SUCH would be the frenzied hype surrounding the pairing of Celtic and Rangers in this evening’s League Cup semi-final draw, the fixture would hardly be in need of any sub-plots.
But it will have one nonetheless, in the six-foot-four-inch form of Craig Gordon. The goalkeeper is currently revitalising his career in hugely impressive style for Celtic with a series of performances which have earned him a recall to the Scotland squad.
The irony of the 31-year-old’s rebirth at Celtic, of course, comes in the fact it was conceived at the training base of their fallen Ibrox rivals.
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Gordon spent much of last season using the training and medical facilities at Murray Park while he sought to finally overcome a career-threatening knee injury.
The former Hearts and Sunderland ’keeper admits he owes a debt of gratitude to Rangers for his successful rehabilitation and bears no grudges over their failure to offer him a playing contract, insisting they were right to strengthen other areas of their squad instead.
“I think Rangers’ priorities lay elsewhere and in my view probably quite rightly so,” said Gordon.
“That was their choice. They went the way they saw fit and personally I think they probably made the right decision.
“I was there most of last season working with their physios and doctors and trying to get myself to a level of fitness where I could compete again and go back out and play. Thankfully, towards the end of the season, I managed to do that and then it was a case of trying to get myself a job.
“The possibility of me joining Rangers was talked about but nothing was ever finalised or offered. Would I have signed for them? Who knows? Until it was presented to me, then I don’t know what I would have done. Going to Murray Park came through Jim Stewart who was my goalkeeping coach when I was 15 and signed my first contract at Hearts.
“Jim worked very hard to get me my first contract and we obviously worked together at Scotland and at Hearts for a long time. We had that friendship and he wanted to try and help me get back to fitness.
“There were no guarantees it would even work and that I’d get fit again. We said I’d give it a go and see what happened. Their help was invaluable. Without the Rangers physio Steve Walker, I might not be where I am right now.
“They did help, undoubtedly, to get me to this point. I’ve spoken to the physio a couple of times but not that often and not that recently. Now being at the opposing club, it makes that a little bit more difficult but I’ll be forever grateful for the help he did provide.
“I honestly don’t care who we get in the semi-final draw. I just want to try to win the League Cup with Celtic. It really makes no difference to me whatsoever. I understand the potential of an Old Firm match is a great talking point for everyone but we’ll see what the draw is and even then the semi-final is still a few months away.
“It’s a fixture I’d like to experience at some point in my career and when it comes along, great. But until it happens, then it’s hypothetical.
“I didn’t go into Murray Park trying to impress Rangers. I was probably quite selfish on my own part and just went in to try to help myself get back fit. Towards the end, I trained with some of the younger goalkeepers and maybe passed on a few tips and spoke to them but I was trying to get myself fit and that was it.
“It’s difficult to be in a football club when you can’t train or take part in games. It can be quite a lonely place at times. If I could have got that level of expertise and facilities elsewhere, then I’d probably have stayed away and kept myself to myself until I felt ready to get back in.
“I was out the game for two years and then a year at Rangers, the first six months of which was in the gym. Everyone was outside training and working away. There might have been one or two other injured lads but it’s not an easy thing to go through and mentally get yourself up for training when it’s only for yourself.
“There wasn’t any money to be earned. It was just a question of whether I could get back to doing what I want to do. It feels good to be back at that level with Celtic and when you make a contribution to the team, it feels good.
“It’s not just in training but when you go out and play games it gives you a sense of worth among your team-mates and they respect what you do and vice versa. It’s that sense of belonging to a team that you don’t get when you’re injured.”
Gordon admits to both surprise and delight at the level he has returned to with Celtic, revealing at one point he was forced to contemplate an unlikely move across the Irish Sea.
“I didn’t expect this to happen,” he added. “I didn’t even know where I’d fit back into football. I had teams on the phone from the Irish League and other part-time clubs.
“I didn’t know how fit I was going to be. I didn’t know what level I’d be in terms of ability. That was something I had to prove to myself. If things hadn’t gone so well, even if I was fit, I might even have had to go part-time somewhere to get back in.
“I didn’t have any targets. I just wanted to get fit and back into football and I’ve been fortunate to end up at a great club and my fitness is close to what it was before and I’ve managed to pick up where I left off. It all just fell into place that way, it wasn’t by design.”
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