In a noteworthy scene from 11th March 1959, Inverness Caledonian and an Old Firm Select XI gather for a shared team photo. Celtic’s Jim Conway and Paddy Crerand are positioned in the front row, third from the right and extreme left, respectively.
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A remarkable event took place on 12th April 1998. Alastair Campbell, the press secretary of Downing Street, found himself penning a unique proposal.
“An idea,” he began.
His vision was one of reinforcing support for the Good Friday Agreement before it could be passed as a peace deal through a referendum in Northern Ireland.
Quite an unconventional thought, to be sure.
Campbell’s letter proposed a football match in Belfast between Celtic and Rangers, two teams notorious for their historical, competitive, and religious divides.
“We could enhance it by having Celtic players in Rangers kits, and Rangers players in Celtic kits,” he elaborated, while recognizing that this might not sit well with some players.
His revolutionary concept was forwarded to Prime Minister Tony Blair, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam, and Scotland Secretary of State Donald Dewar.
However, it did not seem to generate much excitement. There is no record of any response.
Campbell later confessed that this was “maybe not my finest idea.”
But it may not have been his worst either.
Roughly four decades earlier, the two Glasgow rivals indeed formed a phenomenal combined XI for a noble cause.
Their purpose wasn’t peace, however. The motivation behind this peculiar match was the pursuit of the elusive Loch Ness monster.
The historical event happened in March 1933 when Inverness Caledonian pioneered the first floodlit football match in Scotland at their Telford Street Park ground.
The Press & Journal newspaper at the time reported, “Inverness had led Scotland into the new era of floodlit football,”
The installation of lights ushered Scottish football into a revolutionary phase in 1933.
Floodlit football was a novelty – it had been attempted several times in England, but was banned by the Football Association in August 1930 and remained so until December 1950.
In Inverness, where winter sundowns happen just after 16:00 GMT, the introduction of floodlights proved highly successful. However, they were short-lived and remained for only a few weeks.
The reason? Caledonian’s reign as the city’s primary attraction was abruptly overthrown.
On 2nd May 1933, the Inverness Courier narrated a tale of a local businessman driving along Loch Ness’s northern shore when his wife screamed out in shock.
She had witnessed a large disturbance on the usually tranquil Loch, with the unknown creature’s description bearing a resemblance to a whale, creating a chaotic water scene.
Thus began the hysteria around the Loch Ness Monster.
Hundreds of curious spectators swarmed to the Loch, hoping for a glimpse of the mythical creature. Bertram Mills, a circus impresario, offered a prize of £20,000 (equivalent to £1.24m today) for its capture.
The competition had specific conditions – the creature had to be at least 20ft long, weigh more than 1,000lbs (454kg), and be a species previously believed to be extinct.
In the 1930s, the stories of a beast lurking in the Loch Ness depths attracted hundreds of visitors to its banks.
Despite the challenging conditions, the fascination continued. People flocked to the shores and even camped out in hopes of sighting the creature.
To facilitate the search for Nessie, Caley’s groundbreaking football floodlights were temporarily relocated to illuminate some of the Loch’s 22 square miles.
However, Nessie was never captured.
Fast-forward more than 25 years, brothers William and Hugh MacDonald financed the reinstallation of floodlights at the Telford Street ground.
In celebration, an Old Firm Select XI was invited to Inverness to inaugurate the new lights.
Although not entirely unprecedented (a Celtic and Rangers combined team played in a testimonial match for Billy Meredith, one of football’s earliest stars, in 1925), it was uncommon, and the intense rivalry between the two clubs made a recurrence seem unlikely.
Celtic midfielder Paddy Crerand, born in Glasgow’s Gorbals area to Irish immigrant parents, found the invitation to play in the select team “quite peculiar” at first.
“Where I grew up, Rangers weren’t a very liked club,” he shared with Sport Newes Center. “But we were all footballers, and in those days, we had a friendly relationship with many of the Rangers players.
“There wasn’t as much animosity among Celtic and Rangers players as people might have thought.
“But I’m astonished Caledonian managed to organize a Celtic and Rangers select considering the clubs were drastically different in those days.
“There was no connection between them unless they played with each other. It was a totally different world. The level of anti-Catholicism was absurd.”
Crerand eventually left Celtic for Manchester United in 1963, where he played in the team that won the 1968 European Cup.
