Constant mixed messages - the real Rangers sickness

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The most surprising thing to happen at Rangers over the weekend wasn’t the dropping of more points, nor was it more defensive mistakes as we shipped another two goals and neither was it the fact there was another poor-to-average crowd watching another Jekyll and Hyde performance. The most surprising aspect of the post-match analysis was Stuart McCall being ‘sickened’ by boos aimed towards captain Lee McCulloch who was partly to blame for both of Falkirk’s goals.

First off, I think the manager is well within his rights to air his disappointment over the jeers. He’s also correct to say the club needs ‘togetherness’ so such loud and obvious criticism may not help the confidence of either the player or the team. That’s fine and I wouldn’t have expected anything else. However, in what alternative way can supporters air their disappointment? We don’t have press conferences after matches. We don’t have access to the players. And, so far at least, we’ve had no opportunity to meet with the manager or the board to raise any issues we have in an environment that McCall may find more appropriate. Therefore, while the manager may think some in-situ boos are ‘very sad’, he should also appreciate the frustration of the fans in that sense. As such, while it may sicken him, he and his captain should be man-enough to not only accept the criticism but address it. Unfortunately, on this occasion he chose to ignore the reasons for the jeers which was an opportunity missed for the management to say why they think the continual selection of under-performing players (not just Lee McCulloch) is something the fans should appreciate.

Let us look at the reasons for the jeers.

1. Lee McCulloch has continually under-performed this season in his central defender role. Poor discipline, poor positioning, poor marking, lack of pace and questionable leadership skills are the main factors for why many Rangers fans struggle to understand his apparently automatic selection for every game.

2. There also seems to be some debate over the player’s contract status. While fans appreciated such an experienced player staying with the club after the administration problems of 2012, McCulloch seemingly remains our most highly paid player and some commentators have suggested he has a contract clause which says he must also play every game if available.

Clearly these two issues are linked in the minds of fans: basically no Rangers player should be guaranteed a game and there seems to be no explanation for why McCulloch has retained his place despite such a poor contribution this season. Yes, there is a clear case for avoiding directly booing players during games but as long as the issues surrounding their contribution are ignored then frustration will only grow. In that sense, if Stuart McCall is looking for a way to remove future taunts then being upfront about the player’s situation may be the best way forward. What was it Dave King said about transparency and accountability again?

That takes us nicely to the ‘togetherness’ McCall also highlighted. Saturday’s crowd was apparently around the 35,000 mark. Not bad in the context of this season but hardly impressive given the importance of the Falkirk fixture and any play-offs we feature in over the next six weeks. Even the launch of a new home strip shows the divisiveness nature of the club’s problems right now. This website conducted a simple poll last week and over 80% of almost 500 respondents said they wouldn’t be buying it due to the club’s unfavourable merchandising deal with Sports Direct. Moreover, of the 18% that did say they’d still like to buy it, more than half of them said they still had concerns over the retail agreement. Food for thought for the club, Puma and Mike Ashley.

Now there were also some media rumours over meetings between Mike Ashley and members of the Rangers board but nothing official released on any possible outcomes. Thus, despite the club heavily promoting the strip launch last week, fans are still left in the dark about just how much money the club will get from each strip purchased. Are we to buy merchandise or not? Will it cost the club more to do so or will they be penalised for every strip that remains in Puma/Sports Direct warehouses? We have to remember this is millions of pounds of possible revenue we’re talking about here but supporters are once again left in the dark.

Moving on, we’re told by the media that the SFA will decide this week on whether or not Dave King is ‘fit and proper’ to take his place on the Rangers board. Although the Scottish law lords have deemed his director application as suitable, there remains some debate on whether or not the football authorities will agree with the Court of Session in the interpretation of their own Association rules. Given the clumsy nature in which the SFA deal with various issues, it’s impossible to second guess any outcome even if Lord Woolman’s ruling suggests it should be a legal formality. However, if King’s application is denied, some say he’ll simply invest anyway via some other vehicle with representation on an Easdale-type football board. Recent fines for Rangers, Livingston and Mike Ashley with regard to ownership conflicts suggest that alternative may not be as simple as it first looks. What would happen to King’s investment should the SFA block his involvement?

Without an answer, once again it’s the Rangers fans who are left confused and uncertain. Promotion is far from guaranteed (the odds of us beating a combination of Hearts, Queen of the South, Hibs and Motherwell to go up must be fairly high – Lee McCulloch playing or not) while there remains a lack of promised clarity about the club’s ambitions either in the Premiership or not. Ultimately, while Stuart McCall may be right to defend his players, complaining about supporters airing their frustration seems equally counter-productive. However, where he is correct is with regard to togetherness. Unfortunately, he’s as guilty as anyone else in delivering mixed messages which only increase confusion and cause further frustration.

Lastly, to ensure the fellowship the manager speaks of we need direction. Doesn’t matter if it’s Lee McCulloch on the pitch, McCall on the touch-line or Paul Murray in the boardroom; these people have to step forward and lead. It’s because this hasn’t happened that fans remain sceptical and booing remains as prevalent as cheering. Until the root cause of such jeers is acknowledged then togetherness is just another patronising buzz-word going against all the evidence available. Don’t hide from such raw criticism – embrace it, address it and change it. In the period approaching season ticket renewals that’s the only cure for the sickness at Rangers. No more mixed messages – be straight with us and we’ll be straight with you.

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