Ange Postecoglou knows better than to repeat the oft-heard manager’s mantra of “just another game” when his Celtic side head to Ibrox on Sunday.
The Greek-born Australian is well aware of the significance of the derby fixture given the excitement felt by emigrant Scots in his home country.
The rivalry was as intense as ever last season as Rangers stopped Celtic winning a Scottish record 10th consecutive title and Postecoglou has been charged with restoring the Hoops’ dominance after a barren campaign.
Celtic fans have been hugely encouraged by their side’s recent run of form after a difficult start to Postecoglou’s reign. Their team scored 24 goals in six consecutive wins before qualifying for the Europa League despite defeat by AZ Alkmaar on Thursday.
Although basic defensive errors cost them in Holland, Celtic fans will watch Sunday’s cinch Premiership with optimism and Postecoglou knows he and his players are carrying the hopes of many thousands.
“Obviously each derby game has its own significance,” the former Australia head coach said. “This one has worldwide significance in that it’s one of the most famous fixtures globally. So you understand the significance of it.
“Whilst as a manager sometimes you say, ‘It’s just another game’, well this is not, because of what it means, particularly to our supporters, and what it means to this football club.
“It’s a big game, it’s one of the fixtures you look forward to every year. It’s going to be a cracking atmosphere and it’s what we want to be involved in.
“We want to be involved in big games where there’s extra significance to the result and that will certainly be the case on Sunday.”
The 56-year-old added: “It’s a big fixture in Oz and many pubs across the country, if they weren’t in lockdown at the moment, in most of the major cities there, the pubs around midnight usually get fairly busy with interest on both sides of the camp.
“It’s not lost, the significance of this fixture for me, because, growing up in Australia, there are a couple of games every year from around the world that everyone tuned into, and this was certainly one of them.”
Covid-19 will have an impact on the game itself as well as the Australian pubs. Rangers suffered an outbreak last week which saw Steven Gerrard and several players miss their Europa League trip to Armenia, although it is unclear whether any of them will return for Sunday.
And there will be no away supporters inside Ibrox because season ticket holders have been displaced from the section of the main stand which is reserved for substitutes.
Only around 1,000 visiting fans have been present at the games in recent years after Rangers ended a reciprocal agreement that saw around seven times that number admitted, and the atmosphere will be further altered on Sunday.
“I guess from our perspective, and historically when you talk about this fixture and most derbies, it’s always great if there is an opposition group of supporters there, albeit small,” Postecoglou said.
“It just makes that atmosphere a little bit more electric.
“But there are reasons why at the moment that isn’t the case. I’d like to think in the near future that changes and we get both sets of supporters in for what’s one of the special fixtures worldwide.
“But it won’t change our experience or our challenge at the weekend. We want to go there and test ourselves.”
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