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Friday, April 24, 1998 Published at 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK

Sport: Football: Previews

Scottish football reaches fever pitch
image: [ Rangers and Celtic remain fierce rivals but both sides say this now focuses on football and not religion ]
Rangers and Celtic remain fierce rivals but both sides say this now focuses on football and not religion

Emotions are riding high and deep-rooted rivalries have come to the forefront as the chance to claim the Scottish League Premier Division title nears.

The main contenders for the championship are the two Glasgow teams, Celtic and the current title holders, Rangers. They are among the most infamous rivals in football, or as their supporters would say, in the whole of sport.

By mid-April, the scene had been set as Celtic and Rangers moved in to occupy the top of the premier division. The outcome seems anything but predictable.

[ image: The teams battle it out at Ibrox Park]
The teams battle it out at Ibrox Park
In what is traditionally the climax of the season, the Old Firm rivals, as they are known, met for a tense showdown at Ibrox Park earlier this month.

Although up on points, Celtic had won only two of the last 13 matches they had played against Rangers, who were quick to soak up the Celtic pressure.

Goals from Jonas Thern and Jorg Albertz put the champions in scent of their 10th successive title in a row as Rangers took the match 2-0.

However, the pendulum swung back in Celtic's favour as they recovered from the defeat by thrashing Motherwell 4-1 soon afterwards to return to the top of the premier division.

More important for Celtic was that they enhanced their goal difference, which could prove vital in deciding the destination of the title.

A further twist in events occurred when Rangers went on to lose to Aberdeen as they failed to find the form that had earned them so much earlier on in the season.

Their defeat provoked bookmakers to place Celtic as the firm favourites to win the Scottish Premiership.

In the run up to the end of the season, neither side is ready to accept victory could be theirs without tackling every match head on.

[ image: The Celtic captain says victories are all important]
The Celtic captain says victories are all important
Celtic captain Tom Boyd says: "First and foremost, we have just got to get victories. I think there is a lot of importance now that games have to be won on goal difference because ourselves and Rangers are on level points. But I do think we need to concern ourselves with getting the victories."

Rangers manager Walter Smith is no less complacent: "We face very difficult matches - Hearts, Dundee, Kilmarnock. We know we have to win every game."

[ image: The Rangers manager says it's no easy road]
The Rangers manager says it's no easy road
"I think all the games in Scotland over the next four weeks will be as tense as we've seen for a long while. Nobody will have it easy because everyone has something to play for."

This includes Hearts who sit in third place in the premier division. Although their hopes for a chance at the title have faded somewhat after recently losing to Hibs and drawing with St Johnstone, Hearts manager Jim Jefferies says they will not give up.

"Mathematically we are still not out of it. We will battle on and there is always the incentive for the players to gain a place in my team for the Scottish Cup final, " he said.

But the drama will focus on Celtic and Rangers, whose rivalry sharply divides their home city of Glasgow.

Jamie Doran, a die-hard Glaswegian, tells BBC News Online about life as part of the Old Firm rivalry
The long history of confrontation between the two sides is as much religious as football based. Celtic fans are traditionally Catholic, while Rangers are a Protestant side.

Recently, many feel the sporting climate between the two clubs has improved and the only passion left is for beating each other at the game.

John Clark was part of the Celtic team that won nine Scottish championships in a row from 1965. He has a fitting explanation that he gives to those for whom football is still only a game.

"The noise, the passion, the raw emotion of the Old Firm games is fantastic. The big challenge for any player is to concentrate and play in that setting. It's tough," he says.

"There's nothing else to compare," he adds. "If you pegged out a Celtic strip and a Rangers strip on a washing line on a football field, the fans would stop to watch them dry - and shout for their colours to dry first."

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