03 April 2013

A Tale of Two Titles

by Andy McKellar | Deputy Editor

On 24th May 2008 Rangers Football Club celebrated a 3-2 Scottish Cup Final victory over First Division side Queen of the South which signalled a triumphant end to a season surrounded by drama, emotion and perhaps an element of disappointment amidst our considerable achievements. Walter Smith guided his fatigued squad to the UEFA Cup Final in Manchester, took the league championship to the last day of the season & claimed the remaining two domestic trophies on offer. The heartbreak felt and lessons learned that campaign laid the foundations for the years of success which followed although, as we all know, our domination at the summit of Scottish football was to come crashing to an abrupt end a few years later.

The Rangers story, as unthinkable and unique as it may seem, does however share a number of uncanny similarities with the recent history of Queen of the South. Their supporters too have had to endure difficult and testing times as a result of reckless financial mismanagement and, to their credit, they rallied behind their team despite relegation and are now embarking on their rebuilding project to take them back to where they want to be. 

The Scottish Cup run of 2007-08 was a remarkable achievement for the Club. In fact, it was the first time in their history that they had reached the Final of the competition. Better still this meant that they were playing Rangers, an understandably huge attraction, and I’m sure the chairman and fellow board members were jumping for joy at the thought of their coffers swelling as a direct result. 

Fast-forward to season 2010-11 and Queen of the South found themselves in financial turmoil having over-extended themselves in their quest for promotion to the SPL. The money from their Cup Final had long since disappeared and it was soon becoming apparent that their cost-structure was totally unsustainable and increasingly dangerous. You will note the undeniable similarities with the circumstances at our own club and the Doonhamers too were staring worriedly into the abyss. 

The supporters rallied behind their club in its hour of need and a successful share issue was completed as the bleak reality of the situation became all too apparent. There were also numerous fundraising events as cash was continually found to aid their cause. The biggest threat to the immediate future of the Palmerston-based side however was a tax bill of almost £100k but thankfully for the fans this was to be covered by board of directors. It really was all hands to the pump. 

The financial statements for the year ended 31 May 2011 indicated that a significant loss in the region of £260,000 had been incurred and, as a result, David Rae stood down as chairman and was replaced by Billy Hewitson, a local businessman. The reaction was immediate and costs were cut by approximately £300k, resulting in a return to profitability for the first time in a number of years. Unfortunately however this came at the cost of relegation which saw the team drop down into the Second Division of the Scottish Football League. It was certainly a testing time for everyone at the club. 

Queen of the South’s relegation of course coincided with Rangers’ demotion to the Third Division. Both teams had a considerable rebuilding job on their hands, albeit at different levels of severity, and it has been interesting and intriguing to contrast the performances and achievements of both sides this term. 

As most of you will be aware the Doonhamers were the first club in Britain to win their league as they clinched the Second Division in considerable style with a thumping 6-0 win away to Brechin City last week. Queen of the South have won 26 of their 31 matches, losing only once, and having scored an average of 2.6 goals per game. The statistics are as impressive as the performances of the team and Allan Johnston deserves enormous credit for the job he’s done there this season. 

The present situation at Rangers however is not currently surrounded by the same optimism and positivity despite recently clinching the Third Division title courtesy of Elgin City’s win over Queens Park at Hampden. Many supporters have become disillusioned with the turgid, dire football and the team’s inexplicable inability to exert any level of dominance over our part-time opponents. The dwindling attendances in recent home matches are certainly reflective of the overall mood but there still appears to be a bizarre acceptance from some fans and indeed the current management team. 

There were undoubtedly unprecedented issues created from the chaos and madness in the summer however the repercussions from the lack of preparation should only have been witnessed in the short-term. Rangers have the second-largest wage budget in the country, train at the best facilities and play in front of huge crowds at Ibrox every other week. We have managed to attract a number of quality players despite our fourth-tier status and I’m afraid the excuses are becoming as tiresome as they are groundless. 

To put things into perspective, Queen of the South’s entire turnover, their total income, is less than our manager and his assistants’ salaries. One of our players alone brings in more money than their entire club. The financial disparity couldn’t be more startling but yet somehow they have managed to win their league, one tier above ours, in comfort and style, while we have toiled and produced performances which are gradually driving fans away. Let’s not also forget that they came to Ibrox and knocked us out of the Ramsdens Cup earlier this season. 

Teams of course inevitably raise their game against Rangers, there is no doubt about that. Although I’d suggest that our resources, facilities, infrastructure and support should more than nullify such a defence for our dross displays this season. Queen of the South have shown just what can be achieved on a tight budget, something that we should certainly admire given our circumstances, and it is that efficiency and consistency that we should be striving for next season. 

The supporters are growing weary of lethargic, lifeless performances. There are too many in the squad content with simply going through the motions and at Rangers that should never really be acceptable. The fans rallied behind the Club this season and provided a solid foundation for the rebuilding project that is currently underway. Their patience however is being thoroughly tested and I don’t suspect attendances will remain quite so high for quite so long if the same performances are served up next season. 

Our manager believes he has the solution. Ally insists that we are in “desperate need of bodies” if we are going to win the Second Division and claims that he needs ten players or more to enhance his current squad. To me that sounds utterly ridiculous, especially when you factor in the points and comparisons made above, and in my opinion it would simply be papering over the cracks which are becoming increasingly unavoidable.

This summer could prove to be particularly important as our rebuild progresses. Unfortunately however we seem to be receiving rather mixed messages from our chief executive and our manager. Green has stated that a wage cap will be implemented to ensure the club is run prudently and sustainably. He plans to trim the wage bill down to approximately £5million this coming season but that does seem to strongly conflict with Ally’s desire to see a whole new team moved into Murray Park this summer. It doesn’t seem likely that both men’s objectives can be met and so somebody will likely be left badly disappointed. My money certainly won’t be placed on it being Charles Green. 

The problems at Rangers are far more fundamental. The players don’t seem to be getting coached properly and don’t appear to be training hard enough. Our supposed full-time fitness has never really been on display this season and we appear far less prepared and far more disorganised than our opponents who only train a couple of times each week. There can be no excuses for getting the basics so badly wrong. In fact it’s a sad indictment of just how far our standards have fallen at Rangers. I can only hope it’s rectified sooner rather than later, for the benefit of the club and its supporters. 

The reality is that we don’t need to bring in a host of new players to win next year’s title, as Queen of the South have clearly and impressively displayed. We do however have to get more out of our current crop of players and make a few minor tweaks in personnel where required. If our manager doesn’t believe he can do that then perhaps it would be best for him to step down and welcome in somebody who is capable. 

Earlier this week Andy Little, one of the few players I’d consider exempt from criticism, posted a picture of a notice hanging at Murray Park : 

It rather seems to have been missed by the majority of our squad and management team though. Perhaps we need to stick it somewhere more prominent … like right above the dart board.

Special thanks to Colin Paterson (@Colin_Paterson_), a journalist at the Airdrie & Coatbridge advertiser and loyal supporter of Queen of the South, for providing some much-needed insight into the recent history, goings on and current successes at Palmerston.