EVEN as the last throes of winter brought a biting chill over Ibrox, Billy Campbell could conceive of no other use for his scarf. A wiry figure wearing only jeans and a replica top, he held his arms aloft and outstretched, brandishing the red, white and blue of his team.
“Loyalty is what Rangers are about,” he reasoned. “I’m here to show support, it doesn’t matter what happens off the field, our fans are loyal, and I’ll always be loyal.” Three hours before kick-off yesterday, he was not alone. After a week of ignominy and enmity, Rangers Football Club were due to play its first 90 minutes of football as a club in administration – against Kilmarnock – and pockets of fans mingled around the stadium.
Some, like Campbell, did not even have a ticket, while others, such as Del Murphy, felt compelled to show face after long cheering on their side from afar. “I’ve not been to a game in eight years, but I got the ferry over from Belfast for this,” he explained. “I couldn’t stay away today.” It was to be a sell-out, they enthused, with one of the only empty seats that belonging to Craig Whyte, the besieged chairman in absentia.
Outside the Copland Road stand, programme vendors enjoyed a brisk trade. Little wonder, given how their latest issue sought to encapsulate the day’s mood. In a bold, white font, the front cover featured a quote from former manager Bill Struth. “No matter the days of anxiety that come our way,” it stated, “we shall emerge stronger because of the trials to be overcome.”
Further along the A8 at Edmiston Drive, the Wee Rangers Club, a labyrinthine bolthole near the Broomloan end, saw a steady stream of custom. At the entrance, representatives from the Rangers Supporters Trust, one of the more active fans’ groups, distributed leaflets urging new members to sign up, the literature expressing support for a potential takeover spearheaded by Borders-based businessman, Paul Murray.
Inside, fans propped up its three bars, while a selection of Rangers songs blasted out. At around 12:45pm, the music came to a halt, and heads turned towards a special guest; Johnny Hubbard, a former South African winger who graced the turf of Ibrox for a decade in the postwar years, and is still fondly remembered in Govan for a 1955 Ne’erday hat-trick against Celtic.
Now 81, Hubbard gripped a microphone and addressed his audience. They were, he said, the greatest fans, and Rangers the greatest club. It was a simple message, but one which elicited thunderous applause. One grinning fan turned and declared: “That’s it, exactly! This is a day of celebration!”
The bonhomie, however, was not universal. Asked to sum up his mood, Derek Rowan, a stout, bespectacled man in his early fifties, supped the froth of his lager and shook his head. “Absolutely sickened,” he spat. “I’ve supported this club man and boy and I’ve never known a mess like this. I was there in the 1980s when things were crap, but even then we didn’t have some chancer like Craig Whyte. He’s a s***.”
Retreating back along the red brickwork of the Bill Struth Main Stand, it appeared Rowan’s anguish was not contagious. Supporters bustled around burger stalls in good nature, occasionally breaking into song. Further up Paisley Road West, a larger group assembled on Lorne Street outside the Govan Orange Halls. It was to be the starting point for a planned march of support and unity for the team. By the time they set off for Ibrox, around 350 people had joined the cause, the majority of them teenagers or those in their early twenties.
Flanked by a modest Strathclyde Police presence, the group waved Union and league champion flags and worked their way through a back catalogue of chants, their number bolstered by those coming out of the District Bar and other watering holes. There were songs for manager Ally McCoist, first-team coach Ian Durrant, and Rangers Till I Die. There were also sectarian numbers but notable by their absence were any cries or banners denouncing Whyte.
Indeed, as the march headed west, arriving at the main entrance to Ibrox shortly after 2pm, the only evidence of protest came into sight, a white tarpaulin pinned to a fence. “Sold to a spiv,” its crudely daubed message read.
As kick-off approached, the crowd swelled further, spilling out into the road of Edmiston Drive. Not even the advent of a bitter wintry squall could sour proceedings. Pockets of young supporters bounced exuberantly, while others looked on smiling, filming the action on mobile phones.
Holding the hand of his eight-year-old son, Jim Boag from Inverclyde relished the atmosphere. “Everyone knows this season’s over, and that it’s going to be tough. But we’ll always be here for the team, that will never, ever change.”