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Football (soccer) is Scotland's most popular spectator sport. The Scottish Football League, established in 1874, is the main competition, with three divisions of 10 teams and one of 12. Scottish football is dominated, and always has been, by the two main Glasgow teams, Rangers and Celtic, known collectively as the 'Old Firm', who regularly attract crowds of over 50,000.
For a brief period in the 1980s this stranglehold was broken by Aberdeen and Dundee United, but events since have proved this an aberration rather than a trend. Money is the main reason for this and the Old Firm have seemingly endless pots of the stuff, which is why they have been able to fill their team with expensive foreign imports and win most of the domestic competitions. Though neither side has fared too well in European competition in recent years, Celtic were the first British side to win the European Cup, in 1967.
Scotland's top 12 teams make up the Premier League, which has become a battle between the big two for the championship. Teams in the lower divisions mostly exist on a shoestring budget, though the other major competition, the Scottish FA Cup, still throws up occasional upsets, such as Celtic's defeat at the hands of lowly Inverness Caledonian Thistle in 1999.
The domestic football season runs from early August to mid-May. Most matches are played on Saturdays at 1500, and there are often games through the week, on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at 1930. There is usually a match on a Sunday afternoon, which is broadcast live on satellite TV. Tickets range from £10 up to £20 for big games.
The national team play at the recently renovated Hampden Park in Glasgow. Their passionate supporters, known as the 'Tartan Army', have gained something of an international reputation for their fun-loving attitude and self-deprecating humour in the face of defeat. This has stood them in good stead over the years for, despite qualifying for most World Cup Finals since 1974, Scotland have never managed to reach the second round, failing against such footballing giants as Iran and Costa Rica along the way.
Rugby is one of the major sports of the country but lags a long, long way behind football in terms of popularity. The national team plays at Murrayfield in Edinburgh, and during match weekends there's always a great atmosphere in the city.
Every year, in February and March, Scotland takes part in the Six Nations Championship, along with the other home teams, plus France and Italy. The most important game, though, is the clash with the 'Auld enemy', England. Tickets for games are hard to come by, but you can contact the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU), Tel 0131-3465000, for details of upcoming home fixtures and where to find tickets.
The club rugby scene is in a state of disarray, with many of the top players having moved to England or France. One area of the country where rugby is still strong is the Borders. The Borders town of Melrose is home of seven-a-side rugby, a variation of the 15-a-side game, and the Melrose Sevens, is the biggest tournament of the year in Scotland. The club rugby season runs from September to May.
Shinty (or camanachd in Gaelic) is an amateur sport similar to Ireland's hurling. It's a physical game played at a fast and furious pace, and is a bit like hockey, but with more blood. The game is played mostly in the Highlands, and the highlight of the season is the Camanachd Cup Final, which attracts a large crowd and is televised on STV.