04 October 2012

From Manchester to Montrose

by Andy McKellar | CRO Deputy Editor |

Last night as I sat watching the Champions League football that was on display, I couldn't avoid being overcome by a sudden rush of romantic nostalgia. I would be lying if I said that I didn't miss its rousing theme tune and the nervous tension that would grip every Rangers supporter when we watched our team pit their wits against the best that Europe had to offer and so I’ll do my best to be open and honest.

Things at the moment couldn't be further removed from our days competing against the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United. Our match against Forres Mechanics at the weekend is certainly a fitting example of the dramatic change in our circumstances. While I have thoroughly enjoyed our early steps on the road to recovery, there is an element which cannot help but desperately long to be back in the most prestigious club competition in world football.

Five years ago this week Walter Smith took his new-look side deep into the heart of France to take on the Ligue 1 Champions, Olympique Lyonnais. Our opponents' squad was bursting with expensively assembled talent from around the world and we knew it was going to take a performance of epic proportions if we were to emerge from the game with so much as a single point.

In typical Walter-style we set up to frustrate and nullify the various attacking talents of Lyon and looked to pose our own threat on the counter-attack. If you ever wanted an example of a plan working to perfection then I recommend you get your hands on a copy of the match in the Stade Gerland.

Rangers opened the scoring against the run of play when Super Lee McCulloch bulleted a DaMarcus Beasley corner into the back of Remy Vercoutre's net, much to the disbelief of the joyous travelling support. It was a magical moment and one which I'm sure we all enjoyed but our job was far from completed at that stage.

Lyon pressed, probed and peppered McGregor's goal but were unable to find the equaliser they so desired. They were made to pay for their inability to score shortly after half-time when in-form Alan Hutton threaded a ball through to Daniel Cousin to clinically fire beyond the helpless Lyon goalkeeper to double Rangers' advantage. Wow.

Things were to get even more unbelievable a short while later when the scorer of the second goal then turned provider, sweeping a long, direct ball over the top of the static Lyon defence for Beasley to run onto. The 'keeper hesitated and the diminutive American made him pay by slotting home and sending every Bear across the globe into a state of sheer ecstasy. I can’t imagine too many people tipped a 3-0 victory for the visitors that night.

Rangers battled hard, dug deep and limited the hosts to very few opportunities. Davie Weir marshalled the defence superbly and Brahim Hemdani had undoubtedly his best game for the Club. Lyon did hit the woodwork no less than three times during the match and so I suppose there was an element of luck our eventual earning of a clean-sheet but make no mistake, we deserved to win. Smith's plan was executed to complete perfection. It was a result which sits up there with our proudest moments in European football and rightly so.

Of course back in 2012 things are a bit different at Rangers Football Club. We find ourselves banished to the fourth-tier of Scottish football and competing against part-timers and tradesmen rather than the elite footballers on the continent. Needs must, I suppose.

Our current rebuilding process will be a lengthy and testing one, something which must be done to earn our place at the top table of our national game once again. Throughout our history we have overcome difficulties and displayed the tolerance and sanity that Mr Struth claimed was required in such times and so we must do again.

There is I suppose the lingering possibility of league reconstruction that could potentially come to our rescue and shorten our stay in the apparent footballing wilderness. Given the actions of the governing bodies however and the contempt shown towards our club, I certainly won't be holding my breath on such an outcome.

tOn nights when the greatest teams in Europe go head to head in our absence it makes the destructive tenures of Messrs Murray & Whyte all the more disgustingly despicable. While I cannot say that I have missed being part of the Scottish 'Premier' League in the slightest, the inability to welcome some of the top teams in world football to the cacophony of noise that Ibrox creates is something which doesn't sit well with me. I suspect many fans will feel not too dissimilarly on this matter. 

As alluded to above we are currently on a rebuilding process which will eventually see us crowned as the Champions of Scotland once again. Our next top-flight triumph will taste all the sweeter and the trophy will shine all the brighter for the time and endeavours spent in earning it. We may perhaps have been guilty of taking our recent successes for granted, at least to some degree, but I doubt anything other than full and thorough appreciation will be afforded to any triumphs in the foreseeable future. 

The same principle will most certainly apply to our future participation in Europe. With a dwindling coefficient and rise of the so-called minnow nations of continental football, qualification cannot be taken for granted anymore and that may in fact heighten our enjoyment of such competitions. I for one certainly cannot wait to be mingling with the many elite clubs once again, even if such a possibility is not an imminent one.

It is quite scary to think that only a few short years ago we were sending our travelling army down the road to Manchester to watch our team try to win their first European trophy since that famous night in Barcelona. For now though we must refocus our attention to the task at hand and concentrate on winning the SFL Third Division. There is nothing wrong however with glancing nostalgically back at the past and gazing hopefully into the future. 

Good things after all come to those who wait...