A rocket just like mine could give Rangers the lift-off they need

Bert Kon­ter­man in­sists ‘it will be a dis­grace’ if favourites Celtic don’t come out on top

The Herald - Sport - - LEAGUE CUP SEMI-FINALS -

THE prospect of an Old Firm dust-up can bring out a lit­tle devil­ment in even the most Christian of fel­lows. Bert Kon­ter­man has mixed rec­ol­lec­tions of his own ex­pe­ri­ences in the Glas­gow derby dur­ing his time as a player at Rangers. His de­but ap­pear­ance in the fix­ture ended in a 6-2 thrash­ing at Park­head and set the scene for a sea­son of re­lent­less crit­i­cism as Celtic swept the board do­mes­ti­cally.

He went on record, at the time, in ad­mit­ting that he re­lied heav­ily on his well-doc­u­mented faith in God to get him through the very worst of it all.

Iron­i­cally, it was a goal against the blessed Martin O’Neill’s side – a blis­ter­ing 25-yarder that set­tled a League Cup semi-fi­nal in ex­tra-time – that turned ev­ery­thing round.

Once a whip­ping boy, the £4.5mil­lion that brought him from Feyeno­ord branded a waste of money, the 44-year-old was back at Ibrox at the week­end to en­joy the ap­plause re­served for all those Rangers old-timers who took part in the ben­e­fit match for Fer­nando Rick­sen.

Kon­ter­man seemed to spend half his time in Glas­gow re­liv­ing the mo­ment he re­leased that ex­o­cet mis­sile of a shot at Ham­p­den Park in Fe­bru­ary 2002. Much of the rest of it saw him dwelling on the im­pend­ing re­turn of hos­til­i­ties with Celtic after a three-year hia­tus.

The fact he has played the roles of both scape­goat and saviour within the Old Firm flamepit gives him a unique per­spec­tive and he speaks with a sur­pris­ing lack of com­pas­sion when spell­ing out what it would mean for Celtic should this much-ma­ligned Rangers side some­how man­age to beat them in Sun­day’s League Cup semi at the Na­tional Sta­dium.

“If Celtic lose on Sun­day, it’s a dis­grace for them,” stated Kon­ter­man. “They would be slaugh­tered for half-ayear by all the fans. It would last un­til they won the league and got go­ing in the Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fiers again.

“Celtic are stronger than Rangers be­cause they play in a higher league and have more money. They have to win. They sim­ply have to. If they don’t, it will be a mat­ter of shame for them. If you are mak­ing a pre­dic­tion, you’d put all your money on Celtic. Celtic are the big­gest club. They have the money, so Rangers are the un­der­dogs.

“In some ways that makes it eas­ier for them. They can just fo­cus on play­ing their game. The Rangers fans want to see their team win, of course, but they also just want to see a team play­ing with as much com­mit­ment as they can. If they do that, they’ll get a stand­ing ova­tion from the fans.

“It’s a chance for Rangers to test them­selves against old ri­vals, but there is no pres­sure be­cause ev­ery­one ex­pects Celtic to win.”

Kon­ter­man cer­tainly went through a hard school­ing in the com­plex­i­ties of life in Glas­gow. In ad­di­tion to be­ing crit­i­cised for his per­for­mances in de­fence, his pro­nounce­ments on a web­site known as icons.com about the devil hav­ing a say in Rangers’ be­low­par dis­plays led to him be­ing pil­lo­ried.

By his own ad­mis­sion, though, his for­tunes turned up­side-down after that one mo­ment in which he swung his right boot at a loose ball in the mid­dle of the Ham­p­den field and watched it soar ma­jes­ti­cally past the de­spair­ing dive of Rab Dou­glas.

“Soon af­ter­wards, I thought: ‘Hey, some­thing is go­ing on be­cause of that goal’,” re­called the Dutch­man. “It was a pos­i­tive thing, ev­ery­one was happy. When you were in a shop­ping cen­tre or a su­per­mar­ket, ev­ery­one seemed to have changed their opin­ion. Money­wise, I scored more im­por­tant goals in a Rangers jersey than the one in that Old Firm game.

“I scored a goal against Anzhi Makhachkala in the UEFA Cup which took us through. On a per­sonal level, though, that Old Firm goal was huge be­cause it was a turn­ing point in my Rangers ca­reer.

“Peo­ple re­mem­ber that goal. They talked to me about it on Sun­day when I was at Ibrox. It is still in the mind and hearts of the fans. It meant a lot to them and it felt nice to feel val­ued.”

Kon­ter­man is, of course, cor­rect to state that Rangers, with all their trou­bles on the field and off, are con­firmed un­der­dogs for Sun­day. How­ever, he points to his for­mer club PEC Zwolle, whom he started his ca­reer with and later re­joined as gen­eral man­ager, as a bea­con of hope.

They won pro­mo­tion back to the Dutch Premier Di­vi­sion in 2012 after a dread­ful spell that had brought bank­ruptcy, name changes, rel­e­ga­tions and new club colours. Within two years, they had won their first-ever ma­jor trophy, the Dutch Cup, by beat­ing Ajax 5-1 in the fi­nal.

Ajax were a goal up when their own sup­port­ers brought play to a halt for half-an-hour by throw­ing smoke bombs, fire­works and flares.

“In the be­gin­ning, it was all Ajax, but there were prob­lems with their fans and that changed the game,” said Kon­ter­man. “The sup­port­ers ac­tu­ally caused Zwolle to win the cup. If Rangers can win on Sun­day, it would give the whole club a lift. Peo­ple want to re­cover the feel­ing that they had in the past. The fans want to revel in the old glory and see those days again.

“I have watched from Hol­land and I have spo­ken to peo­ple at Rangers and heard some inside in­for­ma­tion. It’s re­ally shock­ing the things you hear.”

ON ITS WAY: It was this 2002 Old Firm stun­ner – also in a League Cup semi-fi­nal at Ham­p­den Park – that turned Bert Kon­ter­man’s Rangers ca­reer around

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