Dominic Ball may have grown up hundreds of miles from the goldfish bowl intensity of the Old Firm derby, but the Rangers centre-back needs no tutorial on the magnitude of this Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final.
While learning his trade, Ball would often follow the lead of many football fanatics south of the Border and tune in to see the most famous of all Scottish football games, however many times they squared off each season.
“I’ve watched Old Firm games for years now,” said Ball. “You always see them on Sky Sports so I would have watched a few just sitting there on a Sunday with a game on, but Rangers v Celtic is a massive event that everyone knows about and talks about. It is a great game.”
Considering his knowledge and enthusiasm for the fixture, it’s surprising that the young Tottenham loanee wasn’t aware of the exploits of the under-21s coach at White Hart Lane, former Rangers centre-back Ugo Ehiogu, until he arrived in Glasgow.
Ehiogu may have only made a handful of appearances under Walter Smith during a one-year spell between 2007 and 2008, but he still managed to net one of the most memorable Old Firm goals in recent times when his bicycle kick defeated Celtic at Parkhead.
“I have spoken to him about it,” said Ball. “I didn’t even know, he kept it quiet when I was coming up here. As soon as I got up here, I saw his picture on the wall and I was like ‘what happened here?’ He said he keeps it under the radar but I said ‘well done anyway’.
“It was brilliant. Of course I wouldn’t mind one of those, but that’s if I get in the box.” Ball will be expected to start as the sitting midfielder in front of the back four. It took some time for the 20-year-old to become a regular in the first team as manager Mark Warburton tended to prefer Andy Halliday.
However, the Rangers boss has become slightly more pragmatic in recent months, placing greater emphasis on defensive solidity, as illustrated by the centre-back’s presence at the base of the midfield.
Even though he was originally advertised as a centre-back, it’s a switch Ball has adapted to comfortably. Besides, like any young player, he’s just happy to play regardless of the position on the field.
While Sunday will be a stern test of his individual abilities, Ball is confident he’s developed enough as a player to help Rangers cause a Hampden Park upset.
“I have matured massively in the last eight months,” he said. “Living on my own and playing all these games has matured me. Having a game with this pressure under my belt, if I do play, will be brilliant
“Rangers fans and all of us expect to win every game. That’s how much confidence we have got in our team.”