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Writer Mark Stokes, via the Boston Globe, certainly put in a good day’s work on Wednesday with the end result possibly costing the city of Boston millions of dollars while also severely pissing off millions of fans and employees of Scottish soccer club Rangers.
On Wednesday, Stokes published an article talking about the possible clash between Glasgow-based soccer teams Rangers and Celtic here in Boston. Both teams are set for North American tours this summer, but a stop in Boston isn’t set in stone. To date, it’s just been rumored that the historic Old Firm clash would come to Boston but the logistical details haven’t been locked down as of yet. The Rangers are already set for visits to Washington, D.C. and Dallas while Celtic will be in Toronto on July 16 or 17 for a friendly versus Manchester United. So a meeting in Boston seems imminent right? Well maybe not so.
Both Celtic and Rangers were founded in Glasgow in the late 19th century (1888 and 1873 respectively) amid a very tumultuous time when religious and political tensions were at a historic high. Due to close proximity a rivalry was formed, but not just any rivalry. The relationship between the two teams had a much more wide-ranging societal impact. Without getting all historical on you, the completely over-simplified gist of it is that Rangers were protestant and associated with the old British guard. Celtic was largely catholic. So when thinking about this rivalry, try to picture Yankees/Red Sox all cranked up on whatever made Barry Bonds’s head that big and then some.
The rivalry, which is referred to as the Old Firm rivalry, has been a staple in each teams schedule since its inception. Throughout history, the tensions have always been high to the point where violence would break out between fans and the surrounding community. The violence grew to such heights where, at certain points, the soccer governing body UEFA got involved to impose sanctions and other precautionary measures. To get a better, more visual, idea of the scene, check out this video. In recent times both clubs, working alongside the Scottish Parliament, church groups and community organizers, have taken measure to help quell the violence.
Stokes did a good job of highlighting most of the incidents in recent history where Rangers fans’ behavior has warranted police attention. Comparatively, he only could think of one incident where a Celtic supporter got out of line in 1984 when a fan got out on the pitch and struck a player.
The most inflammatory claim in the article refers to the 1971 tragedy at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow that resulted in 66 deaths, which included children. On Jan. 2, 1971, there was an Old Firm rivalry game that resulted in 89 minutes of scoreless play. In the final minute of the game, Celtic scored to make it 1-0. In injury time, Rangers netted an equalizer. Many speculate that when all the exiting Rangers fans heard the cheers ring out, they did an about-face and tried to get back in. The seas of fans bottle-necked, and eventually barriers on the stairs gave way, which caused a massive chain reaction and left bodies piled up six feet deep in that area.
“Most notably, disaster struck at Rangers’ Ibrox Stadium in 1971 following a crush-barrier failure, but it is widely accepted that the tensions between Celtic and Rangers fans played a major part in the 66 deaths that day (many of whom were children),” Stokes said in the article.
The one problem with this statement is that it’s not widely accepted. In fact, there is some history of incidents resulting in structural damage at Ibrox Stadium. In 1902, parts of the stadium collapsed, killing 25 people. In 1963, two fans were crushed to death while trying to navigate the overly congested exits.
Stokes’ article has since been removed and he’s issued an apology, but for all interested parties, you can view a copy of the article here.
To say that it’s “widely accepted” that the tensions between Celtic and Rangers contributed to the 1971 tragedy is a bit presumptuous at best and offensive at worst.
“It is extremely disappointing that comments in the Boston Globe do not reflect the Mayor of Boston’s invitation letter to the Club. Rangers fans can be assured that the reference in this article to the Ibrox Disaster in particular, which is both inaccurate and offensive, will be taken up with the newspaper in question by the Club,” said Martin Bain, Chief Executive for Rangers. (You can read the entire release here.)
Personally, I hope the Globe and Rangers kiss and make up because I would absolutely LOVE to have this game in Boston this summer.