It has been one of the most extraordinary recent stories in European football. In 2008, Rangers were UEFA Cup finalists. In 2012, Rangers were in the fourth tier of Scottish football. What happened in between has been well documented, but what’s happening now? What’s it like to be a Rangers supporter these days? We asked Gers fan Jamie Currie to ask around at Ibrox.
On a brisk Spring day, Ibrox Stadium stood proud as the sun tried to break through the clouds. The symbolism was entirely appropriate. A giant of football slowly trying to work its way back to the top of their domestic game after years of decay and civil war. But is that civil war now coming to an end? Can everyone associated with the club erase the recent history from their memory and start again?
Rangers are a huge club, not only in Scotland, but also throughout the European game, but in the last four years, the supporters have been to hell and back. Unfortunately for them, the agenda has not been dominated by the football, it’s been dominated by off-field activities, administration, liquidation and the revolving boardroom door.
Former director Dave King offered hope this month when, with the help of supporters’ groups that had acquired shares, he called an Extraordinary General Meeting in an effort to remove the much-maligned board. The tipping point for many fans was the possibility that they were going to use Ibrox – a shrine to those 66 fans who perished in the cup match versus Celtic in 1971, as security against a loan, given to them by Mike Ashley. King urged the fans to starve out the board by holding off on buying season tickets, succeed in gaining power and removed those in the boardroom who were hated by the support.
The visit of Livingston therefore made this a day of hope, a day of putting the first brick in place in order to make this institution rise again. There was a buzz around the stadium that hadn’t been felt since the first competitive home game against East Fife, shortly after the club had been demoted to the Third Division.
Craig Houston of the Sons of Struth protest group helped bring about the regime change.
“It was hard,” Houston said, “I have had the seat since I was eight years old, and it was the only part of my grandparents that I had left, but for the good of Rangers, I felt I had to give it up. It’s nice to be back with a new board and a new manager in charge, and hopefully we will get three points and a full house today.”
The season has been a poor one for Rangers, but there was positivity and excitement amongst the fans before the match. Stuart McCall was granted a rapturous reception as the former Gers midfielder took charge of the team for the first time. There was positivity and noise from the fans as Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” blasted out from the PA system before kick-off, hairs standing on end when the ‘better than all the rest’ line is sung with gusto.
Youngster Tom Walsh impressed the fans on his first start for the club, his wide play and trickery was a thorn in Livingston’s side all day long, but it was Newcastle loanee Haris Vuckic who gave the team a deserved lead in the ninth minute. But just before half-time the feel good factor collapses as Livingston stun the 35,066 crowd with an equaliser and the boos ring out at half time.
The atmosphere was flat after the restart, as if the home crowd were simply resigned to another poor result. Either the players were barracked or there was a complete sense of apathy in the stands. Another chorus of boos met the final whistle. It was the club’s third draw in a row and it looks like hopes for promotion, on current form, are all but gone.
Outside the ground, the mood was bleak. Supporters felt let down, yet again, by this squad of players, who many feel are not worthy of wearing their club’s shirt. People want to move on from this dark era. People have had enough. But there was also realism and perspective.
William Irwin, from the Johnstone Rangers Supporters Club and Stevie, a member of the Toryglen Rangers Supporters club, have been watching Rangers for over 20 years.
“I don’t think another season in the Championship would be a bad thing,” Stevie said. “It would allow us to start again, with a new manager, and hopefully build a new team that’s able to challenge for the title at the first time of asking.”
“It’s important we get the right structure in place for the future,” Irwin said, “Along with a new coaching permanent team, scouting network, the willingness to reinforce our youth players and sign younger players who we can sell on at a profit. The whole situation has made me love my club more, and hopefully we will never see days where the club’s future is in doubt again.”
The one positive that has came out of Rangers’ poor financial position is the movement of the fans’ groups – who have been encouraging fans to sign up in order to buy shares in the club, and to have a greater say in how it’s run. Former Rangers striker Marco Negri didn’t hesitate when he was asked to contribute to the Rangers First movement. It’s clear with these movements that have kicked off on various social media sites, now the fans, as a collective feel closer to Rangers than they ever have done.
“Rangers are the biggest club I played for in my career,” Negri said. “I feel sorry for the fans. I have followed the situation from Italy through the various media outlets. When I was at the Oceania Rangers Supporters Association convention in Phucket, the fans were amazing. When I was approached and asked if would contribute, I didn’t think twice – and I’m so glad I did it.”
Negri believes the club will get back to the top of the Scottish game sooner rather than later, he said: “I am sure with the new board in place and the support of the fans, that the club will be back where the fans believe it belongs.”
Richard Wilson, the senior broadcast journalist at BBC Scotland has covered the Rangers story extensively.
“In some senses it has been challenging,” said Wilson, “since there have been so many different facets to the story, so many different characters. I think many journalists grew weary of the story, because of its complexity and the need for a level of financial, business and legal knowledge that is not typical of sports journalists, then re-engaged with it when it flared up again. Personally, I found that the challenge of trying to cover it and stay on top of it overcame any sense of fatigue.”
“It will take a long time – at least five years, probably more – for the club to be fixed. It is broken in almost every way. The challenge is to revive the team and the business, whilst raising funds and trying to diminish the toxicity of the brand given events of recent years. If the right decisions are made and the right strategy implemented, then Rangers can recover, but it will be hard to entice back the fans who stopped attending games because they will have lost the habit. I don’t foresee any further battles for control of the boardroom or the shareholder base.”
“McCall is enthusiastic and effervescent, qualities that could rejuvenate individuals, but the team’s form has been on a long and steady decline. Other sides are better equipped to go into the play-offs feeling stronger and more confident.”
But for all the heartache and frustration, there is a feeling amongst the supporters that the club is finally in a position to move forward again, even if it doesn’t look that way at first glance. They might never see another European final like they did in 2008, but at least they feel as if their club is in the right hands. The road to recovery is long, but going forward is what the fans demand. Now the new regime has to deliver.
You can follow Jamie Currie on Twitter (@jamiecurrie89)