Craig Angus is a die-hard St Johnstone fan, who took the offer of a ticket for Ibrox on Tuesday night for their first home game of the season. His ticket, incidentally, was in the away enclosure with the East Fife supporters. Here are his thoughts on it all.
Strangely enough this was my first trip to Ibrox. In my youth, my Dad used to take me to all sorts of St Johnstone games – we’d drive to Motherwell, to Dundee, to Livingston – even Celtic Park – but never to Ibrox. As a native Aberdonian, I think his perception of Rangers fans was a negative one , having witnessed first hand the brutal hooliganism which characterised Aberdeen/Rangers matches in the early 1980s, a time when Rangers’ ICF (Inter City Firm) and Aberdeen’s ASC (Aberdeen Soccer Casuals) used to kick lumps out of each other, and kick the lumps out of unassuming football fans as well.
But on a beautiful Glasgow evening, I found myself at Ibrox Stadium, home of the Rangers who are now the biggest name in the Scottish Football League Divison Three – and yes, it still feels strange typing that sentence.
Back in 2007, Daniel Cousin, DaMarcus Beasley and Lee McCulloch all scored as Rangers beat Lyon 3-0 at the Stade Gerland – a truly remarkable result. They lost the reverse fixture by the same scoreline – in a game where Jean Claude Darcheville contrived to miss an open goal from 4 yards time with the score delicately poised at 1-0 and consequently dropped down into the old UEFA cup, but this was a remarkable season for Rangers. They held Barcelona to a 0-0 draw at Ibrox (and could have won with a bit of luck) and reached the final of the UEFA cup after eliminating Panathinaikos, Werder Bremen, Sporting Lisbon, and Fiorentina, before being outclassed by Zenit in the final, in a match overshadowed by crowd trouble in Manchester.
After taking in the Nou Camp, the Dragao and Old Trafford, Rangers Newco played their first ever competitive match at, ahem, Glebe Park in Brechin, which in a roundabout way brings me to why I’m at Ibrox tonight. This is the first home fixture for Rangers Newco, history in the making. The opponents? East Fife.
My first impression of Ibrox Stadium is that it’s a special football arena, one of the most impressive I’ve been in. The Bill Struth Main Stand stands 3 tiers high and hovers right over the pitch; I imagine the views from the top are fantastic – well, as spectacular as a bird’s eye view of Lee McCulloch bullying his way past some part-timers from Methil can get. When fan classics such as ‘Follow Follow’ and ‘The Famous Glasgow Rangers’ come bursting from the tannoy, the crowd get fired up and get behind their team – a real cacophony of togetherness that you can’t deny.
The celebratory atmosphere is palpable, and complimented by the sign behind the goals, which read in bold lettering: ‘Rangers Then, Rangers Now, Rangers Forever’ – a message hammered home by Rangers legend Sandy Jardine, addressing the fans before they begin their new life, entertaining guests such as East Stirlingshire, Annan Athletic and Elgin City at their majestic home. A crowd of around 40 000 for a game against a quintessential diddy team (and I mean this in the best way, their fans are a great laugh) is an encouraging start for ‘the Rangers’, and it’s a support that will need to stay strong if Rangers are to rocket back up to the, erm, heady heights of the SPL in a financially prudent manner.
I admire their determination, and their love – for want of a better word – of their club. I even admire the rapturous response the fans’ give the announcer at the close of the match: “Demand for season tickets have been so high, that we’ve extended the deadline back another week”. In other words, “we havenae really sold as many as we wanted to, so gonnae gee us more of your cash?”
Essentially, this is what Rangers needed to kick off their new life. Whether you’re a part of the crowd or if you find the atmosphere and chants of “We are the People” at Ibrox intimidating, this is a group that won’t walk away.
Stronger tests are to come, none more so than trying to maintain gates of 40,000 every second Saturday for what could become glorified training exercises. Furthermore, I question the logic in signing players like Francesco Sandaza and Kevin Kyle – the former on a reported £7000 a week, and the latter looking like he’d been party to a few too many ‘half-time pie rushes’, judging by his torso. It’s highly unlikely that these players will make or break Rangers’ season, and as a fan of Scottish football I’d much prefer to see some Murray Park youngsters get their chance to lead the line and become legends. Perhaps though, David Murray’s infamous ‘tenner for a fiver’ mantra has rooted itself deeply in the youth system, and all those Tore Andre Flo’s have had a negative impact on the quality at Murray Park.
They’ve got the fans, this cannot be questioned. Whether their current business model is more sustainable than their last however is yet to be seen.