Team who wants Old Firm glory the most will win, says former Gers star Ferguson
BARRY FERGUSON experienced the full spectrum of emotions attached to the Old Firm fixture in two spells as a Rangers player – glory and joy, humiliation and shame.
It is perhaps no surprise that the former Ibrox captain played more against Celtic than any other opponent and was issued with a yellow card twice as many times against them than any other team with 11 cautions in 39 appearances.
He scored three times – a sublime opener in the 5-1 victory of November, 2000, a stunning free kick in the epic 3-2 Scottish Cup Final triumph of 2002 and a clever shot for the second goal in a 3-0 win in October 2007.
However, he suffered the ignominy of being sent off during a 6-2 thrashing at Celtic Park in August 2000 and compounded his petulance by brawling with Celtic supporters later that night in the event described in his autobiography as the Battle of Bothwell Bridge. Indeed his last appearance in this fixture was the 2-0 League Cup Final defeat six years ago.
However, he cannot wait for the old rivals to lock horns once again on Sunday and is eternally optimistic that his old club can defy the odds and the form guide to pull off a remarkably upset.
Logic would suggest that Rangers have no chance given their inferior squad and the completely unsatisfactory situation whereby they will be led out at Hampden by a caretaker manager who has resigned. Ferguson suggests that logic is a word not normally associated with the Old Firm.
“Form goes out the window and it doesn’t matter what league you are in. Old Firm games are about who wants it most on the day,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if Celtic are top of the league and playing well while Rangers are going through a sticky patch. There were times going into Rangers-Celtic games where we were having a hellish time and we won the game. I know a lot of people say it but form and whatever league you’re in don’t matter. It’s a whole different ball game.
“The atmosphere surrounding it and the week building up to the game are different. A lot of people are thinking it’s going to be an easy ride for Celtic but I don’t think so.
“All that matters is the result. It’s about who wants it most at the end of the day and that’s what will happen on Sunday.”
Ferguson insists there is no real preparation for the fixture for those who have never experienced it and recalls his debut – a goal-less draw in what was Dick Advocaat’s first match against Celtic in 1998 – as virtually passing him by.
He said: “I probably touched the ball five or six times and I was poor. You honestly don’t know what to expect. I played in some games where it just flew past me and then the whistle went.
“I was left there thinking ‘I didn’t even turn up there’ because I hadn’t been involved whereas in other games it was great.
“It’s a strange game. I had a mixture of emotions in the game and the emotion you want is a winning one. If you get that, the fans have the bragging rights and that’s what you want.
“It’s not just for you and your teammates, it’s for however many thousand fans are there supporting you too.
“Pundits have their say but I never took that into account because you need to actually be involved to realise what it’s all about.
“The good thing for Rangers is that they have a number of players who have done it all before. I’m sure they will have a massive influence on the dressing room.”
Conversely, he had been warned that the Aston Villa-Birmingham City derby was equally explosive but found it walk in the park in comparison to the Glasgow game.
He said: “I got told it was going to be mental and it was just like a normal game. It’s still passionate down there but this is a different ball game.”
Like many others of a Rangers persuasion, Ferguson reckons it has been illadvised of Swedish striker John Guidetti to proclaim that he will score a hat-trick as emotive comments like that often backfire.
He said: “You do your talking on the pitch, not off the pitch. That’s the way I like it done.
“Be respectful and if you’ve got things you want to do on the pitch, do them. Don’t speak out because you can end up with a custard pie on your face.”
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE: Then-captain Barry Ferguson squares up to Celtic’s Aiden McGeady in the heat of Old Firm battle back in 2008.