Among them were the Rangers players, Kyle Lafferty, Lee McCulloch, Gregg Wylde and Kyle Bartley, but also Gordon Smith, Billy Stark, Scott Brown and Paddy McCourt.
Neil Lennon leaned casually on to the wire fence that lined the perimeter of the pitch. Beside him, his assistant, Johan Mjallby, poured the dregs of his coffee on to the ground, then shoved the cardboard cup into his pocket.
When Ally McCoist and Kenny McDowall walked past, both hunched into padded jackets and wearing woollen hats pulled down low on their heads, there was little recognition between the two management teams.
They were watching a bounce game between a young Celtic side containing Thomas Rogne, who is returning to full fitness, and a Rangers team that included Neil Alexander, Ross Perry, Kirk Broadfoot, Alejandro Bedoya, Matt McKay, Juan Ortiz, John Fleck and David Healy.
A yelp from one of the Celtic players, after he was the victim of an uncompromising challenge by Jordan McMillan, offered testimony that a harsh competitiveness strained to be expressed, even in an informal game that finished 0-0.
The sheer scale of the Old Firm rivalry can be bewildering, and players are obliged to adapt to the burden that comes with their place in the Celtic or Rangers team. “All my friends and the people I see every day are Celtic fans,” says Charlie Mulgrew, the Celtic defender. “You can only imagine what they say after certain games. It’s a massive club and it’s important that everybody knows what this club means to the fans.”
Mulgrew’s time at Celtic will never lapse into nonchalance. He knows the dejection of leaving the club, having moved to Wolves in 2006 when he felt he was a young player languishing at Parkhead. His return in 2010, after a rejuvenating spell at Aberdeen, was acknowledged by the defender himself as a second chance that was as unforeseen as it was welcoming.
Now he is captaining the team while Brown is injured, and his value to the side as a resourceful player with a large heart and a refusal to give headroom to a defeatist attitude has been borne out in Celtic’s last three matches. Mulgrew scored the equaliser in the 3-3 draw with Kilmarnock, then created Joe Ledley’s goal in the 1-1 draw with Rennes, before scoring the winner against Aberdeen on Sunday.
The interventions were enterprising, since the majority of Mulgrew’s influential work is carried out in trying to shore up a defence that has come to display an increasingly neurotic nature. But if these moments were treasured at the time, they might also be considered more worthy in the context of the season as a whole if the team can treat them as a turning point.
Celtic had not won in four matches before facing Aberdeen and, while Rangers have been steadily accumulating a lead over their old rivals at the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League, Neil Lennon’s side have been gathering only anxieties.
“There was a bit of relief,” Mulgrew says of his goal against Aberdeen. “I wasn’t thinking that we hadn’t won in our last four games. I just knew we needed a result to start a run. There have been a few positives in the last week so let’s hope we can push on. You can’t dwell on things this season or be negative, as it will only get worse. No matter what happens with Rangers, we need to keep winning.”
With Glenn Loovens injuring his hamstring on Sunday, Mulgrew is likely to be partnered by Daniel Majstorovic in tomorrow night’s Scottish Communities League Cup quarter-final against Hibernian.
It is a measure of Mulgrew’s emergence as a reliable figure, one who Lennon can count upon not to shrink in the face of the sustained pressure that comes to the Old Firm team that is lagging behind the other, that he is considered so important to the defence.
He struggled to cast aside a nervous disposition when he first returned to Celtic, playing with a vulnerability that suggested Lennon had acted through sentiment alone in bringing the defender back. Yet he overcame that irresolution to become one of the team’s most consistent performers last season.
Like most of the Celtic team, he owes his place at the club to Lennon, and there is a strong sense among the players that the least they can do in return is deliver the success that he craves.
“He has shown faith in a lot of boys and everybody wants to do it for the manager,” Mulgrew says. “We are working to repay his faith. We feel we owe him. This is his first job as a manager and he’s shown he has the qualities. It would be great if he was here long term. He knows the right time if somebody needs to be told off or if somebody needs an arm around them.”
To chase Rangers down, the Celtic players will need to respond to Lennon’s management, but also to the nature of life in a city where the Old Firm, in any guise, are obsessed over.