THE raw realities of life, more than football, weighed heavily at Ibrox yesterday. Before kick off, there was a genuine empathetic stillness in the silence observed for Ian Redford, the former Rangers player found dead in woods near his Ayrshire home the previous evening.
The contrast with the reception given to Fernando Ricksen as he made the half-time lottery draw could hardly have been more acute. The 42,182 crowd inside the stadium showered the Dutchman, recently diagnosed with incurable motor neurone disease, with wave after wave of raucous acclaim. The tears flowed liberally from Ricksen as he clapped and bowed in humble appreciation.
On an afternoon when the game itself proved one of those regulation, largely forgettable, wins that Rangers have tended to produce recently – the only difference in this victory being that the goals came from Dean Shiels, making his first start since August – the conduct of the Rangers support and their manager left a lasting impression, with Ally McCoist afterwards offering moving tributes to former team-mate Redford, and to Ricksen.
“I can’t tell you what a shock it was,” he said of the passing of his 53-year-old former team-mate. “Ian was here on Boxing Day with his boy, he came in for a bottle of beer after the game then the following week he came up to Murray Park to see us. He’d a cup of tea, we watched the training then went inside and had a sandwich and we’d a great conversation. It was good to see him and I’ve known him since the early 1980s. We’re devastated but the thoughts are with Janine, his two sons and his daughter. It’s absolutely terrible.”
McCoist summed up the scene that unfolded for the Dutch defender who played for Rangers in the early 2000s in fitting fashion, meanwhile. “I had a word with him before the game on the marble staircase and he was extremely positive, genuinely happy to be back in Glasgow. He was thrilled at the reception he was getting. There have been foreign players who have come to the club fans have taken to – Laudrup, Albertz – and you’d put Fernando in that category as well. The fans absolutely love him and rightly so. Out of a lot of the foreign guys in recent seasons he’s for me embraced the passion of the club and the support as much as anybody.”
And he agreed that very support had excelled. “You’re probably sick of me saying it but they are incredible. Fernando had some of his friends and family over from Holland with him and some of them must be sitting there looking at Rangers v East Fife in the second-bottom tier of Scottish football and there’s still 40-odd thousand there. That’s why I think the club and the city and the support are special. I don’t think there are too many places in the world you would get that response.”
On the pitch, McCoist received the desired response from Shiels, given an opportunity because of a raft of injuries. Maybe he should be placed in the Ibrox departure lounge more often. Ahead of yesterday, it was thought by many that the next time he was creating headlines as a Rangers player would be the day that status was in the past tense.
The Northern Ireland internationalist was perceived as ripe for jettisoning as the club seek to pare down wage costs. A medial ligament problem hasn’t helped his case but it was reported earlier this week he would be prepared to leave behind his £5,000-a-week salary at the League One champions-elect for a return to Easter Road.
“I’m obviously very hopeful he will kick on from this performance,” said McCoist. “He’s a very determined boy who wants to do well and he’s made it clear to me that he thinks he should be in the team and he wants to be in the team. On that form he’ll certainly get the opportunity to play.”
His first goal in four minutes followed a clearance from a corner that he thumped through a ruck of players before it squirmed under the body of keeper Gary Paterson. It looked then that Rangers would run up a real score for their 20th win out of 21 games. They didn’t, and by the close of the first period and early minutes of the second half it was Gary Naysmith’s side that were passing up opportunities, Liam Buchanan finding himself through on goal on three occasions. Shiels then settled the issue when he lashed a Andy Little knockdown high into the visitors’ net from eight yards.
Rangers midfielder Nicky Law recognised that the performance and result were hardly one for the annals. “We are not playing well but we are winning,” he said. “We would like to do it with a bit more style and score more goals but that will come.”
Goals: D Shiels 5, 64.
Booked: A Little.
East Fife: Paterson, Campbell, Johnstone, Hughes, Mbu, Thom, R Stewart, Fisher, Buchanan, Brown (Durie, 69 (Barr, 80)), Clarke (Henderson, 72).
Subs not used: Willis, Thomson, Shaw, J Stewart.
Booked: G Thom.
Referee: D Robertson