Back in business: Rangers learn to live on the hedge
Gers fans enjoyed the trip to tiny Brechin – especially when the ball got stuck in a bush
The occasion could never escape its unconventional nature. The game itself seemed insignificant at times, with Rangers fans seeking to express their defiance in all its colour and depth regardless of events on the pitch. Perhaps the loudest cheer of the day was when Dorin Goian's clearance landed on top of the hedge that runs up one side of the Glebe Park pitch. It had to be rescued by supporters shaking the bush until the ball fell off.
Rangers' debut in the Ramsdens Cup – the lower-league knockout competition that is Scottish football's equivalent of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy – at Brechin had the potential to be an unsettling event for the Ibrox club's fans. They chose to embrace it with a sense of adventure. Midway through the first half, a fan clambered up one of the floodlights, then began to conduct the away support with his shoe.
As Rangers fans arrived in the town, they piled out of cars and buses to find that Glebe Park was tucked down a side street between rows of terraced houses. Some stopped by the sign that said: "Welcome to Brechin City", to have their photographs taken. There was a cheerful spiritedness, and they taunted the home fans by signing: "You're only here to see the Rangers."
It was the first game since Rangers were voted out of the Scottish Premier League, after the business and assets of the club were sold to a new company, Sevco Scotland, and Rangers Football Club plc moves towards liquidation. Rangers will begin their campaign in the Third Division away to Peterhead in 13 days, after 122 unbroken years in the top flight. It ought to have been considered a grave turn of events, and conditional agreement to transfer the club's SFA membership to the new owners was only made late last Friday night.
The tie was momentous, and the intent was to make the most of it. The away support – two offensive songs before kick-off apart – adopted a gleeful mood. They directed one chant at their Old Firm rivals – "F*** you Celtic, you'll never win this cup" – while for Brechin the opportunity was to make this a significant match. They sold commemorative mugs and badges, and the board of directors even went back on their decision to stop printing programmes altogether as a cost-saving measure to produce a special edition.
Rangers will always represent a financial windfall to opponents and the extent of the Scottish game's reliance on the Old Firm's money-generating potential was emphasised by the threat that other SPL clubs could go into administration if Rangers were voted out. Clubs made that decision anyway, believing that their fans will turn out in numbers again, but also that Rangers shedding millions of pounds in debt by failing to exit administration had to be punished.
There is a determination among the supporters now to earn their return to the top flight, although comments made before the game by Charles Green, the chief executive, about Rangers being in the best financial position of all Scottish clubs betrayed a lack of humility. The Ibrox support remain ambivalent, at best, towards Green, not least because he refuses to reveal who owns the club, but this game was about declaring their support for the team.
Despite several leading players departing during the summer, and the manager Ally McCoist only being able to name four instead of five substitutes, the Rangers team was still strong. The back four and the goalkeeper had all played for their countries, while Ian Black, who was Hearts' best player last season, lined up in midfield having signed on Saturday. He was technically a triallist, since his registration was not processed in time, but his arrival is an indication of Rangers' resolve. They are also likely to sign Dean Shiels, Kilmarnock's best player last season, and Craig Beattie, the former Hearts and Celtic striker. McCoist is also keen on Steve Jennings, the midfielder who left Motherwell at the end of last season.
The assumption is that Rangers will comfortably dominate opponents this season, and their opening goal was straightforward. Lee McCulloch slid the ball between Brechin's two static centre-backs to Andy Little, and he shot confidently past Michael Andrews. Only four minutes had been played, but Rangers were unable to be decisive. Goian would want to blame his sluggishness on a lack of pre-season games, but his failure to deal with a clearance was inexplicable, and it allowed Andy Jackson to equalise just before half-time.
The whole tone dampened in the second half, with the Rangers fans sheltering under their flags during a heavy downpour. Extra-time in a tie like this might once have seemed like an indignity, but McCulloch's headed winner in the first period was greeted joyfully by the away fans. "Like any cup tie, you just need to get through," McCoist said. "That was our first competitive game, and we were just pleased to get the opportunity to play."
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