Rangers 1 Kilmarnock 0 (5th May 2018)
The original plan for this weekend was to watch Reading in Cardiff, which would have been a new ground for me. Reading’s 0-4 home capitulation to Ipswich last weekend, however, saw me seek an alternative, and the chance of two games in two days in Scotland, saw the plan change.
The two games, both at good grounds, started with a trip to Ibrox Park on the Saturday. Having been to Glasgow before, I’d been on the lookout for something to do before the game. A science park, including the 127 metre high Glasgow Tower, just a 10 minute walk north of Ibrox seemed to fit the pill perfectly. Sadly it turned out that it was shut for maintenance, and the whole park felt rather bleak and empty. It turns out that problems with the tower have meant that it’s spent more time closed than open since being built in 2001.
Bleak and empty would also be a fair description of the area around Ibrox. A few isolated blocks of housing sit among light industry. It’s the sort of place you can imagine being thronging with life in the 1960s, before Glasgow got hit by industrial decline.
Walking to the ground a scruffy man of indeterminable age approached me and asked for the curiously precise amount of 65p to allow him to buy a ticket for the game. Even though he was quite clearly going to spend his 65p windfall on Class A drugs, I handed him some change from my coat pocket for approximately that amount. He might be a druggie, but he was at least a polite druggie, and he thanked me and walked on, before asking for the same 65p sum from the next person walking down the road.
Ibrox definitely provides colour to the area, and that colour is staunchly red, white and blue. It’s hard to know quite what to make of it. I suppose I ought to feel pleased about the unabashed support of the institution of the United Kingdom, but it does feel like a little bit of Northern Ireland transplanted into Glasgow. It’s easy to see how one man’s pride could easily be viewed as another man’s antagonism. Inside the Rangers supporters’ bar directly opposite the Ibrox Subway station though, all seemed relaxed, and like any other bar full of football fans. It’s not as if they’d be stringing up and burning effigies of the pope in there, so I’m not sure why it was a pleasant surprise.
If Reading’s 0-4 defeat the previous Saturday had annoyed the fans, it probably didn’t compare to how Rangers fans felt the previous weekend. Not only had they lost 0-5, they’d lost 0-5 to their bitter rivals, Celtic, and it was a result that allowed Celtic to clinch their 7th consecutive title for good measure, so not the best weekend.
Ex-Reading captain Graeme Murty had been caretaker manager up to that point, but that result, coupled with a 0-4 defeat to Celtic just a few weeks earlier had made him, to quote a term once used by Glasgow favourite Billy Connolly “about as popular as a fart in a spacesuit”, and he’d unsurprisingly been sacked afterwards.
His replacement, to big fanfare, is ex-Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard, being backed to bring the glory days back to Ibrox, after an extended period of famine. He wasn’t at the Kilmarnock game, and if he had been, he might have been looking at his contract to see if it contained a cooling-off period.
He might be being hailed as some as the man who can lead them from the wilderness, but Rangers were really, really poor. In the words of Terry Jones in Life of Brian, “There’s a mess alright, but no messiah”, and I can only hope Gerrard like a challenge.
I did get the sense that this display was even worse than usual, although the very large number of empty seats in this supposed near sell-out hinted at very poor performances not being rare. One irate guy behind was continually incensed by the lack of skill on display – “Ye cannae kick with both feet? Call yersel a professional fitballer? Get tae f***!”
There didn’t seem to be any obvious tactics or game plan to Rangers’ play. It was slow-paced to the point of being ponderous, with them playing like the were a goal up with five minutes to space, wasting time, rather than hunting for the opening goal.
The first goal really ought to have gone to Kilmarnock, with them forcing a save from the Rangers keeper, than having three players, unmarked, chase the rebound. Somehow the keeper got across to block what looked an inevitable goal, and the away side would rarely come as close again.
That in itself was odd, as for the first half they looked at least the equal of Rangers, which made their second half decision to play more defensively, an odd one. Maybe they thought the Rangers team, and fans, would get so frustrated, they’d be bound to make mistakes at the back. It was a gamble that looked like paying off, if getting a point at trouble-strewn Rangers would be an achievement.
Rangers had had a few half-chances, a header the clipped the top of the crossbar, and a couple of decent long shots, but little gilt-edged.
With five minutes left though Rangers got the breakthrough that their 2nd half dominance, if not general play, deserved. A set piece on the left saw a deep cross swung in, where centre-back David Bates nodded in at the far post, greeted by a far bigger roar than you’d normally expect from a poor end-of-season game.
It also sparked the crowd into life, after being strangely subdued throughout. It was the sort of roar that made you want to come back when the good times return. Quite how long a wait that will be, remains to be seen.