For non-football fans the irrational behaviour that affects many football supporters can be a puzzler. They simply don’t get why we invest so much energy into a game that involves 22 men running around a grass park chasing a leather ball.
I have had many discussions trying to explain it without ever really successfully convincing the non-believer that my reasons are valid. Who knows, maybe they’re right. But either way there is no denying I am infected when it comes to football, I’m a carrier of the most severe strain of the football virus – someone who can be completely irrational when it comes to football and specifically Rangers FC.
I have followed the club for over thirty years and have enjoyed many highs and many lows. My knowledge on certain aspects can border on encyclopaedic. Games, scorelines, players…etc. There is a fair amount of knowledge tucked away after many years of love for Rangers.
It now looks as if my son has also picked up the strongest possible strain of this virus. Initially non-fussed for football, his interest picked up a year or two back both in terms of playing and watching. Now our weekends are basically made of watching football together.
His interest in Rangers has increased too, quite dramatically at that. He has become quite adept in terms of knowing facts and stats also. This had been on the increase anyway but there is little doubt that the Scottish Cup semi-final clash against Celtic at Hampden last year – his first game against Celtic – had an huge impact in firing his thirst for all things Rangers.
The opportunity for him take in the game arose out of a bit of luck. My usual partner in crime for these games was in his 70s. We had attended the 2011 League Cup final and he had been disgruntled at the fact that the fans stood during the game. He had found it physically demanding to stand for 90 minutes plus extra time. When Rangers came out of the hat against Celtic for this game he was never going to attend – and when the tickets came through the post he handed both of them to me.
The next conundrum was whether, at the age of ten, I should be taking him at all. There is of course an unsavoury element to these games and I feared for the possibilities that may lie ahead. After all, a young Rangers supporter the same age as my boy had been bottled at the last game at Hampden between the sides.
I was 13 when I took in my first Old Firm game – the 4-4 draw in March ’86 –-although my dad had tried to take to a game previously. We had made our way to Ibrox in May ’83 to see Ranger play host to their most bitter rivals. We had queued outside for tickets that were being sold literally from a caravan. The process took longer than anticipated and by 40 minutes in to the first-half we were still there. We had heard the cheers go up for Rangers two goals that had put them into a commanding 2-0 lead. My dad, unwilling to pay full price for 45 minutes of football, chucked in the towel and we headed home. We entered the living room of our house in Cumbernauld just in time to see the full-time score of 4-2 to Celtic come in on Grandstand. Rangers had capitulated in the second-half and Celtic had secured a famous win, although still lost the title to Dundee Utd. Bullet dodged in terms of a first Old Firm game!
Back to 2016 and I thought about the pros and cons of taking my son, and eventually decided that I would take him. Firstly, he knew I had a spare ticked and the thought of telling he couldn’t go was going to prove beyond my capabilities as a dad. Secondly, I have been to countless of these games and never encountered any issues. Why, I asked myself, should this be any different?
On the morning of the game we set off to support our club in its biggest match of the season so far. Both nervous, although with the elder statesman of the party feeling quietly confident. I just had a feeling that this was going to be our day. We had been to the national stadium the week before for the Petrofact Cup Final – which was his first cup final – and we had enjoyed it hugely. This, however, was going to be a different experience entirely.
At periods on the train journey to Glasgow he was very subdued. Obviously nervous and obviously unsure of what to expect. We walked from the city centre to Hampden savouring the atmosphere as we went. Just as we went to enter the stadium I gave him a hug and said: “Good luck, son. I hope they get a result for you” – and then we were in.
The game kicked off and Rangers settled quicker, playing some very stylish football into the bargain. It wouldn’t take long for my boy to experience his first Old Firm goal.
On sixteen minutes, Halliday sent in a weak cross, “Broony” stuck out a lazy leg in an attempt to block it and directed it straight to Kenny Miller who slotted it home. Bedlam! The boy experienced first-hand what it was like to score against them. Embracing me, having total strangers hug him – it was chaos as usual. As the celebrations died down he turned to me and asked: “It’s like that every time we score against them?” I just nodded and a smile wider than the Clyde crept across his face.
