For decades psychologists have studied why humans are reluctant to accept randomness as simply part of life, instead are inclined to believe that we can, at least to some extent, predict, influence, and control the world around us. Of course there are many, many aspects of life we can influence and control, but there are just as many we can’t, so we create mechanisms to deal with these. For millennia different societies have reacted to low or reduced personal control by strongly endorsing a belief in the existence and influence of external controlling powers. These feelings manifest themselves in many ways. The Aztecs made human sacrifices in the hope they would prevent earthquakes. The ancient Greeks built shrines to their gods in their homes, convinced that their gods would be angry and punish them if they didn’t. Today, you probably know someone who believes 9/11 was staged or who is convinced Covid is a hoax and vaccines are a scam perpetrated by ‘big pharma’. Psychologists believe that when randomness imposes itself on our lives we react by reintroducing order as we best understand it. This can manifest itself as simple superstitions, rituals or global conspiracy theories that draw us in. For some it’s easier to believe they are being threatened by evil scientists than by a naturally mutating virus they can neither control nor see. This is called compensatory control.
I’m guilty of this. My first thought on Wednesday evening as I saw the Rangers side enter the pitch at St Mirren was ‘we never play well in white socks’. I was right. Rangers should always wear black socks with red tops, everyone knows we play better in them, that’s a sacred cow in my belief system. I’ve had a few of these over the years. I own about 5 Rangers scarves, but only my white bar scarf is lucky. Like thousands of others when I leave the stadium I must touch the top of the exit with my left hand, it’s very bad luck not too. Also, I never, ever leave a match early, if I did it would create a karma cataclysm I’m not sure the club could withstand. In the past I’ve found myself wearing the exact same clothing to match after match as clearly that particular sartorial combination was contributing to our good run of form. I’m not alone in this. I once knew a Hamilton Accies season ticket holder who followed them home and away. He missed two matches in a row through illness and Hamilton won them both. They lost the next match he attended and he and his friends agreed he was bringing them bad luck and he didn’t attend another match that season. Following Hamilton was a huge part of his life, but he knew his presence was causing them their problems that season.
The major flaw with compensatory control however is that it’s not based in reality. I hope Rangers are wearing black and red socks again against Motherwell this weekend, but let’s be honest that wasn’t the reason we lost to St Mirren and it won’t have any bearing on Saturday’s result either, no matter what my addled mind might tell me nearer the time. I’ve watched Rangers lose far more matches in perfect black and red socks than I have in white ones. There’s a helplessness that comes with being a Rangers supporter currently. Actually being present at a match provides some level of tangible contribution. I might not be able to control the midfield from a seat in the enclosure, but I can shout obscenities at the opposition right back that he can actually hear, so that’s almost the same thing, right? Watching all of our matches on TV just underlines how little control I actually have. The dog has learned to go to another room so she’s not startled by my random volcanic outbursts following a misplaced pass or over hit cross. My Rangers impotence is very real this season.
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Saturday’s match is a chance for our side to make amends. To show that Wednesday night was simply a slip, not a fall. Motherwell come to Ibrox in poor fettle, 3 straight losses and a draw in their last 4 matches is relegation form. Indeed, were it not for the awarding of Motherwell 6 points for two Covid postponed matches earlier in the season they’d be 3rd bottom, clearly the scientists behind the Covid conspiracy are based in post-industrial Lanarkshire. We last played them in late September when we ran out 5-1 winners. If you could pick opposition to play when you need to bounce back from a setback then this current Motherwell team is it. A struggling side, in poor form, at home; surely it’s just a question of how many we’ll score? But this is football and as we all know random, inexplicable things happen in football, things we can’t control or explain. How did last season’s Rangers side crumble in January after comprehensively beating Celtic at a full Parkhead at New Year? Why did we lose to St Mirren on Wednesday? Are Rangers mentally fragile, have sides finally figured out how to nullify our marauding style of play? Are we destined to become the Scottish version of Keegan’s Newcastle? I don’t think so. We learned on Wednesday that a 20 year old with only 4 first team starts in his entire career isn’t as effective as the first choice left back for Croatia. We also learned that Cedric Itten isn’t yet as good as Alfredo Morelos and that every Rangers starting 11 should have at least one of Jack, Davis or Kamara on the pitch. We also learned that lapses in concentration and weakly surrendering possession will see us punished. None of these things should come as a surprise to us though, we surely already knew this. Every manager in Scotland, including Motherwell’s, will be studying how St Mirren were able to frustrate us. As such I expect Barasic to return to left back and Kamara and Davis to the centre of our midfield. I’m not sure how badly injured Balogun is but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Helander make a return to the side either way. I think we’ll persevere with Itten, Kent and Roofe, but a start for Defoe wouldn’t be a big surprise either and Hagi must be due another chance soon too. Motherwell have two first choice picks for Scotland in their defence but will be without Hastie up front who is currently on loan from us. Motherwell will aim to frustrate us, close us down and try and prevent us playing our quick passing game. They’ll have taken heart from the St Mirren result, it’ll be interesting to see what we’ve taken from it. We can expect plenty of possession, we might need patience and resilience too.
Rangers fans have been damaged by the events of the last few years. We got used to mentally preparing ourselves for the worst. It was easier that way when it inevitably happened. So the last 4 months of undiluted, high octane winning football were greedily enjoyed, momentarily quenching a burning desire to see Rangers return to the pinnacle of Scottish football. But I’m an addict and while I’ve greatly enjoyed my weekly hit of out-classing every opposition we’ve met, I need it to continue every week. I can’t go cold turkey, not at Christmas. In a year that’s carried more anxiety than any for decades football is not providing an escape, I find myself approaching a home match against a below average Motherwell side like it’s a cup final.
When we last won the league, back in 2010/11, we lost 5 league matches, in 2008/09 we lost 4. Every side loses matches, it’s how they respond to them that matters. So far we’ve not lost a league match this season, yet the jitters have already set in with many in our support. One setback and we’re nervously watching through our fingers instead of sitting back and enjoying the ride. I suspect anything less than a victory on Saturday will cause psychological damage to the players and the support. While this side has a style and vim about it that Walter Smith’s sides could only dream of, it doesn’t yet have his side’s inner steel. It’s not a compensatory control to say we need that, every side that wants to win the league needs a strength and desire that’s greater than it’s opposition’s. Our manager knows better than most that one slip in the league can define a season, this weekend is not the weekend to make ours.
Saturday will tell us if this side is on the road to greatness or not. To be on the safe side make sure you wear your lucky shirt and don’t use the same mug or glass you had on Wednesday evening, just in case.
Possible team (4-3-3):
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