Inside the Divide: Richard Wilson gets to the heart of Celtic v Rangers rivalry

The rivalry between Celtic and Rangers has seldom been less than intense since they first squared up to one another on May 28th, 1888.  Explosions of hatred between opposing supporters have been commonplace but the 2010-11 season will be remembered as particularly poisonous.

It was a season in which Celtic fans protested against the poppy, in which Celtic’s continuous complaints against referees led the officials to go on strike, in which Uefa fined Rangers for sectarian chanting and a Celtic fan was jailed for racially abusing the Rangers player, El-Hadji Diouf.

It was a season in which an Old Firm game of three red cards, 13 yellows and 34 arrests inside Celtic Park ended with rival managers Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon having to be dragged apart but which then sank to even lower depths as death threats were made against Celtic boss Lennon, who received bullets and explosives in the post.  Lennon was subsequently attacked by a Hearts supporter on the touchline during a televised match at Tynecastle.

Given this backdrop, Richard Wilson’s attempt to get to the core of a football enmity that outstrips all others comes at a timely moment and his new book, Inside the Divide: One City, Two Teams ... The Old Firm, has already attracted some glowing reviews.

The author, who has spent much of his working life as a football journalist in Glasgow, collecting several awards along the way, builds his narrative around the unfolding of one Old Firm match, in January 2010, chosen simply because it was the first to occur after he found a publisher willing to run with his idea.

He set out to view this game from multiple perspectives, interviewing not only participants and supporters but those involved at the peripheries, including the senior duty police officer and the Sky television commentator, even an A&E nurse on duty to attend to incoming wounded.  With their stories as a central thread that holds the tale together, he finds points at which to delve into the history of the game and to explore its social, political and religious context.

Reviewing for the Observer, Kevin McKenna describes Inside the Divide as “insightful and wonderfully written” and applauds Wilson’s efforts to identify the factors that make the Old Firm game unparalleled among derbies.  “Wilson, more than anyone in recent years, has told us why Celtic and Rangers matter and why their adherents have little of which to be ashamed and much of which to be proud,” he writes.

Writing in The Scotsman, Richard Bath confesses to disliking Wilson’s interspersing of his own “excellent narrative” with dramatic, fictional re-constructions of actual events (in the manner of David Peace in The Damned United) but is otherwise largely complimentary.

He describes what he perceives as Scotland’s “simultaneous fascination and revulsion with the Old Firm” as “a complicated relationship which Wilson chronicles with some dexterity.”

He adds that “the chapter devoted to Mo Johnston is particularly good, as is his analysis of how non-Scottish players such as Paul Gascoigne...were sucked into the whirlpool of heightened emotions and sectarianism which accompanies the Old Firm rivalry.”

Inside the Divide is, he concludes, “an entertaining book that illuminates much about the Old Firm, and about Scotland as a nation.”

Buy Inside the Divide: One City, Two Teams...The Old Firm direct from Amazon.

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