There is no room for a repeat of the volatility and violence of ‘99
Neil McCann pleads with supporters to welcome the renewal of Old Firm rivalry responsibly
NEIL McCANN has called on the players and supporters of both Rangers and Celtic to ensure the first Old Firm derby in almost three years does not descend into the cauldron of hate he experienced during his own career at Ibrox.
McCann still shudders when recalling elements of the meeting between the two sides at Parkhead in May 1999, in which he scored two goals in a 3-0 win that sealed the league championship title and sparked some shocking scenes of disorder.
The match referee, Hugh Dallas, required medical treatment on a head wound after being struck by a coin and had to be protected from a home supporter who invaded the field in an attempt to get at him. He also had two windows of his £200,000 home smashed by a near neighbour. He issued 10 yellow cards and three reds during the course of the action.
One Celtic fan fell out of the top tier of the stadium during the match and the Rangers team had missiles thrown at them after the final whistle as a result of performing an impromptu huddle in front of the main stand.
McCann realises emotions are running high ahead of Sunday’s League Cup semi-final and has pleaded for calm whatever the result may be.
“It’s a huge fixture, but, because there has not been a game of this magnitude for a number of years, the most important thing is that it passes safely,” said the Sky Sports pundit.
“That’s the biggest concern. I don’t know if it will be harder to police because it is a neutral venue. If it was a home game, the away fans can be shepherded in. I just hope it can be a good event, as it’s one that’s been sorely missed.
“I know what it can be like. I remember 1999, but I don’t think it will be like that. I hope not anyway. It’s fair to say that was the most volatile game I have been involved in. Anything that could happen did happen that day, on and off the field. I am confident it won’t get to that stage.”
With Rangers toiling in the SPFL Championship and a large section of their support deeply unhappy with the running of the club, concerns have been expressed over how they would react to the comprehensive defeat the bookmakers are predicting.
“I’m not saying that is going to happen,” said McCann. “It comes down to supporters having a responsibility. I hope everyone can enjoy the occasion and welcome back the Old Firm fixture.”
That is not to say that McCann is optimistic about his former club’s chances. “Rangers are in real trouble at the moment,” he said. “The sides are worlds apart in terms of the performances on the pitch. It could be really tough for Rangers.
“You just want to see Rangers back for the good of Scottish football. We knew this game would come around. We would have liked to see it in the top league, but it’s the cup and one team are going in very strong against another a lot weaker. However, I still believe Rangers have guys in that squad who, if they get things right tactically, mean there is a chance an upset could happen. Kenny McDowall, though, needs to get a level of performance out of them that’s a lot higher than we have seen this season. At this moment you’ve got to fear the worst, but you never know.”
The former Hearts and Dundee winger has heard many observers express the view that the weight of
IN THE LINE OF FIRE: Celtic players try to restrain an irate supporter from reaching Hugh Dallas on an afternoon when the lid came off the Old Firm pressure cooker.