It was quite something to witness the scene that confronted the eyes and ears before kick-off. Because it could never be replicated were any other Scottish team to have been facing up to any other English side.
Accounting for the Rangers side of that is the Ibrox club being in a league of their own north of the border when it comes to their faithful’s devotion to the union, and the monarchy. As they have so vividly demonstrated recently. In the Reds corner, meanwhile – and more specifically the famous Kop denizens – is to be found a football following firmly anti-establishment and anti-crown in a way that sets them apart from all others down south. Their Irish roots part explain that. But almost as significant is that, across her premiership in the 1980s, former prime minister Margaret Thatcher used the socialist city as a petri dish for policies designed to infect its communal DNA. Hence the chants of “**** the Tories” just as the first whistle sounded. Not the sort of vituperations that has ever been heard among the home crowd at Ibrox ...
Now, it shouldn’t be considered that any ding dong between the factions of Rangers and Liverpool across the evening could be akin to the Ibrox club going at it with their bitter rivals Celtic. The Anfield club’s Irish origins encompass both Irish Catholics and Ulster Protestants. The contrast between the two supports is grounded more in national identity than religious divisions, despite Rangers’ pride in their Protestant hue. And their anti-Irish Catholic bating – as heard with any early outing for The Billy Boys.
What made the scene that built up across the stadium sweep appear so warped from what might be expected an encounter pitting together teams from the two largest United Kingdom nations was the flag-waving. And the flag-draping. At the Anfield road end, hung over the fences behind which were situated the 2,500 fans that had travelled to watch their Scotland team were three union flags, one emblazoned with ‘Dundee Loyal’, another on which was written ‘Pride of Renfrew’. At the opposite end of the ground, among the Koppite supporters of the English club, at least half a dozen Irish tricolours were waved furiously, though a couple of small union flags with Liverpool’s liverbird emblem at its centre.
Those were the tasty dividing lines before both groups found their voices in lusty fashion. The Rangers fans did so to go full-throated with a rendition of God Save The King. The response, from all other corners of Anfield, was a veritable boo-fest. The same reaction met the away fans’ rendition of Rule Britannia. A Scottish-English/British nationalism drowned out by an English-anti-Britishness. All deliciously off-kilter, and almost entirely unexplainable to the uninitiated.
Yet, what could also be said of the two supports when giving vent to songs about their team – as Liverpool did often, Rangers on rare occasions, not helped by the pedestrian nature of the home win – is that they demonstrated why the two cities from which their teams hail are considered among the last bastions of raw football passions. For the populaces of both, the game is more than a game. Which takes us right back to that question of culture.