Firm confab, that term having long outlived its relevance and now being such anathema to Celtic they continue to trademark it to prevent its commercial use. It is about two football clubs that are playing one other working towards crucial common goals: to allow a health pandemic to subside and prevent a pandemic of disorder that would set Scottish football back decades.

Only Rangers know why at no stage in the lead-up to their title win last weekend and its immediate aftermath they did not issue any directives to their support that included those three simple words “stay at home”. A term that is the crux of the full lockdown under which we are all obliged to abide, and which formed the basis of the messaging Celtic pushed out on their media channels the day their historic ninth straight title was confirmed in May.

It is not too late for Rangers to recognise fully their responsibilities in this context, and in the current fraught circumstances. Of course, there will be supporters, from both sides, who will ignore all pleas to do what is imperative, but such an unambiguous statement from all those who have these duties to discharge will indisputably squeeze those numbers.

If South Africa could stage a truth and reconcilation process after the end of the abhorrent apartheid regime, it cannot be beyond those upon whom it is now incumbent to set aside any grievances and act with moral certitude for the sake of the country’s civil society, for goodness sake.

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