The Ibrox stands will be empty once more when Rangers chase history against Celtic today.
Already crowned as champions, Steven Gerrard’s men know that coming out of the derby unscathed will leave them with a huge chance of completing an unbeaten league season.
Succeed, and they will only have to get through two more games, away to Livingston on Wednesday and at home to Aberdeen on Saturday, when they lift the Premiership trophy.
As Nigel Spackman recalled, it was very different situation, indeed, on the last day of the season 30 years ago.
Back then, the Dons were again the opposition – but this time for an epic winner-takes-all shoot out.
“It feels like last week because it was a day never to be forgotten,” said the Englishman who, in Richard Gough’s absence, skippered the Light Blues to their success that day.
“Graeme Souness had left for Liverpool a few weeks earlier, so it was a critical time for the club.
“We all know now that Walter Smith went on to become a great manager – but that was not the case then.
“The chairman, David Murray, had a big decision to make. He made the right one, but it could have been so different.
“We had a lot of injuries and illness in the build-up to that Aberdeen showdown, too, so it was all a bit of a fraught end to the campaign for us, and we were faltering a bit.
“Credit to Aberdeen. They chased us down.
“They went on a great run, and were top of the table on goals scored before the last game, setting up what was a great finale.
“A draw or better would have been enough for them. We had to win to become champions.
“I believe that scenario really helped us because it meant we knew exactly what we had to do.
“I think if we had been the ones who just needed a point, then the psychology would have been very different.
“The build-up became really, really tense, and I remember Walter calling me in for a chat about what he was thinking about doing in the game.
“Ally McCoist and Ian Durrant were both injured, but he said he planned to stick them on the bench.
“His reasoning was that if we were behind or drawing, and needed to get the crowd going again, the best way to do it would be to get them involved.”
Our conversation showed Smith knew exactly what kind of reception was in store for the visitors.
“On the day, the atmosphere was incredible, just electrifying. It’s maybe a cliche, but it made all the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stand up,” Spackman continued.
“I remember walking out the tunnel, and thinking: ‘We can’t let these fans down – and they are not going to allow us to let them down!’.
“It was just as well because we were really tested.
“Tom Cowan broke his leg, John Brown had a problem with his calf, and everybody just had to move around and switch positions. I started in midfield, but during the course of the game, I had to go back to centre-half.
“But we decided we were not going to let all the adversity beat us. We were winners.
“Unlike Aberdeen, we had been there before, and won it before.
“Our keeper, Chris Woods made a good save early on. If that had gone in, it could have been a very different story. But once we got in front, I felt we were always going to be champions.”
Rangers were not the only team to have injury issues.
Alex Smith and Jocky Scott, the Aberdeen co-managers, had hoped to field Theo Snelders. But the Dutch keeper declared himself unfit on the day.
His absence left his inexperienced replacement, 20-year-old Michael Watt, as a target to be aimed at.
It was a fact not lost on Mark Hateley, Rangers’ match-winner with both goals in the 2-0 win.
“Mark and I were room-mates, and we talked about potential situations” said Spackman.
“He said: ‘If the young goalkeeper plays, then when I get the opportunity, I will test him’.
“By that he meant he would go with his arm, and with his head, and test him, which is exactly what he did early on.
“I think after that, the lad’s confidence was really knocked, and soon after Mark scored that brilliant header when he got above Alex McLeish.
“So at the end I got to lift the trophy in Richard Gough’s absence, in front of our own crowd. It was a very, very, special moment for me.
“I took a lot of pride from that because we had done it against all the odds.
“When you look back in history, that was a massive result.
“As Walter has said, had we not won that day, then we would not have gone on to do the nine-in-a-row.
“If you asked all the players who were involved that day, they will tell you the same thing.
“It is a time in their careers which they will never forget.”
Three decades on, the 60-year-old is sure the 2020-21 crop will share the same feeling of satisfaction.
“Ten-in-a-row was the dread for everyone connected with Rangers, for everyone with a feeling for the club,” said Spackman.
“If Celtic had achieved that, it would have been very difficult for everyone connected with Rangers to take.
“You would have looked at it, and said: ‘Is this ever going to change?’.
“Great credit to everyone at Ibrox for backing Steven Gerrard the right way.
“I think the season should have been played out last season. I think the people who run the game got that wrong. But it was called, and Celtic got the Nine.
“After that, the pressure was always going to be on Rangers this season to produce something special – and that is exactly what they have done.
“Players who never thought they were going to be capable of stopping Celtic have found that, by sticking together, they can beat not just Celtic but everyone.
“Now they just need to underline it by going on to complete an unbeaten league season.
“The mentality that you have got to have is that this is just the start. You now need to go on and retain the title.
“Having played for Liverpool myself, I know how difficult it is for Steven Gerrard that he never won the title as a player. But he has done it as a manager with Rangers to stop Celtic winning 10. That is something immense.
“Maybe his destiny is to one day go back and manage Liverpool, but I think he loves life at Rangers, loves life in Scotland and the way things are going.
“He will want to retain the title next year, and that is the mentality you have got to have.
“There are pundits in England who don’t appreciate what it is like up there – but Liverpool fans do.
“They are loving what Steven is doing, and very happy he has won the title.”
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