“I remember in the tunnel and the dressing room, Ian Ferguson and John Brown hyperventilating, they were just desperate to get on the pitch. You need guys like that, that know what it’s all about.”

As Rangers gear up to face Celtic at Parkhead on Saturday, three players who triumphed at the home of their fiercest rivals believe Michael Beale's men can follow in their footsteps.

The Ibrox boss has tasted victory in every game he has taken charge of other than the previous two Old Firm meetings with a stalemate in the New Year league clash coupled with the disappointing League Cup final defeat.

Rangers haven't won at Parkhead since a 2-0 triumph during the title-winning campaign in October 2020 and with no away supporters present for tomorrow's clash, the odds are stacked against a similar result.

David Robertson, Gregory Vignal and Nacho Novo enjoyed their fair share of Old Firm wins during their playing days and all three have backed Beale's men to come out on top. “I don’t think it matters how many points Celtic are ahead, it’s almost 50/50 in these games,” Robertson told the Rangers Review.

“It’s a lot about who’s got the bottle, who’s got the desire and the fight. It’s the fight more than anything.

“Celtic are a very technical team with a lot of pace and movement, particularly in attacking areas but Rangers are more workman-like and I fancy them to get the job done. They’re solid and can be aggressive as well. If they show that, particularly at the start of the game, get on top of them and in their faces then I think anything can happen.”

That fighting spirit is what enabled an Alex McLeish-led Rangers to put Celtic to the sword in February 2005 as goals from Vignal and Novo sealed a first derby win at Parkhead in 12 attempts. “We were under pressure in the title race and we hadn’t won there in five years but we knew before the game we had to go there with a winning mentality and be strong,” recalls Vignal.

“We went not just to play the game but to win it. It’s always such a nice feeling to win away from home, especially against Celtic at Parkhead. It brings back great memories. It’s always a difficult place to go but we had a lot of strong characters in our squad and we had a strong mentality. The demands from the fans and expectations of the Rangers players were that you must win trophies.”

Vignal’s speculative effort sent Rangers on their way to a long-awaited Old Firm win and the Frenchman says it’s a moment he’ll forever cherish. “If you look at the video you can see my passion,” he beams.

“I celebrated by running straight to the bench because, at that time, we were together as a squad. Not only the starters but my teammates on the bench and the staff, they all played a big part that year. That’s why we were champions.

“Alex McLeish had a way of saying the correct words at the right time and he made the players understand nobody is bigger than Glasgow Rangers Football Club.”

Novo would seal the win with a wonderfully weighted lob over the despairing Rab Douglas and like Vignal, his first win at Parkhead is one that’ll never be forgotten.

“It was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had,” he recalls. “It was great work from Fergie, Dado and Fernando who put the ball over and I just lobbed it over the goalie. 

Rangers Review: Nacho Novo lobs Rab Douglas to net Rangers' second goal in the 2-0 win over Celtic in February 2005. Nacho Novo lobs Rab Douglas to net Rangers' second goal in the 2-0 win over Celtic in February 2005. (Image: SNS)

“To score at Parkhead and see all the fans jumping and everything was a very special moment for me.”

Novo would enjoy subsequent success in 2008 and 2010 as Walter Smith returned to haunt Celtic. The Spaniard says his late gaffer’s words were often simple but effective.

“Alex and Walter were winners and they knew how to win there,” he recalls.

"Walter used to say, ‘Win the battle first and then everything will come.’

READ MORE: Celtic 0 Rangers 1: The night a band of brothers was born

“I learned a lot from those two but they would never try to motivate us because if you couldn’t motivate yourself you shouldn’t be there. Walter used to say that a lot.”

Smith wasn’t the only voice dominating the away dressing room in the lead-up to kick-off.

“With Walter, it didn’t matter who you were playing against it was the same build-up,” says Robertson.

“I remember in the tunnel and the dressing room, Ian Ferguson and John Brown hyperventilating, they were just desperate to get on the pitch.

“You need guys like that, that know what it’s all about. I came from Aberdeen which was a bit different, but you just knew what it means to the supporters. You’re going out to a battle more than anything else. It was a bit of a war and you’re all together.

“You’re pretty relaxed during the week and even the warm-up is relaxed but just that 5/10 minutes before you go out in the dressing room that’s when it all just kicks in and the butterflies go and everybody starts shouting. It’s more fighting shouts than anything else.”

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For the Rangers players taking to the pitch on Saturday, the only shouting they’ll be hearing is 60,000 Celtic supporters baying for blood but, according to Robertson, that can serve as motivation.

