There is almost a self-denial among a section of the Celtic support when it comes to their team’s games against Rangers. They seek to present these confrontations as Glasgow derbies with a six-year-old club that carry no greater emotional or historical heft. Brendan Rodgers doesn’t attempt that pretence.
Little wonder when the Irishman’s actions wouldn’t allow for it. Rodgers looks to be measured and impassive on the sidelines, and almost always is so. He deviated wildly from that demeanour, though, when his ten-man team hit what proved to be the winner in last month’s 3-2 victory over an Ibrox side they will joust with this afternoon in the Scottish Cup semi-final. Then he tore off down the trackside in elated fashion before halting abruptly.
“‘I tend to find myself wanting to run against Rangers! That’s probably just the supporter in me. Last time I pulled my calf,” Rodgers joked.
“They are very highly charged games. The atmosphere on the day was brilliant. You have to say that when Rangers scored that first goal, anybody who was there would have said ‘bloody hell, what a game this is going to be’. And then for us to come through, it was really pleasing.”
The pleasure has hardly been strained for Rodgers in clashes with Celtic’s Govan rivals. He is the first manager of his club to have a nine-game unbeaten run against Rangers which, if converted to ten this afternoon, will put his club a Scottish Cup final away from the fantastical, and never before achieved, feat of a double-treble.
The power surge he will have felt first thing this morning on opening his eyes from restful slumber will be testament to the fact that games against Rangers for Celtic engender a different feeling.
“Aye there is a buzz. There is no doubt about that,” he said.”Experienced it nine times now, but I have always tried to stay calm within it all. If you let the mind wander too much...
“At the end of the day you have to try and control everything. From the coach’s perspective and manager’s perspective it is a different focus than what it is if you are travelling to watch the game in the coach.
“That is a totally different thing altogether but, of course, you are excited. And, of course, it was the same going back to my very first Celtic versus Rangers game, when I first came in. Just the sense of being in the middle of it and able to affect it. So every game it gives you that buzz. It is a fantastic fixture.
“It’s hard to win them all but we have shown we can win in different ways. Graeme [Murty] said after the last game that they may not have a better chance to beat us.
“We respect them, respect the game, but really our focus is on our own game. In these big games we have, in the main, played well, and show resilience and quality.
“[The wins] are all great because of the nature of the games. In this game, the semi-final, last year I thought we were brilliant. The scoreline was 2-0 but we had a real authority and domination in the game. A week later we were getting ready for the thunderstorm as they say and we won 5-1.
“But it’s a case of never getting complacent. Some of the games we didn’t play so well. We’ve drawn two at home. But the last game we can take confidence of winning that way. When you come through that with everything against you it can have a really positive impact on the team.”