It’s Punch and Judy season across the country, and sadly for what was one of Scotland’s most important footballing institutions once upon a day the festive spirit of playing out a farcical story has gripped Ibrox this month. The only difference is that there doesn’t appear to be any real heroes on show.
Ally McCoist has now effectively left the club after three years in charge of Rangers, a time where the side have gone from perennial title challengers alongside bitter rivals Celtic to being a club on their way back from the brink but always flirting with disaster once more. No other manager in Scottish football history has had to battle so much off-the-park drama which has undoubtedly provided a massive distraction to him and his crop of players as they have battled to regain their place at Scotland’s top table. Of course McCoist should have done better, with his sluggish efforts in the Third Division and his side’s current woes of sitting a massive 11 points and a game behind league leaders Hearts showing that his managerial prowess isn’t quite that of his mentor Walter Smith, but given the fact that his job has been much less football manager than a spokesman for the side that hasn’t had unifying voice at all, I think it’s fair to give the man some slack.
Rangers’ attempts at reconstruction have been flawed, as they have failed to learn from their mistakes and are now once again relying on “angel” investors to keep the club afloat. £70 million has been poured into the club since it’s demotion to the foot of Scottish football, a figure that will dwarf the spending of the teams in the lower three leagues combined, and still they have been far from convincing. Instead of nurturing young talent and building a team around a choice few big names, Rangers have tried to spend their way back to the top by paying huge salaries to old players who are past their best. Instead of putting in a plan for the future, where the club could slowly regain its’ status in Scottish football and perhaps even turn a profit by developing young players worthy of large transfer fees, the club has decided to live fast and try to do everything at once, again. The gamble isn’t looking as though it will pay off, and there is a real danger that they might die young.
While McCoist had to go, by the standards of any other club that was reviewing their goals and their side’s performance, it was obvious that the club were hesitant to make the call because of the costs involved. McCoist’s offer of a resignation was interesting, as instead of outright walking away – as he so famously promised not to do years ago when the club’s turmoil first began – he decided to stick the course of his contract and reap the rewards of a higher salary for it. The board have now called his bluff, by placing him on “gardening leave” for the remainder of his contract and drafting his assistant, long-term Rangers coach Kenny McDowell as his replacement until the end of the season at least – meaning that money does not have to be spent immediately on hiring a new manager. It’s a clever business decision, one of the very few that have been made in the club’s recent past, and could perhaps prove to be a stabilising influence that the playing staff will so desperately need at the moment.
The financial woes of the club have been well-documented, as the investment of Newcastle Chairman Mike Ashley have been the club’s lifeline over the last few months as they struggle against rising debts that could cripple them once more. The board’s mismanagement of the books have rightly angered the fans, who have suffered through more than football fans should ever expect to at the hands of those that should have the club’s best interests at heart. The cast of characters in this drama is almost too long to remember, with Charles Green, Craig Whyte, Dave King and co. all becoming fabled figures for their respective roles in the panto that Rangers have become.
While the Christmas pantos only have a few more weeks left to run, the Rangers one still looks as though it will have staying power. Today’s AGM showed how the fans’ distrust of the board has become absolute, and that they do not think that those in charge of their club have the faintest clue at solving the scenario. What Rangers need more than anything is a true Christmas miracle, an owner such as Ann Budge at Hearts who will come in and steward the club back to health with a good business mind and, most importantly, a deep connection with the club. As much as fans want to see Rangers competing at the top of the game in Scotland once more, I think they would understand that the club’s survival is more important – as although they were given the chance to start from the bottom last time, such an opportunity might not be granted so easily this time.
Scottish football was warned of an Armageddon after Rangers’ collapse in 2012, but as often happens with these warnings it’s not proven to be the case. The only disaster so far has been the way in which Rangers have failed to learn from their mistakes. While the Scottish football show continues, the Rangers panto does too as a tragedy.