FORMER Rangers striker returns to Ibrox hoping that income from cup clash will boost East Fife, discovers Paul Forsyth
WITHIN minutes of the draw being made, Ally McCoist was on the phone, chuckling at how it had all worked out. Then it was Ian Durrant, sending him a text that cannot be repeated. Gordon Durie will be among friends when he shows up at Ibrox on Tuesday night as the manager of East Fife.
Durie, who supported Rangers as a boy, gave seven years of his playing career to them at a time when they dominated Scottish football. His highlight was the match at Tannadice in 1997 when they secured a ninth consecutive league championship. The year before that, he scored a hat-trick in the Scottish Cup final against Hearts.
Like many others from that era, he has kept in touch with his old club, returning to Ibrox frequently, but he could never have imagined the circumstances under which he will make his latest visit. His East Fife team will be there for a Scottish Communities League Cup first-round tie. Only the country’s lower-division clubs are obliged to participate in so early a stage of the competition.
“I’m looking forward to it,” says Durie. “I’ve been back at Ibrox a few times, done the hospitality stuff, a few benefit games. I was there a few months ago when they played AC Milan. They had 40,000 there ... for a charity game. It just shows you the enormity of Rangers still. It will be my first visit to Ibrox as a manager, but really, it’s not about me. It’s about the players and the club.”
Durie’s players find themselves in a faintly ludicrous position. Unlike the relaunched Rangers, who have been forced to start again in the Third Division, the East Fife lads, from the tier above, were among the seeded teams in the draw. On paper, they are the favourites to go through, although their manager can be excused for not seeing it that way.
“I watched Rangers last week against Brechin and they had about seven internationals starting. Ian Black came in and the two young boys that started were very impressive. They’ve signed [Dean] Shiels, and they’re looking at [Craig] Beattie as well. I know it sounds strange when they’re playing in the Third Division, but all their players are either top internationals or top SPL players. It’s going to be very difficult for anyone playing them this season.”
As for his club, it is a jackpot, bigger even than that which awaits Rangers’ Third Division opponents. East Fife have drawn one of the two biggest clubs in Scotland, at a point in the competition when they should have been hosting Annan Athletic or East Stirlingshire. Better still, it is at Ibrox, and they will be entitled to nearly 50 per cent of the gate receipts.
East Fife stand to make a small fortune from the postponed tie, which was originally scheduled to be held yesterday. “I don’t think the crowd will be as big as it would have been at the weekend, but it will still be decent,” says Durie. “It’s Rangers’ first home game of the newco era. It will be a first opportunity for the fans to have a look at the players the club have brought in. Financially, I couldn’t put a figure on what it will be worth to East Fife, but I know it will set us up nicely for the next few years.”
Durie is hoping that it will enable him to bring a higher standard of player to Bayview in the weeks ahead. It has been a difficult summer, hanging around in the transfer market, waiting to find out which of the country’s full-time footballers will be forced by the Rangers crisis to go semi-professional, but the visit to Ibrox will strengthen Durie’s hand.
Which is not to say that he is revelling in Rangers’ decline. Durie is reluctant to be drawn on whether he thinks his former club deserve to be on the bottom rung of Scotland’s football ladder, but he is keen to stress his sympathy for the supporters – and for McCoist in particular. “People talk about the pressure of being a manager, but when you look at what he has had to deal with in his first year ... I don’t think anyone can imagine what he has been through. He has come out of it all with great credit.”
Durie’s introduction to management hasn’t been quite so stressful. Less than two years ago, his only experience of coaching was with the youth teams at Rangers and Dunfermline Athletic, but, in 2010, he accepted an invitation to become John Robertson’s assistant. The thinking was that Durie – already a regular at Bayview, watching his son, Scott, who had been released by Rangers – knew the club, and its players, inside out.
Then, when Robertson left in March of this year, Durie was asked to step up. There had been no grand plan to make it in the dugout, but suddenly, at the age of 46, a job had fallen into his lap. “I intended to stay in the game in some capacity, but being a manager wasn’t really top of the list. I spoke to a few people, and they said: ‘Why not give it a go? If it works, great. If it doesn’t, there’s nothing lost.’”
Durie gave it a go, partly because he wanted to have no regrets, and partly for sentimental reasons. East Fife was where it all began for the striker, a Paisley-born lad, brought up in Inverkeithing, who signed schoolboy forms for the club when he was 13. By 16, he was scoring on his home debut against Forfar Athletic.
Long before Durie played for them, East Fife were a force in Scottish football, three times winners of the competition in which they will play this week. In 1973, when they were in the old First Division, they won 1-0 at Ibrox. On Tuesday night, they will face a different kind of Rangers, but a victory would be no less historic.