Old Firm reunited: Celtic, Rangers back in same division, renewing rivalry

Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

It’s a new start for the Old Firm.

One of the most iconic fixtures in world football returns on Saturday when Rangers and Celtic, bitter rivals from the Scottish city of Glasgow, meet for the first time in the country’s top league in four years.

And it is putting Scottish football back on the map.

[ MORE: Manchester derby preview ]

The two foes, who have a combined 101 top-flight league titles, were temporarily separated when Rangers was demoted to the bottom tier of the Scottish game in 2012 for financial mismanagement. Celtic fans greeted the implosion of their neighbors with derision, with one banner at Celtic Park reading: “You’ll Not Be Missed.”

There’s unlikely to be a soccer-loving Glasgow household that isn’t tinged with excitement at the renewal of the Celtic-Rangers rivalry. The clubs will also be delighted, too – Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell has said Rangers’ demotion has cost his club 10 million pounds ($13.3 million) a year in revenue.

As Rangers scrambled back up the four-division league pyramid, the teams have met twice over the last four years in cup competitions, with each earning one win on neutral territory. Saturday ushers in the start of a new era of the Old Firm in the Scottish Premiership.

“The significance to the city must never be forgotten for both sets of fans,” Rangers manager Mark Warburton said. “Fans around the world look at this fixture.”

[ MORE: Top 5 storylines of the PL weekend ]

Expect passion, a hostile atmosphere and plenty of full-blooded tackles inside Celtic Park. And, invariably, fan clashes and violence in and outside the stadium.

Matches between the two sides run deeper than football because of the volatile mix of religion, politics and sporting history. Rangers has a traditionally Protestant fan base, while Celtic’s supporters are more likely to be Roman Catholics – and it can be a recipe for trouble.

There were even calls for the Old Firm fixture to be scrapped after an infamous match in 2011, when three players were sent off, the two managers squared up to each other at the final whistle and 187 fans were detained by police on the day of the game.

Both clubs are calling for calm and composure, but the presence of two tenacious midfielders – one Scottish and the other English – going head to head raises the possibility of another heated match five years later.

In Celtic’s Scott Brown and Rangers’ Joey Barton, both teams have hotheads who never take a backward step. Barton, who has nine red cards in his career, arrived from England’s Burnley in the offseason and immediately began taunting Brown.

[ MORE: Mourinho vs. Guardiola rivalry resumes ]

“People keep talking about Joey Barton versus Scott Brown,” Barton said. “He’s not even in my league. He’s nowhere near the level of player I am. He can’t get near me.”

For Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers, it will be a first experience of a fixture many say is unlike any other. As a former manager of Liverpool and Swansea, he has sampled derby matches in Merseyside and South Wales and expects the Old Firm derby to be “unique.”

“I don’t think anything will prepare you from watching on the television to actually being there,” Rodgers said. “And this time being the first time in the number of years there has been a Celtic-Rangers game at Celtic Park, then of course that is going to add that little bit of spice to it.”

Another reminder of the old days is the teams’ position in the standings. They are the top two in the early days of the season, with Celtic ahead by a point.

Some Celtic fans like to wind up their Rangers counterparts, suggesting this is a new inter-city rivalry due to the fact that the “old” Rangers went out of business in 2012 and the current team is the “newco” Rangers.

But when the blue of Rangers and the green-and-white jerseys of Celtic run out to the field on Saturday, all the history of the fixture will come flooding back.