The expedition from Scottish football’s third-tier to the Premiership was titled as ‘The Journey’ by Rangers and the support. But what should have been a straight line back to the top became a meandering trek. It had some great memories but more than a few ugly moments - with even uglier people. The club was unnecessarily hindered from outside and inside. Some of it was short-sighted incompetence, while the rest will be headline news over the next few years.
If it wasn’t for a huge fanbase which refused to give in, Rangers would have disappeared in a flash in 2012 or slowly sucked dry so nothing but dry bones would be left. More than a few outside the Gers family believed (and hoped) we would give up. They did not understand what the club meant to us.
When we returned to Ibrox in huge numbers, the passion stuck in the craw. Opposition fans of all stripes who said they would sell out their clubs’ home games if we were kept out the SPL, could hardly make a queue for the pie-stall. Tweeting bile was easy, buying a ticket seemed harder. When an amazing 49,463 people turned up in the third-tier to watch Rangers literally play an amateur side, it was widely reported as ‘defiance’. That Rangers fans love their team is incomprehensible to some. There has to be another reason – and it’s usually bad.
But even the support could only do so much. It’s horrible to imagine, but if the new board hadn’t taken over in March 2015 it’s possible the Light Blues might would not have recovered. It was as close as that. Of-course, it will still be years until the recuperation is complete – but it’s a certainty. The support is too big, and Scottish football too small, for anything else. The ending has already been written, the big question is how long it will take?
This is why promotion is not the end of the Journey. The real work begins now. Mowing down teams in the Third Division and League One was easy. The first season in the Championship was only a hurdle because off-field machinations and no footballing strategy created the perfect storm. Even then we were two games away from promotion.
A professional manager and players, a board of Rangers fans, and a few value transfers this season showed what could have been done the year before. While the Championship is not easy, if the staff are given the freedom to be competent, it’s not that big of an obstacle. The Premiership will be.
Maybe Mark Warburton and his team will sweep all before him in the coming league campaign. All we need to do is be better than the rest, and then you have four games against Celtic to decide the title. A rocking Ibrox will be a twelfth man, and the bloated Celtic squad will come up against a real challenge for the first time in years. Immediate victory could happen, but Celtic are still stronger. It’s also possible our 55th title might take another four years. If anything the longer scenario is more realistic.
Rangers’ wounds are still healing and although it might feel like normality has returned, the trauma and effects of recent years will not be gone. The “onerous contracts” will be a weight around the club for a while yet. It’s a two-horse race and the one in the blue will be handicapped with a few extra kilos in the saddle. It’s not an insurmountable problem, but crossing the line first will mean creative thinking, professionalism, and a bit of luck.
It won’t be easy and the Gers fans will need to remain calm when the team is finding its balance – something not always in abundance in the stands. Wanting the Gers to be the best – and being proud of it - is often decried as “triumphalism” by jealous losers who would throw their own granny off the bus to see their team win a solitary cup. But for the next few seasons, our uncompromising mentality needs to be tempered. The club isn’t as strong as it was in the past, or will be in the future. It’s a transitional period and although great events await the Bears, so will disappointment and frustration.
It’s not a plea to lower standards as Warburton and Weir will set the bar higher than ever. It’s a plea for understanding and unity. To go from where we were, to where we want to be, hasn’t yet been accomplished. We are only half-way up the mountain, and the steeper climb is ahead. With the club no longer damaging itself, the resistance will come from elsewhere. The nonsense stories and foaming at the mouth will go into overdrive. We will be blamed for everything wrong with Scottish football, and the board need to be prepared to set the record straight.
But having our club’s soul back – and knowing there will be a 55th title - should compensate for the craziness and temporary falls on the way. Enjoy the rest of the Journey, because when the club reaches the summit it will be better than anything gone before. And you will know it was you, and thousands of your fellow fans, who pushed, pulled and dragged the club every step of the way.
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