BACK WHEN Peter Lovenkrands was a Ranger, and well into his on-off, hero-zero relationship with the Ibrox faithful, social media was not the all-consuming thing it is now and the events of the world went untweeted.
But even though the 2002 Old Firm Scottish Cup final was 12 years ago – what must seem like a lifetime to some Ibrox fans – such is its place in their memories that it is deemed a subject worthy of the Twittersphere as they send belated messages of thanks to the man who scored the 89th-minute winner in a five-goal thriller.
“That final was fantastic of course,” Lovenkrands said yesterday. “It’s something I’ll never forget and I still hear about it all the time. I was only 22 and didn’t know how much beating Celtic in a final meant. It’s only in time that I’ve come to realise how important it was to the club and the supporters. I get tweets from fans even now saying it was the best thing they’d seen in their lives. I love that.”
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The Copland Road cognoscenti didn’t always love Lovenkrands but they did that day. And if a delegation had been at Ibrox they’d be bound to agree that the Dane, now 34, still looks like he could do a speedy job for them. They’ll be able to see him in the light blue again on Sunday, 25 January when the ex-striker plays for a Rangers Select in a tribute match for his old team-mate Fernando Ricksen, who has motor neurone disease.
Lovenkrands has in fact just retired from football after spells at Schalke, Newcastle United and Birmingham City which followed his six years at Ibrox. Stepping back into the ground after a run round Murray Park, he looked as fresh-faced as he did first time round, like he was the bassist in a just-reformed Scandi boyband. “I was doing a bit of training for Fernando’s game and the place hasn’t changed. The same security guard was sitting there, as were other people from my time, and it’s been the same at the stadium.” Thrilled to be back, then. He just wishes it could have been in happier circumstances for both Rangers and Ricksen.
A Magpie for three years, Lovenkrands returned to Govan with some personal insights into Mike Ashley and how he runs a football club. He said: “I don’t know what his plans for Rangers are of course. Nobody knows what he intends to do but it’s clear he wants to be involved. I knew him at Newcastle and thought he was great. He was very personable and seemed like one of the boys.
“He would turn up at players’ events, do things normal chairmen wouldn’t do, have a drink and socialise with us. He’d also come end-of-season and join in and have a laugh. I’d never seen a chairman do these things before so it was cool. It was good to see he could be so down-to-earth.”
The last thing many among at St James’ Park would call Ashley is “cool” and Lovenkrands was obviously aware of the fan unrest. “When I came to the club there was a campaign to get him out. That changed when we got into the top five in the Premier League. Everything was good until we lost a few [players] and it went back to the fans being unhappy with him.
“It’s hard to say if it’s his fault. Things happen at football clubs. Managers change, players go, players stay. There’s a lot going on at Newcastle and I don’t think you can pin everything on Mike Ashley. Regarding Rangers, I know he has a lot of money and he could get the club into a better financial shape. He’s a clever businessman who knows what he’s doing so hopefully [his involvement] will be in the right way for Rangers.”
Lovenkrands and Ricksen were at Ibrox for the same six years, the former full-back revealing in October 2013 that he was terminally ill. Lovenkrands said the tribute game would offer the club and their fans some respite from the strife both on and off the park, albeit that it will be a hugely poignant occasion.
“You look at Rangers and their problems financially but this is a game the fans will love to be at. It’s the chance for them to take their kids and show them players they used to watch, guys like Michael Mols and Ronald de Boer. I’m really looking forward to catching up with Fernando and I hope there’s a terrific turnout. He’s a great character and every club needs people like him. He was very funny when we played together. Even when you couldn’t see him you knew he was in the building, laughing and joking down the corridors. Sometimes when a club isn’t doing well, a game like this can help.”
Wherever he went after Ibrox, Lovenkrands couldn’t shake off Rangers, not that he ever wanted to. “They’re a massive club. Everywhere I’ve gone in football people have asked me about them. I think they’ll always be a big club.” He counts himself as a fan – this despite knowing first-hand that the fans are hard-to-please, something the current team know only too well.
“I received a lot of praise when I was here but then I had a spell when it all went downhill,” he said. “No matter what I did, it was never good enough. I had a lot of people on my back, including the media. I went from being so high to suddenly being, maybe not hated but booed and talked about on the streets. That was hard to take and I didn’t deal with it very well. But I got support from family, friends, coaches, team-mates. Then Dado Prso got injured and I was played right up front where I wanted to be. I could show exactly what I could do.”
The Ricksen match will be followed by the first Old Firm clash for three years, the League Cup semi-final at Hampden, scene of Lovenkrands’ finest hour-and-a-half. “It’s going to be a battle,” he said. “The atmosphere will be crazy. It’ll be chaos. People are saying Rangers are not as strong now but in Old Firm games form goes out the window.”
Lovenkrands netted a double in that 2002 final, his first being a quick response to John Hartson’s opener. “If you go back to the footage you can hear that the Celtic fans are still going crazy –then as soon as I score their end is crying and it’s the Rangers fans that are going crazy. You see the Celtic fans dancing then suddenly they stop. I loved that. And I must admit I replay it quite a lot just for the buzz.”
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