Old Firm religious divide stopped Jim Bett from making Rangers return

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JIM BETT has always embraced a view of the world which extends well beyond his native west of Scotland and the sectarianism which so often leaves it marked by ugly scars.

He was just a teenager when he first stepped away from it, leaving Airdrieonians to join Valur Reykjavik in Iceland at the start of a highly successful and cosmopolitan playing career.

It also saw him spend time in Belgium, where he performed with distinction in two separate spells with Lokeren, although the former Scotland midfielder is best remembered for his time at Rangers and Aberdeen.

Bett was at Ibrox from 1980 to 1983, winning Scottish Cup and League Cup winners' medals during an otherwise generally lean period in Rangers' history. But, as he recalled yesterday, he had the opportunity to return to the club in more auspicious times when Graeme Souness was shaking Scottish football to its foundations as their manager.

It was a chance Bett rejected, however, due to his distaste for the narrow-minded bigotry which has for so long blighted the Old Firm rivalry.

"I grew up in the west of Scotland, but I was never into that side of things," he said. "I have to admit, it was a factor in me turning down Rangers when they tried to sign me again.

"Graeme had been manager for a couple of years and I was very tempted to go back. I was at Aberdeen at the time and Graeme was building a really strong team at Ibrox. The contract offer from Rangers was great, far better than the one I was on at Aberdeen.

"But, after speaking to my wife about it, we decided we didn't want to bring our kids up in that kind of environment. Your kids are going to hear all of the stuff that goes on around the games and that's something I had to consider. Your family comes first, so I stayed at Aberdeen.

"I knew all about the religious and sectarian thing because I grew up here, but I never got involved in that kind of thing. Basically, I think it's a west of Scotland divide. During my time in Aberdeen, for example, I never experienced anything like it. Sadly, I don't think it's going to go away overnight.

"It's something which could make other Scottish and even English players think twice about signing for Celtic or Rangers, although I think the overseas guys will always come over because they don't really know about it and can use it to get a move down south a couple of years later."Bett, currently living in Reykjavik where he was coaching at Valur until recently, was back in Glasgow yesterday for a promotional media event ahead of Sunday's Old Firm showdown at Ibrox.

The build-up has been dominated by the parcel bomb threats to Celtic manager Neil Lennon and two prominent supporters of the Parkhead club revealed earlier this week, a development which simply reinforces Bett's belief that the age-old problems surrounding the fixture may never be solved.

"I think it is a part of the Old Firm game that will always be there," he added. "Which is a great shame, because it takes away from the game itself. People don't talk about games ending 3-2 now or whatever, they bring in the other stuff as well.

"The stuff surrounding Neil this week is just ridiculous. Back in Iceland, they show all of the Old Firm games on television so they are aware of the stories surrounding it. I do get people asking me what the hell is going on.

"People say you have to try and ignore it when you are in a position like Neil's at Celtic, trying to concentrate on the football side of things, but that's quite difficult.

"Unfortunately for Neil, I don't think he has a life outside of football at the moment. It's so intense and there is nowhere he can go outside of football.

"It's a sad part of the game, which as I say has always been there, but you do feel it's becoming more intense now.

"I don't know whether that's because Neil is in charge of Celtic, or because of what has happened in the last two or three Old Firm games.

"They do play each other far too often, which doesn't help. But hopefully we can just concentrate on the football side of things on Sunday, because it is such a huge game for both teams."

Mercifully, there was some time for Bett to focus on the footballing implications of Sunday and a match he unequivocally regards as a title decider. He said: "I know Neil and Walter Smith will both say it's not over, no matter the result, but a win is obviously going to put one of them in a really strong position with just a few games to go."

"If Celtic win, then I think it may be as good as finished as they will go a point clear with a game in hand. For Rangers, it's really a cup final as I believe they really have to win the game. Even if Celtic get a draw, you would see them as favourites to go on and win it. So it's quite simple for Rangers, they need a victory.

"Looking at Celtic, Neil has done a very good job. He has built a strong squad and he will want to win something to get a longer contract and be successful at Celtic.With this being his first full season in charge, he has a huge responsibility to get a trophy to Celtic.

"But it's also Walter's last season at Rangers and he'll be wanting to leave Ibrox with the title. There is everything to play for."

• Jim Bett was speaking at the launch of 188BET's free 25 bet promotion ahead of Sunday's Old Firm match. Further information is available at www.188promo.com/freebet

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