It’s not the most original of post-2012 chants and it’s easily brushed off for the most part when opposition fans sing it but when the away fans directed this chant to us late in Saturday’s Ibrox defeat it stung badly. Just not for the reason the Acas fans may have intended.
In the (faux) debate over sectarianism and offensive behaviour at football, it’s actually quite heartening to take note of when terrace banter hits home. Crap about letting our club die is ill-informed and tedious and the chant in the title is generally laughed at as well. Yet, stewing in the car on the way home, part of me felt the small band of Hamilton fans were right – at least, to an extent. As it stands, we don't see to be Rangers – far from it.
The Rangers I know (being lucky enough to start following the club just before the arrival of Graeme Souness in the mid-1980s) were usually a large step above the rest of Scottish Football. Post the Holmes/Souness revolution, we won 9IAR during the 1990s with dozens of quality players and even as our dominance subsided slightly in the new millennium, we were still the team to beat. Yes, we didn’t win every single game (and I’m happy to concede the irony of a Hamilton cup win at Ibrox in 1987) but such defeats were the exception to the rule. Nine times out of ten we won at Ibrox and poor form or not, it was a genuine shock to see anything else.
Unfortunately, in the last five or six years, although that shock hasn’t quite been reversed into an expectation of defeat, neither can our fans approach a home match (or indeed any game) with genuine confidence. Yes, as we’ve seen under Warburton, Caixinha and Murty (twice), we’ll still dominate possession and territory in most games (home or away) but as happened against Hamilton even the best part of 20 shots and 50 crosses won’t even guarantee a goal, never mind the three points. Worse, our defending – specifically against counter attacks – is woeful so teams will always fancy their chances of grabbing a goal or two themselves. Yep, for the moment, and certainly in the strictest football terms, we’re definitely no’ Rangers.
That’s not to suggest (as I’ve discussed before recently) that we have a divine right to win all our games. We don’t and never have done. Throughout our history we’ve had similar sticky patches; perhaps not related to finance but there certainly have been periods where we’ve not been as dominant as our position as Scotland’s most successful team should suggest. That’s worth considering for the less patient fans among us – both the younger supporters who may be experiencing being second (or third) best for the first time or even for the older heads who may have forgotten the tough times of the 1960s and early 80s.
With that in mind, I think it’s worth examining Saturday’s game and how it’s reflected in a wider sense. For me our biggest failing against Hamilton was our lack of structure. I thought we again played a 4-2-3-1, some felt it was more of a 4-5-1 and I’ve even seen some suggest it was an orthodox 4-4-2. Quite simply the fact it’s hard to have agreement on that suggests an issue. And not for the first time at Ibrox lately it caused problems. First and foremost, despite dominating the game and creating a variety of chances, we didn’t really pose enough of a threat. Individual criticisms aside, I also don’t think we seen enough positional discipline from players: Miller, Windass and Holt didn’t support Morelos enough whilst as the game changed after half-time, the likes of Jack, Wilson and McCrorie didn’t do their covering jobs either in a defensive sense.
No-one seemed to want to take the game by the scruff of the neck and player after player absolved themselves of responsibility on and off the ball. To be clear, I felt the team worked hard enough but, to a man, they played the ball too early or lacked confidence to beat a man or find space. To add to this paucity of organisation and leadership on the pitch, there was again a lack of same in the technical area: emphasised by a manager who didn’t make a sub until the 72nd minute. Not that his changes altered our system or the way we played in any case. It’s galling that in a season where people talk of needing players that know the club and it supposedly having five captains, three missed Saturday’s game to injury, one fell out with the previous manager and the other can’t even match an opposition player’s run from the half-way line.
It’s no wonder then that fans become frustrated and that negativity is often tangible at Ibrox. No-one can question the loyalty of our fans and the numbers following the club home and away in recent years have been incredible. Yet it’s no coincidence our form (this season at least) has been better away from Govan. Murrayfield or even the corresponding Acas fixture in late September are good examples of this. In both these games we went behind yet the away fans continued to sing in large numbers and generally back the team. We then went onto equalise and comfortably win both matches. Compare this to Saturday and other poor results at home: whilst the home crowd doesn’t not support the team, there’s no atmosphere other than impatience and grumbling which invariably turns to panic the longer the game goes on.
This panic (bordering on hysteria online at times) is more understandable when we look across the city. As much as they may be getting hammered in Europe, Celtic’s domestic form is impressive and we’ve hardly laid a glove on them – either in our games against them or even in terms of applying any sort of small pressure when we play our weekend matches before they do. They’re romping away with the league each season, coast to wins against us, are financially miles ahead and it’s difficult to see this changing any time soon. Meanwhile, we’re struggling to find our third manager in less than a year, and seem to be wasting any decent money we do have on Mexican midfielders who can’t even make the squad for a friendly in Berwick.
All things considered all the issues above seem to come from a lack of leadership within the club. When there’s no structure on the park and an incredible naivety when it comes to appointing managers or buying new players then those who run the club have to come under scrutiny. Of course Dave King and his co-investors deserve credit for putting their hard-earned money where their mouths are but such goodwill can only go so far. Any reasonable Rangers fan should also understand this was never going to be a project that would be successful overnight but it can be argued there’s not been enough progress made as we approach their third anniversary of Dave King assuming control.
With the club’s AGM on the horizon next week – as well as two matches against Aberdeen with no manager yet appointed – the club chairman doesn’t have his troubles to seek when it comes to persuading fans he’s still the man to return the glory days back to Rangers. AGM resolutions surrounding share issues are key subjects in terms of financing the club and giving more control but it seems obvious fans need more in terms of a focal point. As we enter another dark, cold winter there’s not much to rally around and a perceived lack of communication only adds to concern instead of allaying it.
In the absence of rich benefactors prepared to throw money at a club in a league in which its unbeaten champion now becomes routinely embarrassed in Europe, we do have to be reasonable though. The days of a David Murray spending tens of millions to challenge in the Champions League are long gone. We have to avoid his mistakes so working together with the board should be a priority with the AGM a chance for the club’s board to outline where this relationship could be improved. Given Club1872’s current status as the club’s second largest shareholder that need not be a polite request either. Why shouldn’t rank and file supporter ideas be part of the boardroom debate?
Ultimately, Rangers becoming successful again isn’t a given and I think this season has shown that more than any of us would have liked. However, we can either surrender and walk away or use the challenge as a positive. We need to work harder, we need to be more patient and, yes, we’ll need make more financial sacrifices than ever before. Most importantly, everyone from the board, the coaches, the players and the fans need to earn any future success and not expect it as a given. Aye, we’re still Rangers – let’s start showing the world again.
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