This week I will not be writing about:
- Mike Ashley or any other billionaire’s investment;
- Rangers having paid their Scottish football debts in full;
- The ever clearer links between Celtic and Harper MacLeod, the lawyers investigating Rangers over dual contracts;
- Black being called up for Scotland;
- The woeful European efforts of the SPL sides (with the notable exception of Celtic, well done Bhoys)
- The predictable “sell out Saturday” damp squib;
- What happened to the original SPL trophy over the summer;
- Charles Green’s linguistic lessons;
- What the real attendance was against East Fife; or
- Neil Lennon being exposed in a court of law as a shameless hypocrite in regards to paying income tax.
Instead I will be writing about football, or more accurately third division football.
It still seems incredible that it came to this… only in Scotland. The weekend’s draw was unquestionably a disappointment but perhaps it will bring the necessary reality check in terms of where we are playing and the standard of football we are going to be watching. In the run up to the game the excitement amongst the Rangers support was tangible. It felt like an eternity since Rangers last kicked a ball in a meaningful league match. If we are being precise it was before administration on the 14th of February and a ten point deduction ended our title challenge. This week 11 players, wearing blue shirts with RFC on their chests took the field. As the euphoric atmosphere at Ibrox midweek testifies to, win, lose or draw that is not something we should ever take for granted again.
In the last few years the Old Firm has been reduced to a dark humoured pantomime with Scottish football generally on a seemingly irreversible downward spiral. Our clubs are all vulnerable to the attentions of EPL sides without even the reward of decent transfer fees. Ask yourself if you really think Stephen Fletcher is now four times the player that left Hibs?
There is for me a feeling of relief at the sense of detachment and downscaling of expectations as we set off on our lower league grand tour. Our enjoyment of football has been distilled to its purest form with Rangers fans simply happy to have a team to watch. In the last few decades football has evolved and has been warped by the importance of money. Bosman, the EPL and the Champions League have all taken their toll on large clubs in small countries. A glass ceiling has been created regarding realistic aspirations for our club in Europe with the consequence being a renewed intensity to the domestic rivalry between the Old Firm (something which has to my mind sadly become increasingly bitter following the departure of the thoroughly decent Gordon Strachan).
Well this season our achievements and the football we play will not be benchmarked against our cross city rivals and I for one am delighted with this break. You be Celtic and we’ll be Rangers.
This season opens up new possibilities instead of the same old SPL gruel and so far it would appear the fans are embracing it. Before this weekend’s disappointment we had sold 25,000 season tickets and I’m going to make a bold prediction here that sales will ultimately surpass last year’s 37,000. We have all heard tales of fans who are swapping their annual European away trip this year for a wee weekend up in Highlands. Instead of an Old Firm match to stomp all over the season of goodwill to all men we have the chance to go to Hampden this festive period to play Queens Park. This not only brings the chance to once more play the Original Glasgow Derby but, with the prospect of a 50,000 allocation, there is the possibility, if we were so motivated, to set the record for the largest ever away support. This season we will see young players given their chance and journeymen pros, for whom simply playing for Rangers is a career high not a stepping stone to the EPL or a last pay day before retirement. Tantalisingly there is the prospect too of becoming the only third division side ever to win either of the major cup competitions and ultimately there is the potential for an unsurpassable record of winning all four leagues consecutively. Getting carried away? Why not, doesn’t every football fan at the dawn of a new season?
Prior to Saturday those in the stands and on the pitch had responded in the manner we all hoped for. Those in the board room have certainly made an encouraging start but they will know they must be judged on the balance sheet they produce not bluster, broadsides and bravado.
Despite the draw at Peterhead we have the makings of a decent side but it will take time for players who are strangers to gel. Equally it looks like there are clearly still individuals who want to be elsewhere. The one area of the park where players have no excuses for unfamiliarity is in defence. The departure of the likes of Bocanegra, Goian and Edu is sadly looking like a necessity. If we can make a few more transfers in the next couple of weeks I think we will have a good balance of experienced SPL standard players and youngsters. I do not doubt for a moment that we will win the league and very possibly challenge for cups. Equally Peterhead rammed home the passion we will face and made it crystal clear we will not go undefeated. At some point there will be an upset and one club will enjoy a famous victory. The prospect doesn’t worry me and the reality won’t bother me. Such moments of drama and joy are the life blood of football.
Everyone connected with Rangers knows the challenge before us. We know it will take at least five years for the club to fully recover and even then I suspect while the wounds may heal the scars will remain. As we start life in the lower divisions never before can I remember our support being so energised and so enraptured with their club. Rangers fans are far from a harmonious bunch at the best of times. It is probably unrealistic to expect that to change. Fans need to behave and more than anything we need to try and unite behind the team. From teenager to pensioner, from Trust to Assembly, from Giffnock to Easter House and from the Broomloan front to the Club Deck, we need to be as one.
A great many people thought they were working towards Rangers’ demise and, credit where it is due, they came bloody close. Instead they have produced a fan base, and by extension a club, with a renewed drive and sense of self. Every Ranger now has a far greater appreciation of our history and the future we alone will now shape.
As Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto probably never said after the attack on Pearl Harbour “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve”
p.s. I understand that the ESPN blogs in their current form will shortly come to an end. This therefore seems an appropriate point for me to sign off given I have spent very little time writing about football and far too much about business and asset deals etc. I will quite happily spend this season watching my team. I'd therefore like to thank all those who have taken an interest. I've received a fair amount of abuse which was never published. What surprised me (being new to writing) was how little this bothered me. What also surprised me was how much I appreciated the encouragement and the words of support (especially from rival fans) through the turbulent last year or so.
Thanks again and I genuinely hope you enjoy following your team whoever they may be.