“A LOT of people thought this club was dying,” said Andy Gray, the former Rangers striker, invited to be the compere at Ibrox yesterday on the occasion of their 140th anniversary.
Rangers 2 - 0 Stirling Albion
Scorers: Rangers - Templeton (59), Little (89)
“Don’t you believe it.” Flags and fireworks and all manner of tributes were laid on to create a party atmosphere here, but it was a while before the crowd of 49,913 – a world record for fourth-tier football – were able to enjoy it.
John Greig, returning to the club he left earlier this year, was asked on the pitch at half-time if he was having a good day. “Yeah,” said the club’s former captain and manager. “But I’d prefer us to be winning.”
Rangers did win, and deservedly so, but they made hard work of it, thanks mainly to a first half in which their total domination came to nothing. Andrew Little’s decisive second did not arrive until the 89th minute. Stirling, who beat Rangers at Forthbank in October, looked as though they would be blown away in the opening stages, but they weathered the storm, grew into the game and even hit the woodwork when they were only a goal down.
In the dying seconds, when they were two behind, Graham Weir nearly pulled one back with a rising shot, but Neil Alexander’s save ensured that nothing was allowed to detract from the birthday celebrations. Some, of course, will claim that Rangers, whose oldco went into liquidation earlier this year, are hardly 140 days old, never mind 140 years. One caller on the BBC’s Off the Ball radio programme yesterday suggested that they were Scotland’s answer to Benjamin Button, an old and wrinkly newborn destined to die young. How old will they be next year? 139?
But in their defence, history is history. It happened. Others can argue over its owner, but they cannot stop Rangers paying tribute to it, as the club did here with a commemorative programme, a pre-match flag display and a series of grainy images on the giant screens that spoke of better days.
At half-time, they wheeled out a pantheon of legends, from Greig and Willie Henderson to Richard Gough and ... er ... Marvin Andrews, all of them introduced by Gray – “a massive bluenose”.
To forget the past would be to forget those who have distinguished it, such as Sandy Jardine, the former full-back now engaged in a battle with cancer. In the second minute, there were 60 seconds of applause for Jardine that were almost heightened by a goal for Lewis MacLeod, whose shot was saved.
It was not the first chance for MacLeod during an opening period in which Rangers laid siege to their opponents’ goal. Kevin Kyle had a header cleared off the line and Barrie McKay’s angled effort was beaten away by Mark Peat, but the best opportunity fell to MacLeod. The young midfielder had the goal at his mercy after Kyle had nodded down, but he turned it over the bar from six yards.
Apart from a timid effort that Graham Weir pulled wide, Stirling’s only hope was to hang in there, which they somehow did with the help of a few choice tackles. In the first 35 minutes, five of their players had been booked, four of them for challenges on Templeton. Their biggest let-off came when Kyle thumped a low shot off the base of the left-hand post.
The pattern continued into the second half, but the breakthrough had to come, and when it did, after 59 minutes, the relief was palpable. When McKay surged to the byeline and cut the ball back, Templeton darted forward to poke it high into the net. The goal should have settled Rangers, but instead they grew nervous, especially when Kyle Hutton gave the ball away to Josh Flood just outside the home side’s penalty area. It was Stirling’s first clear chance of the afternoon, and what a chance it was, but the substitute’s shot struck the same square of woodwork that had denied Kyle.
You sensed that it would be their only chance, and that they would regret missing it, which was how it turned out. In the closing stages, Daly McSorley was sent off for a second bookable offence, and Rangers got their second, Little sliding his shot under the goalkeeper after he had been set up by McKay.