What was claimed as a world-record attendance for a fourth tier league match turned up at Ibrox Park for this match.
“What a statement,” said Rangers manager Ally McCoist. “I didn’t have any doubts but you always wonder how many will come. In the last ten days, it has been staggering.”
Anyone doubting that Rangers’ absence from the SPL will cost other clubs a pile of money should have been at Ibrox on Saturday.
Just a few seats short of a sell-out, the crowd of 49,118 filled Ibrox to the gunwales as the famous old place hosted something it had never seen before – Rangers in a league match that wasn’t top flight.
Also made to look ridiculous were those who said the Rangers support would dwindle if faced with the reality of Third Division football. In a few short days the club has sold the truly remarkable figure of 33,000 season tickets and a more impressive display of loyalty to a club is hard to conceive.
Allowing for concession and child tickets, that’s the best part of
£10 million banked. Add in the sales from the East Fife cup game and the contribution from the hospitality boxes, and suddenly Rangers’ finances are no longer a basket case now that they are shorn of debt.
Rangers chief executive Charles Green gave a stirring address to the crowd before the match, though his gift for diplomacy is perhaps lacking.
“Never mind Sell Out Saturday,” said Green, referring to last week’s less than successful attempt to get fans back to other clubs, “this IS sold out Saturday,” said Green.
To deafening cheers he announced the season ticket sales figures – “not bad for a Third Division club” – before pointing out that Ibrox was hosting the biggest crowd in Scotland and one of the biggest in the UK.
“That is testament to the passion, loyalty and commitment shown by the Rangers supporters and I thank you all. Few clubs in the world could count on that kind of support.”
He concluded by saying: “Today is just the start of the journey and we are all in it together. Let’s enjoy the adventure.
“Rangers then, Rangers now, Rangers forever.”
So the match, and for 15 minutes at least, it looked like a contest. The last time these two clubs met was in a Scottish Cup tie four years ago.
Rangers won 6-0 on that occasion but the chance of the home side keeping a clean sheet in this one evaporated after less than three minutes.
It is doubtful if Paul Quinn will ever again silence 50,000 people in an instant. He scored the penalty after Lee Wallace felled Michael Herd.
The East Stirlingshire players ran to try and find their support, but couldn’t see them as they were tucked in a tiny corner of Ibrox, outnumbered as they were by perhaps 100 to one.
Rangers reacted as if they had been stung, but were too fiery at first. Ian Black was combative as ever in midfield, while up front Fran Sandaza and Andy Little were just too eager.
It did not take long for the equaliser to come.
Little finally took his time to control the ball on Rangers’ right wing after his first effort had been saved, and he slotted the ball low past Ryan McWilliams.
Dean Shiels’ home league debut lasted just 23 minutes before he left with a dead leg injury, and the impressive Barrie McKay replaced him to great effect.
Rangers went ahead after 41 minutes, Little diving low to head home a pinpoint cross from Kirk Broadfoot.
The third Rangers goal on 63 minutes was scored after a contender for stramash of the season.
McWilliams twice saved at point blank range before the ball broke to Sandaza who smacked it over the line. Towards the end, the men of the Shire visibly wilted, and no wonder as they came under constant attack from Rangers who squandered chance after chance.
A fourth goal was inevitable as the artisans of East Stirling entered a zone they rarely encounter – the closing minutes against a full-time team. Little gained his deserved hat-trick after 74 minutes, McWilliams being very unlucky to see his superb save from a Sandaza goalbound header drop straight to the in-form Rangers man.
Mark Begg was lucky to see only yellow for a terrible tackle on Black before the scoring was wrapped up by Lee McCulloch in injury time,
volleying home McKay’s cross.
As last week’s result away to Peterhead showed, it would be foolish to make any long-term judgments from one match, but even shorn of their summer departures, Rangers are in a class that’s way above the likes of East Stirling. In truth, as both managers said afterwards, they could have scored many more goals than five.
The Ibrox fans may tire of watching their heroes drub a succession of part-timers, but then again they might just enjoy themselves every other Saturday.
After the few months of torture they have endured, this was their day in the sun and few would have begrudged them it for their loyalty.
Rangers: Alexander, Broadfoot, Goian, Bocanegra, Little (Kyle 82), Black, Shiels (McKay 23), Macleod, Wallace (Emilson Cribari 77), McCulloch, Sandaza.
East Stirlingshire: McWilliams, Jackson, Miller (Benton 70), Devlin, Shepherd, Greenhill (Begg 46), Quinn, Herd, Hume, Maxwell (S Kelly 65), Turner.
Referee: K Clancy.