Kevin Thomson: Victory in Old Firm match means everything

T he title race is over. It's done. We know that. The players all know that. But in any Old Firm game, you are fighting to be the kings for a day regardless of whether one team is 33 points ahead.

Rangers had won the title, but Celtic celebrate victory in the Old Firm match as if they were the  champions. Picture: SNS.
Rangers had won the title, but Celtic celebrate victory in the Old Firm match as if they were the champions. Picture: SNS.

I still remember losing to Celtic in May 2010 when we had already won the league and it stung just as badly.

They celebrated as if they were the ones who were champions and we were all doom and gloom in the changing room. It was the first Old Firm match I’d lost.

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I still remember their players going to the far corner where the Green Brigade all gather now. Then they walked all the way round Parkhead, as if they were doing a lap of honour. I like to think I always won humbly or lost humbly and shook hands before I trod off.

But that’s not how they saw it that day after goals from a deflected Lee Naylor free-kick and Marc-Antoine Fortune gave them a win they barely deserved after Kenny Miller equalised for us.

Our fans were cheering and mocking Celtic while they were celebrating the win. But as players we were all devastated. Being champions already offered no relief.

We were sitting in the bus that night before heading back to Murray Park feeling very despondent. It’s a worse defeat than any other, no question. We were trying to remind ourselves that we were still the champions and it is only one game, but that didn’t help.

Neil Lennon, who was caretaker manager at the time, ended up getting the Celtic job on a full-time basis, partly perhaps because of 
the win.

It looks as if Graeme Murty will take charge of his last match as Rangers’ caretaker manager this weekend. Even if Rangers win handsomely, it won’t be enough to secure him the post.

But he won’t want to go out on a low. Having earned two good results since those back-to-back defeats by Dundee and Inverness, it seems like the players have his back. It’s often the way with those promoted to the top-team job in these circumstances.

The players will want to run that extra yard for him. The development coach, or under 20s coach, is normally the go-between guy you have probably spent time with when coming back from injury, or you’ve sat with at lunch and stopped to chat to in corridors.

When I was at Middlesbrough, I got on really well with Steve Agnew, who was development coach at the time, and coach Mark Proctor,
whom I knew from Hibs. They were placed in charge when 
Gordon Strahcan was sacked.

I was out with what turned out to be a broken leg at the time. But they asked me to help out. I trained on the Friday and flew down to Norwich
for the game, which we lost 1-0. I ended up being taken off at half-time but I had desperately wanted to play for them.

The same happened with Jimmy Nicholl when he stepped in after Pat Fenlon left Hibs – we tried our damnedest to get him the results because we’d have liked to see him get the job.

For the sake of his reputation, Murty will go to Celtic Park and set out to make sure they are not trounced again. The alternative way of looking at it is he thinks ‘I only have one chance to be manager in an Old Firm game, I want to go there and have a go’. That’s the dilemma.

It will make no difference to him in one sense – he is not getting the job whether they get heavily beaten or they win. But he will know they can’t go to Celtic and be gung-ho. Rangers’ last experience at Parkhead has proved this will invite potential embarrassment.