Regardless, the idea was accepted. Crerand was among the five Celtic players included in the Celtic and Rangers combined XI.
Scottish League regulations then required all competing players to be affiliated with a single club. So, for the day, the five Celtic players had to sign for Rangers with the understanding they would rejoin Celtic the next day.
Such a scenario would have been unimaginable for fans from both clubs.
One of those who made the unusual crossover was 19-year-old Jim Conway.
“For me, it was just another football match and a great opportunity to play in this one-of-a-kind team,” he reminisced with Sport Newes Center. “Looking back, perhaps it was a more significant moment of unity than I had initially thought.”
During those times, Rangers had an unwritten rule against signing or employing Roman Catholics.
When Mo Johnston signed for Rangers in 1989, some fans laid a wreath outside Ibrox, lamenting the end of a century-long tradition symbolized by the signing of a Catholic.
However, albeit briefly, Jim Conway, Paddy Crerand, Jim Kennedy, and Charlie Tully had broken down that barrier 40 years earlier.
Conway remembers meeting the Rangers players at Glasgow Central station a few days prior to the game.
“At the beginning, Celtic and Rangers players were in separate train compartments en route to the match,” Conway recollected.
“But as the journey progressed, I remember Dick Beattie, the Celtic goalkeeper, saying, ‘I’ve had enough of this.’ He pulled out a deck of cards and invited the Rangers players to join in.
“Before long, all the players were mingling, and we were having a great time. We set aside religion, family beliefs, team loyalties, and fan differences; we were just footballers doing our job.”
Rangers’ manager, Scot Symon, coached the select team, and the squad donned Rangers’ away kit.
Conway remembers the large crowd in Inverness who had come to watch the game.
“It was a significant moment, and it’s understandable why many wanted to see us play,” said Conway.
Crerand added, “We weren’t accustomed to playing under floodlights. It was a novel experience, so it was wonderful to do that. We received a warm reception. There was no bigotry in Inverness in those days; they welcomed us.”
Now 82, Conway recently attended a Celtic game
The match concluded with Caley enduring a 4-2 defeat by the Old Firm select team.
Sammy Baird scored a hat trick, and Conway netted the other goal for the visitors, while Rodwill Clyne and Jimmy Ingram countered for Caley.
“It felt immensely satisfying to score in that game,” Conway shared.
This game had long-lasting effects on the players.
“I developed a deeper understanding of the Rangers players because of that match,” said Conway.
“Personally, it broke down barriers for me. I felt at ease interacting with the Rangers players. Some, like Bobby King, became close friends, and later when we both played for Southend United, we ended up as next-door neighbors.”
Despite Campbell’s brief attempt, this was the last time Celtic and Rangers stars teamed up.
However, if this were a more frequent occurrence, this game, much like the Loch Ness monster, would lose its allure and unique place in Scottish history.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about unity
Q: When did Celtic and Rangers play as one team?
A: Celtic and Rangers played together as a combined team in a historic match in March 1933.
Q: What was the motivation behind the combined Celtic and Rangers team?
A: The motivation behind the combined team was not peace or unity between the clubs but rather the hunt for the Loch Ness Monster. The floodlights used for a football match in Inverness were later moved to aid the search for Nessie.
Q: Was it common for Celtic and Rangers players to play together?
A: No, it was not common for Celtic and Rangers players to play together. The combined team in 1933 and the testimonial match in 1925 were rare occurrences, and such collaborations were not revived afterward.
Q: How did the players from Celtic and Rangers feel about playing together?
A: Some players initially found it strange, given the historical rivalry and religious tensions between the two clubs. However, they quickly bonded and enjoyed the experience, focusing on their shared passion for football.
Q: Did the combined Celtic and Rangers team have any long-term effects?
A: The match helped break down barriers between the players and fostered friendships between them. Some players became close friends and maintained relationships beyond the match, highlighting the positive impact of the experience.
Q: What was the outcome of the match between the combined team and Inverness Caledonian?
A: The combined team, consisting of Celtic and Rangers players, won the match against Inverness Caledonian with a score of 4-2. Sammy Baird scored a hat trick for the combined team.
Q: Did the idea of Celtic and Rangers playing together resurface after this match?
A: Although there have been occasional discussions and proposals, the 1933 match remained the last known instance of Celtic and Rangers stars playing together as a combined team. The unique nature of the event has contributed to its place in Scottish football history.