The Mirror
July 31, 2004, Saturday

GERS GO BAKU TO THE FUTURE

EXCLUSIVE BY LAURIE HANNA


RANGERS LOY-_OIL: Travelling Gers fans can look forward to a scenic
trip to Baku


RANGERS fans in far-flung Azerbaijan last night urged supporters to
ignore scare stories and support their team in the terror hotspot.

Graeme Johnstone, 43, a member of the Baku Rangers Supporters Club in
the Azerbaijani capital, says he's got his fingers crossed PFC
Neftchi beat CSKA Moscow to claim a tie against the Ibrox giants in
the Champions League qualifiers.

And he said that Rangers fans should make the trip to his adopted
homeland if Neftchi get through.

Celebrating yesterday's draw, he said: "It's excellent news, really
brilliant.

"I know it depends on the next game but it would be fantastic news
for all the fans over here.

"I know that Azerbaijan may have its problems but it is a great place
and is well worth visiting.

"I am from Glasgow and I'm sure we would see a lot of the boys from
back home if the team were to come over."

The supporters club has more than 60 members and enjoys the banter
with their rival Celtic supporters club in Baku.

Graeme, who has spent the last year working for an oil firm in
Azerbaijan, said: "We get to watch a few games a season, usually all
the Old Firm and European ones, plus some other league games."

Scots visiting the country are sure of a warm welcome from the UK's
official representative there - as he is from Glasgow.

But Vice-consul Derek Lavery admits he's not a bluenose - he's a
Partick Thistle fan.

Derek, from Bearsden, has spent the last two years in the country
with his wife, having worked in Germany and Pakistan.

And he revealed that he misses his beloved Thistle and would much
prefer the Jags to be heading to Azerbaijan.

He said: "Whenever I lived in Glasgow, I went to Firhill all the time
and I still go when I am back.

"However, I don't get much time to go home any more.

"I would love to see them again soon."

Derek added that, although the country is volatile and still in
dispute with neighbouring Armenia, fans would be made welcome by
locals.

He said: "The Armenian military forces protect the area while the two
governments are still trying to negotiate some sort of settlement.

"There is occasional firing, even though there is a ceasefire, but
any fans coming out here should be OK.

"There are a lot of Scots here working for oil companies. BP are
building a massive oil pipeline through the country and on to Georgia
and Turkey.

"There is somewhere in the region of 3,000 Brits in the country and
the majority are Scots." Closer to home, bar owners in Newcastle have
boarded up their windows as the city prepared for an invasion of
17,000 Scots football fans this weekend.

Police have held a summit in a bid to head off football hooliganism
as Rangers arrive for a pre-season tournament involving Feyenoord.

Strathclyde Police Supt Kenneth Scott, a football intelligence
officer said: "We have been liaising with Northumbria Police in
connection the forthcoming tournament.

"Strathclyde Police officers will also be attending to offer advice
to the host force."

The last time Rangers played in the region, three men were stabbed
after a friendly game with Sunderland.