Before a ball had been kicked in anger in Scottish football’s 2012-13 season, Scotland’s journalistic geniuses had already pretty much written off the game. The top and bottom divisions need not have even bothered to start. They were decided beforehand. Celtic would win the SPL. Rangers FC would win Division 3.
It was foregone. It was a done deal.
As contemptuous of the game as those predictions were, there was another one being voiced, one even more nonsensical, but a revealing one. Some journalists – and yes, Hugh Keevins, I name and shame you above others – actually said Rangers FC would win every game. That was on the radio. He actually put this gem in print, in the papers.
“Rangers are facing glorified Junior teams in the third division. They will go through the entire programme without losing a match and wont need to resort to strong-arm tactics. Ally McCoist has a side who are miles better than the teams they will meet.”
Now, with that prediction and several like it, well and truly in the bin, with it shown up as the idiotic ranting of a man who would have hung up his pen a decade ago had he possessed a shred of self-awareness, the media is now engaged in a feeding frenzy over what some are terming “the most embarrassing result in Rangers history.”
Stirling’s 1-0 win over Rangers FC at the weekend was not half as embarrassing as the idea the club only had to turn up to claim the three points.
What is embarrassing is that anyone would dare say such a thing. A Third Division team playing in a Third Division game has beaten another Third Division team. And this qualifies as embarrassing how?
Because the beaten team is Rangers?
It is embarrassing because these people, these so-called pundits, these self-styled “experts” have failed to grasp a simple truth. Rangers – presuming you accept that the club which exists today is a continuation of the one which played in the SPL – isn’t what it used to be. This is a club bereft of top class players, a club which has been gutted and routed, and taken off the financial steroids which were critical to its lofty position in the last decade. You may or may not think this is a new club, but it is a weak one, with a squad of kids and mainly free transfers. It has a £6 million wage bill, which puts it at about the level of an English League 1 team, but quality is not measured in those terms.
The form at Ibrox is generally good, if you’re ignoring being knocked out of the Ramsden’s Cup, with the Motherwell result a particular highlight, but the away form has been uniformly dreadful, with the only real surprise being that a defeat took so long to come. Forres Mechanics were close enough to pulling off what would have been a genuine shock result that Rangers fans I know were visibly shaken at how bad the performance was. Berwick had a goal chopped off late, which would have won them 3 points.
We have a media in Scotland which is very good at talking the game down. They’ve practiced it for years. But when a Third Division match can generate such a firestorm, with one side plunged into crisis by the mere act of losing, then things are worse than I knew. The collapse of Rangers is almost total, aside from the crowds still turning up, and a lot of people seem not to have grasped that fact. Theirs is not, as some have ludicrously claimed, an SPL quality squad. It is nowhere near that level yet, as the results bare out. Years of sucking up to the various Lords of Ibrox have made our press incapable of adjusting to the new reality in which our game exists.
The real embarrassment is in their craving for a return to “normality.” Listening to Clyde yesterday was a surreal experience, as the panel’s exasperation grew the longer the game went on. Two minutes after the second half kicked off they were talking about an equaliser as if it was a mere formality, not something to be earned but something to which Rangers was entitled, something which was inevitable. Which part of the rules of football have they failed to grasp? In who’s football manual is it written that because a side has more fans, and a bigger stadium, and a greater infrastructure, that it simply shows up and wins games? What kind of journalists are these?
The world as they know it has changed, but they are determined not to notice. For all their predictions of Armageddon, for all the carnage they foresaw, they don’t seem to have grasped the very real damage which has been done to one club.
Those Rangers fans not wallowing in the nonsense that this is all a big adventure will be genuinely concerned at a lack of forward progress, especially from the manager. Some, although not all, have a grip on how serious the situation facing their club is, and were not going to fall into the trap of complacency others did. The disregard many in the media, and in their support, have demonstrated for the clubs with which they are berthed is part of the problem, and that needs addressed within Ibrox itself. Their path back to the top flight was never going to be as flawless as some thought.
The level of contempt in which lower league football in Scotland is held is terrible. Most of our clubs are part-time, that much is true, but the casual disrespect on Clyde at the weekend was unbelievable, and was a new low point in the media’s relationship with the fans of many of our clubs. You’d think these people would have learned something from a summer in which the fans, and then the clubs themselves, ignored their demands and their predictions of doom and resisted their will. Not in my living memory have I seen such a complete rejection of the media’s views on an issue. To move on from that, they needed to look inward, and realise they had a credibility issue. Instead people like Traynor simply poured on the scorn for the only people who matter.
Rangers FC is a club struggling to adapt, not to Third Division football but to a Third Division mindset. Acting as if they are still an SPL club might seem, to some, to be a positive, but in fact it’s an exercise in denying reality. The media appears content to go along with that denial, pretending nothing’s really changed.
Pride comes before a fall. With the ego and arrogance swirling around certain sections of the media, and at Rangers FC itself, a result like this was always going to hurt badly. An adjustment of the mindset, an acknowledgment of the true situation, would have gone a long way towards making it a more palatable experience.
Reality has a habit of breaking down the door. Saturday was their first league defeat of the season. If Keevins can make rash predictions, try this for size;
It won’t be the last.
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