THERE is little that fires up supporters of non-Glasgow clubs more than the thought of singeing the entitlement teams in their Celtic Park and Ibrox furnaces. Dundee have, then, the potential for a bonfire of a week thanks to their fifth round Scottish Cup tie away to Rangers on Saturday lunchtime being preceded by Celtic hosting them in the Premiership on Wednesday night.
Dens Park hall-of-famer Barry Smith knows full well how tasty, and testing, his old club’s next two assignments can be viewed.
Dundee haven’t played at Ibrox since a 3-0 defeat there in December 2004. Smith captained the visitors then. Paul Hartley’s men travel to Govan as favourites to win at a ground where they last enjoyed victory in November 1999. Smith wore the armband for Dundee that night, too.
Replicating that 2-1 success would take the Tayside club into their first Scottish Cup semi-final since they lost 3-0 to Gretna in April 2006. Smith was the unfortunate scorer of one of those goals.
The Dundee faithful are daring to believe that they can be at Hampden too for the May final this year. Smith led Dundee out when, with a 1-0 loss to Rangers in 2003, they last sampled such an occasion.
He also formed the defensive bedrock when Dundee last dumped Celtic in their own environs – a 2-0 victory in May 2001 delivering that landmark outcome.
The turn of the millennium brought the best years enjoyed by the Dens Park club in the Premier era across all its various forms. Under Jocky Scott in 1998-99, their highest league ranking in the past four decades was attained with a fifth-place finish many believe Hartley’s team can pitch for this season. That feat coincided with Smith’s first full season as captain of the club he skippered for almost a decade.
His primary concern now may be managing Aldershot Town as they seek to stay safe in the National League. Smith, though, remains interested and knowledgeable about a club that was his life for more than half of his 42 years. A club he fought for with incredible dedication through wildly seesawing times that brought showbiz-style success, demotions, and two administrations – the latter which led to his appointment as Dundee manager.
Subsequently keeping Dundee in the second tier with a record 23 games unbeaten following a 25-point penalty being imposed on them for a second financial implosion in five years remains a remarkable achievement.
Smith said: “I still keep in touch with a lot of people at the club and after everything I went through on and off the field, I retain a great love for Dundee. That will never change.
“But I am a believer in what has been has been and that you move on. I rarely have a distinct memory of games – whether they were wins at Celtic Park or Ibrox, or big cup ties.
“It is like I don’t want to see them as different because then it would be as if I had gone into them thinking they were more special than others. My attitude was that every game meant everything and that is the attitude I look to foster in my players.”
Yet, Smith recognises that some games are more arduous than others. Even if it seems that Dundee are firmly back in the limelight they enjoyed in the wacky Bonetti brothers era that the misguided Marr brothers presided over, Smith doesn’t see the Glasgow double-header as necessarily the best for Dundee’s ambitions. Hartley has hinted at resting players for Celtic Park and Smith can understand that.
“Physically and mentally it is enormously draining going to Celtic Park and Ibrox inside a matter of days,” he said. “On Wednesday, on what is a big pitch at Parkhead, it can be expected that Celtic will have lots of possession and that will mean Dundee having to do lots of chasing. Then they will have to play on another big pitch at Rangers inside 72 hours.
“Paul will know the players that can handle two games and which of them might need their energy levels safeguarded for the cup tie.
“I might believe that every game has the same importance but the cup is gone if the tie is lost while there games beyond the one on Wednesday where Dundee can drive for the top six.”
There is a delicious subplot to the two Glasgow trips for the Dens club. The encounters are likely to highlight the fissures that the demise of the old Rangers has caused between Ibrox supporters and followers of other clubs.
Gary Harkins just followed the line of many – including football authorities who allowed under-contract Rangers players Steven Naismith, Allan McGregor and Steven Whittaker to move for free when liquidation proceedings started for the Ibrox club – in stating that the current Rangers can be considered a new club.
As did former Celtic defender Darren O’Dea, who joined Dundee in January, when maintaining that titles the Ibrox club won as they operated their EBT tax wheeze should be repatriated if this scheme is ultimately ruled outside of the law.
Such comments, however legitimate, have been ramped up as somehow radical, but the publicity given to them will see the pair appreciated at a half-empty Celtic Park on Wednesday and the subject of almighty opprobrium at a packed Ibrox next weekend.
“Players have to handle situations whenever they perform and you can only handle it at Ibrox and Celtic Park if you don’t freeze,” Smith said.“I hear people saying Dundee are favourites in the cup, as the team from the higher division they should have an advantage but it isn’t as simple as that.
“Rangers have the winning habit from coming on leaps and bounds under Mark Warburton. It is about the 90 minutes.”
For Smith, it always has been, and always will be.