ASKED how he thought having just 800 of their supporters in the 50,000-strong crowd at Ibrox on Saturday would affect Celtic against Rangers, Barry Smith would have been quite entitled to go all Monty Python and snort derisorily: “Luxury! Back in my day we didn’t have any fans at all.”

There has been great consternation both in the Parkhead boardroom and stands since their city rivals announced in May that their ticket allocation for the Glasgow derby matches in the 2018/19 campaign was to be slashed from the traditional 7000.

The huge uptake of season books following the appointment of Steven Gerrard as manager – over 40,000 had renewed within weeks of the Liverpool and England great being unveiled amid scenes of mass rejoicing down Govan way – coupled with considerable pressure from their followers resulted in the controversial move.

Celtic duly reciprocated in July by reducing the number of briefs available to Rangers at their stadium to 800 and the first meeting between the two bitter adversaries went ahead there in September in a decidedly peculiar environment. Brendan Rodgers’ team dominated the encounter and won 1-0 thanks to a second-half Olivier Ntcham goal.

How, though, will they get on next weekend with just a small pocket of their supporters sandwiched in between the Broomloan Road Stand and Sandy Jardine Stand? It could very well have a significant impact on what transpires on the pitch. It may reduce their chances of success.

Yet, Smith knows from personal experience that not having a sizeable and vocal backing is not necessarily an impediment to getting a result.

He is one of just 13 players – Pat Bonner, Lee Martin, Peter Grant, Tony Mowbray, Mark McNally, Pat McGinlay, Brian McLaughlin, Darius Wdowczyk, Simon Donnelly, Paul Byrne, Willie Falconer and John Collins being the others - who has walked on to the field in an Old Firm game away from home without anybody cheering Celtic on.

He did so as a fresh-faced 20-year-old defender with just a handful of appearances in senior football on Saturday, April 30, 1994.

David Murray, the then Rangers chairman, had taken the unprecedented step of banning all Celtic fans from Ibrox due to his unhappiness at the damage they had caused to the ground in the preceding two years, which he estimated had cost in the region of £20,000 to repair, and the unwillingness of their directors to foot the bill.

The visitors, managed at the time by Lou Macari, earned a 1-1 draw against the champions elect, who had Walter Smith in the dugout, in front of 45,853 spectators. A stunning Collins strike in the first half was cancelled out by a bizarre deflected equaliser by substitute Alexei Mikhailichenko late on.

Smith believes Scott Brown and his team-mates, who have now not lost in regulation time in the fixture in over six years and no fewer than 15 games, are more than capable of coping with the hostile environment they will have to perform in.

“Celtic have played in enough European games away from home, where there aren’t an awful lot of their fans in attendance, to deal with it,” he said. “They’re used to playing in a certain kind of atmosphere. They’re able to deal with any situation they encounter. I don’t think having the number of tickets cut will bother the current team. They are so professional. It won’t be an issue for them.”

It certainly wasn’t for Celtic 24 years ago. Rangers were comfortably ahead in the league and certain to be crowned Scottish champions for the sixth successive season when that infamous game took place. But their opponents, who had finally been taken over by Fergus McCann the previous month, still had pride to play for. Smith certainly had no difficulties getting himself up for the occasion.

“If you can’t be enthusiastic about a game like that then you shouldn’t be involved in it,” he said. “There was a lot of hype about the fact there weren’t going to be any Celtic fans at Ibrox, but, as a player, you have to focus on trying to win no matter what. You get so caught up in the game. You know how important it is to both sets of fans.

“I was good friends with Simon Donnelly and we were both in that team. Neither of us had played a lot at that point. But, as much as Celtic weren’t doing well at that time, there were still a lot of good professionals there. It definitely helped having guys like John Collins, Peter Grant and Tony Mowbray. They were so good with the young lads. John was an exemplary professional.”

The game kicked off just as a plane flew overhead towing a banner which read: “Hail, hail, the Celts are here.”

Donnelly, playing up front for Celtic by himself, was barged over by Richard Gough just outside the Rangers penalty box in the 28th minute. Collins, wearing the pair of new adidas Predator boots he had received from the manufacturer just that week for the first time in a competitive game, stepped forward and curled the resultant fire-kick around the defensive wall and beyond the outstretched Colin Scott.

Collins would go on to score for Scotland against defending champions Brazil in the opening game of France ’98 and play for Monaco in the Champions League semi-final. But the midfielder later rated that moment as the best of his career.

“Nothing beat scoring that goal against Rangers at Ibrox,” he said. “Putting it in the top corner and shutting up the whole stadium was pretty special.”

In the Sunday Mail the following day, Dixon Blackstock wrote: “Never in the history of football has a goal been greeted with such a thunderous silence."

The late winner that Uruguay netted against Brazil in the Maracana in Rio di Janeiro in the World Cup final in 1950 in front of a crowd of 199,854 might possibly have topped it. But there was certainly a unique reaction to the opener.

“It was a great free-kick,” said Smith. “It was an unusual moment.”

Strangely, the youngster’s next experience of the Old Firm game the following season at Hampden, where Celtic decanted while Parkhead was undergoing a multi-million pound redevelopment, was to prove more far more traumatic for him.

“I got taken off at half time” said Smith. “I played against Brian Laudrup and he absolutely destroyed me. But you learn about the game as a young player coming up against guys of that quality.”

The decade that Smith spent at Dundee, the club he would go on to manage with distinction, after he left Celtic in 1995 would suggest that he did exactly that.

It is unfortunate those who run Rangers haven’t recognised the errors of their predecessors too. The Old Firm game, Glasgow derby match, call it what you will, is, for all its unwanted baggage and unsavoury aspects, one of the most renowned in world football. The febrile atmosphere that is generated has diminished greatly.

Financially, the Ibrox club may have benefited in the short term, but the long-term ramifications of their ill-advised decision will be considerable.