Lee McCulloch seeks redemption against Dundee Utd
IN the past two years, Rangers have been liquidated, required to start again in the fourth tier of Scottish football and, subsequently, had a never-ending catalogue of unseemly ownership and financial issues.
Yet, what befell Ally McCoist’s side in losing the final of the Ramsdens Cup on Sunday to a Raith Rovers team with a 20th of their playing budget outdid all these calamities for club captain Lee McCulloch.
“I would say hearing the full-time whistle, it was definitely the lowest point in my career, and I’m factoring in all [that has gone before],” said the 35-year-old of seven-season standing at Ibrox as he appeared at Rangers’ unfortunately-timed season-ticket launch yesterday. “I’m only speaking on behalf of myself, but for me it doesn’t get much lower. But I don’t want to take anything away from Raith Rovers. That was just how I felt.”
McCulloch sportingly congratulated all members of the victorious Fife team before seeking to head down the Easter Road tunnel on Sunday evening, only to be then forced to reappear. “I didn’t know what I was doing. My first thought was that I needed to show a bit of respect to the team that’s won so I shook their hands, and then I think I tried to get back to the dressing room just to get away from it all, but I was told I wasn’t allowed. So I stayed somewhere, I can’t remember where. But the dressing room, as you would expect, wasn’t the best place to be.”
McCulloch is “certainly well aware” that there were “thousands” of Rangers fans that felt “let down” and that this constituency will only be lifted from their insurrectionist mood if Dundee United are beaten in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup at Ibrox on Saturday. Patience is at breaking point with McCoist, in particular. Little wonder when the club’s decision to allow him to operate with a near-£6 million wage bill that is by far the second biggest in the country, has failed to enable the Rangers manager to do other than construct a team that may have cantered to the League One title, but could not rise above lower-league status at the weekend.
“Sunday was a very sore one from the players’ point of view,” McCulloch said. “But the mood in the camp is good. We have trained hard and the focus has to be on the weekend.
“If you look at past Rangers teams who have been successful, it has been a case of how they bounce back from a setback. That is the road we have to go down. We have to try hard to forget about last Sunday. We’ve got to get on and be positive for this Dundee United game. The boys in the dressing room know the importance of this game. If anyone has read a paper or listened to the radio recently, it shows you the passion the fans have got. Personally, I love it.”
McCulloch, when asked, provided the obligatory show of loyalty for his manager. “This weekend, the players obviously owe the manager for the support he has shown us – myself in particular over the past couple of years with administration. It would be great to give him a bit back,” said the player, who offered a one-line “the club have made a statement about that” to an enquiry as to his thoughts on the picture of McCoist performing karaoke at the post-final Ibrox get-together of employees.
“Also, after the support we took to Easter Road last week, it would be great to give the fans something to shout about finally after a tough week for them. We want to produce better results than we did last week. That’s obvious. We owe it to each other as players, we owe it to the management and we owe it to the fans. Hopefully, we can get that result at the weekend that we need. We are going to need men, we are going to need leaders and what a chance we have for players to show those attributes.”
Such solidarity tends to be in short supply round Ibrox way. A cluster of supporters’ groups, The Union of Fans, have given backing for would-be investor Dave King’s plan to withhold season ticket money and instead place it in a trust to be drip-fed to the club so that the current Rangers board do not use it as a panacea for their financial woes.
Asked yesterday if he would buy a season ticket, McCulloch could only give one answer. “Yes I would. Why not? I am a Rangers fan and it is a good chance to go and watch the team progress again in what is going to be a competitive league next season.”
McCulloch also claimed he did not touch Beram Kayal in the challenge that the Celtic midfielder alleged was a purposeful attempt to injure him.
Kayal told an Israeli newspaper last week that he feels McCulloch set out to hurt him in a game in December 2011, in a clash that resulted in him suffering an ankle injury that kept him out for four months.
When asked about the comments, the Rangers captain said: “When I saw them I laughed, because I didn’t make any contact with him whatsoever. There was a picture in the press – from that angle, if I had have caught him, I think his leg would have snapped. But I’ve not even touched him. There is another picture where he has rolled his ankle himself.”
Meanwhile, McCulloch considers they will not be favourites on Saturday against a Tannadice side among the country’s leading top-flight teams, “although, with the expectation that comes with this club, we will be expected to progress”.
It is hard to fathom by whom, with Rangers supporters’ expectations of their team against full-time opponents surely reaching rock bottom along with McCulloch’s career last Sunday.