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Destroying a Rite of Passage

I can remember the first time I went to see Rangers play at Ibrox. It was on 23rd February 1980 against Morton. Rangers won 3-1, with goals coming from Bobby Russell, Gordon Smith and John MacDonald.

My dad had taken me on one of our many trips back to Glasgow – from where we had moved from in the early 70s when my dad secured work in Invergordon – to visit my nana in Pollok.

We set out from Brockburn Road that day and made the short walk to Corkerhill Road to catch the bus that would take me to my first experience of following The Rangers. The short bus journey took us to Paisley Road West and we alighted just at the point Edmiston Drive joins the famous old road and double-backed, with some haste due to being late for kick-off at the famous old ground.

I was taken to the Copland Road front on the day, a stand that had a feel of such newness about it that you could almost smell the paint. The walls in the concourse, in my memory anyway, were gleaming almost to the point of needing sunglasses. On entry, my dad immediately went to get a pie and Bovril, but he encouraged me to head up the stairs and find a seat. Which I did.

As I climbed to the top of the stairs, I looked down on to the turf for the first time. The game had already started and the image I saw is the only one I can remember from the game: Colin Jackson, grey hair and all, striding forward with the ball from defence with the number five on his back.

And that was me. Hooked.

From that day forward I have been nothing but a committed Rangers supporter. That day spawned a love affair that has seen me visit Glasgow’s south side on a routine basis, taken me to towns and cities in Scotland I might not otherwise have bothered to go to, and even taken me south of the border and abroad.

I have been a season ticket holder, a shareholder, written for the Rangers News, written for the matchday programme and for a period I was a Rangers Pools agent.

I’ve seen countless Old Firm games and cup finals, European nights, and watched last-gasp dramatic league wins on the final day of the season. On one infamous occasion – when we beat Dunfermline 6-1 to take the title from Celtic on goals scored – the boy I sat next to left his seat with 30 minutes to go because he couldn’t handle the pressure any longer. He re-appeared to celebrate at the final whistle after having spent his time standing in the concourse listening to the crowd desperately trying not to have a heart attack!

But the journey I embarked upon on that day in 1980 has taken a decidedly sour turn in the last few years. There are few who can claim to have enjoyed being a Rangers supporter of late.

That sour turn seems to have worsened of late. The 4-0 humiliation at Easter Road was a low point in the club’s history on the grounds that nobody was really surprised at how easily the team capitulated. But other factors off the park have added to the sense of utter disillusionment surrounding the club.

The perilous state of the finances and the current board’s apparent determination to refuse any meaningful investment in favour of short-term loans – mostly from Mike Ashley – makes you question the motives of those sitting in the boardroom atop the famous Marble Staircase.

Whatever their motives, what is best for Rangers Football Club does not seem to be one of them. Instead it seems to be a case of attempting to syphon off as much of the club’s revenue streams as possible into the pockets of Mike Ashley, with the latest of these attempts appearing to be security over Ibrox Stadium and the Auchenhowie training complex.

How any Rangers fan can still support the current board and Mike Ashley is beyond me. The myth that Mike Ashley is going to “pump millions” into Rangers falls down at the first hurdle: The retail rights deal.

That deal lies heavily in favour of Ashley and Sports Direct, with recent figures showing that the club received £500,000 from the £7 million spent in retail. I’m no mathematician, but that seems to me to be the very opposite of pumping millions into the club.

Then you have supporter infighting. Social media and the forums are awash with the pro and anti-Ashley camps battering it out. The abuse, at times, is frankly disgusting. If you are in favour of Ashley, then that’s your right, but to abuse people and question their Rangers supporting credentials for expressing their frustration with how the club is being run – and it is being run into the ground – is unforgiveable.

If people want to boycott the club, then frankly I don’t blame them. If anything, I understand why they want to do it. We deserve a better club than we have at the moment. One that is run with the best intentions of the club at its core. One where every penny generated goes back into the club to make it bigger and better; whether that be by improving the squad, the stadium, the infrastructure or even, heaven forbid, making it more affordable for supporters to attend games.

Instead, we have had one gang after another asset stripping the club and leaving us relying on crisis loans and one share issue after another just to keep the lights on for a few weeks at a time. It is a shocking state of affairs for what was once the greatest sporting institution in this country – and arguably the UK.

Supporting Rangers in my teens and early 20s felt like a rite of passage. Something tangible passed down from previous generations: The cup finals, the big European nights, the Old Firm victories and the stream of endless great players we had.

When I look at what we have become, I fear what we will be passing down to future generations. Will they enjoy the great times we have experienced? Will they be in awe of players like Baxter, Cooper, Laudrup or Gascoigne? Will they, in turn, be able to pass down to future generations the similar tales that were passed down to us?

Right now, I doubt it.

Many of the club’s enemies will gladly tell you Rangers died in 2012. They are wrong. The club lives on. But it is terminally ill and some supporters who have had the blinkers on for far too long need to realise it before it is too late.