When Celtic and Rangers meet at Parkhead this weekend, it will be their first league match since 2012. In the interim, Rangers have clambered their way back to the Scottish Premiership from the dank and dingy basement of the Third Division, while Celtic have won five titles on the spin. Things haven't been entirely rosy for The Hoops, however, what with their lacklustre European performances and a succession of surprise defeats in the cups. From the perspective of the outside observer, Celtic appear to have languished in Rangers' absence. Loathe as some fans are to admit it, Scottish football lives for the blood and thunder of the Old Firm.
With Rangers only just returned to the top tier, there should, in theory, still be some disparity between them and Celtic. The Gers have recruited well this summer but, after four seasons in the lower-league wilderness, there has never been a greater gulf in the fortunes of the two clubs. While The Hoops would do well to remain cautious, their supporters will hope for a emphatic victory on Saturday. As is always the way in Scotland's fiercest derby, the aim is not only to beat one's rivals, but to humiliate them in every possible way.
Of all the humiliating results in Old Firm history – and there have been quite a few on either side – the worst took place on a crisp October day, in the windswept autumn of 1957. It was the day of the League Cup final at Hampden, and the sun was shining on south-east Glasgow. This was the first time Rangers and Celtic had met in the grand finale of the League Cup and, with just over 82,000 in attendance, the game promised to be a fitting showpiece. Rangers were reigning champions of Scotland, while Celtic found themselves in a relative slump.
While Celtic and Rangers were the most successful teams in the country, this was an era before the Old Firm gained total hegemony over Scottish football. Hearts, Hibernian and Aberdeen had all won the title not long previous, and the cups had gone to anyone from Dundee and Motherwell to Clyde and East Fife. The League Cup might be a trinket these days, but it was anything but a throwaway trophy back then. Both Celtic and Rangers were desperate for silverware, and the significance of the match was lost on neither side.
The game started at frenetic pace, with Celtic attacking from the off. Despite the fact that they were clear favourites, Rangers retreated into themselves. The weight of the occasion, the noise from the stands and the swashbuckling approach of their opponents were too much to handle. Celtic twice hit the post in the opening exchanges, before Sammy Nelson got the first goal of the game with a thunderous volley past Gers keeper George Niven.
Of the two coaches watching on from the dugout, Scot Symon was undoubtedly the most gifted. He would lead Rangers to six league titles, and claim his place in the pantheon of Scotland's managerial greats. On that day, however, he was comprehensively outwitted. His backline was square and inadvisably deep, a mistake that was ruthlessly exploited by Celtic coach Jimmy McGrory.
With Celtic's wingers running riot and their midfield exploiting the space between the lines, the pressure on Rangers only mounted. Just before half time, Neil Mochan slalomed into the box before slamming a shot into the back of the net. Rangers were 2-0 down at the break, and could count themselves lucky to be in the game at all. They weren't in it for much longer, though. In fact, it was about to become a total rout.
Straight after the break, centre forward Billy McPhail headed home another for The Hoops. While Rangers got a goal back not long afterwards, Celtic would go on to score four more without reply. McPhail nabbed a hat-trick, poking home a second before slotting away his third of the match. Celtic were running riot, and there was nothing Rangers could do to stop them.
With the game drawing to a close, Celtic's fans were jubilant. Their celebrations spilled over somewhat, with fighting breaking out between rival supporters in the stands. In the second half, Celtic hit the upright on four occasions. The game could have conceivably gone to double figures, but the scoreline at the final whistle was a mere 7-1.
With the sun bathing the Celtic end, the game seemed like a gift from heaven. The final would come to be known as 'Hampden in the Sun', and inspired a terrace chant of the same name. Since then, there have been books and poems written about the day, and it has gone down in Scotland's footballing folklore. The scoreline remains a record in any major British final, while it also represents the biggest victory in the history of the Old Firm.
If Rangers were truly humbled that day, then Celtic's heroes of Hampden were lionised. The victors were allowed to keep their shirts as a souvenir of their unprecedented win. They lifted the cup in the fading October light, and became immortal in the process. When Celtic fans think of their hopes for the coming season, a few might dare to dream of another Hampden in the Sun.