I was at a close friend’s stag do in Newcastle over the weekend. Beer, food, racing, karaoke and a bunch of mates I’d not seen for a while – it was magic! And with an Old Firm semi-final on the Sunday afternoon, I was even fairly excited to get back up the road. Unfortunately, an unforeseen two hour delay on the train meant I was going to miss a good portion of the first half. But even a patchy 4G service on the run into Waverley had my good mood evaporating as Rangers got off to an awful start in the game.
By the time we’d arrived in Edinburgh and found a suitable boozer, the game was already pretty much gone at 2-0. As a few of us later discussed on the new Gersnet pod that evening, Graeme Murty’s tactical changes hadn’t worked and our poor form of late continued throughout the rest of the game as Celtic strolled to a 4-0 win. Yes, we could and should have scored a couple ourselves but, by that time, the game was lost anyway and Celtic were in second gear. This was no disappointment of failing to win as per the two most recent league matches – this was capitulation, pure and simple. Even the mixed company I was in didn’t make much of the defeat, this is the routine now after all – just another Rangers loss, does it really matter who it was to?
For some players it did seem to matter. Andy Halliday – who was having an awful game (who wasn’t?) – hurled a stream of invective at someone as he was made the first half scapegoat. Daniel Candeias did the same before storming up the tunnel after his second half removal. Meanwhile Alfredo Morelos and Greg Docherty felt arguing on the pitch was more constructive than finishing a sitter or completing a simple pass. After the game, it seems Kenny Miller and Lee Wallace felt they knew better than anyone else and have now been suspended for their dressing room rants. Maybe they did – Graeme Murty certainly didn’t as he tried to suggest to the media that no immediate post-mortem was needed. No matter who was right, the post-match acrimony was horrible to witness, as were the tens of thousands of empty seats as Rangers fans left the game long before the final whistle.
The club’s reaction since has hardly improved morale. Leaked stories about player X, Y and Z can be found across the mainstream media and fan forums. Meanwhile, the club’s own two paragraph statement about events hardly induces confidence in a regime that seems unable to put out the constant fires that surround our club in an era of Celtic dominance. ‘We are Rangers’ said last week’s season ticket PR campaign: yes we are but it’s not a Rangers that many of our fans recognise. ‘Renew your tickets now’ shouted various billboards across Glasgow – just don’t mention the price rises and lack of clarity over the management of the club.
Dave King and his investor partners assumed control over three years ago now. By and large they were backed by the wider Rangers support. That support had been through three years of embarrassment, fraud and deception. As such, to have Rangers men – fans like themselves – was a welcome relief and, after a fairly successful boycott of the Green regime, Rangers supporters rallied once more. Trust was asked of us and that trust was given. Transparency was promised and our faith was furnished. Patience was requested and any reasonable fans understood it was necessary.
A new journey was started then and Mark Warburton and Davie Weir led Rangers back to the Scottish Premiership. Despite a disappointing Scottish Cup Final loss, a win over Celtic in the previous round and a good quality of football had fans happy again by the time we started our first season back in the top division. Unfortunately, since then matters on the pitch have declined. As the management team struggled to adapt their system, it quickly became obvious that win over Celtic hid what was a huge gap and that seemed to be a challenge Warburton and Weir didn’t fancy. Add in subsequent legal battles and dressing room issues then already the football side of the club seemed poorly managed by the board.
Enter the hitherto unknown Pedro Caixinha and a new excitement as we started afresh (again). Incredibly after only one win, Rangers then suffered the worst defeat in their history (bar none) in Luxembourg and the cracks were already forming. Further dressing room splits after a few months involving Kenny Miller hastened the departure of the Portuguese manager but not before millions of pounds were spent on players that never, ever looked like they’d fit in in Scotland. The sanction of the Carlos Pena transfer alone is a damning indictment of our football operations last summer.
Since then things appeared to improve despite the bizarre decision to re-appoint Graeme Murty as caretaker manager until the end of the season. Along with Director of Football Mark Allen, various players were brought in through January and results improved – so much so, an inconsistent Celtic were again in our sights. However, our inability to see off our rivals who were down to ten men at Ibrox last month told us two things: Murty could not be the long term answer and some players lacked the quality or belief to be champions. Both these points have been emphasised in recent weeks as performance levels decreased to that we viewed last Sunday. Team morale is also clearly at an all-time low.
With that in mind, the reaction of the club to understandable fan frustration has been nothing short of woeful. As the season ticket renewal period moves into its second week, there’s absolutely nothing for any fan to lay their hat on when it comes to making an informed decision. No confirmation of next season’s manager, no outlining of why two senior players have been ostracised for having the same concerns as the fans and no apology for the lack of character, quality and organisation on the park.
Now, Rangers supporters have much to thank Dave King and his partners for. Removing the selfish interests of Charles Green and Mike Ashley rightly bought King huge amounts of goodwill from fans. Add in the various legal difficulties in doing so and the millions of pounds King and his co-investors have put into the club then anyone suggesting they don’t have the club’s well-being at heart isn’t being fair. Whilst progress hasn’t been great on the park; off it, fans seem fairly comfortable. Yet that cannot preclude them from criticism either – especially three years down the line.
In truth, three years was never going to be enough time to mount a genuine challenge to Celtic. Rebuilding Rangers is a mammoth task and doing so against the financial power of our rivals only increases the difficulty. In that respect, Rangers fans have to continue to be patient and realistic. Season ticket monies and (hopefully) a few improved commercial deals aside, we don’t have tens of millions to spend on players. Neither do we have access to the Champions League to help attract managers interested in rebuilding their profile. There’s also no queue of rich investors eager to chuck their cash at Scottish football. That’s hard to take but we have to be honest.
However, the same restrictions apply to Aberdeen, Hibs and Kilmarnock and, despite poorer resources compared to us, they’ve shown what can be done by appointing pragmatic, hungry managers able to get the best out of squads that may not be considered elite level – even in Scotland. As such the failure of King and his board to do the same – not once, not twice but three times if we consider the Murty care-taking debacle is inexcusable and unacceptable. Yes, you said in the renewal notice you appreciate that but actions speak louder than words and, so far, we have only words. That won’t be enough for the 45,000 season ticket holders you want to renew.
In closing then, the pressure on Dave King has never been greater. Caddying for Gary Player in Georgia two weeks ago may have been a million miles from the pressure cooker of a struggling Rangers in Glasgow. Running a successful business in South Africa is also markedly different from bringing glory to his football team of choice. The same goes for the interests of Douglas Park, Alistair Johnston and the rest of the directors in charge of reinstating said glory. Quite simply Rangers must come first and if you can’t stand the heat, get out the kitchen.
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