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How the United, Glasgow Rangers rivalry originated

Tuesday nights European Champions League first round clash with Glasgow Rangers at Old Trafford is the second so called ‘Battle of Britain’ in the last seven years. The two sides met at Ibrox on October22, 2003 where United took the three points with a Phil Neville goal after just five minutes. The English champions did not have everything their own way however as Rangers threw everything at United and were considered unlucky not to at least get a share of the points.

In the return leg two weeks later United made certain of topping their group with a comfortable 3-0 win from two strikes by Ruud van Nistelrooy on either side of half time after Diego Forlan had given United the lead after six minutes. While defeating Rangers in both matches did not present too many dramas on the field, the atmosphere on the terraces would have been different because there was never any love lost between the two sets of supporters.

Manchester United fans are used to the jealous loathing of  English rivals but the spite from their Rangers counterparts is still something of a mystery. Stuart Brennan from the Manchester Evening News took a look at why such rivalry existed before the first ‘Battle of Britain’ took place seven years ago. It’s doubtful if anything has changed since. Brennan starts by asking “Why do fans of the Scottish champions ‘hate Man U’ with a passion? In the duller moments of the seventies – and Lord knows, there were many – the Stretford End used to amuse itself with a little internal strife.

One section would chant ‘Celtic’ and the reply would come loud and clear ‘Rangers’. It mattered not if those two Scottish teams were not playing each other that day, it was just a bit of fun. Some fans would wear ski hats that bore the colours of United on one side, those of Celtic on the other. But others wore similar hats that were half-and-half with the blue of Rangers. Many of the latter ditched those hats when Rangers came to town for a ‘friendly’ match in 1974 – the violence was the worst Old Trafford had ever seen.

United’s following were hardly angelic in those dark days but the scenes on the terraces that night were truly shocking. United are a club that tends to inspire dislike, some of it bordering on pathological, but many Reds are genuinely puzzled as to why a Scottish club, with no history of playing the Reds in meaningful matches, should jump on that particular bandwagon. One reason, of course, is United’s long history of association with Ireland.

They were the first English side to sign an Irish professional when John Penden joined Newton Heath. By then, a large section of their support was drawn from Manchester’s large Irish community, football was something that gave them a common bond with the indigenous people, a bond formed on the terraces. That was underlined by the fact that, when they changed their name in 1902, they very nearly became Manchester Celtic.

The Irish link grew through the ages, fuelled by the fact that United tapped into the raw sporting talent of the Irish Republic from Johnny Carey and Billy Whelan in the 1950s through to Johnny Giles, Shay Brennan, Noel Cantwell, Gerry Daly and then on to Frank Stapleton, Kevin Moran, Paul McGrath, Denis Irwin and Roy Keane. In the fifties, United were perceived as Manchester’s ‘Catholic’ club, just as Celtic were, indisputably, in Glasgow.

Matt Busby was a Scotsman of Irish descent, his influential assistant Jimmy Murphy was from Kilkenny and United’s scouting network included a large number of football mad priests, in Britain and Ireland, who would proffer the best talents from their church teams for the club’s perusal. Some of Manchester’s Protestant footballers complained that their denomination was working against them in their bid for the first team. (Pic – When Walter Smith and Sir Alex were on the same side)

It was a complaint that held no water when a young Northern Ireland Protestant boy called George Best was introduced into the team in 1963. United became huge in Ireland in the sixties, partly because of Best, partly because of the wave of sympathy from the Munich air crash, and partly because they were such a good, watchable team, something the Irish did not have.

That link continues to this day. United, like Celtic, have a huge fan base in the Republic, while Rangers have big support among Northern Ireland’s Protestant community. Any lingering notion that United were a ‘Catholic’ club was destroyed from the sixties onwards as Northern Ireland Protestants like Best, Jimmy Nicholl and Norman Whiteside claimed regular places. But many fans retain an affinity for Celtic, and the friendly links between United and Glasgow’s ‘other’ club are another reason that Rangers are not too fond of the Reds.

United have benefited from that link immeasurably – Pat Crerand, Lou Macari and Brian McClair all made the trip South and left indelible marks on United’s history. Of course that was strictly business but to Rangers fans it was another reason to resent United. When Celtic were forced to replay their 1984 Cup Winners’ Cup clash with Rapid Vienna outside Scotland due to a crowd incident at Parkhead, they turned to United. By contrast with Rangers‘ visit 10 years earlier, the atmosphere was cordial as tens of thousands of Celtic fans descended on Manchester and mingled freely with the locals.

