ALASTAIR JOHNSTON, the former chairman at Ibrox, has branded the size of the crowd at Rangers' Petrofac Training Cup win over Hibernian as a "warning sign" that will be ignored by the current members of the board.
Johnston insists it is too early to make predictions about attendances despite the fact only 18,318 people, including a sizeable away support, paid to see Ally McCoist's side carve out a 2-1 win after extra time in their first home game of the new season.
However, he sees a clear need for the SPFL Championship club to pay closer attention to their fanbase as they push ahead with plans to plug funding gaps with another share issue destined to be worth far less than the £10m they had hoped for.
Rangers, understood to have sold fewer than 20,000 season tickets, informed the Stock Exchange yesterday that they are looking for institutional investors to underwrite a "possible equity issue" worth no more than £4m.
Yet Johnston believes chief executive Graham Wallace and his directors will remain inflexible over how they conduct their business, no matter how bad gate receipts at Ibrox may become.
"I am always wary to make predictions about summer when you see one swallow fly," said Johnston. "The match with Hibs was an early-season game and holidays last longer nowadays. This is also a competition that is secondary. Supporters are more careful with their money and I think there might have been a need to draw breath after a lot of gratuitous spending on the Commonwealth Games.
"I would say that Sunday's match against Hearts will be a true barometer of where the fans are. Having said all that, there is no question a large part of the fanbase does want to send a message. The 18,000 [at the Hibs match] is a warning sign that those who can influence the short-term destiny of Rangers need to be very aware of.
"In a short period of time, there will be an indicator for the rest of the season and there is no doubt messages will be sent. Those who should be listening ought to be listening. I actually don't think they will. I think they have a model they are going to pursue and that suits their agenda. They will probably have some token actions to appease the fans, but I think they are set in their ways in how they are going to run the club and are going to bank on the 140 years of loyalty shown by Rangers fans."
Craig Houston of the Sons of Struth supporters' group has advocated a policy of fans paying on a game-by-game basis rather than providing a lump sum for
a season ticket until cast-iron guarantees are given over the futures of Murray Park and Ibrox.
"I have been talking to a number of fans, my own father included, whose point of view is 'not a penny more' until the regime has gone," said Houston. "We get a lot of our feedback online, but the internet community of Rangers supporters is a small percentage of those who turn up at games. That 'not a penny more' element is a real unknown.
"That silent majority just might not turn up, so it is all up in the air.
I was shocked by the crowd against Hibs. If Rangers had been playing a League 2 side, I would have expected the crowd they got, but Hibs are seen as one of the teams that have not been particularly nice to Rangers in recent years and I thought that would have spurred more people on to get out and support the side against them.
"Sunday will be a more accurate barometer of what the attendances will be because the 20,000-or-so season-ticket holders will be there.
"Crowds are likely to go south from the Hearts game onwards."
Houston agrees with Johnston's assessment of the board.
"A normal board would be having a crisis meeting right now to talk about how they can appease the fans," Houston added. "We have learned over the past two years that this board is not normal. I am not convinced the board will even be bothered by the crowd at the Hibs game. They will probably
put their heads in the sand."