While an Old Firm fixture inevitably makes the pulse quicken for everyone involved, Andy Halliday’s heart may just be beating a little faster than most at Hampden on Sunday.
The midfielder’s background as a boyhood Rangers fan, brought up in the shadow of the Copland Road stand at Ibrox, has been well documented and earned him a special affinity with the club’s support this season.
Halliday accepts his first experience of facing Celtic will be an emotionally-charged occasion for him. He also senses there is a prospect Celtic could single him out as a player who could let his feelings get the better of him in the heat of battle.
But Halliday has no concerns about his ability to keep a cool head and make the kind of contribution necessary to help Rangers in their quest for victory in the Scottish Cup semi-final.
“I’m not worried about that at all,” he said. “I’m 24 years old now and I’ve played quite a few first-team games. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a first for myself, playing in an Old Firm game, but I’m confident that I can control it.
“Everyone’s emotions will be running high, whether you are a fan or not. There’s so much at stake. It’s a Scottish Cup semi- final, so emotions are already running high. Then there’s a derby-day feeling but I’ve no worries at all.
“Yes, Celtic might try and do that (get a reaction out of me). I don’t know what they are going to do, but I will take it in my stride. I’m just looking forward to getting out there on Sunday.
“Probably one of the hardest things is the build-up. You just want to go out and play. But whether Celtic want to provoke me, it’s up to them. But they’ve got experienced players who will look to enjoy the game. Whatever happens, happens. But it’s a game we’ve not seen much of in four years and I hope it’s a good spectacle.”
Since the semi-final draw was made, Halliday has made a conscious effort to avoid the hype surrounding the fixture. At the same time, he has also sought the counsel of some of those who previously flourished in the Old Firm maelstrom.
“I’ve tried to tap into Ian Durrant and John Brown and listen to them speak about the Old Firm games,” he said. “It’s guys who have been there and done it. You can’t get too involved because what’s at stake is a place in the Scottish Cup final.
“The size of this fixture, probably every boy at Rangers – and every boy at Celtic – has dreamed of scoring the winner. You’re not going to not think about that. Our mantra has been to take it game by game this season, and we have done that. But it’s hard when you can’t walk ten yards down the street without someone asking you about the Old Firm game.
“But that’s the nature of the beast. I’ve tried to shut up about it. I’ve told my friends and family I’m not talking about the Old Firm until afterwards. That’s because I’ve heard the likes of Ian Ferguson saying it’s so easy to get caught up in the emotion that by the time you get on the park, you are drained mentally.
“I’ve been at the other end of the scale when you are watching the draw as a supporter and the Old Firm come together and you look forward to it. But, as a player, I don’t want to talk about it because I want to concentrate on the games coming up.
“We were in a cup final last Sunday and it was my first ever cup final. It was a massive occasion for me but the only questions I was getting were about the Celtic game.
“You can put too much thought into it. So I think I’ve tapped into the right people’s experience and I’m going to approach the game in the right manner. It’s a massive game but every game at Rangers is massive.
“It was a conscious effort for me to talk to these great former Rangers players and it’s been great to have Ian Durrant about the place at training every day. I’ve asked him how to deal with being a Rangers player off the park, how to deal with everything. Being an Old Firm player is a 24/7 lifestyle.
“You are walking down the street and anyone can talk to you. You can get abuse from anyone but you just need to brush it aside. I try and take it on the chin, take it in my stride. I can’t wait for Sunday because it will be the biggest occasion of my football career and I want to enjoy it. When you are 35, and retired, you will look back on these days.
“Has Scottish football missed these games? 100 per cent. I think British football has missed it, everywhere has missed it. It’s a fixture that is anticipated worldwide.
“Without being disrespectful to other clubs, this is the game that puts Scottish football on the map.
“I can speak first hand that when I was playing down in England, it was the first fixture anyone asked you about. I had never played in it.
“I had only been at one as a fan, but people were still asking me lots of questions about it.”