Ally McCoist on Rangers’ Third Division title win

A QUICK drink in a bar in downtown Aberuthven and then back home to watch Match of the Day. It’s fair to say Ally McCoist’s chosen method of celebrating his first title as manager differed to the way he marked winning his first championship as a Rangers player.

“I was absolutely shattered,” he said yesterday, as he reflected on the more recent achievement. “It’s a mental tiredness”. McCoist was speaking yesterday at Ibrox Park, following Saturday’s clinching of the Third Division title. Queen’s Park’s later defeat meant a 0-0 lunchtime draw at Montrose had been enough to confirm Rangers’ status as champions.

It was further up the same coast where McCoist frolicked with his team-mates on the Pittodrie turf after Rangers secured a first Premier Division title for nine years in 1987, in Graeme Souness’s first full season as player-manager.

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Unsurprisingly, McCoist rates this achievement as the greater of the two on a personal level. However, the manager who coined the phrase that has doubled as the club’s mission statement over the last 14 months – “we don’t do walking away” – knows that Rangers comes first in this period of recovery. However unimpressive has been the side’s recent form, this title – their first non-top tier success – stands as a significant milestone. “It’s the first step back,” said McCoist.

In terms of its significance to the club, he believes the Third Division triumph outstrips recent championships, including his maiden one as a player. He did also concede that this latest success means something to him personally, since he knows that had Rangers fallen short, he would not have been around to speak with reporters yesterday – not in the guise of Rangers manager, at least.

Perhaps his position remains slightly precarious, but after a trying second season in the job, it is understandable that he felt some satisfaction mixed in with relief yesterday. He outlined what he and assistant manager Ian Durrant had to cope with back in July. “Thirty-six hours before our first game we still had no licence to play,” McCoist recalled. “We had to cancel three pre-season tours and only six players turned up for the first day of pre-season training. It was an absolute shambles.”

Even now, the stresses are piling up again. They include the suspensions being served by a member of his backroom staff as well as by a highly-paid player, as internal investigations continue into the conduct of Neil Murray, the Rangers chief scout, and striker Francisco Sandaza. Given this backdrop, it would be churlish to deny McCoist some elation after an on-field success, and he is grateful to those managers who, he says, have been “more sympathetic to our situation” than some supporters and members of the media. There have been many texts of congratulations from his peers, though not yet one from Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager. “I saw his interview yesterday after the game,” smiled McCoist. “He seems busy enough.”

McCoist was asked to place this latest championship in the context of his career. “Nothing compares to winning your first title,” he said, with reference to that day in Aberdeen, when a Terry Butcher goal earned the visitors a 1-1 draw. “Anybody who was at Pittodrie would have the view that was an incredibly special time because we hadn’t won the league championship for so long.

“The scenes after that triumph at Pittodrie were absolutely unique,” he added. “But this triumph is massive for us. I don’t care what anyone says, because I can tell you right now, if we had not won the league there are two things to consider.

“One, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. And secondly, it would have been an absolute disaster for the football club, an absolute disaster.

“So for the club this title means more than my first one at Pittodrie did. Absolutely.”

It was just eight months ago that the Rangers team bus made a left turn into Glebe Park, for the first competitive match as a Third Division club, against Brechin City in the Ramsdens Cup. A fortnight later Rangers returned to the north-east to begin their league campaign at Peterhead, amid yet more surreal scenes. It has proved quite a culture shock for McCoist, and he admits he has been given an education. Saturday afternoons spent travelling the byways of Scottish football have given him a new understanding of football in the country. These experiences have helped inform his views about how the game should be restructured.

He was slightly annoyed when Jim Traynor, the new director of communications at Rangers, interjected to give the club’s view of how many teams they would prefer in the top league. Fourteen, pointed out Traynor. “I was going to say that,” added McCoist. “Everyone wants a bit of change. Players, supporters, everyone is looking for a bit of freshness in the whole thing,” the manager continued.

“I’ve got to be honest, I don’t think that 14 will happen next year if I was a betting man.”

It is further down the tiers where he admits he has learned to feel some empathy. He has, he says, changed his view about a number of things, including his old contention that there are too many clubs in Scotland. “I appreciate the smaller clubs now,” he said. “I used to think we had far too many professional teams. I can understand the argument for that as well. But when you’ve been to Elgin, Annan, Peterhead, and all these places and they’re running their business far better than we have over the last 18 months, then who am I to say they shouldn’t be there?”

“I wouldn’t say I have more respect [for them], just more insight,” he added. “I’ve always had respect and that’s never changed and won’t change.

“I’ve seen how they are run, community clubs some of them and it’s absolutely fantastic.”

As for McCoist, now that one title has been secured thoughts must turn to clinching the next one. Whatever league Rangers find themselves in next season, they will need players. The manager imagines as many as eight or nine will need to be brought in when the transfer embargo is lifted, but even then Rangers are only permitted to sign free transfers.

Asked whether the likes of Carlos Bocanegra and Dorin Goian will be recalled from loan spells elsewhere, he replied very much in the affirmative. “You have seen us enough to let yourselves answer that question,” he said. “We need players.”