All the hype over the past few months has centred on Joey Barton’s stunning transfer to Rangers. The English Championship’s player of the year was a truly left-field signing and captured the imagination of absolutely everyone in Scottish football, whether it was Rangers fans lauding it, or Celtic (and everyone else) fans hating on him.
However, much of that hype was generated by the player himself, in particular by goading Celtic’s Scott Brown over Twitter and mouthing off in general via that platform (and others).
But, while pleasing to the galleries up to a point for sure, it is absolutely critical to ignore it. This weekend is not about Joey Barton v Scott Brown. It is not about any one thing or player in particular.
This Saturday is about Rangers beating Celtic for the first time in the league since early 2012, and disproving present detractors, myself included, wrong about the struggles of our manager Mark Warburton and the underperforming players.
Rangers travel to Parkhead, an admittedly impressively hostile arena, to face off against the country’s best team. Let us not beat about the bush – they are the five in a row champions and leaps and bounds the best.
They are also in fairly solid form, with qualification to the UCL confirmed and straight wins in the SPL, which has led to them sadly overtaking Rangers.
But Rangers have a big point to prove, and my God I want them to prove it this weekend. The signing of Swiss centre-half Philippe Senderos has arguably given Rangers a defence, even if it looks, injury to Danny Wilson aside, that Rob Kiernan will be his long-term partner, and with that has come hope that the right foundations are now in place to build from and put together some consistent form.
Never a better place to do that than at Parkhead on a Saturday.
The fact is our East End opponents will be foaming at the mouths – from constant “you’re not Rangers any more” chants to the contradictory “same old Rangers, always cheating” ones, the hate-fest on display will make their hostility at Hampden look tepid.
This will be a pure sea of hatred, and it is what will separate Rangers’ men from our boys. It is not about any one player, Joey Barton or other; it is about our XI taking it to Celtic – a ‘dead’ team stuffing their lot on their own patch would be frankly delicious, and the ensuing meltdown would easily eclipse what happened at Hampden when Rogic skied his penalty.
Rangers have absolutely everything to prove – a stuttering start to life in the SPL has certainly curtailed a fair bit of the feel-good wave that promotion generated, and getting back on track with a colossal performance and the right tactical approach will inspire everyone of a Light Blue persuasion.
History beckons – take your chance, lads.