It was the replica European Cup casually placed on a fridge full of lagers and soft drinks in a Celtic pub that immediately caught the eye. It was also the couple from Colorado trying on replica shirts in the vast, two-tiered Rangers shop that commanded attention. Saturday’s Old Firm meeting is more than a game. It’s a way of life. 

That reality pervaded the queue forming outside the Rangers Museum before opening time on Friday morning. They brought stout shoes to stride around this magnificently-curated shrine to their beloved club’s history. That passion was also captured by the family in green and white panting their way up a forest road in the rare heat of mid-day to reach Celtic’s training ground, hoping to catch a glimpse of the players. They brought fold-up chairs and waited by the side of the road.

Up inside Lennoxtown, Celtic’s calm captain, Callum McGregor, knows full well it is more than a game. “All you have to do is drive into the city centre and from Monday that’s all everyone is talking about,” McGregor said. “Any time you meet someone in the street, in the supermarket, coffee shops, all they’re talking about is ‘you’d better win on Saturday’ - and they’re not joking. It’s a serious thing and when the players understand that it gives you a sense of how important your role is within the club.” McGregor added that “it means everything to both sides of the city.”

There’s a zeal to supporting Rangers and Celtic. Which is why, to an outsider, it feels so wrong that no away fans have been allowed in to Old Firm games recently, both clubs claiming safety reasons. At least next season sanity prevails and five percent away allocations return. Broadcasters pay handsomely for atmosphere, and travelling supports help generate that. 

Also, to an outsider, the sectarian chants heard at Old Firm occasions are a stain on the game and on a great, progressive city. Two forward-looking clubs don’t need such backward-looking behaviour by some fans. To the counter-argument that it adds to the edge, well, you can have fierce rivalry without poisonous thoughts and words.

It's one of a few reasons why Premier League clubs would resist any request from the Old Firm to join them. Along with the concerns of the police, the English elite would also not want to invite in potential challengers. Informal discussions, nothing more than exploratory chats, have been held with the (English) Women’s Super League about the possibility of Rangers Women’s Football Club joining in.

Rangers are ambitious. Well-run by experienced executives like James Bisgrove, Rangers target funds for squad enhancement and to increase Ibrox’s capacity from 51,000 to 60,000 by 2030. They have 46,000 season ticket holders and 20,000 on the waiting list.

Moving home is not a consideration. Rangers take great pride in celebrating 125 years at Ibrox this year. They looked at digging down but immediate issues with the water table and moving out for a season precluded that. They looked at how Liverpool and Fulham played on while new stands were built or rebuilt. That looks their preferred solution.

A walk in the sunshine behind the Broomloan Road and Copland Road stands on Friday confirmed how sufficient space would allow new structures. Following Tuesday’s final home game of the season, against Dundee, a construction team moves in to install 1,000 more seats and create more bays for wheelchairs. Ready? Rangers are.

Opened last year, and yards from Ibrox, New Edmiston House is already winning awards and the sound within was of the tills in the club shops selling everything from Rangers branded dog bowls to garden gnomes waving scarves of royal blue, white and red. The huge open space downstairs can cater for up to 700 match-going fans generating £11 a head, rather than £3-4 over the road in the stadium where alcohol can’t be served.

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The sounds were also of visitors’ exclamations as they toured the museum. One particular favourite was the 2008 Uefa Cup final team-sheet patiently filled in with his neat handwriting and then handed in by Ally McCoist, Rangers’ assistant manager. Fortunately, McCoist didn’t have to do the same for Rangers fans; 150,000 were reported to have travelled to Manchester.

Outside the museum, blue gateways were adorned with stickers declaring support from English clubs like Chelsea, Sheffield United and Charlton Athletic. The Old Firm garner backing from all over. Celtic have 800 supporters’ organisations in 60 countries.

The English, inevitably absorbed by the Premier League and EFL, sometimes have no inkling of the scale of two clubs to their north. But walk in the Brazen Head, one of a number of Celtic watering holes, and see the rows of pictures of club legends on the wall, the many paintings of Jock Stein and Tommy Burns, the signed photos of Martin O’Neill and Henrik Larsson. A flyer for a special Paolo Di Canio tribute night sounded good – “You’ll Never Drink Alone”.

A lively game of pool was going on. Above the ledge where the cue chalk is kept hangs the programme for that momentous 1967 European Cup final against Inter Milan, containing wonderful pen pics of Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Lennox and the rest of Jock Stein’s Lisbon Lions.

Estadio Nacional, where history was made, was used by England as their training base at Euro 2004. Training was briefly interrupted by a Celtic fan, conducting a footballing pilgrimage, striding to the centre-circle, dropping to his knees, and kissing the turf, much to the bemusement/amusement of Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen and the rest of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad. Homage paid, he resumed his family holiday.

Stein’s famous reflection on Celtic winning the European Cup is inked across the walls of Lennoxtown, words that embody the club: “We did it by playing beautiful football, pure, beautiful, inventive football.” The current weaver of Celtic dreams, Brendan Rodgers, would never compromise his attacking principles anyway. “We’ll look to attack,” he confirmed.

Rodgers was on good form, stopping for a chat before training, full of enthusiasm, and absolutely loving being in charge of Celtic’s destiny. Raised a Celtic supporter in Northern Ireland, Rodgers understood full well the “more than a game” rhetoric. He described Celtic versus Rangers as “one of the most iconic games in the world”, and recalled “as a boy growing up and seeing these games, watching them and feeling the emotion”.

Rodgers has overseen 736 matches as a manager, is vastly experienced and focused professionally, but the 51-year-old still feels like that young boy in Carnlough. “You take yourself back, really, because you’re a supporter really on the side of the pitch when you get the chance to manage the team. That’s where the privilege comes from and the honour.

“They are games I’ve watched all my life. Now I’ve been involved in quite a few of them, certainly nothing gets mundane. For me it’s only excitement and sheer passion.

“I’ve been involved in Liverpool v Manchester United, Liverpool v Everton, great games, and Swansea v Cardiff was a great Derby game as well. But this is different. The feeling, the tension, it really is an iconic fixture. I’m very privileged to manage Celtic in it.”

I ask Rodgers whether there was really more “tension” than in those other passion plays? “Yes, for sure,” Celtic's manager replied instantly. The Old Firm match is more than a game.