THERE probably will be close to a 50,000 capacity crowd for Rangers’ Third Division derby with Clyde on Boxing Day. Or, put another way, around 15,000 more than the Ibrox club averaged across their last four European home games.
There is no way that such sides as Clyde, and Annan, incredibly watched by 42,000 at Ibrox on Tuesday, are more attractive to supporters than the Champions League and Europa League qualifiers against Malmo and Maribor last year, and the last 32 and last 16 Europa League tie against Sporting Lisbon and PSV Einhoven the preceding campaign.
That would be warped, but then there is a certain warped logic in Rangers followers suddenly tuning up for what might be ranked in occasion-terms alongside the opening of an envelope. The other day Rangers manager Ally McCoist said it could no longer be considered all about “defiance”. It remains quite a lot about defiance, mind. What also must be factored in is pricing structure. The cost of all the home games this season come in at a figure below what a fan would have paid to watch those past four continental encounters.
Furthermore, by filling out Ibrox every week, Rangers supporters can ensure their club continues to have one meagre victory over their despised, one-time, Old Firm rivals. The league average for games in the east end of the city sits below the figure for matches in Govan. Whatever the motivation, and much of it is a crusade to help the Ibrox team back to a position where the hegemony of Celtic is threatened, the willingness to back Charles Green’s Rangers has been remarkable. As was the share issue last week that raised £22m, £17m from institution investors and £5m from fans.
McCoist believes the fact that supporters have not gone away makes it natural to believe one day Rangers might be competing in the Champions League as Celtic are presently. “My own opinion is the club wouldn’t have fully arrived back until we’re back in Europe and the top tier of that is the Champions League,” he says. “It’s definitely a realistic target. To get 42,000 the week before Christmas for a home game against Annan would indicate they think it’s a realistic target.”
The Rangers manager believes the supporters’ efforts demand cap doffing. “Previously I used the word defiance but it is support they are giving us and that support has been staggering. A part of me thought that they might switch off for a game or two but they’ve been incredible. The bond with the fans is probably as strong as it’s ever been.”