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Grudge match attendance will still not mask fans' resentment

Right, so everything is in place for "the grudge match" this lunchtime.

When Dundee United face Rangers in today's Scottish Cup fifth round tie a peculiar mix of humour, resentment and anger is set to fuel the atmosphere at Tannadice. The Rangers support have organised a boycott of the match, with some of them still simmering over the last 12 months of liquidation and banishment to the third division at their club.

"Dundee United were one of the 'vicious four' – them, Celtic, Aberdeen and Hibs – who were openly against us," Ross Blyth, of the Rangers Supporters Assembly, told me yesterday. "That's why this boycott is happening."

On Tayside, meanwhile, among the Dundee United fans there appears to be a mixture of mirth and head-scratching at what is going on.

"The whole thing has been very strange," said Steven Hughes, chairman of the Arab Trust, the Dundee United Supporters Trust. "Gradually, over a period of time, Dundee United appear to have gone to the top of Rangers' naughty list. I think our fans find this whole episode either funny or sad or just a bit embarrassing."

The Rangers fans, with the club's official backing, have urged a stay-away today, though between 300 and 400 Rangers supporters have decided to buy a ticket. Even this scenario has involved a lot of cat-and-mouse.

When Rangers CEO Charles Green, sensing another opportunity to win the mood of his club's fans, gave his official backing to the boycott, United responded by reducing the ticket price to £15, and set aside the usual area of Tannadice to any visiting supporters who wished to come. A few hundred Rangers fans have taken them up on their offer, including some full-time students, who can actually get into this match for a fiver.

The Dundee United official website has been urging home fans to "Beat The Boycott" and throughout yesterday United were still selling reduced-priced tickets, which makes the upshot of this "boycott" all a bit strange.

In fact, a 10,000 crowd at Tannadice this afternoon, which appears on the cards, will be about the norm for such a fixture between these two clubs in recent years. For example, a crowd of 9464 watched these two teams at the same venue for an SPL game last March, while 10,156 took in their SPL game at Tannadice in September, 2011. So, while some point-scoring has been done by both sides, not a lot will look that different in terms of the size of the crowd come today's kick-off.

One aspect, however, will be glaring: the much reduced Rangers travelling support. The Rangers fans' resentment remains clear: of all the SPL clubs who have stood and watched the Ibrox club's recent woes, they are in a severe huff with Dundee United and Stephen Thompson.

Some regard this as a peculiar take on events. Others believe that Thompson led the charge to have 'newco' Rangers barred from the SPL.

"The Rangers fans have been waiting for these cup draws to come round, to see who we would get," said Blyth.

"When we drew Dundee United, a boycott was inevitable. Stephen Thompson had a lot to say about us last year, so for many fans it is all guns blazing for this tie. Having said that, it seems a few hundred Rangers fans will be there.

"That doesn't surprise me. You'll always get fans who want to be at the games, even when asked not to. Dundee is a relatively easy place to get to, and a lot of our fans live in the area.

"Dundee United have tried to be sneaky about it. Okay, they've lowered the price, but they could have lowered it even more to increase the number of their own fans going, and also not sold to visiting fans. United have tried to stir the pot."

For Blyth himself, there is a personal hurt at missing out on the match.

"I won't be going, and it breaks my heart not to be there. I've not missed any Rangers game for decades: competitive, friendly, summer tours, winter tours. But there has been such strong feeling about this, so needs must. Missing a game had to happen sometime – through illness or whatever – so this is it."

Security and policing for the match have been put in place, but not, according to United, beyond their usual practice for an Old Firm visit, which is time-tested and pretty thorough. Some believe, because of its backdrop, that trouble is brewing at this cup tie, while others think the match will pass with scarcely a whimper.

Hughes says his fellow United fans remain perplexed by the whole Rangers attitude, not least that of Charles Green. "We've found the whole thing a bit strange," he says. "I mean, a boycott? A club chairman [Green] actually coming out and asking his own fans not to go and follow their team? I've never seen that in over 30 years of watching football.

"We know the Rangers fans are hacked-off at what has happened to them, and maybe their beef is with Stephen Thompson rather than my club, I don't know. But, whatever has happened in the past, our view is, why not let bygones be bygones? Let's move forward, not look back."

All said and done, it seems that both Rangers and United are set to lose out financially, due to United's lower ticket-pricing, though Hughes believes that, if today's attendance prediction proves accurate, the game should have a pretty good atmosphere.

"It looks like there might be around 10,000 at the game, which is what United would get for a European tie," he said. "It would be pretty decent. In fact, this game reminds me of a European tie at Tannadice, in the sense of a small travelling support and a fairly decent home support.

"It seems like the actual crowd won't be massively different in size from a normal visit by Rangers. At recent matches, for whatever reason, Rangers haven't filled their normal allocation of seats at Tannadice. I'm expecting the atmosphere to be good, we're looking forward to it."

And if there is a replay at Ibrox? Then what?

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