Two words sprang to mind yesterday after I read the back page of my Daily Record. It was a phrase I seem to remember from my playing days. Sporting integrity. Whatever happened to that?

I’m only asking because the new proposals which are being put forward for a revamp of the Champions League seem to have forgotten all about it.

Listen, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the European Club Association attempting to block the idea of a closed shop competition. They are standing up for the little guys by saying they won’t accept an invitation only tournament for teams from only the big five leagues in England, Spain, Germany, France and Italy.

And they seem to be fighting to make sure the Champions League remains open to clubs from all over Europe including Scotland. Which is exactly as it should be.

But they’ve kind of missed the whole point if they go through with this proposal that only specific clubs from any of these smaller nations will actually be allowed to compete.

A big part of me is delighted that Celtic and Rangers would make the cut because of their status in world football.

And I’m not daft enough to think there’s any realistic chance that a Hearts, Hibs or Aberdeen will win the Scottish Premiership any time soon. We all know it’s not going to happen the way things stand.

Aberdeen may be barred from ever competing in the Champions League

My problem is ... what if it did?

What if in five years’ time something stupid happens? Let’s just say for argument’s sake that Livingston were to do a Leicester City and end up winning the league? Are we seriously going to tell them that they can't go into the Champions League because they don’t have enough fans and their stadium is too small?

Where is the sporting integrity in that? How could that possibly be fair?

So as much as I’m in favour of the ECA keeping the door open for Scotland’s clubs I can’t get behind a plan which would penalise players at every other club in Scottish football.

 

Put it this way, when I was a youngster one of my dreams was to test myself in the Champions League. Are we now supposed to tell the vast majority of kids at clubs all over in the country not to bother dreaming about getting to the top?

Look, I understand that at least having Celtic and Rangers in the Champions League would be better than having no Scottish teams at all but the whole idea just doesn’t seem right to me. If you win the league in your own country then you surely deserve the chance to represent that country in Europe. Isn’t that the whole point?

And I say that with the benefit of hindsight because I did make my own dream come true by playing in the Champions League and the memories will live with me for ever. Those nights under the floodlights at Ibrox were an absolute joy to be a part of. It was something magical to experience.

Barry celebrates scoring against Feyenoord

Funnily enough, I was thinking about it just the other day with Rangers about to face a visit from Feyenoord.

I remember the last time we played them back in 2002 and when I think hard enough about it I can actually feel myself back out there on the pitch, as if the game is still going.

It was p***ing down with rain. Blustery and wet. The pitch wasn’t in great condition because of the amount of rain that had come down. It was really heavy and cutting up under our studs.

There were some great players out there too. Guys like Robin van Persie and big Pierre van Hooijdonk coming back to Glasgow for the first time since he left Celtic. I remember it being really feisty out there.

Pierre van Hooijdonk scores against Rangers from a free-kick

I was up against the Dutch international Paul Bosvelt who was well known for getting stuck in. I took a couple of bangs off him early on but you give as good as you get in these big games.

I also scored from the penalty spot late in the match to make it 1-1 after we had lost a goal to a deflection.

Most of all though, I remember the electric atmosphere and the intensity it created. These are the games you live and breathe for as a football player.

Before anyone says, yes, I do realise it was in the UEFA Cup just as I know next week’s match is in the Europa League. And, no, it’s not quite the same as the Champions League nights.

But it’s not far off and I hope the current Rangers players appreciate how lucky they are to be in this position, with so much to look forward to.

I know the fans do. It wasn’t that long ago when Rangers as a club couldn’t dream of getting back to nights like this which is why the supporters are so excited to have European football back.

It’s another sign that Rangers are back and operating on the big stage again. Not quite the Champions League. But close enough for now considering everything they’ve been through.

So the players now have a chance to take them on an adventure in this group and it does have a Champions League feel to it because of the size of the four clubs involved.

It’s actually a step up in quality from last season’s group and Rangers couldn’t make it out of that one and into the knock-out stages. But that still has to be their aim this time around. They have to go into believing they can take anyone on at Ibrox with those supporters and that atmosphere behind them. Trust me, it’s frightening what you can achieve out there when those lights get switched on.

First, though, they’ll need to get tomorrow’s visit from Livingston out of the way and the worst thing they could do is take their eye off the ball and allow Celtic to get any further ahead in the league.

What they need is to right back in the saddle after the Old Firm defeat and start building up some momentum again by flying straight out of the traps.

There’s a lot for these players to look forward to. They just have to be brave enough to puff out their chests and make the most of it.