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'Like a cup of cold sick': Why Celtic and Rangers fans are so angry about Sydney showdown

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3rd March, 2022
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The announcement that Celtic, Rangers, Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers will play each other in the “Sydney Super Cup” next November was a fair old shock to anyone who follows football, either in Scotland or Australia.

While an Ange Postecoglou return was greeted warmly in Sydney, the idea of Scotland’s biggest rivalry being played out for laughs on the other side of the world went down like a cup of cold sick in Glasgow.

This morning, with Celtic hosting St Mirren at home and Rangers travelling to St Johnstone, banners were held up by fans protesting their clubs involvement, creating a unique situation in which the hardcore elements of both supports actually align.

While the outrage was shared, the angle from each set of fans is actually quite different.

If you’re a Celtic fan – for full disclosure, I am – it’s a real kick in the teeth. It proves that the powers-that-be at the club are just as happy as ever to leverage our passion for profit, using fans to sell a fixture that almost all fans hate.

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And don’t be fooled: everyone knows that the principal draw of Celtic vs. Rangers is not the football, it’s the fans.

The advertising reflected this. Notably, Optus Sport tweeted about it with a photo of Scott Brown and Andy Halliday wrestling with each other in a game from a several years ago.

Not Kyogo Furuhashi, our star striker, or even Tom Rogic, our Socceroos midfielder, but an ancient photo of a stoush between two players who don’t play for either team anymore.

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Celtic themselves pushed the Ange’s homecoming aspect. Their press release on the tournament didn’t so much as mention that Rangers would be part of it, though it did name drop Scott McDonald, who hasn’t been at the club since 2010, and Jackson Irvine, who played a grand total of 45 minutes in the Hoops almost a decade ago.

Even the narrative of the Ange homecoming doesn’t really work. If it did, it wouldn’t matter who Celtic were playing, and if we’re being honest, the game would probably have to be in Melbourne, where Ange is actually from.

Were it Celtic vs. Melbourne Victory at the MCG next November, that narrative might make a little more sense and, indeed, probably wouldn’t cause so much consternation among the Celtic support.

The banners in the North Curve, Celtic’s standing section, went heavy on the issue of association with Rangers, reading: “We’re not half of anything unless there’s money to be made – shove your ‘Old Firm” friendly up your arse”.

To decode the dialect of Scottish fitba for a second, this refers to a tweet posted by Celtic’s official account in March 2021, in which they sought to distance themselves from the traditional ‘Old Firm’ dynamic by tweeting “We’re not half of anything” and “One Club since 1888”, a reference to Rangers’ liquidation in 2012.

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The ‘Old Firm’ quotation marks are telling too: the term itself doesn’t exist at Celtic Park, with fans having essentially retired the derby in 2012 when the original Rangers club disappeared. Celtic’s official media outlets use ‘Glasgow derby’ to refer to games with Rangers, though I’ve long preferred ‘El Glasigo’.

The Rangers fans banners took a slightly different tack. “Money over Morals, no Derby friendlies” read their offering, which also spoke to their unwillingness to be associated with Celtic, but also to the naked cash grab aspect.

For Gers fans, the problem is as much that they have been relegated to Ange’s sideshow, the Generals brought in to play the Globetrotters.

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Rumours in Scotland have it that Celtic will receive $11m for the game and Rangers less than half of that, which implies that Rangers’ place in the world now is as a marketing vehicle for their most hated rival’s manager, the Generals brought in to play the Globetrotters.

That said, it was remarked upon that the $5m that Rangers will get is still more than their entire TV deal to play in Scotland for a season.

That is true: the SPFL’s TV deal is horrendous and values the competition roughly the same as the Romanian top flight, despite Scotland being rated by UEFA as the 9th best league in Europe and Romania the 25th best.

Unfortunately in the two horse race of Scottish football, getting an extra $5m doesn’t help much if the other horse gets $11m, and Rangers couldn’t play a glamour friendly anywhere in the world against anyone else and get close to what they will get for playing Celtic in Australia.

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It speaks also to the markedly differing financial trajectories of the two clubs.

Celtic have a player trading business model that has seen them post a profit most years and post a smaller loss during Covid than almost every other major football club. They get players on the cheap and sell them onto Premier League clubs.

Rangers have never posted a profit since they were reformed in 2012 and indeed have lost tens of millions, with repeated share issues required to fund the club. Rangers have made one major player sale since 2012, and that was this January gone.

If you were looking for a reason why they are willing to travel halfway around the world to accept second billing to their hated rivals, that’s it there. Rangers need the cash.

Beyond the internal dynamics of both clubs, there is a unity between fans that this is a terrible idea.

It’s a lose-lose for everyone: the fanbases of both teams are used as marketing for a game that they don’t like and won’t attend; the teams have to travel around the world for a meaningless fixture and the Aussie fans who pay their hard-earned to get in will see a plastic version of a rivalry, because the actual reasoning for the rivalry, the fans, won’t be there.

It will be thousands of gawkers waiting for a kick-off that won’t come.

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