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Ibrox ghosts the big game; We take trip to Govan to see how locals coped without derby.

Byline: GABRIEL MCKAY

IF you closed your eyes you could almost imagine you can hear it on the wind, the excitable chatter and chanting of an assembling crowd.

If you tried hard enough you could perhaps conjure up the smell of frying onions and errant cigarette smoke.

If you squinted through your mind's eye you could even see the seas of green and blue separated by a solid block of luminous yellow.

Open your eyes though and the scene fades like celluloid in the sun. On what should have been derby day the only sound rippling around Ibrox is the wind, the only sight two men standing in front of the gates as though waiting. Waiting for the game that never was.

These are the sights and sounds of a ghost football match.

When the announcement was made that Scottish football would be shut down indefinitely the thoughts of most fans immediately turned to the games they'd miss.

In ordinary circumstances Rangers would be taking on Celtic, the streets packed and police on high alert. There's nothing for them to worry about today.

Once the decision to call off the games had sunk in, the inevitable "what's next?" followed. Questions of sporting integrity, finances and contracts. What few considered is the impact on everything about a match that doesn't involve 22 blokes on a pitch.

Today there will be no pre-match pint, no Sunday coupon, no postmatch takeaway.

Ray Singh stands in a deserted shop, flanked by a small mountain of boxes. Inside each are unsold bottles of Buckfast tonic wine.

"We really rely on the football," he confirms. "Ninety per cent of our sales are from the football.

"You see the Buckfast that's lying there? I've got the bill to pay next week. So this week's going to be really hard.

"We don't know when it's going to come back. I rent my premises and the rent's not cheap here. Sometimes I'm putting in money out of my own pocket.

"That really devastated me on Friday when I heard the game was off. I thought even if the game was only on for Sunday I could pay off a few bills.

"We all look forward to it - the pubs, the takeaways, the fish shop."

Outside Ibrox a black cab idles having just dropped off a group of German fans.

They had come for the game but content themselves with pictures of John Greig's statue. Ordinarily Billy, the taxi driver, would be busy all weekend taking people to and from hotels, pubs and restaurants.

Today he can afford to take a minute in the shadow of the Copland Stand before driving off. Despite the impact on his business Billy is in favour of the shutdown and said: "We were a bit slow on the uptake."

For his potential passengers though it's a different story.

Joe McDonald, a mental health nurse, travelled from Sunderland for a game - his first Old Firm - that isn't happening.

Breaking off a pint at the Louden Tavern he says: "In total I've lost about PS150. We were lucky, we got the hotel quite cheaply.

"It's a big letdown. They should have played the game. Cheltenham racing was on. It's a bad move. I'm gutted."

It's a familiar refrain, with fans arriving on ferries and flights only to see the match called off barely 48 hours in advance. Their main concern is the action on the pitch but for businesses around Ibrox that missed matchday revenue will hit hard.

On the morning of a Glasgow derby The Viceroy, a pub that's stood on the corner of Paisley Road West since 1889, would be usually be packed five deep. Today one man nurses a pint at bar.

Owner Elaine believes the decision to call off the game was necessary and had even considered shutting down to protect the health of her staff.

She says: "We do rely on the football because the pubs are very quiet during the week. Between Sky and BT it's the best part of PS2,500 a month that we've got to pay. Big games help us tick over.

"We'll maybe need to rethink what we're going to do."

CAPTION(S):

SHUTTERS DOWN Ibrox was in lockdown after the clash was postponed on Friday

ALL CALM Outside Ibrox was quiet on a day it should have been heaving with fans, noise and traffic
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:GABRIEL MCKAY
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 16, 2020
Words:729
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