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 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