“A friendly encounter”. A crowd of just 2000. Polite applause for both sides and a relaxed, good-humoured post-match supper.
These were the humble and deceptively convivial beginnings from which one of the game’s most passionate rivalries was born 125 years ago today. With Glasgow captivated at the time by a hugely popular international exhibition in the city’s west end, few had paid much heed to a football match taking place on the other side of town.
Those who did attend mainly did so with the motivation of watching Celtic play their first-ever match, and they were not to be disappointed. This fledgling outfit had invited Rangers, 16 years older and fast becoming Glasgow’s most popular club, to provide the opposition, and were fully expected to struggle.
However, even with a thrown-together team comprised of guests from various Scottish clubs, Celtic immediately proved a match for their illustrious rivals. With just a few minutes played, Neil McCallum headed the opening goal of his club’s history, and it would be the first of seven in a match the new boys – for whom Tom Maley scored a hat-trick – won 5-2.
Not that Rangers, who had fielded a largely second string team, were too perturbed. They happily joined their new rivals at the nearby St Mary’s Hall for a post-match meal and concert, with one local newspaper reporting: “Proceedings were of the happiest character.” Another publication of the time, the Scottish Umpire, declared: "It would appear as if the newly formed Glasgow club, the Celtic F.C., has a bright future before it. At any rate, if the committee can place the same 11 in the field as opposed the Rangers last Monday evening, or an equally strong one, the Celtic will not lack for patronage and support.”
That proved to be an understatement. And as Celtic grew in strength, so the rivalry with their first-ever opponents increased in intensity. By 1904, the pair even had a collective name: the Old Firm. In the years since, that tag has become synonymous throughout world football with antagonism and antipathy and, whatever happens the next time these sides meet, ‘a friendly encounter’ can safely be ruled out.
Click the links on the right to read more about the history of the Old Firm derby and see our full list of Classic Rivalries.