ON ANY normal Friday prior to a match, Ally McCoist entertains a group of journalists in that welcoming, engaging manner of his. Who’s in, Ally? Who’s out? The Rangers manager always endeavours to answer everything that is put to him.
Yesterday, however, was no normal Friday. These aren’t normal times. Although the gates to Murray Park remained closed to the media yesterday, this wasn’t another attempt by Craig Whyte to stop news filtering out to the public. Rather, it was an acknowledgment that there were other, more significant issues to be dealt with.
And what, in any case, could McCoist have said yesterday? That this was just another game? That the players were focused only on Hearts, their opponents at Ibrox this afternoon, and nothing else? That three points is all that matters when the fate of so many players continues to hang in the balance?
McCoist has never been one for cliches so he would have steered clear of these stock answers in any case. But yet he also knows that such platitudes would never have done. Not at this stage. Not when, on day 17 of their Ibrox occupation, the administrators were preparing to release a statement which appeared at just before 6pm last night. This was a pre-match update like no other. Forget groin strains and hammy twinges. Here was a medical bulletin which outlined that the patient is fading fast, that some extreme steps will need to be taken in the very near future to sustain a pulse.
Who’s out Ally? This question will carry an even greater significance on Monday. It isn’t one he could have answered yesterday. It isn’t something he will have even wanted to think about. The cheeky chappie, the man whose life has so often been described as charmed, spent last night contemplating what to say in a team-talk that even Bill Struth would have felt apprehensive about delivering.
The legendary Rangers manager would certainly have expressed some dismay at the club he loved having fallen to such an extent. There is no point having a marble staircase, this symbol of status, if there are no footballers. Today McCoist must demand that his players truly play for the shirt.
The latest missive from Duff and Phelps all but confirmed that this afternoon will be the last time McCoist can turn to each player in the dressing room, and assure them they are there on merit.
After Monday, a grim factor will impinge on his selection process. Judging from the administrators’ statement, and the one which followed soon after from PFA Scotland, redundancies are now guaranteed. Next weekend, McCoist, who is reported to want no part in this particular selection process, will be sifting through the debris of what he has been left by number-crunchers.
Even today, McCoist will feel he has been compromised. Players will have an idea whether they are in line for the axe or not, and some will have genuine fears and anxieties about putting their bodies on the line for a club preparing to cut them free. The administrators delayed the decision on redundancies because Murray Park, according to one source, was like a “ghost town” last week due to the number of players on international duty. It could return to being one after Monday, as administrators attempt to start saving as much as £250,000 a week.
Clearly, when such numbers are involved, attention is drawn to the highest earners. And while sympathy for them is not be so easily summoned, we have to acknowledge their predicament. We have become used to footage of players accelerating away from Murray Park in recent days. If the tinted windows have been wound down enough it is sometimes possible to see what results from a collision of wealth and too much free time. The photograph which featured on the back page of The Scotsman yesterday spelt this out in a mosaic of tattoos and monogrammed seat initials. But high earners have high financial commitments. And we have to acknowledge that they are only being paid big wages because someone at Rangers decided they were worth an expense we now know the club could not afford. They have been stitched up as much as the fans, tax payers and other assorted creditors. And, sadly, as much as McCoist.
Next week will see another layer being stripped from Rangers’ status as a major club. When the Dundee administrators drew up a list of player redundancies on the day after the club’s first spell in administration, it was described in the local paper, the Evening Telegraph, as forming “the saddest team list in [Dundee FC’s] 110-year history”.
Rangers would once only have considered sacking players when they stepped out of line, and harmed the club’s reputation in some way. The club must accept the humiliation which comes with having to summarily axe staff as a consequence of the gross mismanagement of those in authority.
The club have also been humbled by McCoist’s apparent willingness to carry on working for free. We might not yet know about his managerial qualities, but we know about his qualities as a man. He has every right to rail against the individual who has helped deposit him in this situation, but has, to date, kept a dignified silence when asked his opinion of Whyte.
McCoist’s first opportunity to manage a club, after a five-year apprenticeship, has been wrecked within months. There were many who imagined that his promotion to succeed Walter Smith would end in tears. Yet, not like this. Not with the tears of players carting their belongings away from Murray Park, having been jettisoned by a pair of accountants.
McCoist, an emotional man, will undoubtedly shed some tears too, even if he has vowed to remain at the helm. It is the club he has always loved. If everyone cared for Rangers the way he does, they wouldn’t be in this situation.
Others, too, need to put their shoulder to the wheel. Rangers desperately need to fill the coffers, and the easiest, most effective way of doing that is by filling the stands. A few hundred tickets still remain available for today’s clash. Supporters might be advised to snap them up – for tomorrow, or certainly the day after, a part of their club is due to die, and nothing will feel the same again.