Last week I said my goodbyes to my club. I hope I was premature.
Last weekend, there was a game in the Scottish Premier League that unfolded like lamentably many others. It was drab, dull, lifeless, void of nearly any creative flair, and an obvious goalless draw from about 10 minutes in. However, Rangers’ 0-0 draw with Motherwell at home was like no other 0-0 game, or any other game for that matter, in the history of Rangers Football Club. It was potentially the last game ever played by Rangers at their Govan home.
The dark cloud of administration has been hanging over Ibrox for nearly three months now, with the distant threat of a downpour leading to liquidation present throughout. Now that preferred bidder Bill Miller has withdrawn his £11.2million offer for the stricken giants, that downpour is about to descend. Miller’s bid still stood during the Motherwell game, but the fans generally set themselves against the American’s potential takeover and voiced their concerns about the eventuality of a ‘newco’ company that Miller’s proposed bid would lead to. Rangers have one of the richest histories in world football, and count the most domestic league titles (54) as one of their many proud records. Even the least tangible prospect of losing this illustrious 140-year history is sickening to the Rangers fans, myself included. If you believe the truck tycoon’s PR staff, it was the fans’ own displays of discontent at his potential buyout that led him to withdraw his bid. I find it difficult to believe that a few banners and a couple of chants caused Miller to change his mind on his takeover, but I found the whole venomous response to Bill Miller embarrassing and wholly unnecessary. Granted, the concept of ‘once bitten, twice stung’ as regards dodgy owners will strike particularly true with Rangers fans, but this was the only man both interested and capable of keeping the club alive. He deserved more respect than he was shown at the game on Saturday, and the vile bombardment of email abuse directed at Miller makes me cringe.
The game itself was, as alluded to, pretty boring. Henrik Ojamaa and Chris Humphrey posed the only potential threats for the Steelmen, and Sone Aluko provided rare entertainment for the home fans with his occasionally sublime running off of target man Lee McCulloch. Rangers’ 3-5-1-1 formation that had worked so well in previous games proved fruitless against Motherwell, with the 60th minute change to 4-3-3 leading to a considerably better period from the home side. Neither set of fans were particularly disappointed with either performance or result; it was a meaningless game in a football sense and a draw was the fair result. Motherwell’s travelling support came equipped with lilos, beach balls, sunglasses and big summer hats to mock Rangers: Motherwell, finishing third in the league, will take the SPL’s second Champions League slot at the expense of Rangers next season. The message bounced around the ground; “We’re in Europe and you’re not.” This didn’t rile the Rangers fans, nor did it offend them. There tends to be a soft spot for Motherwell in the Rangers ranks at this moment in time, due equally to their dignified and respectful attitude to Rangers’ administration woes and the Rangers past of their hugely promising young manager, Stuart McCall. Friendly banter was observed in due course. Rangers fans had their own subject of celebration: the club itself.
The emotion was clear from the second you stepped off of the Glasgow Subway onto Copland Road. Camaraderie soaked with fear. The nature of this fear was never made vocally explicit, but it was implicit to all assembled. The marvellous rosettes, sold to continue to raise funds for the Rangers Fans Fighting Fund, emblazoned with “Rangers Till I Die” summed the atmosphere up. Nobody could handle watching this club die.
The game was marketed as a day for the fans by the club, as they retired the number 12 jersey in honour of the fans proving themselves to be ‘the 12th man’ during the administration period. The round of applause that greeted the announcement saying as much was for the club as well as the fans. Those 20 seconds of frantic clapping epitomised the feeling of all being in this together. My personal favourite moment, and something that will stay with me for all my days whatever course this rollercoaster takes in the coming weeks, was in the 88th minute when every single fan took to their feet and bellowed our anthem “Follow Follow.” Unashamedly I sang the words in a breaking voice. The gravity of the moment, the significance of the song, was not wasted on me. Nobody wanted it to be so, nor do they want it now, but coupled with the heart-wrenching outpouring of love for the club was a goodbye. If the worst should come and Rangers liquidate completely, we got a chance to say farewell to the club that has meant so much so many.
After the full-time whistle and a retreat to the dressing room for supplies, the entire squad ventured out on a lap of honour, waving to fans and throwing kits into the stands. Whether the club dies or is saved at the 11th hour, this was the genuine goodbye for several players. Downsizing is essential for Rangers’ future, so assets such as Steven Davis and Allan McGregor will undoubtedly be sold to preserve the continued history of the club. The instant that truly winded me was when Ally McCoist, current Rangers manager, ex-Rangers player and eternal Rangers legend, broke down in front of our stand whilst giving us the thumbs up. The eventual surrender of emotional control of a man who has proven an immovable pillar of strength for the fans throughout this dejected period underlined the farewells that were potentially going on. From watching him score against Leeds in the Battle of Britain as a child to seeing him replace Walter Smith as manager, Mr McCoist has done a hell of a lot for me and indeed my fellow Rangers fans. Not least amongst this is leading the fans through this horrible time, providing us with strength and hope.
I didn’t intend to lose the thread of this piece in the midst of an emotional rambling, but I’m going to leave it like this to drive home the emotion of the current situation. I admit far more readily than most that there are some very ugly blots in the history of Rangers, sectarianism and fan riots and such vile behaviour, but no club’s history is without stain. Regardless, no fan deserves to lose their club, be they the most successful domestic side in the world in Rangers or lowly Nuneaton Borough.
As I write this, dozens of threads are appearing on the Rangers message board I frequent raving about the latest developments in this horrible saga. Four new bids have surfaced; administrators have held productive talks with three bidders; some of these bids will likely work; one of the consortiums is headed by former Rangers boss Graeme Souness. After every false dawn that has presented itself recently, I trust my peers will forgive some of us of wariness and trepidation against flinging ourselves headfirst into excitement. My current mentality, which I assume is shared quite widely amongst the fanbase, is one of desperate hope. Someone, somewhere, must arise and keep the club alive. For the sake of so many of us, they simply must. I won’t flirt with the “Scottish football need Rangers!” debate here, but the Rangers fans undeniably need Rangers.
Every iota of my existence is begging whatever Greater Being exists that Rangers survive. I’d love if Rangers continued to win titles and cups, but in the face of the club’s death I’ll take a meagre future in the Third Division. If Rangers die, the one thing that has any chance of consoling me will be the knowledge that I said goodbye to a key component of my whole life. It would never reach towards happiness, but I think I could grieve almost contentedly for the club when I think of that lap of honour, of my tears matching Ally McCoist’s and every other Rangers fan. Whatever happens, I’ll always Follow On.