There were few players considered to personify the blood and thunder stereotype of Old Firm matches more effectively than John Brown.
It was a reputation which did not fully reflect Brown’s wider qualities, the technical aspects of which were not always properly appreciated. But there is little doubt that it was the midfielder’s reputation as a ferocious competitor which was foremost in a Rangers career which saw him enjoy 15 victories and only six defeats in his 26 appearances in the highest profile Scottish football fixture of them all.
Brown bookended his Old Firm ledger with wins, his first taste of the occasion coming in a 5-1 league success in 1988 and the last in the 1996 Scottish Cup semi-final which saw Celtic eclipsed 2-1 at Hampden.
Twenty years on, he will be an intrigued spectator at the national stadium when Rangers face the biggest test yet of their revival under Mark Warburton when they take on Ronny Deila’s Scottish champions for a place in the Scottish Cup final.
Brown believes this could be one meeting of the old rivals which will see aesthetically pleasing football take precedence over the more attritional fare with which it has so often been associated.
“I think it will a pretty open game, more technical than physical,” said Brown. “If you look at both teams just now, they have boys who want to play football.
“Celtic dominate games in the Premiership in terms of possession and Rangers do the same in the Championship so it will be an interesting mix because there will be plenty of opportunities on both sides.”
While Brown feels it will an evenly-contested tie, he has no doubts where the greatest weight of expectation will lie.
“All of the pressure is on Celtic,” he said. “It’s a learning one, if you like, for Mark Warburton and his squad for next season back in the Premiership.
“Their priority was to win the Championship and that looks as if it will happen now. But this tie keeps the players on their toes and they will all be desperate to play in it.
“If you look back to 13 months ago, when Celtic beat Rangers in the League Cup semi-final, it was two totally different teams. We still have a few weeks to go before this one, so a lot could happen with injuries and so on, but Rangers will go in there pretty confident they can put on a better show than they did last season.
“If anything, Rangers were playing their best football at the start of the season on the better pitches. With the Hampden surface getting changed, it should suit them because they are a good passing team with good movement.
“Rangers have improved even since losing to St Johnstone in the League Cup earlier this season. They are no longer being hit on the counter attack. Dundee are a good side, but they were taken apart by Rangers in the quarter-final last Saturday.
“It’s a tougher task against Celtic. Although they are going through a hard time at the moment, they are still clear at the top of the Premiership and have the chance to do the double. So it’s a massive game but, again, there is no pressure on Rangers.”
Brown has been impressed by Warburton’s work so far at Ibrox but feels the Englishman may need to lean on some of those around him in the build-up to his first Old Firm challenge.
“The Celtic game will give him a big indication of how far the team has come on and will help dictate what he needs for next season,” added Brown.
“A lot of the Rangers players have never experienced it before and neither has Mark. He will rely a lot on the experience of his assistant Davie Weir and he also has players such as Kenny Miller and Lee Wallace in the camp, good pros, who will keep the other players right. I was a Rangers fan, but until you are out there on the pitch you don’t really know what it’s about.
“I think having his first year at the club in the Championship has given Mark a bit of breathing space because the fans would have been on his case if Rangers were in the Premiership and being constantly turned over or drawing games. It would have been a different scenario for him.
“But he has had a good run and the players have picked up confidence from it. The semi-final will be one I’m sure every player is relishing. It’s still going to be a very difficult game, but it’s going to be a pretty open one.”
*JOHN Brown and Chris Sutton were speaking at a media event to promote the new launch of the Glasgow Royal Hospital for Children.
The Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity - the new name for Yorkhill Children’s Charity - is a charity close to John and Chris. It raises money to support the 160,000 boys and girls from around Scotland who are treated at the hospital every year.