Rangers and fans set to go acapella over national anthem row as Napoli match takes on whole new meaning
A large poster of the young Queen Elizabeth II protected by a plastic covering set inside a framed wooden box – “Stumps Bar Partick RIP” – caught the eye. As did the flowers. So many flowers.
Anyone with any knowledge of Scottish football will know that tonight’s Champions League Group A clash between Rangers and Napoli has been given a completely new context due to the events of recent days. The Ibrox club’s identity is partly wrapped up with the Royal Family.
A portrait of the Queen hangs - or at least did hang - in the home dressing room at Ibrox.
Former manager Graeme Souness recently claimed that ordering then kit man Doddie Soutar to locate "the biggest portrait he could find" was one of his first acts upon arriving at Ibrox.
It is guaranteed to be an emotional night in Govan.
Rangers have been refused permission by Uefa to play the national anthem before kick-off – European football’s governing body have also turned down similar requests from Chelsea, who play Saltzburg this evening, and Manchester City, who host Borussia Dortmund.
There is a suggestion the home players could stand and sing an acapella version of God Save the King with the backing of tens of thousands of fans, in scenes reminiscent of what happened prior to the second day of the cricket test between England and South Africa at the Oval last weekend.
Uefa have already confirmed British clubs won’t be obligated to play the Champions League anthem. The Champions League flag won’t also be displayed in the centre circle as the Switzerland-based governing body seek to adopt the right tone at a time of national mourning. There will also be no player mascots.
No longer is tonight's clash about manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s attempt to lessen some of the pressure surrounding his own position after consecutive 4-0 defeats to Celtic and Ajax. Or at least it is not dominated by that single, somewhat unfair interpretation, which portrays a manager desperately trying to save his own skin. It’s only 119 days since the Dutchman led Rangers to the Europa League final. Van Bronckhorst sounded slightly exasperated by a suggestion he might now be in Self Preservation Avenue. He dismissed any suggestion that he could be forced to change his principles.
“Two weeks ago we qualified for the Champions League,” he pointed out. “Everything was fine. Everyone was praised - about the team, about the staff, about the club. We’re doing well.
"Two defeats later it looks like we haven’t performed in the last couple of years. That’s the dynamic of football.
“I’m not changing anything about my philosophy, (or) how I want to play,” he stressed. “Of course, there is a lot of room for improvement."
Van Bronckhorst has assumed a stance most recently adopted by Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou prior to his side's recent meeting with Real Madrid.
Postecolgou dismissed the notion his side had to employ less ambitious tactics just because they were hosting the European champions. Van Bronckhorst sounded similarly defiant - although there is less evidence on which to base an argument that recent results don't warrant a re-think. "We can go to Ajax and play with ten defenders and try and keep the zero, but we’re not improving as a team like that," said Van Bronckhorst.
“I am confident after the week we have had, and the (extra) preparation, and of course the experience of the game last week, we will be in a much better place. But, of course, there’s a time to perform and that is tomorrow starting at 8pm.”
The Ibrox manager would probably rather his next game didn’t have to be against the current Serie A leaders, albeit on goal difference and after only six matches. But that became the case following the SFA and SPFL’s decision to postpone all professional football matches played last weekend in Scotland following the death, at Balmoral, of the Queen.
Rangers were scheduled to travel to Pittodrie to play Aberdeen at midday on Saturday following their return from Amsterdam. That won’t have been a straightforward task. But at least this evening’s assignment, if far from a free hit, is not in the must-win bracket that the Aberdeen fixture fell into.
Van Bronckhorst has confirmed 40-year-old Allan McGregor will play his first Champions League game for 12 years. The veteran replaces the injured Jon McLaughlin, whose place was already in some doubt after two heavy defeats.
The Ibrox manager also hinted that he might hand Alfredo Morelos his first start for nearly six months. The striker has often been proved a European talisman for Rangers and there’s been a growing desire among fans to see him return to the first XI, either alongside striker Antonio Colak or in place of him.
Van Bronckhorst has proved reluctant to play Morelos from the start since he returned from a long-term injury earlier this season. The Colombian striker has also looked heavy after so long on the sidelines.
The manager even revealed he had taken Morelos aside for a conversation about his attitude after a red card during a cameo appearance against Hibs last month. The striker sat out both legs against PSV Eindhoven in last month's Champions League play-off tie and was an unused substitute against Ajax.
“Not being involved against PSV was, I think, a big wake-up call,” said Van Bronckhorst. “After that, he has done really well. He is in a far better place than in the last couple of weeks. He makes it difficult for me now to decide who to start.”
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