One even dated from the time when Rangers allowed Celtic supporters to be accommodated in one half of the main stand enclosure at Ibrox. This was the late 1980s – not as long ago as some might have thought.
Now it seems they are barely permitted to attend the same game.
No away supporters at all were at the first clash of this season at Ibrox when red zones due to Covid restrictions were in place and there will be no away supporters at next month’s return clash at Parkhead, with the game originally having meant to have been played on 2 January. It’s anticipated that only between 700-800 visiting fans will be allowed at either ground when it’s hoped Covid restrictions are no longer an issue later this season.
In stadiums where the capacities are over 50,000, well over in the case of Celtic Park, this must be regarded as a matter of regret.
Stewart Robertson, the managing director of Rangers, has all but sounded the death knell for the days when as many as 6-7,000 away supporters attended Old Firm fixtures. In a Business of Sport podcast for the Athletic website, he admitted the arrangement of vastly reduced ticket allocations “is not something that I can see changing in the short term”.
The tweets and photographs from earlier this week were effectively laments for the way it once was. When the noise and colour of these occasions reflected their significance. Podcast co-host Mark Chapman recalled the atmosphere “crackling through the telly”.
So much is lost by the drawing up of the draw bridge. Any derby – any game, indeed – would be made the poorer by cutting the allocation given to opposition fans by such a large percentage.
Next month’s Edinburgh derby, which takes place the night before Celtic v Rangers, will have a whole stand at Easter Road reserved for Hearts fans. Much the same will apply at Dens Park for the Dundee derby on the same evening.
Not only does it seem to work, the presence of thousands of away fans augments the occasion. Robertson, however, believes a “vast majority” of Rangers fans agrees with the policy of cutting the Celtic allocation to such a slim number. Does he know this? He admits he is the dark about what’s wanted “on the other side of the city”.
Such language doesn’t inspire optimism that the cooperation required for a re-think is even possible. Robertson believes that ship has now sailed because season ticket holders have already been allocated seats where away fans once sat. ‘We’d rather have our own fans,’ is the gist of it.
It’s ironic that the conversation moved from talking about Scottish football’s failure to secure a television deal that is even commensurate with those of similar sized countries elsewhere to the topic of away fans at Old Firm games.
Robertson voiced his dismay at the poor value Scottish football gets from Sky Sports, where the deal, as poor as it is, hinges on the four Old Firm meetings per season. He mentions high profile figures such as Brendan Rodgers and Steven Gerrard.
“Some of the personalities we have in the game over the years, we’ve had the ability to sell it better than we have done,” he complains.
But then he’s involved in serving to diminish the very fixture that does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to the sale of TV rights.