Concern for fans over performances
26 August ~ Ally McCoist's current Rangers team, like everything at the club, are either acclimatising slowly to their only season in Scotland's second tier or are about to flatline. Performances in the first five games varied. Supporters' groups pushing for boardroom influence have boycotted season ticket sales. Directors, currently organising a "Fan Board", are hawking devalued shares to cover the shortfall. Anything less than a comfortable, stock exchange-pleasing win over Queen's Park in the League Cup first round tonight could force McCoist out. But dwindling crowds are weakening the board's mandate to sack him.
Prematurely turning on the manager is one return to normality, but Rangers won't feel truly "back" until they're Scottish champions again. The SPFL Championship is the halfway point of the recovery from 2012's liquidation. Victory tonight sets up a home tie with last season's League Cup finalists, Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Rangers were Scottish Cup semi-finalists in April. With experienced strikers Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller signed this summer McCoist should be winning on all fronts. But Rangers' first three competitive games of 2014-15, against their biggest obstacles to a third successive promotion, provided a depressing litmus test.
Extra time and an extra man were required to beat Hibs at Ibrox in the SPFL Challenge Cup before losing at home to Hearts in their opening league match. These were heavyweight opponents freshly demoted from Premiership football. But the subsequent win over Falkirk – Rangers' fourth over the Bairns in two years and four competitions – came after being largely outplayed. Part-timers Clyde and Dumbarton were thumped in successive home games but there remains a general feeling the rebirth is running out of fuel just as the petrol station appears on the horizon.
McCoist embodies the difficulty in assessing anything Rangers right now. His first season was interrupted by administration and ended in liquidation; his second began with seven players turning up for training. Successive championships in his first two lower-league campaigns excused the turgid football. Fans were just relieved to have a club and grateful for his leadership through the days when it wasn't clear Rangers even existed.
Now, however, with the top flight visible and the Championship populated by famous, full-time opponents who can't "drag us down to their level", everyone expects the turbo-boosters switched on. McCoist's also becoming a symbol of times his people want to forget. Similarly, the season ticket slump – down to around 20,000 from last season's 38,000 – is partly attributable to the fact no credit or debit card company will work with Rangers. Fans can only pay by cash or through a personal finance agreement. The board required a £1.5 million loan from two directors, repayable this month, simply to complete the 2013-14 season.
Chief executive Graham Wallace, previously at Manchester City, is highly respected in the business world but works under a forensic public scrutiny inspired by his brazenly crooked predecessors. He wants to raise £13m by selling over 43 million shares in October. But right now he needs another £4m from shareholders just to keep the club running.
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley was reportedly willing to underwrite this in exchange for naming rights over Ibrox. Ownership regulations circumvented the move but fans' groups were outraged. They now fear the Murray Park training facility will be sold instead. Fourth tier, amateur Queen's Park may be everything Rangers are trying to escape but they have a far clearer grasp of the future than anyone at Ibrox. Alex Anderson