RANGERS have been champions of Scotland 54 times and, as Cammy Bell observed yesterday, are a club players join so they can count their medals when they retire.
The Scotland goalkeeper will secure his first-ever league winner’s medal unless Ibrox is subjected to another jolt tonight, and he expects a “fantastic” season to be acknowledged.
“I think this will be my first league medal – I can’t remember any others,” said Bell ahead of the meeting with eighth-placed Airdrie, from which a win will seal the title.
“The only two I’ve got are my Youth Cup medal from Kilmarnock and the League Cup one. Tomorrow night’s a massive night for me, because to win a league is not easy to do. It’s not over a few games, it’s over a whole season and to do it in the time we’ve done it is incredible.
“Obviously we’ve taken a bit of criticism along the way, but we’ve done it – and in record time. The boys are looking forward to it. The reason I came and signed for this club was to win medals, and I’ve got an opportunity to win three medals this season. If you can say that in March I think you’re doing pretty well.”
Over to you, then, Bears. It will be interesting to gauge the mood of the club’s ever-loyal supporters tonight. Ally McCoist believes the majority are “intelligent enough” to realise that climbing from sea level back to the peak of the Scottish game would involve the odd slip, the odd trip and even the occasional compass malfunction.
On Sunday, however, just when the manager needed his players to seize the moment and secure a date with Premiership opposition that the supporters have been longing for, they very nearly registered a result that would have ranked very high on Rangers’ all-time blooper list, and possibly even at the top.
In the end, it was more “Faroes 2 Scotland 2” than “Celtic 1 Super Caley 3”, but a 1-1 draw at home to Albion Rovers in the cup was plainly not good enough from Rangers.
Bell, like McCoist, asked that any team ultimately be judged on what they do over the course of nine or ten months, and not on one slippery Sunday. “I think we have been fantastic this season,” Bell declared. “We have only lost one game and that was in the League Cup and most of the new signings couldn’t play in that game.
“We know the expectations at this club are massive. We want to go and win things We want to go and win the Scottish Cup, Every player does.
“It’s not as easy as that. Motherwell found it hard against Albion Rovers and we face that challenge every week because it’s everyone’s cup final when they play Rangers.
“It’s tough. You need to keep going and we have a lot to look forward to with the Ramsdens Cup final which is a massive occasion.
“Most of the players haven’t played in a final as Rangers players so we are all looking forward to that. We also still have the Cup and, hopefully, we will tie up the league.”
As well as having an expensive squad, McCoist has a big PR team behind him and, as he admitted, a host of friends and mentors in the game in whose words he sought solace after the bone-chilling experience of hosting James Ward’s Albion Rovers at home.
The Bears weren’t happy at 0-1, they weren’t much happier at 1-1 and they weren’t going out and ordering extra honey yesterday after reading McCoist’s interpretation of the result, nor Ian Black’s defence of the manager. That included a spirited dismissal of the right of fans to protest about performances that do not result in defeat, in which he said: “We won the league last year with kids, we have brought in experience this year and we haven’t been beaten. What else do they want?”
McCoist argued yesterday that Black’s words had been taken out of context, but it was not his most convincing moment. He was slightly more persuasive when pointing out that the team’s struggles are surely trivial in the grander scheme of the Rangers crisis. But his main priority yesterday was to remain resolute in the face of being mocked for claiming that an edgy 1-1 draw at home to Albion Rovers had not embarrassed Rangers.
“It was disappointing at the weekend, of course it was. I have been in the game long enough to know that when the word embarrassment is asked in a press conference that there is a fair chance that it will be in a headline one way or another,” he said, careful to avoid any confrontational language that might arm a press pack who remain to be convinced of McCoist the manager.
“But I stand by it. I genuinely think it is disrespectful to the opposition. But that should not take away from how disappointed and upset we are at the result. Just because I say I am not embarrassed does not mean in any shape or form we think that result was acceptable. It does not.
“So we move forward and dust ourselves down. From the massive disappointment of Sunday. It has happened to great Rangers teams of before in cup competition but all you can do is dust yourself down and go again.
“We couldn’t have wished for a greater game to come up than one with an opportunity to win the league resting on it. So we can’t wait for tonight.”