THE SPFL is unlikely to allow Rangers to play at home in the Ramsdens Cup final for fear of setting a precedent – even although their potential opponents would have no qualms about playing at Ibrox.
Ally McCoist’s side are hot favourites to take care of Stenhousemuir in their semi-final at Ochilview to reach the 6 April showpiece game, where they would face either Raith Rovers or Annan Athletic.
With Hampden unavailable due to preparatory work for the Commonwealth Games, the SPFL is seeking an alternative venue and Celtic Park would seem the obvious choice.
At yesterday’s semi-final draw, Annan manager Jim Chapman was vocal in his support of staging the game at Ibrox should his side qualify, while Raith Rovers’ midfielder Grant Anderson is of a similar view.
However, the SPFL is acutely aware that, if they went down that path, they would leave themselves open for potential problems, particularly if Celtic were to reach the last four, or the final, of the League Cup.
Celtic could argue that, if Rangers were to play at home in the Ramsdens Cup final, then the same should apply to them in the League Cup and potentially the Scottish Cup. Conversely, any opponent of Celtic in these circumstances would likely be aghast at playing a major semi-final or final against Neil Lennon’s side at Parkhead.
Annan manager Chapman tried to suggest that it “could create problems” if Rangers played the Ramsdens final at Celtic Park and championed the game being played at Ibrox.
However, you only have to go back to the 1990s when Rangers played in three League Cup finals (1993/94, 1996/97 and 1998/99) and two Scottish Cup finals (1992/93 and 1997/98) at Celtic Park. Equally, Celtic played at Ibrox in the 1994/95 and 1997/98 League Cup finals.
Only once since the 1800s has home advantage been given to Cup finalists and that was in highly special circumstances when Dundee met neighbours Dundee United at Dens Park in the 1980/81 League Cup final after the drawing of lots.
Chapman said: “Assuming Rangers get there and so do we, then we would have no problems going to Ibrox. It would allow more people to come and see it. It would be better for all the fans and sponsors. We are trying to attract more people to the game so you should take that into consideration.
“The game sometimes takes a knock, but there are a lot of positives in the game as well and we should do our best to promote those. A lot of people want to come and see the game, so if we can accommodate an extra 30,000 to 40,000 people then why wouldn’t we?”
“I have no fear of Ibrox. My players did quite well there last year and, in terms of support, we would maybe get four figures rather than three. But it would be a fitting environment and I would be delighted because some of my players maybe didn’t get the opportunity to play at Ibrox – so they would go for that. It’s all ifs and buts right now. But if someone offered me that right now I’d bite the hand off you and say thanks.”
When asked if the neutral venue of Parkhead would be more appropriate he said: “It might but then you have people thinking about Rangers fans going into Parkhead and the potential issues we have with the Rangers-Celtic divide.
“Why create problems when you are trying to create a spectacle?
“So, in my opinion, it would make more sense to stay away from that because, if you are in your own home, you look after it. That’s not being disrespectful to Rangers supporters in any shape or form but why create an issue when it can be easily avoided?”
Raith Rovers midfielder Anderson also insisted that he and his team-mates would be comfortable about playing the final at Ibrox should they get there.
He said: “I don’t think the boys would be bothered. It’s going to be a massive game whatever way it comes and if we play on a big pitch with a big crowd and a massive stadium it’s all good.
“That’s what football players want to do so I don’t think it would faze us in any way.
“These are all things we are going to have to take in our stride if we get to the final.”
Raith and Annan will meet at Stark’s Park on Sunday 13 October but Stenhousemuir v Rangers will have to be staged on another date as the SPFL have confirmed that Rangers’ League One match with Dunfermline on 12 October takes precedence.
Crawford eager for some revenge against Forfar
Youthful midfielder Robbie Crawford says Rangers are in the mood to exact some revenge on Forfar on Sunday after a costly and embarrassing League Cup defeat last month.
The spectre of Charles Green loomed large when Rangers crashed to a 2-1 extra-time defeat on 3 August in their opening competitive match of the season. That loss came on the day that Green, then at the Ibrox club in a consultancy role, was quoted as saying he believed manager Ally McCoist needed to win a cup as well as the league title. McCoist hit out at the Yorkshireman’s comments and said they played a part in his team’s defeat.
Since then Rangers have stormed to five successive League One wins and comfortably made the semi-finals of the Ramsdens Cup.
Crawford said: “Forfar is a hard place to go. The wind and the pitch were not ideal when we played them earlier in the season but we have no excuses and we will be ready for that this time.
“It was a poor performance that day. We just didn’t click on the day. We had our chances to score and they took theirs.
“It was really hard to take but we bounced back well and that’s the most important thing. It was definitely one that got away when you consider the way we have played in other games. It was really disappointing and we are focused on putting that right on Sunday.
“I think when you lose like that it builds character and we responded really well so that was a pleasing thing.”
Despite the arrival of eight new players, Crawford has managed to retain an active involvement in the squad.
His ability has demanded his inclusion but he has been enhancing his physical state by working with Glasgow Warriors rugby star Chris Fusaro to increase his strength. He said: “It’s encouraging that the manager has stuck by the young boys. It shows if you are good enough he will play you. It doesn’t matter what age you are.
“It’s another challenge now that the new boys can play and the squad is bigger, but it’s a challenge you look forward to and it’s expected at a club like this.”
“I’ve been to the gym with Chris a couple of times, It’s just kicked on from there and it is an aspect of my game (strength) that I would like to improve on.
“It’s something different. We work in the gym. Rugby boys are known for their strength, so he is somebody I am trying to learn from.”