At the Old Firm derby earlier this month, a flag reading ‘MUFC – Aberdeen Reds’ appeared among the green and white at the Celtic end of the ground, confirming the Celtic links in the eyes of the Rangers faithful. United are clearly no longer a ‘Catholic’ club, if they were in the first place, and the fact that their most successful manager of all time is a Glaswegian Protestant, born in the shadow of Ibrox and a Rangers nut as a boy, emphasises the point. But therein lies another sub plot.

Ferguson realised a boyhood ambition by playing for Rangers for two years in the sixties but left under a cloud. There are claims that he was forced out for marrying a Catholic girl, claims that are strongly denied by Rangers fans to this day. They point out that he was picked to play in the Scottish Cup final even when the club knew of his relationship with the girl – now his wife Cathy. Whatever the reason, Fergie has described the way he left Rangers, after being demoted to third team football by manager Davie White, as the most painful moment in his 40 years in football, as player and manager.

One Rangers fanzine has accused Fergie of fostering bad blood between Rangers and Aberdeen when he was in charge at Pittodrie. They say that his spell in charge of the Dons coincided with clashes on the field and off it and an unpleasant relationship persists to this day. He now confirms he has no allegiance to Rangers, another sin in the eyes of the Ibrox fans. There will be no warm homecoming for Ferguson. He will love it.

Is the rivalry between the two sets of fans still as fierce today?


No Responses to “How the United, Glasgow Rangers rivalry originated”

  1. Coop says:

    As a Rangers fan I don’t believe these feelings of “jealous loathing” run as deep as you say. The British mentality is to back the underdog, hence most fans of clubs other than Man Utd want to see them defeated. The same happens in Scotland with non-Rangers fans wanting Rangers, who have won more League titles than any other team on Earth, defeated. English footbvall is of course bigger in Scotland than Scottish football is in England. You may not notice us but we notice you, and most Scots have a favourite English team. Many Gers fans like Chelsea. I prefer Everton.

    A perception does exist that Man Utd and the terrorist sympathisers from Glasogw’s east end have a ‘special relationship’ but not enough to cause much friction. My brother, a Gers fan, seems to be more of a Man Utd fan than a Gers one at times. Not tomorrow though.

    As for Sir Alex? If we treated him so bad why does he talk often of his love of Rangers?

  2. mark flynn says:

    Terrorist sympathisers from east glasgow.What about yer own affliation to the uff,combat 18,chelsea head hunters.Yer scottish get over it and wave yer own flag.Who do you support during the world cup.Scotland or england??.Yer like a bastard race you rangers fans.No identity.

  3. Jimmy says:

    Celtic held a minutes applause at the memory of George Best because they couldn’t guarantee total silence from the Celtic fans as George Best was an Irish Protestant

    Now that’s some friendship !

    And by the way,many Rangers fans like Man United and many Man United fans like Rangers

    Just leave it at that

  4. Jimmy says:

    to Mark Flynn

    Every week you’ll see plenty Saltires waved at Ibrox as well as Union Flags

    That means no identity crisis if you’re not a Scottish nationalist

    What about Scottish Celtic fans supporting Eire or English Man Utd fans wanting England to get beat if there are “too many” Liverpool players in the national team ?

  5. Coop says:

    I think you’ll find that most Rangers fans ‘affliation’ is to the UK. Rangers fans raise money for wounded soldiers, particularly at Erskine, Celtic fans raise funds for terorists. Rangers regularly invite soldiers to Ibrox, do Celtic? Any matchday at Ibrox will see many Saltires, how many do you see at Celtic Park?

    Celtic supporting soldiers die in Afghanistan. Any glimpse at a Rangers fansite will see a thread full of sadness and RIP comments, a quick look at a Celtic board will see disgusting anti-British comments and almost no sympathy for the soldier who lost his life.

    Clearly their are fans at both clubs who let their club down, Celtic fans sing pro-terrorist songs regularly at games and Gers fans do not, but I do wonder why no one at Celtic wishes to express their patriotism by displaying the St Andrews cross?

