Shows of solidarity between Rangers and Celtic have been rare to the point of non-existent in this adversarial age. All of which makes Steven Gerrard’s unequivocal stance over the unfairness on the Scottish champions of today’s Premiership scheduling all the more arresting.
The two Glasgow grandees have this week excelled in enhancing the credibility of Scottish football through the prism of the Europa League courtesy of the Ibrox men’s 1-1 draw in Porto and the 2-1 victory Neil Lennon’s side claimed at home to Lazio. Gerrard feels what is being asked of them by the Scottish football authorities on the back of these titanic Thursday night struggles demonstrates a lack of appreciation and understanding. He believes Celtic have been handed the rough end of the stick today.
It’s a magnanimous take considering the climate of paranoia that surrounds the clubs. In an obsessive joust for league leadership that sees his team second only by dint of scoring a goal fewer than their rivals, Rangers could benefit from Celtic having little turnaround time in requiring to get themselves to Pittodrie for today’s televised 12.15pm encounter. The Ibrox side host Motherwell, with a standard 3pm start. But, after complaining about facing St Johnstone in the same Sunday lunchtime slot following on from their Europa League victory at home to Feyenoord last month, Gerrard demonstrated an admirable even-handedness in preparing to take up the cudgels on behalf of Celtic.
He can see the bigger picture and feels the image of Scottish football on the small screen, as well as the opportunity of pushing the country up the Uefa co-efficient table, is being compromised by not finding an evening slot for Sunday games following European midweeks.
Gerrard, inset, admits to finding it hard to explain why a Thursday to Sunday switch between continental and domestic commitment feels more exacting than the traditional Wednesday to Saturday programme. But he is in no doubt that Celtic have it “worse” today.
“They have got to travel up to Pittodrie and they have the early kick-off,” the Rangers manager said. “We have been there. I understand TV want to buy certain games. I think that’s where the governing body have got to help European teams and give you the kick-off that helps the players be more recovered. Because surely the players’ safety is better? Surely the outcome of Scottish football is very important? You have got to give the players time to recover and be in the best shape to go and entertain the people who are actually watching on the TV.
“For sure, you would prefer the later kick-off and you would prefer being at home. Especially if you have been travelling away like us. The worse one is being away and then you have to go away again and you have got a very early kick-off. That is hard to prepare for, not just physically, mentally as well.”
Frustration ensues when it feels that the SPFL, Sky Sports and BT Sport give no thought to the clubs. Gerrard would perhaps favour a return to the old 6.05pm Sunday slot, although he insists even a 4pm kick-off would make for a better game at Pittodrie today.
“It is definitely something that needs to be discussed. [Even a few hours makes a difference], of course it does. If you think about a 12.15 kick-off you have got to have your pre-match meal, you have got to be out of bed at 7.30 to prepare yourself for travelling to wherever you are. So you are losing sleep, you are losing preparation time, you are losing time for the body to get back into the shape you need it to be in to perform. There are all kinds of small details within it which are not beneficial.
“Look, I can understand why a fixture like Aberdeen v Celtic should be on TV. It is a big game with the level of clubs and stuff. But there is no doubt about it in my mind that if Aberdeen v Celtic was at night you would see a better quality game because of the recovery time.
“Night games are always better than morning games anyway. But you can’t control the TV times. Sometimes, though, we feel like there are other fixtures in the league which could maybe be on that early TV slot rather than ourselves, especially after Europe. But we get no support from that point of view. But it’s life. We get on with it.”