First meeting between Glasgow pair for nearly three years
30 January ~ At Ibrox recently police and stewards narrowly prevented Rangers supporters attacking Hearts fans and their own directors. Boardroom plans, subsequently changed, to use Ibrox as security against a £10 million loan from Newcastle owner Mike Ashley created an ugly atmosphere. However, visiting Celtic manager Ronny Deila and his assistant John Collins were virtually ignored as they studied their League Cup semi-final opponents.
Prior to Rangers’ 2012 liquidation, Old Firm managers only saw each other’s grounds during derby games. Perhaps Rangers are so internally riven and Celtic, in a higher division, are so far ahead that both have bigger concerns? Not quite. This Sunday’s derby – the first in two years and nine months – will air new agendas in the same old colours. Celtic fans took out a newspaper advert claiming Rangers are a new club. Rangers fans hope to inflict this derby’s first ever “giant killing”.
After Celtic won the last meeting, 3-0 at home in April 2012, much of the Old Firm routine remained unchanged. Both clubs retained home crowds above 40,000, easily won their divisions in 2012-13 and suffered just one league defeat between them the following season. Heading into 2015, Rangers and Celtic found themselves second in their respective leagues. But the symbiosis ends there. Celtic remain on course for the domestic treble and face Internazionale in the last 32 of the Europa League. Rangers languish 13 points behind Hearts for the Championship’s automatic promotion spot. While crowds plummet and shareholders call an extraordinary general meeting to oust the board, caretaker manager Kenny McDowall handed in his year’s notice.
I’ve been encouraged by Celtic’s new Norwegian manager celebrating on the pitch after narrow wins at relegation-threatened clubs. Traditionally Old Firm managers only celebrate trophies. Simultaneously, I’ve dreaded a repeat of Rangers’ worst-ever derby defeat, 7-1 in the 1957-58 League Cup final. As Celtic captain Scott Brown dominates international matches, Rangers’ best player, fellow-midfielder Lewis MacLeod, was merely invited to train with the Scotland squad. We sold him to Brentford to fund January’s wages.
Rangers reached this stage by beating last season’s League Cup runners-up Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Scottish Cup holders St Johnstone. However, semi-finals have most starkly illustrated the club’s diminished character post-liquidation. The 2014 Scottish Cup semi against Dundee United was the first time in three decades I’ve watched Rangers lose a domestic game despite excelling. We once won Scottish titles playing within ourselves. The club retains massive resources but can’t buy instant cohesion.
A third straight failure to win the Challenge Cup, Scotland’s lower-league knockout competition, is embarrassing enough. However, December’s semi-final loss came after going two up with 18 minutes left, against a part-time Alloa side missing nine first team players. It was the most surreal demonstration yet of the laxity which saw manager Ally McCoist depart later that month.
While McCoist negotiated the terms of his departure, Ibrox season ticket holders received an email. It offered an £8 T-shirt “commemorating” this weekend’s game, our 49th semi-final of a 69-year-old competition we’ve won twice as often as anyone else.
The taunts of Celtic fans, like Deila’s innocent enthusiasm, show they actually care about Rangers supporters and this game. Their desire to humiliate us comes with an honesty which shames the current Rangers board. Alex Anderson