WITH only 430 present to watch their opening day defeat to Queen’s Park, East Stirling posted one of the lowest crowds in Britain last Saturday.
Today John Coughlin’s side will try to adjust to performing in front of what could possibly stand as the second largest football audience in the land.
Welcome to the surreal landscape of Scottish football, a distorted terrain that, even a few weeks into the season, will still take some time to start to feel familiar. Rangers host East Stirling in an Irn Bru Third Divison game this afternoon.
The bare facts alone still seem difficult enough to comprehend. But what of the expected crowd? There is talk of upwards of 45,000 people attending Rangers’ first home match in the lowest tier in Scottish senior football. Startling enough is the number of season ticket sales after an initially slow uptake. Just under 33,000 fans have answered the call, which means numbers are inching towards the 36,000 season-ticket holders who watched from the stands as the club imploded last season. It isn’t quite the scenario anticipated. Many had expected a drop in numbers to around pre-Graeme Souness levels in the early-to-mid 1980s, when the Ibrox players regularly played against a backdrop of coloured seats.
“It’s absolutely staggering the amount of support,” said McCoist yesterday. “I knew the queues for public sale of season tickets and the East Stirling match had been phenomenal. We’ve sold well over 7,000 season tickets since Monday.”
Apart from the result in last weekend’s barely deserved 2-2 draw with Peterhead, McCoist seems to be enjoying these lower league adventures. The old sparkle was back yesterday as he cast a rather withering glance back at the only partial success of last weekend’s campaign to fill grounds in the Scottish Premier League.
“There was a lot of the talk in the media last week about Sell-out Saturday,” said McCoist. “Well, I’m hopeful we can give you a proper Sell-out Saturday on this occasion.”
This feat would be a particularly notable one on a weekend when the English Premier League comes rumbling over the horizon again, ready to parade its multi-million pound attractions. “For us to get a crowd well over 40,000 – and heading towards a sell-out – gives an indication of the support for the team and the club,” said McCoist. “It’s been monumental. We could even have the second biggest crowd in Britain.
“Newcastle United [against Tottenham Hotspur] might be bigger, but I think Arsenal [v Sunderland] is the only one that will definitely be bigger. I might be stirring it up a bit, but we’ll probably have a bigger crowd than the combined attendances in the SPL on the same day.”
This seems entirely probable, although the Dundee clubs cannot do much more than sell-out their derby clash at Tannadice Park tomorrow afternoon. Rangers fans certainly look ready to give the club another chance and might even be warming to chief executive Charles Green, whose modus operandi may remain unclear but who is saying the right things and signing the right people.
McCoist won’t be apologising for a signing policy which has been likened to using a sledge-hammer to crack a nut. He understands where the critics are coming from. However, he stresses that his only responsibility is to the fans who have a right to be entertained after forking out out for a season of Third Division football. Then there is the matter of cup competitions, in which Rangers will yearn to make some points against SPL opposition.
“The columnists are saying do they really need to spend that kind of money to get out of SFL3? It’s a fair enough question but it’s bums on seats. We have 33,000 season tickets and I want a team that’s good enough to compete if we get drawn away at Tannadice in the cup.”
There is a clump of trialists currently training with the club. McCoist is hopeful of agreeing a deal with French defender Sebastien Faure and Francesco Celeste, a left-sided midfielder who once played for Boca Juniors in his homeland of Argentina. Brazilian centre-half Emilson Cribari, meanwhile, has received international clearance and could make his debut today.
Despite the buzz generated by the season ticket sales, McCoist is braced for further departures. He has until 31 August to bring others in, and then he must work with what he has for a year.
“I said to a few of the lads that I understand their situation but I have asked that if they want to go that they go as soon as possible,” he said of those still unsure whether to commit themselves to a season in the lowest tier in Scottish football.
“I would be loath to lose four players on the final day of the transfer window. I’ve thanked the guys who have come back and I think that says a lot about them. I understand if they have options to move but I’d prefer that to happen sooner than later.”
He confirmed that Maurice Edu has made it clear he is ready to move on. He is not included in today’s squad having only just arrived back from the United States’ historic midweek win in Mexico. “I read Ipswich are in for him but I’ve not spoken to Charles [Green] about that,” he said.