Tributes to the life of Sandy Jardine were always going to leave a more lasting impression from Ibrox yesterday than taking possession of a third-tier championship trophy.
Rangers 3 - 0 Stranraer
Scorers: Rangers; Aird 37; Peralta 60; Shiels 65
Jardine was a colossal and beloved figure in Rangers’ history and what he meant to the club’s followers was movingly reflected in the solemnity, warmth and affection that, by turns, flowed from them for a man whose 18-month struggle with cancer came to an end, with
Jardine only 65.
The “only” is demanded because here was a footballer who did not simply play until he was 39 but, in a personal sense, enjoyed his greatest accolade with the football writers’ player of the year award – at Hearts – when only two years younger.
The “Sandy in royal blue” terracing ditty was played over the tannoy, and a big-screen tribute included the defender’s goal in the 1972 Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final win over Bayern Munich that made the subsequent trophy win possible. Following an impeccably observed minute’s silence, raucous applause rang out at the two-minute mark for arguably the club’s greatest wearer of the No.2 jersey.
The mood was perfectly encapsulated by manager Ally McCoist as the club were presented with the League 1 trophy. “Today is a strange day,” he told a remarkable crowd of 46,093 for the club’s final home game. “You deserve to celebrate but today is one of the saddest in the club’s 140-year history. We have lost an unbelievable Ranger,” he offered, voice cracking as chants for Jardine also caused him to temporarily break off, before he continued: “But we have also lost an unbelievable human being – a finer man I’ve never met. And with your blessing, the players and staff would like to dedicate this championship to the one and only Sandy Jardine.”
Jardine’s words were heard in an interview played with him on screen, and some of these could only hang heavy for the club in the turmoil it now finds itself, and has for the two years since it was constituted. Jardine spoke of “integrity, values and tradition” being watchwords for Rangers. Yet, the fans find little evidence of these facets in the current board. And though Jardine was that rarest of figures, a man who could unify all elements of this fractured club, yesterday, the calm that the commemorations to him elicited, could not last.
Not one day after the club’s 120-day review contained the revelation that they had “mismanaged” much of their £67 million income over the past two years, and that they retained so little confidence in their trading ability from credit agencies they could no longer allow supporters to pay season tickets by direct debit. And not two days after Sandy Easdale had declared the club’s finances so fragile he, directly or indirectly, raised the possibility of an administration that would wipe out the
Against this backdrop, the Union Bears section, the Greek chorus of Ibrox Stadium, could not simply overlook the club’s hellish financial and governance issues. “We want our Rangers back” they sang on 29 minutes, and drew applause from all sides in quickly following that up with chants of “sack the board”. “Get out of our club you greedy bastards”, told their thoughts exactly on the current regime.
Their attentions were drawn to the football shortly afterwards when Nicky Law swept the ball out right to Fraser Aird who, in turn, cut inside and lashed an effort high into the net from 14 yards. On the hour mark, World Cup-bound Honduran Arnold Peralta doubled the lead with his first goal for the club, Aird sending him through to drive a low effort beyond goalkeeper David Mitchell at his near post. Five minutes later, Mitchell clawed out a Dean Shiels header only for the Irish forward to follow in and knock the ball past him.
Captain Lee McCulloch, who maintained that, even if the current squad was not enhanced, he would be “confident” of winning next season’s Championship, said afterwards it didn’t “get much better” than lifting a trophy in front of a full house, and took pride in the fact that the 100 points and 100-goals mark have now both been surpassed in an unbeaten League 1 canter. The 35-year-old considered that the “dedication” the club and the fans gave to Jardine was “quite phenomenal”. “We had a few words before the game and said ‘let’s go out and get the win for him’,” said McCulloch. “What a man he was.”
How did Rangers burn through £70m? Football writer Andrew Smith will be online on Tuesday at 1pm to dsicuss the Ibrox club’s 120-day business review.