  6. Seoul Bhoy says:

    Firstly I’d like to apologize to the Man Utd fans for the idiots who are polluting their fansite. BUT I do feel I need to comment on some of Coop’s comments

    a)Are the UFF,UDA and UVF not terrorist organisations? If so then surely that means you sing pro-terrorist songs b)Why do Celtic not fly the St.Andrew’s cross? If you ever visit Celtic Park you will see it flying above the North Stand c)Celtic fans raise funds for terrorists? when? If you mean Sinn Fein then they are a political organisation ,recognized by the UK government as such, not a terrorist organisation d) Anti-British comments when a soldier loses his life? really? I’ve never seen these comments on any of the fansites that I log onto so not sure where you’ve seen them.

    BUT to bring it back to football, I hope that it’s a great game and I hope for the sake of the game that any idiots who are intent on causing trouble stay away and that we get to see another example of a good old Scottish-English footballing battle. Rangers-Leeds, Celtic-Liverpool spring to mind

    Seoul Bhoy

  7. Big Mike says:

    Manchester United often have fans over from the Republic of Ireland and of course you see the Tricolour on display. This would be like a red rag to a bull with the Rangers lot. I love the Celtic do not give a diddly for religion, certainly not a terrorist or any thing like this and when that fowl poster Coop says so, it just makes me sick. He is a cretin as can be seen by his posts.

    Manchester United have always been big in Scotland, I live in England now and my two sons are Man United supporters, they like Celtic because of me and of course I too look out for Man United winning.

    PS Give that shower of bigots a real thrashing tonight!

  8. truebluebarkers says:

    Seoul Bhoy,

    That same Sinn Fein who are headed by Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness, known and acknowledged terrorists. There are idiots on both sides however Celtic fans conveniently sweep their misdemeanors under the carpet. One of my Celtic supporting friends now refuses to go to away matches because of the idiots purporting to be Celtic fans, this came to a head for him the last time Celtic visited Man Utd for a CL match. He was ashamed of the ‘minority’ of Celtic fans chatting and singing pro IRA songs, especially after what the IRA did to Manchester. For every incident that Rangers fans have been involved in I could
    list one for Celtic. I think it’s time everyone grew up and stop the tit-for-tat which only perpetuates the problem.

  9. Jimmy says:

    Big Mike

    Trust me when I say I speak for most Rangers fans when I say that they do not find the Irish tricolour offensive ,after all the colour orange in the tricolour is there to include their culture.

    There are two Rangers Supporters Clubs in Dublin so intolerance of the national flag is a bit of a lie you are telling.

    Anyway,on the subject of the tricolour why do Celtic fans fly it with yellow rather than orange

    Intolerance by any chance?

    Maybe thats why some fans dont like the flag when the orange is replaced by yellow.

    Anyway ,back to the football.I hope its a good game but I think Man United will be far too strong.I predict Rangers will get one good chance in the whole game

  10. Big Mike says:

    Aye whatever Jimmy! Rangers fans hate anything Irish, Catholic even the colour Green! Sorry but that it the way it is! I just hate Rangers and all they stand for! That also is just the way it is!

    My two sons support Man United and I am glad because I would not want them brought up in the filth and gutter that is the Old Firm!

  11. Jimmy says:

    Sorry Big Mike but Rangers fans been supporting players of all religions and colours for years now.Anything else is old hat.

    There is now a generation who have not known anything other.Even the generation before that took Mo Johnston to their hearts when scores of supporters clubs voted him their player of the year (including Govan True Blues!).They didn’t and still dont care as long as they’re playing for the blue jersey.Dado Prso and Nacho Novo are up there in any Rangers fans mind.

    I hope this has gone some way to convincing you that religion is no longer an issue at the club as it was for MANY institutions in Scotland over the same decades.

  12. tell the truth says:

    When have celtic ever raised funds for terrorists? total lies yet again.
    this is the crap rangers fans have been spewing over the keyboards for years,
    the best form of defence being attack, the same bigoted clowns who couldn’t find a
    catholic good enough to play for rangers until 1989, of course there was no sectarian policy…..aye right. celtic fans like nyself grew a soft spot for united during the eighties, when times where tough for them, visiting old trafford for testimonials where always great occasions, a day away,drinkin and singing WITH the local fans.Not something associated with rangers fans due to the high level of scum within the ranks,rangers want to be hated,that’s they’re thing.



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