Brace the Hammer reported yesterday that Reece Oxford is very close to playing out the rest of the season with Rangers FC. Rangers are currently in 2nd, trailing undefeated Celtic by a whopping 22 points. The real competition is for 2nd place as Aberdeen are nipping at Ranger heels.
European football has always seemed to have a narrative that echo the world surrounding. This has never been more true than when it comes to the Rangers-Celtic rivalry. To briefly summarize a century of footballing history; Rangers FC would not allow Catholics onto their team until 1980, whereas their crosstown rivals, Celtic FC, were founded by Irish immigrants.
The religious undertones bubbled over to a boiling rage in the 1970’s and footballing supporter groups morphed into religious zealots. The feud became less about football and more about life and death. Rory Smith of the NY Times, summarized it best:
“Rangers and Celtic is not soccer, it is religion and politics and history. It is Protestant and Catholic, Unionist and Irish Nationalist, the Union Jack and the Tricolor: two sides of several unbridgeable divides.”
This rivalry that transcended the pitch, seemed to come to an end in 2012 when Rangers were forced to liquidate due to poor management and failure to pay creditors. Celtic FC, admittedly, suffered as the aging rivalry was strangely mutually beneficial. After three years of losing to Rangers, The Scottish Premiership went on completely unchallenged for Celtic. With no dramatic rivalry or boding competition, fans would start to lose interest.
Rangers were dissolved and were forced to start from the bottom, the fourth tier of Scottish football. In 2015, Rangers won the Scottish Championship and earned their place in the Premiership once again. September of 2016 saw the first league fixture take place between Rangers and Celtic in quite some time. Four years of unspent energy culminated into an explosion of fanaticism which saw several people arrested on charges of sectarian offenses.
Young Reece Oxford may not be entirely prepared for the world he is entering. However, he will receive a world class education into how politics and religion can set the stage and tone for the footballing world. What happens on the pitch will transcend a box score and ultimately mean everything to those invested. While the Old Firm might be something of the past, the New Firm is still going strong. It’s Coke Zero. A lighter version of a fierce formula that caused so much decay.
How will Reece fit in at Rangers FC?
Many on the Rangers FC website forum have been a bit puzzled by the move. While most agree the defense can and should be bolstered, many were looking towards the attacking line as needing more aid. Rangers have found the back of the net a mere 28 times this year, compared to Celtic’s 50. Conversely, they have one of the leagues best defensive records, conceding only 21 goals to opponents.
Fans also expressed concern as to the length of the loan. Six months is just enough time to impress, only to then leave a massive question to be answered over the summer. That sentiment should resonate with many Hammer fans.
While Reece is best known for his midfield efforts against Arsenal last year, his main position is at center back. Rangers manager, Mark Warburton, is looking to help ease the efforts of 38 year old Clint Hill. Oxford should absolutely see some time on the pitch and will help Rangers cement that 2nd place position in the Premiership. Warburton has brought in other players on loan who have had massive success. American, Emerson Hyndman, has since made the loan move to Rangers as well as Jon Toral. Warburton is known for managing young players and is not afraid to put them into the starting XI.
While the New Firm rivalry is reigniting, or perhaps kindling is more accurate, Rangers are nowhere near matching the talent prowess shown by Celtic. Those years in the lower tiers of Scottish might have hardened the squad, but it has also left it devoid of youth and raw ability. If Rangers can somehow manage to hold onto the Hyndmans and Oxfords of the world, they have a chance to compete again for the top of the Premiership. Temporary loans, however, will only delay the inevitable.
A good rivalry is healthy for modern day football, adding anticipation, anxiety, and drama. However, like most things, it can be detrimental in large doses. When football becomes something more than just a game, it shakes the very foundation of what we’ve come to love. This message echoes to fans around the city of Glasgow.
A mural outside Celtic Park reads:
“Sectarianism divides,” it reads. “Fear, anger. They all fight, it’s not right; it’s your choice, it’s your voice. Respect each other’s view: the green and white, the white and blue.” In the middle sits a badge adorned with three words: “Rivals Not Enemies.”