Dundee United boss Tam Courts reflects on ‘normal’ in football, Rangers challenge and Covid issues

THE perception of ‘normal’ has changed that often over the last near on two years that it can be difficult to remember what the baseline actually was from pre-pandemic times.

For Tam Courts, there were another couple of reminders – one at Tannadice and one at Ibrox – this week as he dealt with issues that are shared across the country and the game.

Positive Covid cases within his Dundee United squad have disrupted Courts’ preparations for the Premiership fixture with Rangers on Saturday but the added complications haven’t knocked the 40-year-old off his stride.

On Thursday morning, he saw proof of the steps in the right direction that have been taken as Arabs fans waited to collect their tickets for the upcoming Dundee derby.

The fate of football is ultimately outwith the hands of even those at the top of the game as the new Omicron variant sweeps the nation.

While we have what we have, Courts will savour it and make the most of it.

“It is almost feels like morally wrong for me to indulge in that sentiment,” Courts said when asked if Covid issues will become the new normal once again in the coming weeks. “We have been living in these times for what seems like an eternity.

“Football is back to being normal and we had queues up and down Tannadice Street today looking forward to a Dundee derby.

“I don’t want to use my status as a Scottish Premiership manager to look at anything but a positive time of the year where fans love their football over the festive period.

“We certainly love it because there are some really important games coming up. We want fans in the stadium, football back and teams competing for three points on a Saturday.

“The disruption with the cover cases, which started with the positive case last week, is a new normal. We just have to adapt and we have adapted this week.

“We have been flexible with our training times and we have managed to have a good week ahead of Rangers at the weekend.”

On Wednesday evening, Courts would head to Ibrox to get a closer look at Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side and analyse the challenge that awaits his players this weekend.

Rangers’ victory over St Johnstone was as straightforward as could be expected. It was the routine before a ball was kicked that heartened Courts.

“Football is a tribal thing,” Courts said. “Even simple things like when I was walking to the Rangers game I picked up on, dads walking to the games with their sons and daughters and families congregating.

“I am normally in a stadium at 3pm and so you forgot what it feels like in terms of the energy and the excitement.

“That build-up towards the game and it is enormous for everyone. I don’t think we want to be sensationalising anything with where our league is at, there is a lot of competition in the league.

“Teams are beating each other and there are not a lot of points between fourth place and all the way down to 12th.”

The coming days and weeks will determine whether supporters have the chance to back their team from the stands or whether they are consigned to the same fate as last season once again.

As it is right now, football is not in the crosshairs of our rule makers. With the clock ticking towards a natural hiatus, it can only be hoped that situation stays the same.

“Particularly at the time when we are two weeks away from the winter break,” Courts said.

“The season will naturally shut down for a couple of weeks, so we want to see grounds full and fans engaged in the product that’s on the pitch.

“And also the excitement that’s starting to build in the league as it’s starting to get a little more compressed.

“So we are working towards January 2, we will break for those couple of weeks and between now and then I have every confidence we will still have football as we know it just now.’

Before United have the chance to take stock and recharge at the halfway point of the campaign, there are four fixtures – starting with Rangers and ending with Dundee – to be played. The trip to Ibrox is the most ominous of that particular run.

Courts’ side remain the only team to have beaten Rangers on Premiership duty since the start of last season but the champions have a spring in their step at present as Van Bronckhorst aims to extend his unbeaten start as manager.

“When I looked at the team [on Wednesday] night you could see that the players were playing with a freshness new manager sometimes brings,” Courts said.

“They were at home and they’ve got a top squad with top players and most of their top players are actually in good form just now, which obviously makes it a really difficult proposition for us.

“It makes it exciting in terms of the challenge that awaits us, but going to Ibrox at the best of times is a difficult place to go.

“But that’s what Dundee United fans will expect on Saturday and we have to be excited by the proposition.”

Just weeks after overcoming Rangers on home soil, United would travel to Glasgow and return with a point from Parkhead as they made an impressive start to the season.

Recent times have been tougher, however. It is now four without a win but the challenge of conquering the champions is one that inspires.

Courts said: “In Glasgow you have to be brave and fearless, you have to be aware the opposition is high quality and will have more of the ball.

“But we showed at Celtic Park we can go toe-to-toe and when we are brave and fearless, we can be a force for anyone.

“That has to be the benchmark, that has to be the example of what we have to be when we go to these venues. They are proper theatres and exciting places to go and play football.”

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