Things will be getting tense as the season edges towards an exciting climax but one Glasgow pub is doing all it can to ensure fans of both clubs can watch the title race together.
What’s more, The Merchant, in Glasgow city centre, manages to do this without added security.
Steven Samson, who has been manager of the Stonegate site for three years, explains how the pub stays neutral and keeps fans happy on Old Firm matchdays.
“It’s about being welcoming to all,” he says. “Having that neutral environment can only be good for business. We do floor service so our staff are constantly touching tables and speaking to people. If there is any slight hint of anything we can nip it in the bud straight away.
“When the Old Firm starts, Rangers fans will watch one telly and Celtic fans another, but they come back together at the end of the game to analyse it and have some fun and a bit of chat.”
We like that safe haven and the banter between fans. For us, it makes a great atmosphere.
The Betfred Cup Final between Rangers and Celtic earlier in the season, which was live on BT Sport, proved to be a highlight of the season for the pub.
Steven continues: “The Betfred Cup Final was an interesting one as it was the first time the teams had been in a final against each other for a while. We had breakfast, lunch, had some great music and really built up to the game and the atmosphere was electric.”
Of course, that great atmosphere doesn’t happen by accident. The pub’s city centre location, its reputation for a great value food, drink, sport and entertainment offer and its social media presence helps it appeal to tourists, families and Glasgow’s student population.
The Merchant also recently had a £300,000 refurbishment, which included creating six new booths with TVs and adding further screens to bring the total to 33 throughout the vast two storey venue.
Steven continues: “Downstairs we have kept very traditional. On the first floor we made the majority of the changes including putting the new booths with six new tellies to further enhance our sport offer.
“We have also invested in sound, speaker quality and HD quality for all of the screens. I can now change the channels on individuals screens with the flick of an iPad so customers can have whatever sport they want.”
Steven says that sport has been vital in the continual growth of trade and that BT Sport is at the heart of the offer.
As well as the Old Firm clashes, the progress of the two Glasgow teams in this season’s Europa League has been a winner for the venue.
BT Sport is massive for us, right throughout the week with European fixtures and that lunchtime Premier League game on Saturdays really gets our weekend started.
They are both through to the knockout stages of the competition, which will be screened live on BT Sport in February.
Staggered kick offs at 5.55pm and 8pm have ensured the pub has a big trading window on Thursday nights.
It has increased our trading period massively. Fans are already talking about the knockout stages and the chances of them going even further in the competition.
Steven continues: “What’s been really interesting to see is that those coming in for the early game are staying to watch the later match.
“It shows how both teams are interested in seeing how the other is getting on.
And football is not the only draw at the pub. Champions Cup and Gallagher Premiership rugby are also popular, as are more niche sports such as women’s football.
Steven explains: “We contacted universities to sponsor a variety of sports teams. They come in after matches but we have also found that we get great repeat custom from them.”
It all adds up to Steven deservedly winning the BT Sport Manager of the Month award for December.
As well as the trophy he also picks up a voucher for £1,000 to spend in the BT shop.
He says: “I am absolutely delighted to win the BT Sport Manager of the Month Award. It was a very pleasant surprise and it just shows that all the hard work we are putting in to the site is reaping the benefits.”
- Do you have what it takes to be a BT Sport Manager of the Month winner? Tell us why on Twitter, using the hashtag #BTMOTM, and you could be in with a chance of winning the prize and a visit from the BT Sport crew.