Celtic vs Rangers: Old firm renews hostilities in Scottish Cup final

Rangers manager Philippe Clement needs this trophy to offer supporters hope that things may be about to change

Anybody who sniffily asserts that a meeting of Celtic and Rangers in a Scottish Cup final is about as remarkable as Thursday following Wednesday has not been paying attention. A Rangers victory via the odd goal in five from a Hampden epic in 2002 marks the last time the Old Firm squared off in Scottish football’s showpiece occasion. The noisy neighbours will be belatedly reunited on Saturday.

Of more concern to Rangers than fixture quirks should be the list of triumphant finalists since they lifted this trophy in 2009. The Scottish Cup has been housed at Ibrox on one more occasion during the intervening years. St Johnstone have won it twice in this period. Celtic’s seven successes in 14 seasons emphasise a period of dominance but the ribbons of Hearts, Hibs, Inverness and Dundee United have draped over the Cup as often as those of Rangers since Falkirk were narrowly seen off, 15 years ago.

Rangers can point to their financial implosion in 2012 as a mitigating factor but their silverware return while still carrying by far the second-biggest budget in Scotland has been awful. When Rangers’ operating costs rose above Celtic’s in 2022-23, excuses had run out for all bar the blinkered. No club in world football preaches about the importance of winning, while simultaneously falling short, more than Rangers. For Celtic, this has become a dream rivalry.

The latest Rangers attempt to walk the walk comes in unenviable circumstances. Celtic are swaggering on the pitch and purring off it. Philippe Clement’s situation might have been less fraught had he succeeded Michael Beale at Ibrox and been unable to create a race for Scotland’s top flight. Instead, Rangers managed to overhaul Celtic before the kind of lame capitulation that sums up the mentality of their squad. Rangers and Clement need the Scottish Cup to offer supporters hope that things may be about to change.


Had Beale, not Clement, reflected on “moral victory” after a 3-3 draw with Celtic in April, he would have been ridiculed. Rangers finished eight points behind Celtic, which made a mockery of Clement’s insistence that the gap between the sides had been narrowed since he took charge in October. There is a case to be made that Rangers are not much better off in football terms than when Giovanni van Bronckhorst was sacked in late 2022. This is a team that flatter to deceive. Clement has to offer something different in the final to break a grim Rangers cycle. There is no future for Rangers managers who cannot defeat Celtic.

That Celtic are the superior side means their position as favourites is justified. The most talented players on the Hampden pitch — Callum McGregor and Matt O’Riley, to name two — will wear green and white. Brendan Rodgers’ record in this derby is superb. Yet even underdogs have their day, and Celtic are not nearly strong enough to be deemed unbeatable. That Rodgers knows this all too well was emphasised this week, when he was forced to assert Celtic will “never be arrogant”. It was telling that the point had to be made. Celtic are fully entitled to relish their 54th league win but the scale and tone of the euphoria could lead onlookers to believe they are embroiled in something other than a two-horse race. Rodgers has been more giddy than ever before, to a level tricky to take seriously.

The Celtic manager — not one to miss an opportunity to curry favour — was lauding his club’s support for the latest time shortly before the same group were embarrassing themselves in Glasgow city centre during title “celebrations” last weekend. Nobody expressed louder disgust over Celtic stuttering earlier in the season than the same fans. Joe Hart, nothing more than a decent Celtic goalkeeper, has been heralded as some kind of modern-day icon as he edges towards retirement. Even more amusing was the playing of the Champions League anthem as Celtic received the Premiership trophy. Zadok the Priest should send followers of Celtic into cold sweats; the club’s recent record in Europe is laughing-stock material. Those in the stands have instead been conditioned to revel in domestic bliss.

Celtic are the immovable object that frustrate Rangers time and again. In 2002 it was Lennon, Lambert, Sutton and Larsson against Klos, Numan, De Boer and Ferguson. The standard is decidedly lower this time around but the stakes are as high as ever. Particularly, it feels, for Rangers. — Guardian