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Rangers title winner on why Scottish football is set for another Helicopter Sunday

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Yet, deep down the winger always knew that Alex McLeish’s players would be able to cope with the intensity of the occasion and expectations of their supporters and record the result they needed to keep their slim hopes of winning the Scottish title alive.

Sure enough, Marvin Andrews, Michael Ball, Fernando Ricksen, Barry Ferguson, Alex Rae, Thomas Buffel, Dado Prso and Shota Arveladze kept their cool and ran out, thanks to a second-half Nacho Novo goal, narrow 1-0 victors.

With their city rivals Celtic, who had been leading by two points, conceding two goals in the final three minutes of regulation time and crashing to an unexpected 2-1 defeat to Motherwell over at Fir Park, Rangers were crowned champions amid scenes of wild rejoicing.

Helicopter Sunday, as it became known, has since gone down in Scottish football folklore.

But Burke, who is now reserve team coach at Kilmarnock, suspects there could be a repeat of those dramatic events this month regardless of what the outcome is in the Old Firm game at Parkhead on Saturday.

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And the former Cardiff City, Birmingham City and Nottingham Forest forward believes it will be the team that shows the greatest character in the final three fixtures, not the side that produces the silkiest soccer, which will finish first in the table.

Rangers Review: “I was involved in Helicopter Sunday and I think we might be looking at that again with the tensions surrounding those teams and with the media and the fan scrutiny,” he said.

“It is great for the Scottish game. If we could ever see that again it would be fantastic for the country. It creates memories. If I had to single out one highlight from my playing career it would be that day because it came down to that day.

“Ultimately, it will probably come down to the ones who have the character to handle those kind of situations. It is difficult. You can talk about ability all you like. Everyone at Celtic and Rangers has got ability, they can all turn a game at any moment they want.

“But I think the character, the personality, the charisma are important. The ones who can handle that and not look so much at the outside, who can just look at themselves and what they can do as a team to influence things, will be the ones who will lift the trophy.”

Burke continued: “We had huge characters. I learned from Barry Ferguson, the De Boers, Shota Arveladze, Dado Prso and Fernando Ricksen during my time at Rangers. Every single one of them had ability and could change a game.

“But what they were really, really, really good at was their determination to win a game of football, their character, their personality, their willingness to turn up when they need to turn up. It comes down to that when you play for Celtic and Rangers.

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“It is so much hard work to win a league. You can win a cup, you can get the luck of the draw. But winning a league is complete and utter effort day in, day out, week in, week out, even if it is a double game week.

“When you need to win you need to win. If the other team wins you need to realise that you need to win. It is not just physically draining it is emotionally draining as well. When the whistle goes and the release comes you understand why footballers react why they react.”

Rangers Review: Celtic are three points clear of Rangers going into the derby on Saturday and are, having won two and drawn one of their three encounters with their nearest challengers this term, strong favourites to prevail and secure a third consecutive Scottish title.

If Philippe Clement’s men win in the East End of Glasgow for the first time since way back in 2020 they may still have an inferior goal difference to Brendan Rodgers’ charges going into the final two Premiership fixtures.

Burke, though, appreciates from personal experience that absolutely anything can still happen.

Martin O’Neill’s team were widely expected to pip McLeish’s side to the league trophy back in 2005 after a 2-1 triumph at Ibrox in April sent them five points clear with four games. However, they lost 3-1 at home to Hibernian the following week and then crashed to that infamous loss to Motherwell away on the final day. 

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“At this moment in time Celtic are favourites,” said Burke. “But you just never know, you really, really don’t. Yes, Celtic are at home in the next game, but Rangers have players who can put one in the top corner and put them 1-0 up.

“You can’t look at Celtic and Rangers and say, ‘They are too good, they have got so many points more’. An Old Firm game is an Old Firm game, every one is different. I thought the last one was excellent, an entertaining game of football. It was a game of two halves.

“I am sure Clement will have looked at that and said, ‘Okay, how do we start the game better’. As much as Celtic are in the driving seat, you just couldn’t say they are definitely going to win it.”

If Rangers do come from behind and claim the Premiership this season against all the odds then Burke knows their players will treasure the achievement for the rest of their lives – he has never forgotten becoming a title winner on that incredible afternoon in Leith 19 years ago.

“Even though I wasn’t on the pitch I was still on the bench,” he said. “It is great learning that. You get to learn from the ones on the pitch and how they cope with the situation and how they celebrate. You can see the relief from them and how much it means to them when they actually get over the line. The celebrations will live with me forever.”

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