“When I played there would be a wee corner of a couple of thousand Rangers supporters but if you scored a goal the place just went silent,” he recalls. “When you go to Parkhead, for the whole 90 minutes you can’t hear a thing, you can’t even hear your teammates shouting at you so you’re virtually on your own.

“I don’t know if that’s changed a bit but I couldn’t hear anything, I couldn’t hear John Brown or somebody shouting telling you where a man is so you need eyes in the back of your head.

“Personally, I always found when you went to these places where you’ve basically got 60 odd thousand against you, it spurs you on. There’s a bit of hatred that makes you just want to prove them wrong.

“I remember when we used to be in the Jungle I used to take the throw-ins and I had to go right to the fence to get the ball and they’d spit on you and all sorts. You’d come off the pitch and your hair’s solid with snot and all sorts aimed at you but it just shows you the passion. When you walked over to get that ball you’re looking at them and they’re growling at you it spurs you on.

“The old Parkhead had a real atmosphere and I revelled in those sort of environments. You got close to the supporters and opposition ones as well and you just show you’ve got a point to prove against them.

Rangers Review: Rangers' David Robertson is tackled by Tommy Coyne on his Old Firm debut in a 2-0 win in August 1991. Rangers' David Robertson is tackled by Tommy Coyne on his Old Firm debut in a 2-0 win in August 1991. (Image: SNS)

“We would go there and always get outplayed but Andy Goram was brilliant all the time and you’ve just got to wait for that wee chance to silence the crowd.”

With no Rangers fans present for Saturday's game, there is a feeling the derby has been diluted.

“It won’t be an Old Firm without fans,” Vignal says. “People talk about the Old Firm around the world because of the atmosphere. I remember during my time there was always a massive atmosphere and huge pressure.

“I’ve been lucky to play for Liverpool against Everton, Southampton versus Portsmouth and Espanyol against Barcelona but the Old Firm game is something different.

“It’s because of the passion, the history and the competitiveness between the teams but it won’t be the same without that atmosphere.”

READ MORE: 'No more soundbites': Rangers must make their point on the pitch

It’s a view echoed by Novo although the former Ibrox hero says it won’t be an excuse should Michael Beale’s men wilt in the Parkhead heat.

“With no fans, it’s going to make it hard and, for me, it’s killing the game and the passion,” he says. It’s because of the fans that make this one of the best derbies in the world.

“I’m glad I played before they decided there would be no fans because you were always aware of the Rangers fans. You could always hear them singing but there are no excuses, you need to play the game and hopefully, we’ll win.”

The question is can Michael Beale get the better of Ange Postecoglou for the first time since the derby day win at Ibrox in August 2021?

“Of course!” says Vignal. “It will be tough but they are capable.

“I’ve always said if you are a Glasgow Rangers player you must have this winning mentality it doesn’t matter where you go. You must win, end of. That’s part of the DNA of the club.

“Anything can happen. It would be nice to win because, at the end of the month, you play them again in the Scottish Cup semi-final. Playing them then is the worst-case scenario because the season can be finished by the end of the month.

“I think Michael is doing a good job. I went to see Queens Park Rangers for my pro-license and I spent a week with him and he was doing well. I think it was a dream for him to come back but I told him he must win trophies.

“That’s part of a Rangers manager’s job, winning trophies. You can speak all day long about how Rangers are playing well but at the end of the day it comes down to that.”

It’s that winning mentality that saw Smith’s Rangers get the better of Celtic numerous times on the road to Nine in a Row despite often being under the cosh.

“You need to have belief,” says Robertson. “The majority of the times that we went there we were the favourites but we’d have to defend and defend and defend, just waiting for that one chance.

“That’s the tough part of it. You really have to dig in because there are going to be times when you’re up against it but I think it’s just the belief and togetherness, that’s the important thing.

“A lot of the times, we would get outplayed against Tommy Burns’ team but we were strong defensively and we always knew with McCoist and Hateley we were going to get a goal.”

Rangers don’t possess anyone remotely close to that duo's class but Novo believes his former team can still come out on top.

“Be aggressive,” he implores. “I think we are capable but we need to go for it. The most important thing is you put away any chances you create and make it difficult for them.

“In the teams I played in we would always go and press up to them. Celtic like to play a lot but for me, we should push up and make it hard for them to play. If we do that we’ll have a chance to damage them.

“It’s going to be a hard game but it’s how we are going to apply ourselves, not doing stupid things like getting red carded but just going for it. If you let Celtic play that’s when we’ll get in trouble.”