FIFE -- There was an air of optimism as the new regime took their rightful place in the stand at the game away to Cowdenbeath. We expected a lift from the team. But the team was flat and bereft of any spark or energy in the gusty conditions -- the 'keepers could hardly launch the ball past the half-way line before the wind enveloped it, pulling it down to the turf -- it was as if the wind was also sucking the life out of the players; a team completely devoid of ideas. As fans, we can excuse almost anything from our players, but a lack of desire or energy is unacceptable when those men pull on that blue jersey. Cowdenbeath had just been dismantled not one week prior by the future champions Hearts 10-0, but on this dull and blustery Saturday afternoon a rudderless Rangers side scrapped their way to a 0-0 draw.
It was the latest in a dismal run that had left fans apathetic and even bemused at these results. Of course a scapegoat was needed. Lee McCulloch -- or Jig, which is a somewhat appropriate nickname on account of his jovial personality -- has in many ways been poor all season. Jig was the obvious target. This was not a gut reaction to this one disappointing result, but it had been building for some time. Fast forward a month and Jig is again the recipient of criticism after being sent off before half-time during the feisty game with Hearts. A series of games where too many goals had been conceded have coincided with a series of abject performances from Jig, pushing fans into outright anger and disgust; "Impostor" was the cry. The performances were symptomatic of a wider team lethargy, but 'impostor' was the accusation, and 'impostor' was the charge. If it is so, it's an unforgivable fault, and he deserves all he gets; for we are honourable fans.
When Walter Smith took charge at Ibrox for his second spell he identified Jig as a target quite quickly, after working with him with the Scotland squad. Jig signalled his desire to sign, saying he "had hoped [to] get the move in January, but Wigan wouldn't budge". Rangers had their bid rejected despite Jig trying "to kick up as much of a fuss as possible because all [he] wanted to do was come here"; it would take another seven months for the move to be completed. He was delighted to sign, saying it was "undoubtedly one of the best days of my life." Of course, Jig knows what it means to play for the club being a boyhood fan, "My dad used to take me to Ibrox to watch the great standard of football and now I have the chance to play in front of the best fans in Europe, in my opinion." From a young age all he wanted was to play for Rangers. But we have judged him an impostor; And we are honourable fans.
Jig got his move to his boyhood club at the age of 29, and was most certainly at the end of his career. It had been a long one. After leaving Rangers boys he was spotted by Motherwell, and would go on to make his début in 1996 at the age of 18. A string of impressive performances made many clubs take notice. Wigan Athletic paid what was for them a club-record £700,000 fee to take him down south. During his 6 years at Wigan he would play his part in taking them from the old Third Division to the Premier League. It is almost 20 years since his début and he is still playing at the ripe old age of 36. In many ways he's still in peak condition despite the usual symptoms of age. No one can criticise his fitness. Omitting the injury-ravaged second season Jig has averaged 39 appearances per season for Rangers. Jig's longevity is remarkable in the modern game; at 36 he has played almost every game for Rangers this season. But we have judged him an impostor; And we are honourable fans.
In the dark days of administration and liquidation most our first-team -- those players that we had supported not days prior -- refused to have their contracts transferred to the new company as we were demoted to playing in the fourth tier of Scottish football. Sandy Jardine, who would continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with fans, said greed was the motivating factor. At the time he said: "There was an agreement reached over wage cuts and they got a great deal because they could leave for rock bottom prices and now they have seen an opportunity. [It's] greed." Pre-season began that summer with only three senior players: Lee Wallace, Kyle Hutton and Jig. Jig took a "massive pay cut to stay with the club he loves," and even took up boxing to keep in shape over the summer to prepare for the fight in the Third Division. Jig showed tremendous loyalty during those dark days: "Whether we're in the SPL, the Third Division or anywhere in between I will be with Rangers. Since I was a kid growing up [...] all I wanted to do was play for the club and there is no way I will walk away. It's the last thing I would do. Wearing the Rangers jersey is an important part of my life and I'd never forgive myself if I gave that up." But we have judged him an impostor; And we are honourable fans.
Jig has been instrumental in our rise through the leagues, playing anywhere and everywhere for the club he loves. He was signed as a midfielder, playing left-midfield in his first season and contributing a few goals, but known for his work-rate. Walter Smith utilised his organisational and leadership abilities by playing him in a defensive midfield role to great success in subsequent seasons. He was made captain because of his leadership ability. After demotion there was an absence of a recognised striker; Jig stepped up to play a starring role in our Third Division campaign, scoring 26 goals as we won the league. With the acquisition of two strikers in the summer -- Daly and Clark -- the following season saw Jig dropped back into central defence, where his aerial presence was used to great effect in defence but also from set-pieces scoring 18 goals. Jig has performed consistently anywhere he has been asked to play. But we have judged him an impostor; And we are honourable fans.
I don't seek to disprove those that criticise Jig, but I wanted to say what I know of the man. We all loved him once: what has happened to it? Emotion has overcome reason. We have become blinded by our anger at the performances and results that we can't see what some players like Jig have given. That's not the Rangers I know. Yes, he has lost his pace; yes, he has made more mistakes this season than at any other time; yes, he has captained one of the worst sides ever to pull on the Rangers jersey. But he has never shirked from that responsibility. The bad that players do over their career should never overshadow the good. And lets be honest, there have been very few bad and very many more good. Lets remember the good. Lets remember those screamers from 25 yards; lets remember that header against Lyon in the Champions League; lets remember the strong tackles that got a rousing cheer; lets remember the many times his goals have got us back into scrappy games over the last 2 years. When asked after the Hearts game if he wanted to remain at Rangers next year he responded emphatically: "Of course I want to stay here." All he wants to do is play for the club he loves.
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