It was a fixture Steven Gerrard relished more than any other during his storied playing career but like everyone else who tuned in to the latest instalment of the Merseyside derby on Sunday, he was left with something of an empty feeling.
The largely stilted nature of the goalless draw between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park was perhaps the clearest example yet of how diminished professional football is without supporters inside the stadium.
So it’s no surprise that Rangers manager Gerrard finds the prospect of the first Old Firm showdown of the 2020-21 Premiership season taking place behind closed doors at Celtic Park wholly unpalatable.
“It wouldn’t be the same, like the Merseyside derby wasn’t,” said the former Liverpool captain. “I think everyone understands it is what it is and we have to accept it. The positive thing is that we all miss football so much that we wanted it back, to watch it and be involved in it. We’ve got that and we have to accept it and adapt to it.
“But I don’t think any Merseyside derby or any Old Firm derby is the same behind closed doors. The reason they are two special derby games and watched worldwide is because of the fans and the atmosphere and the passion and the intensity those fixtures bring. An Old Firm behind closed doors wouldn’t be the same. But if we are told we have to do one, then we will accept that and go and give it our best shot.”
While Rangers have now returned to a limited form of training as Scotland emerges from lockdown at a slower pace than England, Gerrard is eager for clarity on when they can intensify their preparations for a new campaign scheduled to begin on 1 August.
“Listen, you have got to understand the situation, of course you have,” he said. “But we need to try and get back to normality as quickly as possible. The season is going to go ahead when we are told it will go ahead.
“We need to get back to full contact training as quickly as we can. We will fully prepare the players for hopefully a 60 game season. If we continue to go non-contact for a month longer, I think it could have an effect on having the players fully prepared for the beginning of August. We have been training in small groups. Obviously we have been taking the rules into consideration. It is not ideal, I’ll be honest. But obviously we have been in lockdown for a long time so it is very important players get moving.
“It’s important we see each other from a mental point of view, to get out of the house and spend time with each other. It’s better than it was, but the sooner we can get back to normality the better because with the season being just over a month away we need a certain amount of time to prepare the players in 11 v 11 situations and full contact.”
Gerrard remains convinced the SPFL needlessly rushed their decision to curtail the 2019-20 season which saw Celtic, who were 13 points clear of Rangers having played a game more at the time, declared champions on a points-per-game basis as the league table stood.
But while he feels the bitterness which has since manifested itself in Hearts and Partick Thistle taking the SPFL to court could damage relationships within Scottish football going forward, he insists his focus now lies elsewhere.
“In terms of the decisions made about Celtic getting the title and Hearts being relegated our opinion hasn’t really changed,” said Gerrard.
“We still believe it would have been possible to finish the league but it is what it is and we have to accept that.
“We have to take it on the chin, move on and look forward. And that is all that we can do. In terms of the league, I said my piece at the time and I don’t think I need to add anything. We are approaching a new season and I want to look forward rather than backwards. The league decision making is something I can’t control. I just want to focus on Rangers.
“It is possible (there will be damage to relationships and the reputation of the league) but it is not something I am focusing on or think is important right now.
“You come into a new season with a fresh start. The past is the past, you move on and you focus on the challenge you’re facing in the coming days, weeks and months. The important thing for me now is to try and keep the players healthy and fit for another long season and another set of challenges. The players have come back with smiles on their faces. We’ve had enough time to self-reflect and analyse last season. I have done that myself and prepared myself to go again and it’s something I’m really looking forward to.”
Rangers still have at least one outstanding fixture from last season to fulfil, the second leg of their Europa League last 16 tie against Bayer Leverkusen in Germany on 5 or 6 August, with a new single-leg knockout qualifying format in the 2020-21 tournament to follow.
“There are advantages and disadvantages to the qualifiers in the new campaign,” he added. “Obviously, there are less games for the season as a whole, which could be helpful to the players.
“But, depending on the draw, it could add complications if you have a tough tie away from home and the advantage is with the home team. That might be a different challenge we are not used to facing.
“In terms of Leverkusen, the second leg is a game we are really looking forward to. We are still asking questions in terms of where it is going to be played, the exact date and time.
“We are still asking questions in terms of who we can name - the exact same players we had on the list for the first leg or if there are any special changes to the rules.”
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
The dramatic events of 2020 are having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive. We are now more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism.
Subscribe to scotsman.com and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app. Visit https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions now to sign up.
By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.