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From the archive: the Old Firm shame game of 1987

It is Scotland’s best known football fixture by a sizeable margin, even if it can’t happen for at least another season.

McAvennie and Woods were both sent off after clashing during the match
McAvennie and Woods were both sent off after clashing during the match

But as Rangers prepare to take on Queen’s Park in their lowly third division derby this weekend, we take a look back at the 25th anniversary of one of their most infamous games with Old Firm rivals, Celtic, when, to quote the Herald of the time, ‘the Old Firm clashes almost died of shame’.

By the end, a team of nine Rangers players managed to secure a 2-2 draw against Celtic’s 10 man squad during the controversial match at Ibrox on Saturday, October 17 1987.

But that was almost incidental. The match is better remembered for its violent outbursts, which saw three players sent off and four eventually charged with conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace. Sixty two supporters were also arrested.

The trouble started in the 17th minute when Frank McAvennie crashed into Rangers goalkeeper Chris Woods as he was collecting a passback from Jimmy Phillips. Woods exchanged blows with McAvennie whilst holding him by the throat. Rangers and England captain Terry Butcher pushed McAvennie away and Graham Roberts also got involved, holding the Celtic player by the throat with Butcher, this time, trying to restrain him. A punch then appeared to be thrown by someone and McAvennie fell to the floor.

Once some sort of order was restored, McAvennie and Woods were sent off and Butcher was booked.

After their departure, trouble again flared in the 62nd minute when Terry Butcher was sent off for a foul on Celtic goalkeeper Allen McKnight.

England internationalists Woods, Roberts, Butcher and Scotland player McAvennie were eventually charged with ‘conduct likely to provoke a breach of the peace’ following the match. A special referee’s report into the game was also ordered by the SFA.

All four players denied the charges and were present during their trial in April 1988. The cases against Roberts and McAvennie were not proven, while Woods was fined £500 and Butcher received a £250 fine.

Following the match, Herald sports journalist Jim Reynolds commented: “I know there are those who stupidly believe that this kind of ‘red blooded’ behaviour brings an extra thrill to the proceedings. It is downright hooliganism, which, but for the admirable restraint shown by the fans, could have led to something much more serious.

“I wonder if these players, especially those who have come from England, fully understand the powder-keg situation they are in every time they take part in an Old Firm game. If not, then it is time for someone with a sense of responsibility to spell it out in full.

“Saturday will go down as the day the Old Firm clashes almost died of shame.

“For the second time in succession, this particular fixture left a nasty taste in the mouth and the fans showed themselves as being far more responsible than the richly rewarded stars they had paid to see.”

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