IF you were playing a word-association game and had to name a person most closely connected with the phrase “Glasgow rugby”, Sir Kenny Dalglish would not be your first response. Or your second, or third, or fourth, or five thousand. But while, by his own admission, the ex-footballer is no expert when it comes to rugby, he does know a thing or two about Celtic Park, and is confident that his old club’s ground will be an excellent venue for the Guinness PRO14 final at the end of this month.
Of course, atmospheres do not generate themselves, and the fans of Glasgow Warriors or Ulster and Leinster or Munster will have to be pretty vocal if they are to emulate the sort of ambience created by the Celtic support on a matchday. Dalglish is sure they will be able to do so.
“They’ll make the experience for themselves,” the former Celtic and Liverpool player and manager said on a visit to Scotstoun, the Warriors’ home ground, last Friday. “If they want to watch a few videos, I’m sure they can learn from the Celtic fans.
“It’s a great facility. It’s a great atmosphere, to go and play at Celtic Park with so much history, tradition and success there. It makes you feel you want to join it. A good incentive for them.”
Dalglish’s strongest link to rugby is through his son-in-law, the former Cardiff, Gloucester, Wasps and Wales stand-off Nicky Robinson, and he never played the sport himself, deeming it too physical. But he returns to his home city often enough to be aware of how the Warriors have gradually improved, and of how successfully they have settled at Scotstoun after never quite finding a lasting fit at some of their previous venues.
“They had it at Firhill, didn’t they?,” the 68-year-old continued. “I don’t know how long it lasted up there. I saw a game up there, Glasgow played Gloucester, so it’s not the first time football has been used for rugby.
“I don’t know a great deal about it, but Glasgow has only come out of the woodwork really in the last few years since Gregor Townsend was here. They had nowhere to play. They were up at Hyndland, did they not used to play there? And at Anniesland Cross.
“To see Glasgow beating Edinburgh in the rugby is really encouraging. We’re not really a rugby city, are we?”
Indeed, Saturday 25th May, the day of the final, will be an interesting one-off, as two and a half hours before the PRO14 final gets under way, Celtic and Heart of Midlothian will kick off the Scottish Cup final just a few miles across the city at Hampden. Even if Glasgow end up being crowned champions for the second time in five years, it will take a lot more than a single game for rugby to replace football in the affections of the city, and, while welcoming the use of Celtic Park on this occasion, Dalglish insisted that the wear and tear on the pitch meant it could not become a regular event. “I don’t think you could do it week in, week out, certainly if you want a good surface for the football. Rugby rips it up more with the scrums and whatever else.
“Celtic must have spent a fortune on their pitch to get it well manicured, because that suits the style they play. There is a crossover between the two, but paramount for Celtic would be the pitch, and maybe that would prevent it moving more frequently to play football and rugby on the same pitch.
“The pitch will be good for rugby – maybe too good. It is well manicured, but they’re used to playing here, so if they get to the final they will have given themselves a good chance. This [pointing to the Scotstoun pitch], I know it’s artificial and doesn’t suit everyone, but it suits Glasgow’s needs and they have done really well. For the final to be at Celtic Park is a great incentive to beat Ulster.”
Dalglish never shied away from a physical challenge on the football pitch, but he admitted that when it came to rugby, he has always preferred chatting about it to actually taking part. “I remember getting a Question of Sport answer right on rugby. It was about the Six Nations. One of the Irish boys kicked the points that won them the Six Nations – it was a long time ago. That would be as close as I got to rugby – it was too physical for me. We used to come off the pitch when we were at school and we would be dirty and a bit sore, but we wouldn’t be cut – not often.”
- Sir Kenny Dalglish was speaking in his role to promote the Guinness PRO14 Final at Celtic Park on May 25. The Guinness PRO14 Final is one of the most entertaining games in the rugby calendar and tickets start at just £25 for adults, £1 for kids. Visit www.pro14rugby.org/finaltickets