Rangers' Australia withdrawal can help heal fans rift - but still leaves a hole
"Rangers can confirm the Club will not be participating in the Sydney Super Cup in November 2022. After it became clear the tournament organisers were unwilling to fulfil their commitments to Rangers, we have, with immediate effect, terminated the Club’s agreement with the organisers.”
At 44 words it was a succinct statement ending a highly controversial excursion before it had begun – but one that has come at a cost and not just through missing millions of potential income from the glamour ties on the other side of the world.
The volume of the outcry and the potential follow-on was greater than the ‘sizeable benefits’ James Bisgrove believed the trip would make. If commitments to the club were not being fulfilled either, then the decision was obvious. In that respect, this is the correct outcome for Rangers regardless of how much cash the tournament would have created.
There will be other ways to generate revenue, but after being accused of putting ‘money before morals’ by one fans’ banner this is the first step in healing the rift that has developed between the Ibrox board and the disenfranchised element of the Rangers support over this most controversial issue – the Old Firm Down Under.
Breaking new ground is always a risk, and it was a bold decision to move the Glasgow rivalry – taking it far outwith their supporters reach – and it backfired quickly. Whether it was the perception the trip helped facilitate Ange Postecoglou’s headline ‘homecoming’, ‘taming’ one of the world’s fiercest football rivalries into a ‘friendly’, working in tandem with said rivals or a combination of them all – it didn’t go down well.
If there are ‘sizeable benefits’ to be generated by the episode it is in fan engagement. It was avoidable, a straw poll or focus group would have come to the same conclusion given the scale of the outcry. Rangers’ decision, with suggestions commitments were unfulfilled, draws a line under their involvement in the tournament but in retreating from their misstep there will be an expectation that the fans will also step-back from their various forms of protests – the banners, songs and disruption – and return to backing the team in the manner they did before this all began on March 2.
The withdrawal might begin to repair the rift, but it also leaves a hole.
There shouldn’t be further scenes as witnessed in Dundee, but there will be a lasting effect on the pitch. How does Giovanni van Bronckhorst fill the month-long sabbatical while the World Cup is in play? Rangers now have a gap in the calendar to keep the first-team ticking over next December – no mean feat given recent form struggles returning from winter breaks.
That is an issue for the Rangers football department to address. The immediate focus back on the real deal Old Firm fixture this weekend will be a welcome one, without risk of distraction or further disruption for directors, fans or staff.
After an unsettled month off the pitch, a huge one is now in store on it.
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