It is regarded by many as being Scottish football’s most recently-established grudge match. Micky Mellon, meanwhile, chooses to view the ill-feeling that has existed between Rangers and Dundee United as unexceptional in a landscape dotted with on-going quarrels.
“Everyone has a feud in Scotland!” he exclaimed having been asked how much he knew about the specific background to a Rangers v Dundee United fixture that returns tomorrow after an absence of more than six years.
“We are all feuding,” continued the Dundee United manager. “Everybody! It is only the size of the feud that changes.
“We are such a small footballing country that everyone is feuding. I love the competition in Scotland. I forgot how good it is because I have been away. There is such a history. It is really something that is unique to Scotland. We went down to Kilmarnock recently and were made aware of what they have done before. We are Dundee United, with the history this club has. I love it all. This is just the next one (with history)….”
He is guilty of masterful understatement. Of all games played in the Premiership so far this season, tomorrow’s closed doors clash at Ibrox might be the one where an absence of fans is most sorely felt.
Ordinarily, this game – the first between the sides since a Scottish Cup semi-final clash in April 2014, and the first top-flight contest since 2012 – would be marked down as requiring special attention by the authorities.
There would have been talk of United stepping into an Ibrox cauldron. Their own band of fans, shoehorned into a far corner, would have been flanked by yellow-jacketed stewards augmented by police officers. Home fans with long memories would have been sure to give the United team a hostile reception as the visitors emerged onto a pitch they last trod on in 2014 en route to the Scottish Cup final. There is no player from either side still with the clubs.
It was supposed to be neutral territory that afternoon – with Hampden out of action due to the upcoming Commonwealth Games, the SFA decreed that both Scottish Cup semi-finals should be played at Ibrox. Celtic Park was chosen to host the final.
Rangers were still given the lion’s share of the tickets, something which rankled United and saw chairman Stephen Thompson elect to take a seat among the United fans in the Broomloan stand rather than sit in the directors’ box.
Although United’s beef on that occasion was with the SFA, Thompson’s actions simply added to the already strained relationship between the clubs. The then United owner and SPFL board member had already become a target for Rangers supporters due to what they interpreted as zeal on his part to ensure the Ibrox club suffered following their financial meltdown in 2012.
Ibrox will actually be closer to neutral territory tomorrow than on that Scottish Cup semi-final afternoon, when United ensured the then difference of two divisions between the sides proved a more telling factor than home advantage. United ultimately eased to a 3-1 win in front of a crowd of just over 40,000. Rangers won the last league meeting between the pair 5-0.
Steven Gerrard might well be oblivious to all this since his time at Ibrox post-dates all the rancour. Mellon, like Gerrard, was operating south of the Border during the period in which the clubs were warring. He has no particular argument with anyone at Ibrox.
“I don’t believe I am involved in any feuds, nor are my players,” he said. “We will go down there knowing it’s a great challenge and a great opportunity for us. I want us to get back to being a consistently competitive team in all the games we play in in the Scottish Premiership. We will go down there and make sure we do all we can do to represent Dundee United properly.”
While there is little love lost between fans of the clubs, Mellon, who was based on Merseyside while manager at Tranmere Rovers, is “friends with friends” of Gerrard.
He is closer to Rangers defender Connor Goldson, who has become such a linchpin in the Ibrox club’s defence. Rangers are still to concede a league goal this season.
Mellon had a significant role in Goldson’s development while he was manager at Shrewsbury Town, where the defender started his career.
“I don’t think many people in Scotland knew about Connor before he came up other than the people at Rangers,” said Mellon. “I have always said he is a leader, influential and he will get better and better because he is one of these guys who wants to continually improve and he is one of those lads who has continually done that.
“When you have players you have that bond with them and you like to see them kick on and do well in their careers.
“I had him at Shrewsbury. Even back then he was experienced and had played over 100 games at 20 or 21. Even then you could tell he was a lad that was going to get the most out of himself and made it known to the lads around him they would have to match his standards to keep things moving forward. He was always that type of lad, first and last off the training ground.”
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