THE 24 minutes that Neil Alexander stood keeping goal for Hearts in their abandoned meeting at Ibrox on Friday night were 24 minutes too many. Not just as a result of the snow that lay on the pitch but because of the home supporters who laid into the former Rangers player throughout an ill-fated encounter.
The contrast could not have been more acute with his first return to a club where Alexander played for six seasons, won all domestic honours, agreed to transfer over his contract when liquidation meant playing in the Third Division and didn’t want to depart when moved on to Crystal Palace in the summer of 2013. Back in August, when Hearts visited Ibrox on the opening day of the Championship season, he was given a good reception. However, in between times he had a claim for £84,000 in unpaid earnings from his Ibrox stint settled in his favour – the outcome of an SPFL tribunal becoming public as Rangers teetered on the brink of administration late last year.
“I was getting pelters from the Rangers fans, absolute pelters,” the 36-year-old revealed. “I was getting booed every time I was on the ball and it was disappointing. Was it the legal case? I don’t know. I don’t think I deserved it as I always said I wanted to stay. I’ve never said anything controversial about the club. I’ve always been positive. I never said one bad word. I loved playing for Rangers and the five and a half years I had there was the best time of my career.
“The legal case was maybe one thing on top of ten others and that’s not my fault. Whenever it came out, it came out. It was a legal action, we went to court and they ruled in my favour. That was right and I can’t do anything about it. Maybe that was why I got stick from the fans behind the goals but it was disappointing. What were they saying? You don’t want to know, I couldn’t repeat it. It was just stick and you sometimes get that as an opposition keeper from the home fans. But I got a great reception the last time so it was disappointing.
“The rest of the fans have been brilliant. The Rangers fans I meet in the street are always complimentary. They say nice things. It was just a section on Friday night. I’m a Hearts player now, we are top of the league [by 13 points] and maybe that was to do with the booing.” The stick dished out to Alexander paled in comparison to the abuse given to investor and controlling Ibrox influence Mike Ashley, and directors James and Sandy Easdale in angry demonstrations outside the front door in the hour leading up to Friday’s farcical fixture. It demonstrated that Rangers supporters have reached breaking point over the boardroom machinations that have led to shareholder Dave King calling an egm to remove the current board following moves by Ashley to secure Ibrox Stadium and Murray Park against a £10m loan.
Alexander lived through some turbulent times at Ibrox, yet even he seemed distressed by the latest failing and flashpoints.
“We heard the fans outside the dressing room. It was really loud,” he said. “It was horrendous and I feel for the players and the people I know at the club. I feel for those who have lost jobs and suffered for what has happened. Whatever is happening at the club, I’m sure it will work out. Hopefully the club can see brighter days in the future and become the Rangers everyone once knew and can go and be a dominant force in Scottish football again. We are the prime example of a club who have gone into administration and recovered. We are getting bigger and better all the time and if any clubs wants to look at an example, I think Hearts have set it. It can be done if you get the right people behind the club and hopefully Rangers get that. When I left, I never had any inkling this would happen at Rangers. I wanted to stay, I was adamant about that. Circumstances prevailed and I have ended up at Hearts. I have had a new lease of life and I’m enjoying the coaching side. I’m learning a lot working with Robbie, Jack Ross and Stevie Crawford. We have a good winning mentality, we are part of something good. I supported Hearts as a boy and it’s great to see us go from strength to strength. Hopefully there is more to come.”
Scottish football, meanwhile, was entitled to expect more of those charged with assessing the wisdom of starting a full match in the frozen tundra of Govan two nights ago. “The word shambles sums it up, really,” said Alexander. “Walking out for the warm up, I couldn’t believe it was going ahead. The ball didn’t move, it was holding up and you couldn’t pass it. This is meant to be a showcase game for Scottish football with two of the biggest teams. To play it in those conditions doesn’t do much for the reputation of the game. It’s on telly, there was a big build-up and you want to show everyone in Britain that both teams can play and put on a show. That wasn’t a game of football – it was just a battle in the snow.”