The first Celtic—Rangers SCOTTISH CUP FINAL for a decade brings the football season to an exciting climax and marks the re-opening of Hampden Park. It's a match that Celtic and Scotland midfielder CRAIG BURLEY knows has history written all over it.

Words: Lorin McDougall

Old firm

CRAIG BURLEY EXPLODES FOOTBALL MYTHS and cliches just as powerfully as he explodes shots into the back of the net. There‘s no talk of boyhood dreams or ('eltic being the only club he ever wanted to join. Instead the Scotland midfielder freely admits. 'I‘ve never been a big football supporter in fact. I don‘t really enjoy watching matches.’

Ilowever. Burley will indeed be an unwilling spectator when (‘eltic take on Rangers in the Scottish (‘up Final. having picked tip a cartilage injury during the final league game of the season. Nevertheless. the 27-year-old remains one of the fiercest competitors around. It‘s almost as if there are two Burleys: off the pitch. he is low-key and affable. with gleaming front teeth: on it. an aggressive gap-toothed warrior in the Joe Jordan tradition.

‘It‘s a very. very important game for the club. the players and the supporters. especially having lost out in the league.‘ he stresses. '(‘eltic and Rangers are the two biggest clubs. there's no getting away from that. and I reckon there‘s more pressure here in (ilasgow than anywhere else in Britain. including the FA (‘up I"inal.'

Burley ought to know. since he helped his previous team. Chelsea. to two Wembley Finals. "In I‘M-l. I was 22 and had just broken into the side.‘ he recalls. 'I enjoyed the occasion up to a point. but although we lost out to Manchester United. it was a great

102 THE LIST 27 May l0 Jun 1999

f avourits

'It's surprising Rangers and Celtic have not met in the Cup Final for ten years, considering their size and domination.’ Craig Burley

learning experience. In ")7. I had my best season. yet for some reason was left out for the final against Middlesborough.‘

After winning (‘hampionship and League (‘up medals with (‘eltic last season (‘I'm not a big one for medals.' protests his modest alter- ego). this was due to be Burley‘s first Scottish (‘up I‘inal. Significantly. the venue is Hampden Park. the world‘s oldest major ground. rebuilt and newly opened as a 2 1 st (‘entury stadium.

‘I played there for Scotland on two occasions before it closed down. the first time against (ireece in l‘)‘)5.‘ says Burley. 'I saw it when it was 50—60% done. with no grass. just building work. It's not far from my house. so I’ve driven past it quite often. It needed to be done because it‘s nice to have somewhere independent of Celtic Park and lbrox.‘

The prospect of the first ()ld liirm l’inal in a decade has had many slavering at the jaws for weeks. but Burley responds by flipping back into the relaxed. couldn't-care-less mode which he reserves for his off- the-field performances. ‘I‘m not up on statistics. so I didn’t know that. But it‘s surprising they‘ve not met for ten years. considering their size and domination over the past two years.‘

A (‘eltic win at Ilampden would prevent Rangers completing a treble of domestic trophies. but when asked whether Rangers' failure is more important than (‘eltic‘s success. Burley plays a straight bat: ‘lt may be in the back of the supporters‘ minds. but as players we don‘t think about that. and it won't alter the way we approach the game.

"I‘he league table doesn‘t lie Rangers were more consistent than us. but we‘re good enough to do it and it depends what happens on the day. The most important thing is to get everybody fit and in the right frame of mind. We all know what’s at stake and there’s no love lost dttring a game. but we've got a lot of respect for the guys at Rangers. They’ve got a lot of good players and I know they think we have too.‘

The Scottish Cup Final kicks off at Hampden Park, Glasgow, at 3pm on Sat 29 May and will be broadcast live on BBC1 and Sky.