HISTORY will be made in Glasgow tonight when a Linfield team steps onto the hallowed turf at Ibrox stadium for the first time.
Although there is a bond between the ‘Blues Brothers’ going back over 100 years, the many previous encounters between Rangers and the Irish League’s most successful team have all taken place in Belfast.
Tonight’s game reflects an enhanced mutual respect between the two clubs.
Last year – when the Glasgow giants were fighting for their existence in the face of a massive unpaid tax bill – Linfield FC, Linfield fans and locally-based Rangers supporters rallied round and raised over £100,000 for the cause.
Rangers had entered administration in February 2012 after HM Revenue and Customs lodged a petition over the non-payment of almost £9 million in PAYE and VAT.
In response hundreds of Rangers fans, including a number of prominent politicians, attended a meeting in east Belfast last May and vowed to save their beloved team at all costs. Following the gathering, it was agreed that a bank account, under the banner of Rangers Til I Die, would be set up to receive donations.
Since then, Rangers have re-formed after liquidation and made some progress on the road to their reinstatement as a top flight club, clinching the Scottish Third Division title last week.
In recognition of the Ulster-based supporters’ efforts, Linfield have been afforded the honour of playing at the famous 51,000-seater stadium.
Three local politicians who helped galvanise local support for the fund-raising initiative have also been invited to the game as guests of Rangers.
East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell, Newry and Armagh MLA Danny Kennedy, and East Belfast MLA Sammy Douglas have all said they are delighted to be Ibrox-bound.
“The fans all over Northern Ireland rallied round at the time of the crisis last year and quite a few of us organised events that raised significant funds,” Mr Campbell said.
“It’s good that Rangers are reciprocating because Linfield also helped them out. I wasn’t actually aware that Linfield hadn’t played Rangers at Ibrox before, so it’s good that we will be there for the first occasion.”
Mr Campbell added: “It’s come at a good time, particularly as there are quite a few Northern Ireland players featuring for Rangers, like Chris Hegarty, Dean Shiels and Andy Little – three players in the first team alone.”
Also making the trip today will be Danny Kennedy. He said it was a “mark of the quality of Rangers Football Club” that they have organised the game with Linfield.
“I think it will be well recognised by both Linfield supporters and by football supporters in Northern Ireland generally. I am delighted indeed to be invited to attend the game and I’m looking forward to it very much.”
Commenting on the Glasgow club’s title success last week, Mr Kennedy said: “I think all Rangers fans will welcome the latest title as the first rung of the ladder on the long climb back to the top.”
Sammy Douglas, who acted as treasurer for the Rangers Til I Die grouping, said the gesture by the club was greatly appreciated. “It’s great to see our own local team involved in such a historic occasion,” the East Belfast representative said.
“A number of MLAs have been supportive of Rangers Til I Die and it’s great that Rangers have recognised that support. I’m looking forward to a great occasion at Ibrox.”
It is expected that Linfield will applaud Rangers on to the pitch in recognition of their hosts’ league title success. A five-figure crowd is expected to attend the game with some estimates in excess of 20,000. Linfield vice-chairman Billy Kennedy is also making the trip and said the match was a reciprocal gesture by Rangers for the game fund-raising game at between the two clubs at Windsor Park last year.
“They really appreciated that,” Mr Kennedy said. “There is a historic bond dating back over 100 years. In fact, in 1912, just before the Titanic went down, Rangers played a friendly match over in Belfast.
“They were also over in 1930 for the opening of the South Stand and they’ve been across many times since,” added Mr Kennedy.
Gers manager Ally McCoist said he was looking forward to welcoming David Jeffrey and the Belfast blues to Glasgow.
“Linfield offered the hand of friendship to Rangers last May and we are delighted to thank them for their support by announcing this game at Ibrox,” he said.
Rangers chief executive Charles Green said: “I know Rangers have enjoyed a strong relationship with Linfield and they deserve great credit for helping this club out during the difficult days of administration last year.”
The game kicks off at 7.15pm and is being broadcast to RangersTV subscribers, as well as on demand for £1.99 to non-subscribers.