Rangers fans in Northern Ireland were in party mode yesterday after the club reclaimed the Scottish Premiership title for the first time in 10 years.
As pleas for fans to abide by Covid health rules fell on deaf ears, hundreds took to the streets of Belfast. Steven Gerrard’s side, who beat St Mirren 3-0 on Saturday, needed Celtic to drop points at Dundee United yesterday afternoon 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.
Along west Belfast’s Shankill Road, a cavalcade of Rangers fans were releasing red, white and blue flares, setting off fireworks, beeping their horns and waving flags as around 1,000 supporters gathered on the streets last night.
The party atmosphere came as the PSNI and a DUP MP encouraged anyone intending to celebrate Rangers’ title win to do so safely.
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 he 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,” he added.
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 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 back 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.”.
Gregory Campbell said that “no one is more delighted than myself to see this success for the Gers. It’s been a long road. But so has the battle against Covid”.
“I understand the desire for celebrations but that doesn’t justify breaking the public health rules.
“It would be a bad day for Northern Ireland Rangers fans if a hallmark of 55 league titles was to be fans in ICU beds rather than being able to cheer their team on to more success.”
“There will be plenty of time to celebrate in due course when the vaccine has been rolled out.”