An incendiary atmosphere it usually is whenever the Old Firm take to the pitch, but the occurrences from the fifth round Scottish Cup replay last night at Celtic Park were inexcusable.
Three red cards were dished out to Rangers players with Steven Whittaker, Madjid Bougherra and El Hadji Diouf all having been dismissed for two bookable offences. Diouf picked up his second yellow after the final whistle for antagonising behaviour after approaching referee Calum Murray.
A warm handshake was shared between Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist and Hoops boss Neil Lennon before the match, but the game ended with the two having to be held apart after squaring up at the final whistle.
Seemingly, an inflammatory remark made by McCoist riled Lennon enough to react angrily with the Northern Irishman having to be restrained by coach Garry Parker and the rest of his backroom staff.
McCoist also lost his temper on a number of occasions with Gers manager, Walter Smith having to calm down his fellow fiery Scot. McCoist will have to learn from this incident quickly as he will not have such seasoned advice in the dugout next season to temper him. The ex-goalscoring Rangers legend is due to take the reigns at Ibrox when Smith retires at the end of the current campaign.
An already tense atmosphere exploded as Whittaker received his second caution for flying in at Emilio Izaguirre. Tempers continued to flare until half time, where an altercation in the tunnel involving Celtic assistant Johan Mjällby became apparent.
The Bhoys won the game 1-0, but the match will forever be marred by the unsightly events after the final whistle.
A legendary rivalry as colossal as the Old Firm receives attention from all corners of the footballing globe. Fan violence has blighted the rivalry before, but the two teams have a duty of care to ensure that what happens on the field of play does not have any detrimental influence on the supporting communities whose sheer passion for their team could carry the threat of spilling over.
For that matter, the venerable old clubs carry the honour of contesting the flagship fixture in Scottish football–a weight of responsibility that the two proud dynasties need to realise.
It is a deeply embarrassing situation for the Scottish FA to contest with. 34 arrests were made by Strathclyde police last night, mainly for sectarian and alcohol related issues. Strathclyde police have voiced their concerns, amid the apparent high levels of public disorder surrounding recent Old Firm derbies.
Over the past four seasons, 18 derbies have taken place during which 12 red cards have been shown. 116 bookings on top of this has the potential to stoke the flames of any potential public disorder in the stands and shows the irresponsible conduct of both the players and coaches involved.
So, do these on field antics influence the behaviour of the passionate fans attending these games? It appears that it does–and to a considerable degree.
Murmurings of a ban to Celtic–Rangers fixtures have to be ignored as the monetary and social cost would be disproportionate to the issue at hand. However, let us hope that from next season, the Young Firm leaders of the two clubs; McCoist and Lennon can instil a restored respect into the fixture.
Until then, both teams will remain unsavoury standard bearers for a nation whose national footballing pedigree desperately needs a shot in the arm.
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