BBC Sport football


Related BBC sites

Page last updated at 22:50 GMT, Sunday, 15 March 2009

Angst, tension and joy at Hampden

By Keir Murray
BBC Scotland at Hampden Park

The Celtic end at Hampden
The Celtic support gave their team rousing backing throughout the match

At breakfast, my six-year-old son said to me: "Dad, I support two teams." "Oh?" "Yes - Rangers and Celtic. Some older boys at school were asking me what team I like."

Perhaps my boy has a career as a diplomat ahead of him.

At Hampden on Sunday there were very few neutrals and certainly no-one who supported both sides.

The national stadium was split right down the middle for the Co-operative Insurance Cup final between Celtic and Rangers: green and white in one half; red, white and blue in the other.

Such a divide heightens the tension, creates a memorable atmosphere and is far preferable to one side having 70% of the tickets as can happen when either half of the Old Firm plays a small club.

In the days leading up to this year's final, I had been watching some footage of previous Old Firm clashes at Hampden, with banks of fans on the terracing.

The capacity of the ground has been reduced to such an extent that there were "only" 51,193 watching this time.

Celtic and Rangers attract as many fans each for every home game in the league.

If my ears are still ringing at the noise generated at the ground, especially by the Celtic support, I can only imagine how loud the "Hampden roar" must have been when crowds of around 100,000 squeezed into the old stadium on the south side of Glasgow.

Old Firm matches are curious affairs. You just never know what is going to be served. On two occasions already this season, the fare has been rank.

Yet occasionally the games are like the food at a posh wedding - rich pickings but not to everyone's taste.

This match had a bit of everything, with a sending-off, comical touchline antics, a great goal, extra-time, a penalty, meaty challenges and the odd flash of skill.

The Hampden pitch caused an outcry when the semi-finals of this tournament were played. It was a rutted quagmire in places.

For the final, the pitch had been re-laid, but it still looked very heavy. On countless occasions, players lost their footing when they tried to turn quickly.

It was like watching WAGs in inappropriate footwear at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Rangers end at Hampden
The Rangers fans offer a colourful welcome to their heroes

Old Firm finals are surely about pressure and who handles it better. This time it was Celtic.

The fans are on the players' backs immediately. There is simply no hiding place.

And the pressure is constant.

When a player loses possession, when he holds on to the ball too long or gets rid of it too quickly, when he is caught offside or backs out of a tackle, or fails to spot a pass, waves of angst roll down from the stands and assault the hapless player.

In the first half, Steven Whittaker made a diagonal run towards the Celtic goal with the ball at his feet.

The Celtic fans behind the goal implored their players to close him down, while the Rangers fan yelled for him to shoot or pass, to do something immediately .

You begin to appreciate how some players just cannot handle it, how their self-confidence drains at such scrutiny.

And was it pressure or a lack of concentration that made Whittaker blooter the ball out for a throw-in having just performed a sublime nutmeg on Aiden McGeady?

The atmosphere was leavened when Pedro Mendes, who had a disappointing match, sliced the ball out of play in the direction of Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist in the technical area.

Rangers' top scorer of all time controlled the wayward ball with one touch then volleyed it back towards the pitch, missing Gordon Strachan by a whisker.

The Celtic manager's contorted expression of mock indignation and McCoist's red-faced apology were pure slapstick theatre.

As the red, white and blue legions became nervy, so they became subdued.

Sensing a choral victory, the Celtic end chanted: "Can you hear the Rangers sing? No-o, No-o."

Rangers fan Lauren and Celtic supporter Chelsea, best of pals
Rangers fan Lauren (left) and Celtic-daft Chelsea were best of pals after the game

This was followed by a mass "Ssshhhh" as the supporters in green and white urged one another to fall silent in order to detect traces of life in the Ibrox fans.

Darren O'Dea's headed goal in the first period of extra-time was met with an explosion of noise by the Celtic support.

Sitting near the halfway line, it was like listening to music on a home stereo with just one speaker working.

Then when Rangers' centre-half Kirk Broadfoot brought down McGeady in the box in the final minute of extra-time as he was about to shoot, the contest was over.

Broadfoot trudged off like a condemned man, leaving the Celtic winger to score the penalty and rid the stadium of any remaining tension.

The deflated Rangers fans made a sharp exit as angst gave way to Celtic joy.

After the match, I spoke to some fans in the Hampden car park. Among them were pals Lauren, a Rangers fan, and Celtic-supporting Chelsea.

"Rangers are still the best, no matter what. We'll get the double, no bother," said Lauren, refusing to be downbeat.

Chelsea retorted: "In your dreams! It's Celtic who will do the double!"

Another Rangers fan told me: "We were really bad today. We got what we deserved. We didn't create enough."

Print Sponsor

see also
Celtic 2-0 Rangers
15 Mar 09 |  Scottish Cups
Strachan delighted with cup win
15 Mar 09 |  Celtic
1957-66 Celtic dominate early finals
14 Mar 09 |  Scottish Cups
The route to the final
14 Mar 09 |  Scottish Cups

related bbc links:

related internet links:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites