It has been the mother-in-law of all seasons. Far from pretty and just seems to go on and on. Thankfully, in many respects at least, the curtain will come down after Jig lifts the SFL3 trophy mid-Saturday afternoon.
Ibrox will be packed to the rafters on Saturday. It will be a fitting end to a turbulent season. It’s difficult to believe that Brechin City away was barely nine months ago. Our stadium is incredibly important to us. It is the focal point for the club, and fans' affinity with the ground cannot be overplayed. It’s where we flock to in times of celebration, times of crisis and for reflection and remembrance. And don’t even mention the deeds.
On the park our home form really has been a season of two half's. 2012 was pretty damn good. I have never been happier to get in to a game than I was to see us play East Fife in the League Cup. Relief to be back inside Ibrox was palpable and the attendance remarkable. There were other decent cup wins against Falkirk, a special one against Motherwell and a Scottish Cup mauling for Alloa, which should hopefully set the tone for SFL2. The less said about ICT and Halloween the better. The Horror Show headlines wrote themselves.
SFL3-wise, 2012 was what we might have expected. Teams maybe took the lead more often than we would wish, but 5-1 v East Stirlingshire, 5-1 v Elgin and 4-1, with a sublime goal from Lewis Macleod, v Montrose set the tone. Not so many goals after that but to be fair to a much-maligned defence they went five home league games in a row keeping a clean sheet across October, November and December; plus Alloa and Elgin, mad raver and all. The 2012 home record in SFL3 was - played 8, won 8, for 26, against 3.
Difficult to argue with much of that and for sell-out crowds and atmosphere, the opening home league game vs East Stirlingshire, Armed Forces Day vs Peterhead and the record-breaking derby v Queen’s Park were particularly special occasions.
What a contrast it has been into 2013. The home results have been dreadful. You would struggle to find as bad a half season at home in the league in the last 20 years. The record has been; played 9, won 4, drawn 3, lost 2, for 17, against 9.
That record should cause much consternation and embarrassment amongst our players and management. Lessons must be learned because for a multi-million pound squad in a virtually part-time league that is way below expectations. Totally unacceptable. Some humility as we move into SFL2 would not go amiss. The solution however will not be to make wholesale changes to the squad. We can’t afford it and it doesn’t tackle the problem.
We lost a later equaliser to Elgin, didn’t learn our lesson and lost another late one to Montrose. Worse was to come in defeat to Annan, a desperate 0-0 v Stirling and defeat to Peterhead albeit with the league won. It has raised many questions about certain players’ commitment, overall motivation and tactics.
Frankly it has been abysmal and attendances have fallen off significantly since Annan. For the fans, the sense of occasion had pretty much gone and it was genuinely a hard slog – a total reality check on the current position of the club.
And yet the fans too could have done more. Yes we have turned up in astonishing numbers, but at times we could have backed the team better from the off. I will make a notable exception of BF1 (and BF2!) who have been immense all season long. Win lose or draw these guys and girls have backed the team to the hilt – let that be a lesson to us all. And if anything, it’s made the rest of the ground a bit lazy on atmosphere. It shouldn’t just be mostly confined to one corner of the ground. When we all back the team, they have a better chance of winning. It’s a pretty simple equation.
I’ll give you two examples. Motherwell is the obvious one. Only 30k in the ground and from before kick-off it was the most awesome noise. It drove our players too. The scenes when the goals went in. Brilliant. Secondly, the midweek game v Annan before Christmas. Wallace was wrongly sent off by the 12-year-old referee and a penalty awarded to Annan with us 1-0 up. There was proper needle about the game and hostile crowd. Neil Alexander saves the penalty, gives it the fist pumps and the crowd go mental. We get the second goal not long after and go on to win. More of that please.
It’s interesting that Union Bears have been beating the drum for us all to get up for the game on Saturday. Reading between the lines, they are saying: "We’d love it if you all joined in." I am sure we all will. While we shouldn’t forget the lessons to take out of this season, Saturday is a time for celebration.
The one thing that continually sends the mentalists over the edge is that we are still here at all. So bring your banners, streamers, atmosphere and have a ball. And let’s do it more often. May the 4th be with you.