SOMETIMES with Rangers – quite a lot of times in the last three years and just about every day right now – it’s easy to forget that a football team is still out there going about the business of trying to win games and that some of their fans continue to have ambitions and even dreams for them.
“We want your record,” East Fife supporters were told when it was the Methil men’s turn for a day out at Ibrox. At that point the financial situation was dire, not yet hand-to-mouth. The Rangers fans were living up to the team’s motto – Ready – and packing the place out against teams some would struggle to pinpoint on a map. The club were required to operate in the lower reaches of Scottish football but it was a temporary thing. They were still thinking big and buying big. And they could still swat outfits from Fife on their own patch.
The record in question was East Fife’s proud one of being the only team from outwith the top league to win the Scottish Cup, achieved in 1938. Some among the faithful liked the sound of that. Others could rant and wail about Rangers’ predicament, which was perfectly fine because there was plenty to rant and wail about, but why shouldn’t the club try and make the best of a bad job?
Well, that dream is over. Rangers couldn’t beat that other lot from Fife, Raith Rovers, despite home advantage in the fifth round and tumbled out of the cup they’d claimed on no less than 33 occasions, in what newspapers would wistfully describe as “happier times”. This, on the other hand, was what’s called making the worst of a bad job.
Remember those cup draws in Rangers’ first season in exile? No club wanted to have to play the wounded giants. This was the defiant boast coming out of Ibrox and it seemed to carry some weight. Motherwell duly drew them in the 2012-13 League Cup and duly lost, beaten by what were technically a mob from the old Third Division. But, in the next round, Inverness Caley Thistle visited Govan and scored three to win convincingly, just as Dundee United did at Tannadice in that season’s Scottish Cup and the following year at Ibrox as well.
These defeats have offered a guide as to how far Rangers have fallen, but like those guides you can pick up in a hurry in airports which are “handy” and “pocket-sized” but miss out a country’s embarrassing bits, it’s not to be trusted. The real story of Rangers’ incredible demise began when officially the worst team in Scotland beat them with their manager deciding he could miss the match to attend his own wedding – and it shows no sign of letting up.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS
Stirling Albion were their conquerors, Greig McDonald the cavalier boss. Fortress Ibrox was then dented for the first time in that league campaign by little Annan Athletic. The following season Rangers proved to be equally unathletic against Forfar in the League Cup. Rangers, being officially a diddy team now, qualified for another trophy opportunity. They went all the way to the final of the Ramsdens Cup last season and many thought that Ally McCoist, who’d been displaying worrying signs of an aversion to cups, was about to claim his first as a manager. Your correspondent had not seen Rangers in the raw for a while and was stunned at how bad they were in stumbling to defeat by Raith. The names of the cups kept getting quainter, Rangers kept getting booted out of them in humiliating fashion. The Petrofac Training Cup, like the Ramsdens, excluded the top-flight to make it easier for them – but Rangers didn’t heed the lessons of those defeats by the other Athletics and lost for the first time ever to Alloa in the semi-finals, despite the Wasps having nine regulars missing.
The biggest shock about Sunday was how unshocking the 2-1 defeat was. Rangers in their current state had lost cup-ties against so-called smaller teams before, they’d lost at Ibrox before, they’d lost to Raith before. Was Gordon Brown present? Maybe the former Prime Minister, who’d witnessed his beloved Rovers’ triumph in the Ramsdens, was so confident about this one that, like Greig McDonald, he decided to give it a miss.
Still, it was a grim outcome, and in the context of what was said and done in Rangers’ name in the lead-up, it has a gloomy aspect all of its own. “Another massive game” Kenny Miller had called it. This was right after Rangers had lost to Celtic in the League Cup semi-finals the previous weekend. The striker spoke honestly and well. As few as three regulars in the side could get away with saying they were happy with their form, he said. The Raith tie offered the perfect opportunity for the rest to get the finger out.
That didn’t do the trick and neither did Mike Ashley’s bussed-in re-enforcements. Then there was Richard Gough’s judgment about this being the worst Rangers team in history. Unhelpful? Retired legends have a habit of saying such things. They’re like any old men who like to moan about how things aren’t as good as in their day. But any amateur psychologist – and football is full of them – will explain free of charge how this stuff can be turned to positive effect. In time-honoured fashion, did no one think of pinning his remark to the dressing-room wall?
Only 11,422 bothered to turn up, suggesting many already agreed with Goughie. But it’s difficult to say Rangers have plunged to a new low when with them you never know what kind of horribleness might be lurking round the next corner. At the start of the bend this Friday it’s Hibernian in the Championship, a game they simply cannot afford to lose, although we’ve said that before. Kenny Miller says failure to get promotion would be a “disaster”. The only consolation would be another shot at the Scottish Cup from the lower reaches, but do East Fife look worried about their record?
Ainslie Park banishes the ghosts of pitches past
Normally I’m at Ainslie Park half a dozen times a week. My son is a Spartans boy, while the girls have their own activities at the leisure centre next door. But, even though I know the place well, seeing it packed for the Scottish Cup, with the tiny six-row stand and the modest banking full of cheerleading kids, their mums, the committed, the curious and those who always come out and support local endeavour on the north side of Edinburgh, was a big thrill.
Gordon Strachan is Spartans’ patron. It wasn’t so long ago that the wee man was a wee boy, on an excuse for grass not far from Ainslie Park, skipping over dog poo and around broken glass to hone his deedle-dawdle. I know this because Irvine Welsh, always on the losing side in these kickabouts, told me. Now there are state-of-the-art pitches and a go-ahead football team of which to be proud. Their impressive manager, Dougie Samuel, dared to dream about an away quarter-final at Hibs and, if they can get through their replay, that’s where they’re bound.