A BURNING orb, so welcome in a Glasgow sky, provided the light. The broadcasters sent the cameras. The two teams, however, failed to supply the action. The drama at Ibrox on Saturday was restricted to the daily speculation about where the club and its players are heading.
A limited answer to the prospects of Rangers may, just may be provided when the SPL clubs meet at Hampden today. One indication as to the future of the players seems to rest on whose interpretation of their contract status prevails. It is surely inevitable, however, that a goalless draw with Motherwell may be the last appearance for several of the players in light blue. Dorin Goian, who left the field prematurely with a knee injury, gamely insisted he wants to see out the two years remaining on his contract with the club.
Noting with admirable understatement that it had been a "difficult" season for Rangers, he said of the employment prospects of his team-mates: "We do not know what is going to happen. Maybe they will go, maybe they will stay. "
Asked if a demotion to division three would change his mind about his place of work, he said: "Let's be positive and not think of these things."
He said he had not spoken to his colleagues about life beyond this season, adding: "Every individual will know better themselves what they have to do."
Goian has been impressed by Ally McCoist, the manager who has been faced by an unprecedented crisis. "He's a big coach and a big man," he said.
He believed administration had fatally compromised the bid for the Clydesdale Bank Premier League title. "Celtic won the championship by a big margin this season, but I'm confident it will be much closer next year," he said. "If we didn't have the problems we've faced this year, we could have won the championship."
He admitted, though, that the prospect of a team disintegrating was more than a possibility. "It would be a big disappointment if this team breaks up over the summer. A club like this doesn't deserve to break up, because it's more than a football club," he said.
The composition of Rangers will, however, change dramatically over the summer. The sanctions against the club by the SFA are subject to an appeal, the orders of the SPL have still to be issued and the pressing question of who owns the club has still to be answered. This all prevents any thoughts of recruitment and increases the likelihood that players will depart. Rangers face an extended period of turbulence and there are several players who are at a stage of their career where they have better, more lucrative opportunities elsewhere.
Speculation has been mostly centred on those who chipped in up to £20,000 a week each to keep the club going. Certainly Allan McGregor, Steven Whittaker, Steven Naismith and Steven Davies will be prime targets.
But there are others who will be wooed. It is taken as some sort of article of faith that the young players are immune to blandishments but Rhys McCabe and Jamie Ness have already provided convincing credentials of a future in the game. These have been scrutinised with some satisfaction in England.
Motherwell, too, face some tough negotiations and hard thinking over the next few weeks. The securing of a spot in the Champions League qualifying rounds has not blinded their board to the need for a secure budget.
The contract of Tim Clancy, one of the best performers in an enterprising though ultimately blunt performance at Ibrox by the Fir Park side, is up at the end of this month and he added that a "fair few" of the side were in the same position. Champions League football may be an enticing prospect, but footballers are properly concerned with matters closer to the wallet. The match on Saturday was poor in terms of entertainment and slight on incident, but it was impossible not to appreciate that Clancy, Shaun Hutchinson, Jamie Murphy and Henrik Ojamaa could all find employment elsewhere.
The elegiac nature of the occasion, with almost certainly overstated claims that this was the last SPL match at Ibrox, obscured a worrying reality. The lap of honour by Rangers' players was made in front of an emptying stadium because many fans did not appreciate the players would re-emerge from the tunnel after the whistle. However, there were some hard statistics revealed.
The Motherwell travelling support mustered a few hundred for a team that has captured an extraordinary prize. There were gaps, too, in the Rangers support. The official attendance for a match played on a bright Saturday and billed in hyperbolic terms was 45,962. The first Saturday match at Ibrox after Rangers entered administration, against Kilmarnock, was watched by 50,268. The next Saturday fixture, against Hearts, attracted 47,276. In April, 46,998 watched the game against St Mirren. The slide is gentle but marked. Departing players can be replaced, even if it is by those of an inferior standard. The recent history of Scottish football strongly suggests, however, that once fans leave they rarely make a comeback.