Tomorrow afternoon finally sees Rangers take a club on with a decent pedigree in our pre-season preparations. Derby County may not be as glamorous as some of their more illustrious English counterparts but the trip to the East Midlands will be one fans of both clubs will be looking forward to given the Ted McMinn associations in particular. Indeed, Rangers fans will have fond memories of the last time they played at Pride Park in a 2006 capacity crowd benefit match for the former wide-man who now works as kit man for Derbyshire County Cricket Club.
During that match, many bears will remember one of the assistant referees blagging an over-sized Union flag from the huge away support and using it to hilarious effect on the sideline (video below). Indeed, it's that kind of fun that has been sorely missing at Rangers in recent years so with our fans selling out our 8000 allocation, let's hope for a good day out for those that travel tomorrow. It's certainly interesting that so many bears are eager to travel hundreds of miles for a friendly while similar numbers have refrained from renewing their season tickets.
Obviously there are various reasons for that shortfall in Ibrox ticket sales. Many people argue it's down to inept performances in the boardroom whilst others blame the manager and his style of football. In actual fact both are correct as neither reason should be exclusive of the other. Similarly, while around 20-25,000 may well have bought season tickets, I'm sure there will be a large number within that still unhappy with various issues at the club. In that sense, I think it's fair to say the club generally has failed to address all our concerns and, no matter our position on individual issues, that remains a source of frustration for tens of thousands of Rangers supporters. What does the future hold?
Well, that's a question none of us can answer so with a long close season now almost over it's good to be able to discuss the actual football again rather than moan about director x, y or z. And with a variety of new signings and an exciting (or at least competitive) Championship season ahead, the standards on the pitch will be just as vital as those off it. With that in mind, our displays so far in pre-season haven't been great with a manager and players apparently uncertain of their best team, formation and strategy. Ally McCoist has chosen to supplement both central defence and attack with the signings of Darren McGregor, Marius Žaliūkas, Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd while the lack of midfield additions suggests he's happy with his options creatively. Will these additions be enough?
Generally speaking, I'd argue we're maybe short of one or two players (perhaps a quality right back and/or extra midfield option) but we certainly have a large enough squad which should be capable of winning the SPFL Championship this season. There's no doubt the likes of Hearts, Hibs and Falkirk will provide increased competition for promotion than we faced over the last two seasons. However, the perceived 'smaller' outfits like Queen of the South, Livingston and Raith Rovers (who beat us in the final of the Challenge Cup earlier this year) could cause just as many problems in one-off matches if we're unable to maintain quality, motivated performance levels from next weekend's season opener against Hearts.
The match at Derby may not determine that outcome but it will give a healthy number of Rangers fans their first glance at what may be a reasonably new-look side for 2014/15. With less than impressive efforts in our North American tour and no sign of off-field boardroom resolutions we can only hope the headache we have after tomorrow's friendly is from too much beer travelling to the game and not a post-match tactical hangover. If not, the sunshine from what has been an excellent Scottish summer will soon turn back to cloudy horizons. No-one likes to wallow in such negativity.
Trying to be positive then, I'm confident of a good result tomorrow and of a return to the top division by next year. Let's hope the derby match I'm writing about then is a return to playing our greatest rivals and the continuation of a journey that has been unprecedented in our history. After all, our contemporaries may be struggling in Europe but I'm still envious it's them and not us. That's what we're playing for and none of us, from the boardroom, to the dressing room, to the Broomloan should take our eye off the ball.
Union Flag Linesman: Derby v Rangers (2006)