Fans along the Shankill Road appear to flout Covid-19 guidelines as crowds gather to celebrate
There was joy for Rangers fans across Northern Ireland after the club reclaimed the Scottish Premiership title for the first time in 10 years - but pleas to stick to the Covid-19 regulations fell on deaf ears in west Belfast.
A number of fans along the Shankill Road appeared to flout the health and safety guidelines after a cavalcade of Rangers supporters released red, white and blue flares, set off fireworks, beeped their horns and waved flags as hundreds gathered on the streets.
Steven Gerrard’s side, who beat St Mirren 3-0 on Saturday, needed Celtic to drop points at Dundee United on Sunday to confirm their coronation.
And with six-games of the season remaining, the Light Blues clinched title number 55 after the Hoops drew 0-0 at Tannadice Park.
The party atmosphere in west Belfast came after the PSNI encouraged anyone intending to celebrate Rangers' title win, to do so at home and within the current Covid-19 regulations.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell also said it would be a bad day for Rangers fans if the title celebrations resulted in people in ICU beds.
Chairman of Shankill Loyal Rangers Supporters’ Club Neil Gill, said of all the successful league campaigns - especially during the club’s nine-in-a-row achievement in the 90s - this year's was the sweetest.
“We had to sit and watch Celtic dominance for nine years while the club was in a terrible position from top to bottom,” he said.
“We’re just so glad to see the title come home but a lot of the fans are just happy to see the club get back to being Rangers Football Club - the club that we all know and love.
“That’s what we missed but we’re back now and we’re competing. We’re also doing the business on the European front over the last two years.
“I think we have done unbelievably well from where we came from.”
Neil admitted that Celtic’s draw with Dundee United caught “us all by surprise” but was delighted to see Rangers cross the finish line.
“It’s just unfortunate that it’s happened during the pandemic so obviously we have to respect that,” he added.
“It is sad but it’s just one of those things.
“I’m sure we’ll get our opportunity to celebrate and we’ll be back across the water to congratulate the boys sooner rather than later.
“We watched the Celtic game together on Zoom and had a few refreshments and a bit of crack but I’m sure all the boys and girls are enjoying it in their own homes and having a great time like myself.”
Neil Turner from Portadown Loyal Rangers Supporters’ Club, believes there wouldn't have been many fans who would have expected such a dominant season.
After reaching the last 16 of the Europa League, the Ibrox club have been flying in Europe, but Neil said the priority this season was always the top-flight title.
He added that it’s been tough not being able to watch his beloved Rangers play due to the Covid-19 pandemic but the Portadown supporters’ club have kept in touch to celebrate.
“The guys all kept in touch on social media so there was a lot of chit chat going back and forth and there has been over the last few weeks and months,” said Neil.
“After everything we’ve been through, you just wanted to get it over the line but we’re very, very happy I can assure you, and we’re looking forward to getting over to Glasgow whenever we can.”
Meanwhile, Rangers fan Kyle Gilkinson from Lurgan watched Celtic’s slip-up at home with his dad, Chris, and celebrated with a glass of champagne.
“It’s been absolutely fantastic after seeing them go from division three and rising back up,” he reflected.
“Obviously, it’s been a long nine years. Steven Gerrard has been absolutely fantastic.
“The season has been unreal and to be totally honest it’s been one of the best league performances I have seen from Rangers.
“I stood up with my dad during the last five minutes of the Celtic game. As soon as the whistle went me and my dad hugged and we went outside for a glass of champagne.”
Elsewhere, Brian Weir from Rathfriland Rangers Supporters’ Club recalled having to carry out fundraisers to help keep the club afloat when the Old Firm side went into administration in 2012.
To go from where the club was at that stage to being crowned champions was an “overpowering emotion”, Brian said.
“I mind whenever we were in the third division, there was just two bus loads going from Northern Ireland to the game,” he continued.
“That’s how much the club had fallen and now you see the ferry to Scotland packed with buses and cars with Rangers fans.
“Steven Gerrard has been transformational for us. I’m actually stuck for words.
“After the performance yesterday, they were really going for it and they were playing really well to put it to bed. To see Celtic dropping it today - it’s just brilliant.
“Steven Gerrard gets Rangers and he gets the size of the club. That’s probably from his Liverpool background.
“He gets what Rangers is all about and what it means for the fans and how important it was for the fans to get this title. It’s just brilliant.”