The Old Firm was always a volatile cocktail, its elements rarely at ease. Now with one half gone, will the concoction that is Scottish soccer blow up?Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, of Treasure Island fame, penned a novella that many consider to be a foundation of modern fiction's addiction to substances, transformation and death - The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll liked to swallow chemicals, turning himself into something unpredictable: Mr. Hyde. It's a good metaphor for the historic events wracking Scottish soccer.
Think of Scottish soccer as a test tube in Dr. Jekyll's lab marked with skull and crossbones, WARNING - DO NOT SHAKE! Sitting at the top of the mix is the colors of Irish green and British blue - green is the substance called Glasgow Celtic Football Club bonded to the blue known as Glasgow Rangers Football Club. Mix them up and they can explode, but when they sit side by side at rest they produce something called the Old Firm, a successful alliance of opposites that has largely dominated Scottish soccer, economically and culturally, for over a hundred years.
The elements that make up their wholes would require too long a label to delineate - suffice to summarize it as an emulsion of historical grievance, religious division, sectarianism, and nationalist politics that produces a soccer clash unrivaled anywhere in the world. The Old Firm is the defining intense soccer rivalry. Super hot, beyond sport.
But now things have changed utterly. The tube has been ruptured. The blue half of the mix has evaporated. Rangers were declared bankrupt due to many years of mismanagement. They consumed a hubristic formula of reckless expenditure in an effort to destroy their other half, Celtic. They failed. And were left weak to the point of death like Dr. Jekyll.
Now, they have been discharged from the top Scottish league and will play their soccer in the remote world of Scotland’s lowest tier. Teams with names like Annan, Elgin and Montrose await them. Gone is the Scottish clasico against Celtic and matches against the other top teams in Scotland. Gone is playing in Europe’s competitions. The league rules and the animosity of other clubs and their fan bases dictated the plunge.
The economic implications are terrifyingly negative. Fears for other teams following Rangers evaporating are real. Rangers worked the pump of investment in the Scottish game - their games with Celtic broadcast globally, a premium brand. The Old Firm was the bank that all the other clubs had an interest in. With no Old Firm game, it will mean less or no money if TV contracts are canceled, and therefore less money to share with all the other clubs in Scottish soccer. The prospect of Scotland’s game boiling down is now a possibility.
The Scottish Football Association believes it may be the end. Besides the economic Armageddon for the clubs, the chiefs have warned of "social unrest." It's an extraordinary claim that social strife could result as a consequence of a soccer club going bust. The commentary from Scottish soccer fans has ranged from celebratory dances on Rangers grave to dire warnings of revenge when/if Rangers return from the shadows.
Dr. Jekyll was unrecognizable after swallowing the poison - disfigured, mean and hostile - and finally died. Will Scottish soccer follow the script or synthesize a new beginning free from the mix of the Old Firm chemistry?
Alan Black is the soccer columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle. Kick him on and