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.

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