Written by Iain Duff
Before we go any further, two things should be noted:
1. You should buy this book; and another copy for every other Bluenose in the family.
2. Lee McCulloch composes the introduction.
3. Were the rest of the book merely blank pages then point two would act as a recommendation!
Released as the companion volume to a tome covering the rare times Celtic has triumphed over officialdom, the Establishment and the Rangers, Duff’s book comprises twenty-five chapters on twenty-five memorable games against Glasgow’s 2nd team.
One mild surprise for some may be the realisation that not all of the games covered resulted in victories for the light blues – but don’t choke on your Tennent’s quite yet, for there’s only three drawn games included, and I’d wager many fans could guess at least two of those.
All joshing aside, McCulloch’s introduction is a charming insight into his love for the Club and the sheer excitement of playing and scoring in these derby matches, something we’d all gladly swap the wife/kids/mother-in-law/all of the above to experience for ourselves.
Nobody alive today will recall the first of the matches; the 1893 Glasgow Cup Final victory over Celtic, which was our first in the fixture. But the last match highlighted is fresh in the mind - the 2010 1-0 victory at Ibrox courtesy of @MauriceEdu
In between we touch on riots, hoodoo-busters, demolitions, landmarks, great debuts and much, much more.
The balance of the matches covered necessarily leans more toward ‘recent’ games, one suspects as much for reasons of greater interest to a wider public as access to details and shared memories. But it is among the first entries, and the oldest games, where many of the finest stories and some of our greatest neglected players are to be found. John McPherson, a great goalscorer, and someone who famously was said to have played in almost every position before later becoming a director - and once described as the greatest player in the first fifty years of the Club - is one such man.
It is here that Duff skilfully weaves commentary and reports from the publications of the day – such as the Scottish Referee – into the first example of the wider context presented throughout: matches and seasons are not presented isolated from the goings-on elsewhere in the world of football and the world at large. This can be especially illuminating in the early tussles when one considers the social factors at work, and pauses to reflect on just how far back in real terms these games took place.
It’s also very revealing in the case of the 1943 game where Rangers ran out 8-1 winners. Not only do the clippings from the time show that both sides were near to full-strength but they speak volumes for the importance of and attention lavished upon the game, which many may reasonably assume to be subject to interference or at least a certain perspective brought as a result of certain other matters around Europe at the time. But not a bit of it: the front-page of the Evening Times (to use just one example) saw reports of the game sit comfortably with criminal acts and the latest from the war. Football was very important at both a local and national level.
And the game itself was certainly not played in a spirit of wartime co-operation and friendliness. Two Celtic players were ordered from the field: both for unacceptable levels of dissent after decisions went contrary to their club. So, in short, this game mattered. The fact that historians seem uninterested in this record-breaking game may be a matter for private contemplation.
Elsewhere we relive the 1973 cup final – Jaws attacks from close-range – and the cup replay from a decade earlier, with Baxter at his imperious best and the Celtic end of Hampden deserted long before the referee’s whistle acted as a reprieve. Also of interest is the ‘Kai’ replay where one man went on to become a cult hero. The 1928 final, wherein David Meiklejohn’s penalty inspired the team to break a cup hoodoo and go on to decisively demolish their Glasgow opponents, is a memorable chapter, concluding with wise words from that Rangers great Bob McPhail, who suggested that “some malevolent shadow had been removed from the Club.”
The largest ever league crowd of 118,730 saw Rangers win just before the outbreak of war, and the 1949 September clash summed-up the dominance of the Rangers in the fixture, with Willie Waddell excelling. It also came at the end of a period where Celtic violence off the park, and rank bad behaviour on it, had caused some in the press to question the wisdom of the fixture.
There is here something for everyone, whether it is the youngster, the man trying to recapture his youth and waistline – and failing much as DJ – or the interested historian. But in the draws we witness the madness often surrounding the fixture at its most potent.
The 1909 Scottish Cup Final went to a replay, which then ended in stalemate. Contrary reports preceding the match had left many in the crowd, of both hues, convinced that extra time would be played but instead, as per the rules; the announcement was made that a further replay would be necessary. The idea that both clubs, as yet not as unfriendly or even hostile as would later become the norm, were a little too good at manipulating the draws which led to further ties and revenue accrued was widespread in the public consciousness and something about the circumstances lead to some major public disorder. The details of this, although obviously regrettable, are yet somehow thrilling and brought to life through a mixture of contemporary reports and some keen research. The idea that today only one man would be arrested after a riot which took two hours to put down and involved serious injury to police officers, horses and widespread damage to property inside and outside the stadium may appear a little quaint. The cup was never awarded: the first and only time this happened.
The second of the drawn games is the 4-4 draw from the last months of the Wallace MK II era – for sure a fine game, packed with great tension, some good goals, and some atrocious weather but here subject to some revision of the popular idea that both sets of fans went home happy.
The last is, as you may expect, the 2-2 draw from 1987, which resulted in four men appearing in front of the courts. The actions of the procurator fiscal are made to look ridiculous, and a case is advanced that perhaps only Grant (prostituting his faith) and Roberts (conducting the choir) should really have been subject to such interference. Further spankings under Souness, Smith, Advocaat, McLeish and Smith again make up the rest of the book – to describe them all adequately would be impossible and illustrates the wealth of wonderful memories to (re) discover.
As those who are familiar with Duff’s previous, excellent work will attest, the author has a particular talent for gently but firmly dismissing widely-held untruths and myths and here we have more of the same; notably on the styles of various Rangers and Celtic sides and the curious phenomenon of paranoia and victimisation which mysteriously disappears when the lesser of the Glasgow sides has a successful side.
Gripes: very few to relate, although some will undoubtedly grumble at the inclusion of so many games from the last decade or so, even if, in time, they too may prove to hold a lasting appeal.
The book concludes with a list of twenty great Rangers goals in derby matches. You could select another one hundred and still find room for others. That’s the joy of lists, and the fun of the inevitable arguments they encourage.
This book is thoroughly recommended, and acts as an ideal stocking-filler for those kids with big feet. For the rest of us, a letter to Santa will suffice.