I played in fierce Premier League derbies but nothing compares to Old Firm rivalry between Celtic and Rangers
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I played in fierce Premier League derbies but nothing compares to Old Firm rivalry between Celtic and Rangers

Nov 15, 2023

Nobody knows more about UK football rivalries than Kolo Toure.

The legendary defender has played in all of the Premier League’s most famous derbies, from north London to Manchester and Merseyside.

Toure is synonymous with the Arsenal 'Invincibles' of 2003/04

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Toure is synonymous with the Arsenal ‘Invincibles’ of 2003/04Credit: Getty

But for the former Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City defender, there is one match which outranks them all.

The Old Firm derby between Celtic and Rangers.

After 14 years in the Premier League, Toure finished his career at Celtic Park with a swansong treble-winning campaign under Brendan Rodgers.

The Ivory Coast icon timed his arrival perfectly – because it coincided with the return of Rangers to the Scottish Premiership following a four-year exile.

Starting next to a young, up-and-coming defender called Kieran Tierney, Toure was part of the Hoops team which thrashed their Glasgow rivals 5-1 in September 2016.

Celtic would also go on to dump Rangers out of the Scottish Cup and win 5-1 at Ibrox later in the season.

Toure experienced Ivory Coast matches that brought a warring nation together, but he never saw anything like the fever surrounding Parkhead that day in 2016.

He told talkSPORT.com: “The Glasgow derby is incredible because for me it’s more than football. You can feel the tension. You can feel like two teams don’t like each other, but it’s more than football and it’s more religion than anything else.

Toure only spent one season at Celtic but it left a lasting impact

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Toure only spent one season at Celtic but it left a lasting impactCredit: Kenny Ramsay – The Sun Glasgow

“And you know when it goes to religion, everybody is really passionate. The passion is high in religion.”

Once upon a time, the Old Firm derby was graced by the likes of Brian Laudrup, Paul Gascoigne and Henrik Larsson – but the football always played second fiddle.

Grounded in religion and politics, the bitterness between Celtic and Rangers has shaped the very cultural fabric of Scotland.

While Celtic traditionally stands for Catholicism and socialism, Rangers have always represented Protestantism and conservatism, resulting in fierce sectarian violence between the two clubs.

Serious incidents are thankfully less common nowadays and away ticket allocations have been cut – but Toure felt the full force of the Old Firm hatred.

He recalled: “There was a moment where after a game I was driving my car because we beat Rangers in my first derby when they came back [to the Scottish Premiership].

“I saw the police on the road and I saw two groups of people. One group on one side of the road and one group on the other side. And they wanted to fight each other.

“For me, that was the first time I’d really seen that. I was in the middle of that road and I was driving. You just drive quickly and you get out. And you could see the passion they had for both teams. It’s incredible. It was really, really incredible when they started the derby.

The Old Firm is one of the fiercest derbies in football

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The Old Firm is one of the fiercest derbies in footballCredit: Getty Images – Getty

“But, of course, the Merseyside derby is also good. It’s big intensity, big rivalry, but it’s not religious really. It’s just two teams that like each other because they’re in the same city. And it’s the same for Tottenham and Arsenal as well. Big rivalry again, but still there’s no religion.

“And again the Manchester derby. You can feel the tension. But the slight difference for me is because of the sectarianism. It’s massive. That gives it [the Old Firm derby] the edge.”


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