During their lengthy shared hegemony over the rest of Scottish football, the first Old Firm game of a season could never be wholly relied upon as an indicator of who would be crowned champions at the end of the campaign.
But, as Celtic and Rangers resume league combat for the first time in four years today, securing the initial bragging rights will be regarded as a significant step towards the ultimate ambition of topping the table next May.
In eight of the 13 seasons before Rangers’ financial collapse in 2012, the team who won the first league meeting between the old rivals went on to claim the silverware.
Kenny Miller appreciates the psychological value of that scenario better than most, having experienced it on both sides of the great divide.
In all four of his title-winning seasons as a player – one with Celtic in 2006 and then three with Rangers (2009, 2010, 2011) during his second spell at Ibrox – the veteran striker enjoyed victory in the first Old Firm matches of the campaign.
Miller will make his 19th appearance in the Old Firm fixture today. He has previously scored eight goals in 14 outings for Rangers, while he struck once in his four games against them for Celtic.
That goal in the green and white hoops was his first for the Parkhead club and came in a 2-0 win in September 2006. On his return to Rangers – initially received less than warmly by the Ibrox fans – a double in a 4-2 win at Celtic Park in August 2008 proved equally portentous to the outcome of the title race.
“When I came back then, Celtic had just won the league three years in a row,” recalls Miller. “But we went on to win it the next three years in a row. I was always looking to that first Old Firm game of the season, because it’s an opportunity to put things out there.
“They are huge games and they have a big, big say in title races. You could probably look at all 18 Old Firm games I’ve played and see things that have had a certain amount of significance in terms of the title.
“For me, I’d like to think that coming back in 2008 and scoring twice in that 4-2 game went a long way towards the Rangers fans accepting me back. I’ve got a lot of great memories from Old Firm games, but that one stands out, having known the opposition there was among some of the support to me coming back to the club.
“I think an element of that will always be there, but it’s not that apparent to me now. I just get on with my job and I think everybody knows where my allegiances lie. It’s always been that way for me, but opportunities come up through the course of a career and you choose the road you want to go down.
“At the point I joined Celtic, it was an opportunity to play in a successful team and to play Champions League football again. I’d had a little taste of it first time around at Rangers, one game against Monaco which was an incredible night, so there was the attraction of those huge games with Celtic at that time. The Champions League nights are massive, but for me I’d have to say the Old Firm games are definitely up there with them.”
Although the clubs have met twice on cup business during Rangers’ four-year absence from the top flight, Miller believes today’s match has additional resonance for his team as they seek to re-establish their credentials as genuine title rivals to Celtic.
“There have been a lot of politics and reasons behind what happened to us,” he added. “That has always been the driving force behind everyone at the club. One, we wanted to get it back on a stable footing. Two, we wanted to look forward to games like this again and challenge for major honours.
“All we wanted to do over the past few years was try to make sure we were going to have the opportunity to play in these fixtures again. I left Rangers for the second time when I was 31. I never thought I would be able to come back a third time and have the chance to play in a game which means so much to me. So I feel really fortunate to have that opportunity again.”
The 36-year-old, whose next goal for Rangers will be his 100th for the club, is hopeful today can bring the best out of his team whose form has been less than convincing so far in dropping four points from their first four Premiership fixtures.
“We know we have not been playing as well as we would like, although we have shown it in spells of games,” he said. “So this is a game which can hopefully bring the performance we want.
“With the signings we have made over the summer, there is no doubt those guys have come here to play in this fixture. They want to play in games of this magnitude against our rivals, to try and win the league. I really believe this is an opportunity for us to put a marker down.”
Miller is confident Rangers can confound the widespread expectations among bookmakers and pundits of a comfortable Celtic victory this afternoon and will draw on the experience of last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final between the clubs as motivation.
“It’s been like deja vu this week from the build-up to that game,” added the 36-year-old. “I keep reading and hearing that we are not playing well, that Celtic are better and have strengthened. Yes, they have strengthened and are better, but there is no doubt we have strengthened too. Have we gelled and clicked the way we did last year? Not yet. Will we get there? There’s no doubt we will. To incorporate the number of new players we have into a style and system, to get us all to play it flawlessly as we did when we hit the ground running last season, is harder this year. Over the first four league games this season, you have seen the Rangers we want to be, even if it has only been for 30 minutes here and there. It’s now about us trying to find that performance over 90 minutes. If we can get that right, we will be fine.
“We were given no chance in that semi-final last season. There were even some dafties saying we would lose 5-0 or 6-0. But I genuinely believed we would win that game, based on the way we were playing at the time and the way Celtic were playing. We know we can hurt Celtic, we have the players to do it. They have players who can hurt us as well. If we can make it a football game, then we will be okay.”