With this Saturday's loss to sixth-place Kilmarnock, Glasgow Rangers capped off one of the most disappointing weeks in the club's 140-year history. The descent into administration, the SPL's block of the proposed Daniel Cousin's signing, and police inquiries have left owner Craig Whyte hiding in London and an organization reeling.
Yet as scandal upon scandal greeted the resolute Ibrox faithful this week, their rival Celtic has surged with confidence and it's supporters seem to content to bask in their fellow Glaswegian team's financial tribulations. A resounding 5-0 victory over Hibernian at Clydesdale Bank Stadium today has first-place Celtic ready to claim the SPL title.
But aside from the financial drama of the Ibrox fallout and the looming job security anxiety, the state of the Celtic-Rangers rivalry itself is in jeopardy. Even if Rangers can survive administration and remain intact, the damage to this furious rivalry could irreparably weaken Scottish football.
Beginning in 1888 when the teams first faced each other, religious differences and social fissures drove a powerful schism through Glasgow's football community that endures over a century later. The "Old Firm" rivalry has become completely enmeshed in Scotland's economic solvency, generating nearly 120 million pounds annually, according to a 2005 BBC report.
While the Rangers catastrophe was hardly unexpected, with the writing on the wall visible for some time now, the level of incompetence at the highest levels of the organization has been alarming. Seemingly plunging in a downward spiral since the new owner took control of the team last May, manager Ally McCoist said yesterday that he supports the Scottish Football Association's independent investigation into the inter workings of Rangers in Whyte's regime.
Although it has been tempting for Celtic fans to walk with a knowing smile on their faces this week, it is important to keep in mind their own side faced a similar situation in 1994, as the club was thought to be 5 million pounds in debt. After last minute heroics by Fergus McCann, the club avoided bankruptcy and survived the crisis. Let us hope that Rangers can do the same.
Celtic and Rangers have met 397 times in their respective histories. Since 1985-86, no team has taken home the Scottish League title other than a member of the Old Firm. This type of dominance not only shows their importance within Scotland but also speaks to their international significance. With fans across Europe, particularly in Ireland, the Old Firm teams in many ways embody Scottish football. And as Rangers teeter on the brink of disaster, football fans should be holding their collective breath.
Imagine the New York Yankees without the Boston Red Sox or the Boston Celtics without the Los Angeles Lakers. Those rivalries in many ways define their sports. The same holds true for the Old Firm.
Amidst the turmoil and chaos, Celtic chairman Peter Lawwell said last week that his club "doesn't need Rangers" to remain economically secure. While Celtic are operating on a sound financial base at the moment, Lawwell has missed the point entirely. Without Rangers, Celtic are bereft of a measuring stick to gage their own talent. Without Rangers and the Old Firm, Celtic have no way to define themselves. However, most importantly, if the Rangers-Celtic rivalry fizzles, where is the fun?
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