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The most poignant of Old Firm battles

Steven Davis believes a win against Celtic this weekend would be a fitting tribute from the players as Rangers prepare to mark the 40th anniversary of the Ibrox Disaster.

The Scottish champions will remember the 66 people who lost their lives at an Old Firm derby on January 2, 1971, when their bitter rivals again travel to the south side of Glasgow tomorrow.

The club has a number of tributes planned on the day, including a minute's silence ahead of kick-off, and a memorial service will take place at Ibrox on Monday.

Davis is well aware that the highly-anticipated Ne’erday derby will be even more emotionally-charged than usual but has no fears about the players' ability to cope with the occasion.

The midfielder said: “I don't think we need to be shielded. We are totally aware of the situation and the disaster that occurred.

“It will mean a lot to so many people, especially the families who were affected by it. We are definitely aware of that.

“I think the best we can do as players is go out there and perform on the pitch and get the right result.

“Hopefully that will bring a little bit of comfort to the people involved in the disaster.”

Rangers' midweek game at St Johnstone fell victim to the weather, allowing Celtic to move into pole position in the SPL with a win over Motherwell, providing them with a psychological boost ahead of tomorrow’s clash.

Davis is desperate for a win to allow Rangers to reclaim top spot again but does not necessarily believe victory will have a massive bearing on the title race at this stage of the season.

“We've got a couple of games in hand now and we would rather have the points on the board,” he said.

“But we will hopefully go into the game with confidence and will try to get another good result.

“It would definitely be a boost for us to win but we won't look too far ahead.

“There are still so many games to be played and there are going to be so many fixtures in a short space of time for us.

“You obviously look to win the Old Firm games and take a boost from it but that's all it would be at this stage of the season.”

Rangers claimed first blood in the opening Old Firm derby of the season with an emphatic 3-1 win at Celtic Park but Davis refuted suggestions they will be favourites on home turf this time.

“Not at all,” he said.

“In any Old Firm game I've been involved in, there has been very little between the sides and the games are always evenly balanced and can turn on a split decision or a piece of magic.

“I think it will be the same as usual come Sunday.”

Celtic have bolstered their squad with the capture of Freddie Ljungberg but Davis claims Rangers have no fears about the new arrival.

“I don't think we will be too worried about what Celtic do in terms of their personnel,” he said.

“We know what it takes to win these games. The games can swing on small factors.

“We will go in and try to play our usual game and hopefully that gives us the result.”

Meanwhile, Kenny Miller has been counting down the minutes to tomorrow's showdown.

The striker has enjoyed a decent return in the famous fixture in the past and netted a double as Rangers ran out 3-1 winners over Celtic back in October.

Having played for both clubs, Miller has more experience than most of the tussles between the Glasgow giants but insists he still relishes the build-up to derby day.

He said: “I look forward to the games for a good month or six weeks beforehand.

“They are special fixtures and I love playing in them and I've been fortunate that I've managed to get on the scoresheet in the games quite regularly since I came back.

“I love these games and I just look forward to them. Maybe it's through experience of playing in them and knowing what's at stake in them. Some people maybe come into their first or second derby, or they are a bit younger, and it might affect them.

“Maybe they are not expecting the atmosphere or the pace of the game because it is frantic, especially at the start of a game. But I look forward to them and that's something that will never change.”

And the ex-Celt is determined that the Hoops’ stay at the top of the SPL is a short one.

He added: “At the end of the day, it's probably going to be Rangers and Celtic or Celtic and Rangers at the top of the league.

“They are your main rivals and not just your main rivals for the title but also your main city rivals. It's a big, big derby and you want to win those games.

“It's either an opportunity to claw points back or go more points ahead so there is always an added importance to these fixtures because of the standings in the league.”

Ally McCoist has revealed he is “very hopeful” about Steven Naismith's chances of winning his fitness battle ahead of the game.

Rangers’ assistant manager is cautiously optimistic that the injury is not too serious and Naismith — who recently signed a new deal — will have a part to play.

“It was a little bit worrying watching Naismith pulling up at Fir Park but it hopefully looks to be just a spasm,” he said.

“It's a bit early to say he will be 100% for the Celtic game but we are very hopeful he will be involved.”

‘A sad, sad day I’ll never forget’

A bronze statue of John Greig stands outside Ibrox as a permanent memorial to the 66 people who lost their lives when they attended a football match and never returned home.

For the man himself, the tragic events of January 2, 1971 have never been forgotten and never will as he still struggles to come to terms with what happened on that day all those years ago.

This weekend sees Rangers mark the 40th anniversary of the Ibrox Disaster, when dozens perished in a devastating crush on Staircase 13 at the end of an Old Firm derby.

“Sometimes I wonder where all the years have gone,” Greig reflected ahead of tomorrow’s Old Firm act of remembrance.

“The years have gone so quickly. Particularly at this time of year, you can't help but think about what happened 40 years ago.

“It was a sad, sad day and something you never forget.

“It's a very emotional time of year and, at New Year, I have always laid a wreath to remember those people.

“I know it's a time when people enjoy themselves but you can't dismiss something like that. If someone gets killed in a car smash, you can't understand it but you have to accept it.

“But for someone to go to a football match and not return, it's a terrible, terrible thing.”

Among the 66 dead were many children, the youngest victim a nine-year-old boy who had travelled from Liverpool. Many more were injured.

“It was approaching the end of the match and we were 1-0 down,” recalled Greig, who was Rangers captain at the time.

“Of course, you never like losing an Old Firm match. Out of the blue, Colin Stein scored an equaliser and, from staring defeat in the eye, we saved the match.

“The Rangers support were very happy about that and, when the final whistle went, we went into the dressing room quite relieved to have saved the match.

“Then, within a few minutes, there were murmurings coming from different people that something terrible had happened. That was first we knew about it.

“Then they started to bring one or two bodies into the dressing room.

“It's an unreal situation to see that. I walked down the tunnel and saw the bodies lined up along the side of the pitch.

“It was a cold, foggy day and it's something that never leaves you. It's etched on my mind and will always be there.”

Tomorrow — 40 years to the day — Celtic will again travel to the south side of Glasgow for the New Year Old Firm derby.

The occasion will be marked by a number of tributes.

There will be a minute's silence prior to kick-off, both teams will wear black armbands and areas of the stadium will be set aside for floral tributes.

Greig and Billy McNeill, the Celtic captain of that era, will lead out the teams.

“It will be a proud moment for Billy and I think it's great that he's coming along to do it. It will be a very proud moment for myself, and a very humbling moment.

“Anything I can do to try and pay my respects to the relatives of the deceased, I'm only too happy to do so.

“Hopefully it goes down well with the relatives and it's a fitting tribute to the people who lost their lives.”

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