Ally McCoist wouldn't give much credence to the notion of Rangers and Celtic never playing each other again after tomorrow's meeting at Parkhead, but yesterday he was prepared to admit that the fixture will go ahead with a question mark hanging over the stadium. If Rangers are liquidated and then denied immediate entry to the Scottish Premier League this summer, they would have to work their way back through the divisions in order to share a pitch with their great rivals again. In that event, and barring the pair of them being drawn together in a cup competition, the next Old Firm game would take place in the autumn of 2015 at the very earliest.
"You have to say there is that possibility," said McCoist when it was put to him that hypothetically this could be the last derby for a while. "I don't think anybody wants to see that, but it is a possibility. Should we look around on Sunday and appreciate it? Yes. Without a doubt."
There has been no derby build-up quite like this one. Just over 14 minutes of McCoist's briefing had passed before the new champions or the match got a mention yesterday. Normally it would be unthinkable for Celtic's name to take so long to come up before an Old Firm game. The SFA Judicial Panel, accountability, the row over McCoist's call to "name names", Rangers' appeal, their actual and potential sanctions, Bill Miller's takeover bid, the supporters' views, how many players he's likely to have next season and his thoughts on Craig Whyte were all knocked around before he faced his first question about Celtic.
It brought a smile to his face. At last . . . some football. "I can't wait. It's great, I wish it was today. We will get dogs' abuse, but that is what it is all about. I thought the atmosphere at the last Old Firm game was as good as I have ever heard. Our fans were sensational. Celtic fans were defiant, and it was as if they weren't bothered about the result [Rangers won 3-2 in March]. It was great. Magic. Scottish football is getting blasted all over the place just now, but even if you can argue about the quality of the football, when we have got a product like that, with atmosphere and an sporting environment like that, we have got to be proud of it."
Rangers know what they will hear tomorrow: endless taunts and mocking about their imminent death. "It's bizarre, isn't it? But I can't wait. The result went our way in the last Old Firm game, but it was an absolute joy to be involved in anyway. It had every emotion. With 84 minutes gone [Rangers were 3-0 up] I wanted the game to go on until 9pm. Six minutes later [when it was 3-2] I was looking at the referee demanding a 'peep, peep' of the whistle. I went in for a lie down right afterwards. That's what it's all about. Crazy."
There has been next to nothing Rangers supporters could come back with in response to Celtic's taunts this season, but at least they have been able to brag about a winning head-to-head record over the three meetings so far. Their 4-2 and 3-2 wins at Ibrox, either side of a 1-0 defeat at Parkhead in December, gives them a derby advantage they intend to protect.
Kirk Broadfoot is available again but Kyle Lafferty needs surgery on a hernia and, in any case, is out because of a club suspension. He angered McCoist by gormlessly deciding not to turn up when the squad travelled to face Hearts last weekend. The pair of them held talks during the week which were serious enough for Fraser Wishart, the PFA Scotland chief executive, to also be in attendance.
"Things are fine," claimed McCoist. "He will be welcomed back after his suspension and hopefully we can just get on with it again. You just hope he learns and starts to focus a little more on his own career. He is a really likeable guy, but he is daft at times. I don't think he is a bad boy at all, but people keep asking if he still has a future at the club. How wrong would it be of me to say 'no he hasn't'? Of course he still has a future at the club, if he wants one. He is a good lad and a good player who has made a mistake."
Rangers' resources are thin, justifying Celtic's status as firm favourites, yet Allan McGregor, Kyle Bartley, Carlos Bocanegra, Dorin Goian, Lee Wallace, Steven Whittaker, Lee McCulloch, Maurice Edu and Sone Aluko – all experienced – started in the impressive 3-0 win at Tynecastle seven days ago. McCoist needs unity and character and it would have encouraged him to hear McGregor talk of his commitment to the club yesterday.
"My ideal scenario is still for everything to get sorted here, for me to honour the contract and be successful at the club," said the Scotland goalkeeper. "If the worst came to the worst and I have to go [in the summer] there would probably be regret. I love the place, I know everybody. It feels comfortable and feels like home.
"My first thought, when the administrators came in, was to try and save everybody's job [by accepting a temporary pay cut]. We wanted everybody in it together, whether you are a player, work in the cafeteria or are a masseur. The main objective was to save everybody."
The effort to save Rangers continues. Tomorrow, at least, they can distract themselves by worrying about the neighbours instead of the bills.