Fans, Football Culture And The Future
- 23 January 2013
Let me start this piece by saying I love Ally McCoist. I actually love him. If there was a poll taken tomorrow asking to vote for the greatest Ranger then I'm afraid John Greig would need to get used to second place because there would be only one winner.
Nor is this piece designed to be critical of Ally McCoist the football manager. I have my own views of the game (which I will share later) but the point I'm making here actually has very little to do with what is happening on the football park.
Rather, this is a piece about how we, as a support, need to show a level of maturity when it comes to discussing the footballing future of our club.
Sunday's match with Peterhead seems to have brought things to a head again. A quick glance on messageboards, Twitter and Facebook shows that the debate over our style of play continues to rage. The discussion on the bus home was much the same, are we heading in the right direction? Do we have a coherent style? Is there a longer term vision for the footballing culture at the club?
The problem we as a support face is debate is often stifled by those who take polar views, but the truth, as is often the case, is very much somewhere in the middle. And the task for the support now is to be mature enough to accept the grey areas that exist between black and white.
When it comes to footballing issues, the vast majority of fans are extremely reluctant to criticise the manager. It's an understandable point of view when you consider just what Ally McCoist has done for our club. He was our leader and figurehead when we were at our lowest point and behind the scenes he must have worked every hour God sent him to help keep our club alive. For that, he will go down in history and rightly so.
But he is not infallible, and I'm pretty sure Ally would agree. Too many people are happy to judge the man rather than the manager, but Ally himself would be the first to say ‘judge me by what happens on the pitch.’
If you dare to question what you see in front of you, you are quickly shot down, in fact you are often dismissed as being ‘not a real fan.’ It's a tired argument and one that needs to be binned if we are to move forward.
We saw it during the We Deserve Better campaign. The media were happy to twist the real meaning of WDB and many of our support were equally as happy to believe what they read. At a time when we need to show a united front I fear the same type of division is starting to resurface.
This is not a one way street. There are many who will not credit Ally whatever he does and the result is aimless arguments that actually hold us back. Petty and ill-educated digs about ‘Monster Munch’ and ‘too much laughing at training’ add nothing to the debate.
On the face of it there is very little to be critical about. We are 19 points clear in the league and in line for promotion (assuming that isn't dragged from under our feet by the authorities). Whenever I have questioned the direction of the club on the park, I've been met by a curt ‘we're top of the league, what more do you want?’ Well, quite a bit actually.
Of course we are on track to meet our pre-season aim but is that really enough? Are we still a support that looks no further than the next three points? It's an attitude that has held us back for years now. In previous years it was a never ending battle to be slightly better than Celtic, regardless of how poor a team they were at the time. Too many people had that as their ultimate ambition and underachievement at European level was largely ignored if we ended the season with bragging rights over our Glasgow rivals.
It was a view that filtered through to the club. The pressure on players to win league matches became stifling and patience in the stands was in short supply. With Celtic no longer an issue, it could have been expected that the support would change its focus, but I'm not convinced we have. It appears our ambition now is little more than being slightly better than Queen's Park (no disrespect intended to a well-run club and very decent football side).
I do want more than that. I want to see a coherent style of play. I want to see players brought in who fit a system. I want to see some indication that we are planning for the future rather than just looking to the next match.
There is much Ally has done this season that is to be commended. He has recognised the physical nature of this league and we now look a lot tougher. His handling of the youngsters has, in my opinion, been first class. Almost every week he can recognise and outline where we may have went wrong during a game even if the same issues have an annoying tendency to resurface the next week.
But I'm still not convinced there is a long-term project in the making. I still think players are being shoehorned into a system. Lewis Macleod is the pick of the pups, but has paid the price for Kyle Hutton and Ian Black being played together. The result has seen young Lewis pushed further forward making it harder for him to dictate the pace and tempo of the game. We lack width. Andy Little's two best assets are his finishing and his movement, those attributes should surely be used up front rather than on the wing.
Expressing these opinions is not disloyal. The beauty of a democracy is we have a right to air our own views. Just because I don't think Ally gets everything right doesn't mean I'm less of a supporter.
Ally is in a unique position where he actually has the time to build a football team without the usual pressures associated with the job. We are all feeling a little bit more patient. Defeats and draws don't bother me right now as much as the nature of them. If there are signs of long-term improvement then it makes those slip-ups easier to accept. The problem is the poor results are often the result of aimless and at times lazy performances.
It's still early days in our journey, so all these things I want may come to pass, but in the meantime no Rangers fan should be happy with just winning SFL3. We should expect more than that. I'm told I should be grateful because in the summer we all feared we might not have a club at all, but we do have one. That argument doesn't wash anymore. We're here and we should expect the best from our club, and I'm pretty sure Ally McCoist would agree.
So let us embrace the grey areas. Let's be grown-up enough to cast a critical eye over Ally McCoist and the players while avoiding kneejerk reactions. Let's discuss it in a civilised manner without resorting to name-calling and squabbling.
If we can do that we may yet mature as a support and the club may be able to look beyond the next league match.
Douglas Dickie has been a reporter for the Rutherglen Reformer newspaper for the past eight years. He is a season ticket holder at Ibrox and travels to away games with the Toryglen True Blues RSC.