Steve Simonsen has provided the best response to critics who questioned why it is necessary for Rangers to have such an experienced goalkeeper sitting on the bench in the third tier of Scottish football.
Told on the day of the game he was being called into emergency action against Forfar Athletic on Monday, the 34-year-old pulled off one of the most spectacular saves of the season to keep Rangers ahead at a critical stage of the proceedings. Of course, even had Forfar equalised with only minutes remaining of Monday night’s fixture it would not have been the end of the world for a team such a long distance clear at the top of League One.
Simonsen, who finally made his Rangers debut in the win in Angus, stressed that manager Ally McCoist is obliged to build the “best squad he can”, hence the need to have such a reliable goalkeeper replacement in the shape of the former England under-21 international. Simonsen is aware that he has been held up as perhaps the most obvious example of a dispensable squad player at Ibrox. No one disputes his ability, but some have wondered why Rangers need to have him in reserve when a younger – and cheaper – goalkeeper in the shape of Scott Gallacher is already at the club.
McCoist has himself explained that, until he is told otherwise, it is his responsibility to ensure that Rangers prepare for games – even those in the lower divisions – in the most professional way possible, following criticism of their afternoon siesta at the four-star Carnoustie Hotel prior to kick-off. Many Rangers supporters were included among the critics of this decision, with the stop-off perceived to have been an unnecessary extravagance at a time when the players have already been requested to take a 15 per cent wage-cut.
McCoist felt it would be “disrespectful” to teams such as Fofar if they changed this pre-match routine. The manager also described Simonsen’s save as “one of the best” he had seen so far this season. It certainly helped justify having such a capable goalkeeper in the ranks. Rangers were clinging to a 1-0 lead when Simonsen changed direction in mid-air to tip over a deflected header from Lee Wallace, one of his own teammates. A late leveller might well have changed the course of the game. In the event, substitute David Templeton added a second goal in the dying seconds to secure the points for Rangers.
“It was an instinctive save and the type of save you work day in and day out in training, particularly after the general training where we [the goalkeepers] work on our reactions,” explained Simonsen. “I said last week I didn’t know when my chance was going to come along. I just needed to keep working hard. Monday was the night and I was delighted with my night’s work.”
“The manager clearly wants an experienced goalkeeper and on occasions like Forfar he is able to put me out there because it is a hard and difficult place to come,” Simonsen reasoned. “He has to build the best squad he can to take [Rangers] back to where they want to be. I am thankful he sees me as part of that.”
Simonsen has been a patient onlooker as Cammy Bell has cemented his place as No 1. However, the birth of the former Kilmarnock goalkeeper’s first child on Monday meant that Simonsen suspected he might be called upon. He finally received confirmation that he was starting at 4pm on the day of the game, as the players continued their pre-match preparations in Carnoustie.
“I knew on Monday morning that there was a chance because Cammy had informed the management and the boys that his partner had gone into labour,” said Simonsen. “It was looking like I would play on Monday morning and then I knew that was the case when his little girl arrived in the afternoon. It wouldn’t have been right asking him to travel all the way up to Forfar. I have been in that position before and I was always preparing to play. It was a fantastic experience.”
It must also have been fairly surreal for someone who numbers Everton, Stoke City and Preston North End amongst his previous clubs.
Simonsen is a well-travelled keeper, whose base of operations was Dundee for the last months of last season. It was there that he usurped then Dundee No 1 Rab Douglas, who was standing in the opposite goal at Station Park on Monday night for the televised fixture. He is not so hopeful about being able to dislodge Bell.
“At the end of the day I am under no illusions that Cammy Bell is the No 1 at this football club,” accepted Simonsen. “What I am doing is showing that I am more than capable of coming into the side when I am needed. That has helped Cammy along as well with his game because, when you have good, healthy competition, it helps everyone to strive and produce better performances.
“I am approaching 35 years old now,” he added. “I have been in the game a long time and I have also played at some fantastic football clubs. I have also had spells where I haven’t been in the side and then I have. It is all about professionalism, keeping yourself fit and doing the right things in training every day. You have to prepare yourself for your chance.”
Simonsen described playing in front of the Rangers fans at Ibrox as “the next step”. He was half expecting to deputise earlier this month when Bell hurt his ankle during the warm-up prior to the game against East Fife. However, Bell recovered to take his place in the side, and Simonsen’s wait to play at Ibrox continued. His short-term contract expires in the summer and, given the return of financial worries at the club, Simonsen’s future is far from certain. He was reluctant to be drawn on the wage cut proposal made by chief executive Graham Wallace last week, describing the spirit in the dressing-room as “fantastic”. He added: “What goes on in the boardroom, outside of it or anywhere else in the club has nothing to do with us. We are paid to go out there and perform and to get this football club back to where it belongs. Monday night was another step towards it.”