Ally McCoist has been to Brechin and back on a journey that he accepts has some distance yet to go, so he has asked to be forgiven if he cannot get exercised about a spat over ticket allocation for a Scottish Cup semi-final.
The Rangers manager yesterday looked ahead to Sunday’s League 1 return to Brechin, where his side came perhaps closest to surrendering their unbeaten league record in a see-sawing 4-3 victory in October. It is also the ground where Rangers’ journey back up the Scottish leagues began in July 2012, when they travelled to face Brechin City in a Ramsdens Cup tie that the Ibrox side eventually won after extra-time. He remembers sending former ITV punditry colleague Andy Townsend a photograph of the much-loved hedge at Brechin on his phone. “He just sent me back a reply, saying: ‘what?!’” recalled McCoist. “But that’s the beauty of the journey we have been on, some of the places we have been to.”
It hasn’t always been so fulfilling, however. Continued off-the-field financial struggles and boardroom dramas mean McCoist believes he is in a good position to apply some perspective to the issue that has dominated the back pages this week. “In the grand scheme of things in the last two years it’s been a very, very small issue,” said McCoist, with reference to the continued controversy surrounding semi-final opponents Dundee United’s complaints about both choice of venue and the number of tickets they have been handed ahead of the 12 April meeting at Ibrox.
“I think we as a club and as a team have got far bigger things to worry about than having a mump and a moan with individual clubs,” said McCoist. “We have got to take a step back and look at the bigger picture and concentrate our energies on getting back to the top flight and playing semi-finals and finals on a more regular basis than we are doing at the moment.”
One spokesperson for a Dundee United fans’ group suggested that some supporters are nervous about attending due to safety concerns after another war of words between the two clubs. United chairman Stephen Thompson has also revealed he will choose to sit among his club’s fans rather than in the directors’ box at Ibrox, due to fears he might be the target for the home fans’ venom. The ill-feeling between the clubs stretches back to a row following United’s decision to charge Rangers fans a reduced price to watch a replayed league match in 2009 after the original game had been abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch. Some Rangers fans also feel Thompson was instrumental in blocking plans to fast-track the Ibrox club back to the top-flight in 2012. But it is United who have now been outraged by having to face Rangers at the Ibrox club’s own ground in next month’s semi-final and the Scottish Football Association’s initial offer of 11,000 tickets.
McCoist admitted that he could “understand” some of the points made by United, but then the choice of venue was made long ago. In any case, he has other worries. “The ticket allocation is a problem between Dundee United and the SFA and whoever, so they will sort that out between them,” he said. “I’m certainly not going to get involved in an issue that doesn’t really bother me, to be honest.”
As for fears about safety concerns raised by some United fans as well as Thompson, McCoist added: “I would be hopeful that was maybe taken a wee bit out of context. I didn’t read the quotes so it would be wrong of me to comment on them. But certainly in this day and age, the one thing you expect is any travelling supporter of any club going to any game would like to sit down and watch it in comfort and safety. I would hope that is just about guaranteed in all the stadiums in the country and ours is no different.”
It was understandable that McCoist wished to concentrate on football matters. For the first time in what feels like a very long time, the near future looks to contain some exciting on-field possibilities for Rangers. The agreed month-long ceasefire between the board and former director Dave King has meant there is some chance that the spotlight can fall on the team, who secured the League One title last week. Rangers also have a Ramsdens Cup final to contest on 6 April against Raith Rovers before facing United in the Scottish Cup last four. “It’s probably as positive as it has been for a while in terms of the football side of things,” noted McCoist. “So we are actually quite enjoying that – if you will spare us that little bit of enjoyment.”
Two concerns impacting on the manager’s current good cheer involve the fitness of Andy Little and David Templeton, who have respective thigh and groin injuries. Both players could be in a race to be fit for the Ramsdens Cup final and the Scottish Cup semi-final.