The penultimate match of Ally McCoist's playing career took him back to Ibrox. He was among the Kilmarnock substitutes in May 2001, but his manager, Bobby Williamson, chose not to allow him one last appearance at the ground and didn't bring him on, despite the pleading of the home crowd and the Rangers manager at the time.
"But Bobby," said Dick Advocaat, turning to his counterpart on the touchline, "this is his field."
In many ways, it belongs more to McCoist now than it did when he was retiring as Rangers' all-time and League top scorer, the club's most capped player, the winner of nine League titles,and a player of such widespread popularity that he was known to the fans simply as Super Ally. In the financial crisis that has overcome Rangers, when so many of the old certainties of a club that became accustomed to triumph, affluence and esteem were abruptly dismantled, McCoist has become a symbolic figure.
In talks with the players, adminis-trators, potential buyers and the media, he has been the voice of the club's interests. His first managerial job has left him coping with a calamity, and the burden weighs more heavily on McCoist because of his emotional attachment to Rangers, which began in childhood.
He is synonymous with one of the great Ibrox eras, but it may be that his work in the midst of this turmoil, in which he has taken such a prominent leadership role, will come to be even more valued.
"There's not been an alternative route or something else I could have done," McCoist says with a shrug. "We don't have a chairman, a board of directors, a chief executive, so I've had to do a lot more than any normal manager would do in these circumstances.
"That's not a complaint, just a statement of fact. In about five or 10 years, when we're in better shape, I hope people look back and say, 'Well, he did the club some good'."
This is typical McCoist: hopeful, modest but pointed and assured. He is sitting in a small office inside the club's Murray Park training ground, two days before an Old Firm match that carries the potential to be volatile and antagonistic, but also to emphasise the sudden demise of Rangers.
It is the future of the club that is foremost in McCoist's mind, though. He is broader than in his prime, his face more rounded and ruddy, his hair greyer and thinner, but there is still an irrepressibility to McCoist, something essentially optimistic.
He has taken so much of this turmoil personally that his free time has been curtailed. He still watches his sons when they play football on a Saturday or Sunday morning, joining other fathers on the touchline, but mostly he is consumed by the task of trying to hold parts of the club together: the players, the team's competitive values, the sense of history and tradition that were once considered untouchable but have been threatened by the financial predicament that leaves the club's future still uncertain.
"You know, I had meetings early on in the week and I'm of the opinion that the welfare of the club is more important than anything," McCoist says. "That is no way undermining the importance of any game, even an Old Firm game, because I would never do that. But meeting potential purchasers is something I have to do and I am thankful to the administrators for allowing me the opportunity to do that."
McCoist was involved in negotiations between the administrators and the players that dragged long into the night. He has spent more time sitting in meetings at Ibrox than he has on the training ground, and photographs of him walking to his car wearing a grim, pensive look, or with a familiar easy smile, have become gauges of the club's status. There is an affability to him on this Friday afternoon, as he pushes a key-ring on and off his fingers and leans forward in his seat, engaged with everything that is said.
The caricature of McCoist portrays him as something of a jester, the team captain on A Question of Sport with the ready wit and the handsome charm. But a select group of individuals have seen his more vulnerable side. Among them are his former manager at Rangers, Walter Smith, who took a call from him at 4am while on holiday in the United States to talk about Rangers falling into administration and the problems McCoist was suddenly facing.
These have included on-pitch matters, because for all his impressive stewardship, doubts have been raised about his record this season: Rangers were knocked out of the Champions' League, the Europa League qualifiers, the League Cup and the Scottish Cup before administration was confirmed on 14 February. In the SPL, a 15-point lead over Celtic was also eroded before Rangers were pushed into insolvency, and Celtic will be crowned champions if they win today.
McCoist is only too aware of the problems. "It hasn't been ideal, but there's no way I would use that as an excuse," he says. "In terms of the learning curve I've maybe had six months that no manager in the country has had. That's putting a positive spin on it, but I do appreciate that not winning anything is not ideal for a club like ours.
"We should be winning trophies, and certainly challenging at the top of the League. I will not shy away from that and it is a big disappointment. Even with the circumstances."
His connection with Rangers began early, he attended his first Old Firm game aged 10, travelling by bus with two classmates to Hampden to watch the 1973 Scottish Cup final and ending up in trouble with his parents when they found out. He still socialises with his pals from that day, and when McCoist talks about facing Celtic, or the pressures of the job, it is always with these people in mind: his friends, the Rangers support, and his place among them.
"I've been delighted and proud to be put in this position," he says, looking suddenly earnest, "to have the opportunity to help in that way that I've been trying to do." McCoist admitsthat the first act of a new owner might be to install his own manager, but even that is something to be pushed aside for now. "I know my responsibilities," he says firmly.
Rangers v Celtic is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1pm
What happens next?
Rangers emerge intact
The best-case scenario for the club is that a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) is agreed with the creditors, who must accept a dividend on their debt. Rangers would then move out of administration conventionally, remaining as a member of the Scottish Premier League.
Tax man strikes back
Rangers owe Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) £15 million, and could face an additional bill of up to £50m, making the revenue the dominant creditors. HMRC could vote against the CVA as a matter of principle if Rangers are found guilty of tax evasion. The club would then be liquidated and the assets sold to a new company, say Rangers 2012, which would have to reapply for Scottish Football Association and SPL membership. A majority of SPL clubs would need to vote in favour for Rangers to be re-admitted. This would make financial sense, since the broadcast and commercial deals are based on the presence of the Old Firm, but the other 10 SPL clubs want a more equal distribution of TV revenue and a change to the voting structure that essentially allows Celtic and Rangers to veto all decisions. They will seek these amendments in return for allowing Rangers back into the top division, making the SPL more competitive.
Sent to the Third Division
If the SPL vote against Rangers' return, an additional Scottish Football League club would be invited into the top flight, leaving the second tier one club short. Rangers would apply to fill that vacancy, and start out in the bottom professional division.
Escape to England
The extreme, and most unlikely, consequence is either or both of the Old Firm clubs trying to leave Scottish football. Uefa rarely allow teams to play in domestic leagues outside their own country, but what if one of the Old Firm major shareholders say Dermot Desmond – the Irish billionaire and majority shareholder of Celtic – bought Carlisle United, geographically the closest English club to Glasgow? He could rename them Carlisle Celtic, change the strip to green-and-white hoops and invest so that the club climb up the Leagues. It would take almost a decade, but as that team rose, Carlisle could be dropped from the name and the Celtic north of the border would become a Scottish feeder club.
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