It was game on now. The lower league side were skelping the champions of Scotland. There had to be a reaction and there was. Celtic crept a little more into it and should have equalised when Patrick Roberts missed an open goal of Van Vossen proportions. But despite Celtic’s efforts there was definitely a feeling that Rangers were the superior side. We got to half-time with our lead intact and we were 45 minutes away from reaching our first Scottish Cup Final since 2009.
But these games are rarely routine and sure enough Celtic came back. Five minutes after the re-start, and a after a series of corners, Celtic equalised through a Sviatchenko header.
It was now anyone’s game and the action swayed from one end to the other in what was an enthralling encounter. In terms of entertainment, the boy had landed on his feet for his first experience of the Old Firm – now all he needed was a result.
The 90 minutes ended with the teams still level and extra time would be required. Some of the punters around us asked the wee fella how he was coping and if he was enjoying it – without looking entirely convinced that they were coping with proceedings or enjoying it themselves!
The first-period of extra time kicked off and within minutes we had the defining moment of the game – Barrie McKay’s screamer into the top corner of Craig Gordon’s net. The ball went out for a throw-in, which should have gone Celtic’s way. Craig Thompson pointed the other way and from the quick throw Rangers worked the ball out, got it to McKay, who skipped past “Broony” and fired an unstoppable shot to put us 2-1 up and looking at a final place once again.
The scenes of joy at this screamer maybe actually surpassed the scenes for Miller’s goal, probably because of the nature and the quality of the strike. We we’re right behind McKay when he hit and you could see almost immediately that it was away – so much so that someone shouted “That’s in!” as the ball was still travelling. .
But Celtic came back again in similar circumstances to earlier in the game. Five minutes after the re-start of the second-period of extra time Rogic fired home and Celtic were level again. The sides couldn’t be separated in the remaining ten minutes and so it was penalties.
As all fans know these are nerve shredding, but I have a relatively good record in these situations – and it would continue. But not before we were put through the ringer again.
Rangers were the first to blink in the spot-kicks with Tavernier sending his effort wildely over the bar – only for Calum McGregor to instantly miss Celtic’s next effort to even things up again.
Each time someone stepped up the nerves jangled and the tension increased. On the fourth kick Nicky Clark produced Rangers’ second miss of the kick-out – only for Scott Brown, who hilariously had a dismal day – to also miss his and preserve parity. With no further misses it was onto sudden death.
Zelalem and then Nicky Law ensured that when Tom Rogic stepped up he had to score to keep Celtic in it. He ran up, swung his left foot at it and as it rose over the bar the stands at the Rangers end erupted with joy. I grabbed the boy and hugged him with all my might, He had done it – he had gotten a win in his first Old Firm game. Others sitting around us also embraced him and congratulated him, it was a few minutes of pure joy – and I will remember the celebrations until my last breath. The players came to our end to celebrate and so he ran down to see some of them. With too many fans there, however, he couldn’t get near any of them. But it didn’t matter. We had won – and won well. All the pain of the last four years could, for now anyway, be put in storage and replaced with a level of happiness that hadn’t visited for some time.
We wandered back into the city centre with a feeling of gleeful contentment, raising our fists in the air at the celebrating Rangers supporters busses as they passed us along Victoria Rd.
It was obvious that this was a big moment in my boys Rangers supporting life. He looked as if he was on the trip of a lifetime – unable to keep the smile off his face, asking questions about previous Old Firm games and just generally displaying a mood that could only be described as hyper.
I can’t lie, it was truly magic to have this experience with him. I’ve enjoyed victories against Celtic so many times before with friends and family members, but this was different. It mean so much more to me because it meant so much to him. And even now a year on, he is regularly seen watching it on his i-Pad with his headphones on and that wider than the Clyde grin on his face.
I’ll never forget the look on his face during the Miller celebrations – his first proper experience of celebrating a big goal in a big game. He couldn’t believe it, couldn’t take in the level of ecstasy on display. But once he had experienced it he was hungry for more – he was hooked, and I suspect that he has now been infected with the same strain of the irrational football supporting virus as I have.
But you know what, he may have a lifetime in front of him of letting the results of a football team having too much of an impact on his mood, but all of us who have had similar days to this know that it’s worth it. Both of us will remember this day for the rest of our lives – and is that not what shared experiences are all about?