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Rangers have to play the game when it comes to fixture congestion

BACK in 2012 when old Charles Green was figuring out which buttons to push to endear himself to a deeply sceptical Rangers support, so that he might clean out their wallets a few months later in a share flotation, he had no qualms about fighting dirty.

Stenhousemuir striker made some perfectly valid points on Twitter. Picture: SNS
Stenhousemuir striker made some perfectly valid points on Twitter. Picture: SNS

He'd been in Scotland for about five minutes but that didn't stop the verbal diarrhoea that led to him spouting off about bigotry, about Celtic, about the Scottish football authorities and about the world in general having it in for Rangers. Plenty saw through him and knew his game, but there were enough who bought into it and made the mistake of embracing him as some sort of champion. Perceptions changed and the shares were snapped up.

Now, as then, there is a polarised club - board in one camp, most of the supporters in another - which soon will be in need of a life-support machine being switched on again. This time the sale of season tickets will dictate whether Rangers survive financially or collapse again, possibly into another administration, because of unsustainable running costs.

A rumbling, low level mood of resistance and unrest exists among the supporters even if the outcome of last month's annual general meeting left them unsure of what to do next. Thousands don't like this board but don't know what they can do about it. There is no consensus for an organised boycott of season tickets but there are plenty of committed, ordinary fans who are just quietly fed up with the way the club has been run and are prepared to stop going next season.

If you were Sandy Easdale, or David Somers, or maybe even Graham Wallace, you might have read what Ally McCoist said about the fixture schedule at the weekend and thought "yeah, that's a good line, that'll go down well". McCoist made some pretty unlikely and strange remarks about the Scottish Professional Football League's allocation of fixtures and the fact Rangers had been made to play four times in 11 days, and three in a row away from home over the festive holidays. "Different initials but the same old story with the way our club has been treated," said McCoist. He won't welcome the comparison, but that sounded exactly like Green.

On Saturday the Stenhousemuir striker John Gemmell took to Twitter. For all its attractions and advantages, social media encourages a depressing tendency to lapse instantly into personal abuse, especially on Twitter, and Gemmell used the sort of language that would have once led to him having his mouth washed out with soap. Take away the infantile insults, though, and it was easy to agree with Gemmell's underlying point. Since when did playing four games in 11 days, all within an hour's travel, amount to an excessive or unfair demand to place upon any set of footballers?

The idea that Rangers have been "singled out" or "treated differently" simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny. A dozen other clubs have played four games in 11 days. Some have played four in 10 days. A team cannot claim to have been picked on for unfair treatment if it turns out loads of others were in exactly the same boat.

Four games in 11 days is a busy schedule, no doubt. But no more than that and the festive programme is always busy because it gives a greater number of people the chance to attend games while on holiday. Rangers have successfully requested the postponement of games this season because they had some players away on international duty, postponements which inconvenienced other clubs just as they feel inconvenienced now. McCoist wanted the game at Stenhousemuir to be played in midweek. Stenhousemuir wanted it played yesterday, as it was. Gemmell made a very good point about that in one of his tweets. Part-time players such as him and his team-mates tend to have a free diary for games at weekends. When they play midweek matches they have either to take half-days off work or else put in a full shift then rush to the ground to be ready in time. Why would they put themselves at such a massive disadvantage, and allow Rangers such an advantage, by moving their home game from a weekend to next midweek?

Rangers players have no other obligations pulling on their time, of course, hence Gemmell's sarcastic references to their massages, club-prepared healthy meals and £5000-a-week wages.

The difference in how the two sets of players are rewarded isn't an accident. The players at Ibrox are better footballers and that is reflected in their treatment, but sympathy lies with Gemmell for drawing the comparison. Rangers will never be able to paint themselves as a victim when they are the League One club which has it all.

It's easier to sympathise with the complaint about three consecutive away games but, even so, fans weren't asked to travel to the ends of the earth. All three games were in the central belt. Nor is three consecutive away games anything unusual: later this month Rangers will begin a run of three in a row at home.

What can be said for certain is that McCoist wasn't doing the board's bidding when he piped up. That isn't the way things work at Ibrox at the moment. It was his own, personal view. But a lot of people found it hard to take seriously. And Gemmell, a season-ticket holder at Ibrox, wasn't the only Rangers supporter among them.

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