'Make Jimmy proud' - Rangers charged with emotion for Euro final bid as James Tavernier recalls Jimmy Bell ritual

There remains an element of stunned disbelief in the Rangers camp after their build-up to the club’s biggest game for 14 years was shaken by the sudden death of Jimmy Bell on Tuesday.

A deep sense of sorrow was tangible in the demeanour of both manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst and captain James Tavernier as they faced the media on Wednesday morning ahead of their Europa League semi-final, second leg showdown with RB Leipzig.

The passing of 69-year-old Bell, part of the fixtures and fittings of the Rangers backroom set-up for more than 30 years, has added a layer of poignancy to what will be a highly-charged occasion at Ibrox on Thursday night.

Van Bronckhorst, the 10th manager Bell worked under at Rangers, admitted the mood at the club’s training camp was not conducive to the intensity of preparations normally underway before such a significant match.

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But he has no fears about the impact of the celebrated kit man’s passing on the mentality of his players, insisting they will now utilise their grief as a further incentive to overturn their 1-0 first leg deficit and claim a place in the Europa League final in Seville on May 18.

“Yesterday wasn’t about keeping the spirits high,” reflected van Bronckhorst. “We were all very shocked by the news that Jimmy passed away. It was a hard day for all of us and I think everyone was really down, as you can imagine.

“We didn’t do a lot, we were all at the training ground but the atmosphere was very down and still in shock. Spirits high? I don’t think we had the feeling that we had to keep our spirits high.

“We talked about him, we shared stories about what we had with Jimmy, our personal stories. Today we look ahead to Leizpig.

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Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst celebrating with kitman Jimmy Bell after the Scottish Cup semi-final win over Celtic at Hampden last month. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“It was a really big game already but we are all very determined to go out and give everything we can to make everyone proud and especially make Jimmy proud. We are back and we are going to try and prepare as well as possible.

“I mean, of course, we are still mourning and still down but I think the character of my players is the best I have seen in any teams I coached. I am sure that the character, the belief, the determination will be there. We will do everything to reach the final. I think we will be ready.”

Tavernier was one of those who formed an especially close bond with Bell after signing for Rangers seven years ago and will miss their pre-match ritual when the kitman would place his captain’s armband – one which he superstitiously wouldn’t change if the team had won their previous match.

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“It is obviously devastating for the club and everyone who knew Jimmy, especially his family,” said Tavernier. “Yesterday was really difficult to take.

Rangers captain James Tavernier will miss the ritual of Jimmy Bell putting his armband on before he leads his team out to face RB Leipzig at Ibrox on Thursday night. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

“We all took to our own to mourn Jimmy. People are still doing it now. But I know Jimmy wouldn’t want the fuss.

“He would want us to pull our socks up, roll our sleeves up and get stuck in tomorrow. Even in training today. That was him, the standards that he set.

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“It is about getting together with the lads today, making sure we have a really good session, which I know we will. Come tomorrow, everyone will be ready to go from the first whistle. We are going to do it for the club, do it for the fans and obviously do it for Jimmy.

“I loved Jimmy to bits. He was one of the first people that I came in to see when I first joined the club. I remember the first time I met him, I asked him for the No2 shirt. He gave me some stick for even asking him.

Kemar Roofe is hoping to return to action for Rangers against RB Leipzig on Thursday after missing the last three games with a knee injury. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

“Some of these small details are going to be strange when Jimmy’s not there. They are the small things everyone had with him. He had something different with every player.

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“Before every game, he’d put my captain’s armband on. It’s going to be strange, but I am more determined to do everything in my power to make him proud.

“We have created such a special relationship over the years. It is really hard to take. Obviously the boys who have even come in this season have created special relationships with Jimmy. He was the heart and soul of this place. But we have to focus on the game and try and put the best performance on and try and reach a final where he would obviously want to go. That is our aim. That is what he would want us to do.”

Rangers remain hopeful their attempt to reach a European final for the first time since 2008 will be boosted by the return from injury of attacking midfielder Aaron Ramsey and striker Kemar Roofe who have both missed the last three games after suffering hamstring and knee issues respectively.

"Today will be an important day for both so, at the moment, I cannot tell you if they are in the squad or not,” said van Bronckhorst.

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“It depends on how training goes today. When they get injured we all knew that they will work towards this game. Of course, I will wait as long as possible.

“But for me the most important thing is that they are physically able to play a part in the game. That is always the deciding factor for me.”

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