This forthcoming Old Firm fixture is being touted as one of the most hotly anticipated Scottish games in recent times. In fact, more than one media outlet has described the semi-final as “a powder-keg”.
The media frenzy has reached almost unprecedented levels of output with yards of column inches filled to bursting point with the thoughts and comments of previous players and managers. They seem to have forgotten that there are, in fact, two semi-finals being played at Hampden. And the other, between two teams vying for the SPFL Premiership title, could arguably be seen as a ‘bigger game’.
However, the excitement generated by the (mainly) red-top rags for the Rangers v Celtic game, and their journalist’s penchant for using hyperbole and emotive rather than analytic language, has created an unpalatable scene of almost biblical proportions. As I have just done. But I’m not a journalist. I’m just a fan of Rangers. And our fans have seen this level of ‘interest’ from the SMSM for a few years now and not much of it could be called ‘healthy’ by most fair-minded people.
Personally, I don’t pay much attention to the usual suspects and their discernible leanings to the East-end of Glasgow. And I know a lot of Rangers fans who do the same. Let them whip up their interest. Let them beat their war drum. We can hear- but we won’t listen.
As for the game itself?
Well, it should be a straightforward affair shouldn’t it?
Celtic, being the stronger and more experienced team, should easily sweep aside their less-experienced and naive counterparts. They have quality. Real quality. Quality being led by our national team captain no less (why did we not sign Thomson AND Brown?). T
hey are currently managed by a young, progressive manager with a proven track record in his home country who doesn’t appear to attract the same controversy as his predecessor. They appear to be well-run and stable which is in stark contrast to their main rivals.
Simonsen, McCulloch, Miller, et al are not exactly in the prime of their careers and they appear to lack the match-winning qualities of their more youthful and energetic past. I don’t want to write too much regarding our off-field problems (as that is covered in great detail elsewhere) but the lack of strong leadership off the park, coupled with our never-ending board room wrangles, must surely play on the minds of the players. The continued uncertainty surrounding the stability of the company which operates our club (amongst other things) creates an air of uncertainly and will, no doubt, affect the confidence and performance of everyone employed by it. As it would for most of us in a similar position (as an employee in the 3rd sector I know EXACTLY how it feels!).
What if Celtic had a bad day? What if they believed that all they had to do was turn up and ‘bang 4 or 5 in’ as one of the Celtic Twitterati suggested to me the other day?
What if the experienced Rangers players such as Miller, Boyd, Foster and McCulloch (who, let’s not forget, have played in and won Old Firm games before) actually USED that experience. For these journeymen, this cup adventure could very well be their last chance of silverware. And for the rest of the players it could be their first (written with all due respect and deference given to the SFL league titles before anyone starts raising eyebrows).
Maybe Rangers will actually ‘turn up’ for, possibly, the only time this season. We’ve done pretty well against opposition from the Premiership in the past few years despite a depleted and inexperienced squad. They’ll also be cheered on by a very vocal and colourful support in, I’m sure, a party-like, carnival atmosphere. So it is ACTUALLY possible?
CAN Rangers beat the odds and triumph against their biggest rivals in the Cup semi-final? Probably not.
But, at the end of a very long day, there’s only one team who cannot entertain the thought of a defeat. Celtic are expected to win. Their fans expect them to win. The players and management expect to win. The media expect them to win. Even the bookies expect them to win.
Rangers, however, do not. And neither do the majority of our fair-minded fans. How can we possibly expect anything other than to dream and hope? All the talk has been of “experience” and not “ability” and our best prospect was sold to Brentford last month. We are entitled to ask “where will a win come from?” and it really is difficult to see.
However, the simple answer is ‘Bradford’. Or, more particularly, Bradford City. 2-0 down with 49 minutes left to play, away from home, against opposition who are 49 places above them in the league, Bradford City staged one of the biggest upsets and come-backs in footballing history by beating Chelsea 4-2 last weekend in the FA Cup.
And NO-ONE expected them to….