KENNY McDowall has warned his opposite number Ronny Deila that nothing can fully prepare him for his first taste of the Old Firm fixture tomorrow.
For Rangers caretaker manager McDowall, the League Cup semi-final at Hampden will be the 27th time he has faced Celtic since joining the Ibrox club.
McDowall was first-team coach under Walter Smith on 22 occasions, then assistant manager to Ally McCoist for the four Old Firm games in the last season they were played before Rangers’ financial collapse in 2012.
Despite that amount of experience, McDowall is quick to admit he will not be immune to the tension surrounding tomorrow’s game. He is also certain Celtic manager Deila will be taken aback by what confronts him when kick-off arrives at the national stadium.
“I met Ronny for the first time on Wednesday at Hampden at the media day for the semi-finals,” said McDowall. “I’m sure people will have told him what to expect at an Old Firm game but it’s only when you are standing there and seeing it full-on that you realise where you’re at.
“I think the fact I’ve been through them before will help me but I’m not saying I won’t be nervous – far from it. I don’t think there’s a human being alive who wouldn’t be nervous going into this.
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“It’s a fantastic experience but it does test you to the end. It’s one you’ve got to look forward to and enjoy every minute that you can and see where it takes you. I enjoyed all my Old Firm games where I won because the feeling is great, but when you don’t come out on top it hurts because you know it affects so many people.”
McDowall’s mentor Smith, who enjoyed an exceptional record in Old Firm contests during his two spells as Rangers manager, regularly observed that fear of losing was the greatest source of motivation ahead of the games.
“I am one of Walter’s students so you can understand that I have heard that theory before and I now know what he is talking about,” smiled McDowall.
“I have said to the players that it is an unbelievable game to be involved in. You can go and watch them as much as you like but there is nothing like actually being involved. I don’t know how the players feel, because I have never done that part, but standing in the technical area is unbelievable, just incredible, especially if you come out on top. You haven’t experienced anything like it in your life. And for that reason it makes it a one-off in the world of football.
“It’s everything about it, the build-up of the whole week and then the climax at the end of it. It’s a tough week but this is what we’re in it for and you wouldn’t change it for the world. If it goes your way it’s great, if it doesn’t then it can be a long week to follow but that’s what we do.
“If there was one thing Walter Smith taught me about Old Firm games, it was simply to win them. People like you better if you win them! You know what goes with this game, this is when everyone gets behind their team. You just hope to do people proud and come out on top.”