Marco Negri believes this season’s Old Firm derbies will be as intense as ever
Marco Negri was renowned for showing no emotion after netting for Rangers but the former striker claims scoring against Celtic eclipsed any feelings he has experienced.
The Italian barely raised a smile when scoring goal after goal in his first few months in Scotland but he admits he lost his composure after netting the opener in a 1-1 draw at Celtic Park in November 1997.
Negri felt the tension ahead of games against Celtic and believes this season’s derby clashes – the first of which takes place at Parkhead on Saturday – will be even more intense given what is at stake and how well-matched the teams are.
When asked to explain what it was like scoring in an Old Firm derby, Negri told the DW Podcast: “The best feeling. It’s very, very tough to explain all the feelings and emotions that you go through.
“Before the game you understand it’s not a game, but it’s ‘The’ game.
“It’s not about football, you are going to play for a lot of fans, a lot of people who are thinking about this game like it is their life. So the pressure is very high.
“The dressing room with Gazza (Paul Gascoigne), (Andy) Goram, (Ian) Durrant, (Ian) Ferguson, (Ally) McCoist, was really, really funny before games, everybody was joking and laughing.
“But before the Old Firm you knew it was something special because everybody was quiet and really, really focused 100 per cent on the game. So I told myself ‘This is special’.
“You know the 90 minutes can be special for your career in a positive way but also a negative way. So you understand the pressure is very, very high.
“I was lucky because I won my first Old Firm at home and I was very lucky because I had the pleasure and honour to score a goal in an Old Firm game at Celtic Park.
“You understand it is something special. I remember I scored that goal, which was very important because we were on top of the league. I was so happy that I just ran to the flag. Then I put my head up and all I could see were fans wearing green and white and telling me to ‘F*** off’.
“I said to myself ‘This is not the right side’. So I went back to my team-mates.
“But it was a really, really great feeling and I think it was my most important goal because I still understand it has a special feeling in the minds of so many fans who still remember that goal.
“I am really proud and honoured that I had the chance to score in such a big game.”
The goal continued Negri’s sensational start following his move from Perugia. He netted his 33rd goal of the season on December 27 but an eye injury sustained during a game of squash with team-mate Sergio Porrini sparked a run of fitness issues and his Ibrox career petered out.
He only scored twice and won four of his next 10 league games as Celtic stopped Rangers winning a 10th consecutive title.
As well as his own injury issues, Negri pointed to the departure of Paul Gascoigne and the mid-season announcements that Walter Smith and Brian Laudrup were both leaving at the end of the campaign.
“I admit it is my biggest regret because I totally believe we were a great, great side and 10-in-a-row was a milestone for the fans and the club,” Negri added.
Celtic now have the chance to reach 10 successive titles and Negri believes the destiny of the championship is too close to call.
“It’s too early,” he said. “The (Rangers) start is great because I love it when a team doesn’t concede goals easily. They have started in a great way but especially this season, the games against Celtic will be so, so important.
“The four Old Firms will make the difference in the end. The 12 points that you play for will be so important.
“The side is playing great football, the manager is a great manager. I hope this is a great season to win the title again.”