It is a lovely August evening, the grass is gleaming, and a very decent crowd is gathered.
The only problem is the opposition. And the future opposition.
East Fife are here for the opening round of the League Cup – not the stuff to have historically whetted the appetites of the self-renowned Rangers legions.
Next on the roster of opponents is Peterhead, and then it’s the big one, the opening salvo of the league campaign on home turf: East Stirlingshire at Ibrox on August 18.
Rangers are in a footballing Siberia, despatched to the Irn-Bru third division after the most acrimonious summer Scottish football has ever known.
Sir David Murray, the club’s former chairman, has called it “a tragedy”. Certainly, in their ghastliest nightmares, no Rangers supporter ever thought it would come to this.
And yet, here in the stadium tonight the mood is almost buoyant. The Rangers support has been through many a trauma – some of it self-inflicted – but the effect of the club’s recent liquidation has made many fans want to support the reborn club with even greater zeal. A crowd of 38,160 has turned up for this game and the stadium is filled with feeling.
Rangers fans certainly let their feelings be known. “Haw, big man,” one shouted at me outside the stadium (I stand 5ft 7in). “We’re still here ya bassa!”
Inside the stadium, another fan, lamenting the ongoing investigations and possible further sanctions for the club, said: “We’ve had our punishment. We’ve taken it on the chin. But how many kicks do you give a man when he’s down?”
There have been two different types of reaction to the fate of Rangers among the fanbase. First, there are those whose hearts are heavy at watching this lower-tier dross. For them, as much as they love Rangers, this punishment is a step too far (or too low).
Traditionally there has been an elitist element among the Ibrox support - summed up in the mysterious refrain “We Are The People” - for whom jousting with Ajax, Juventus or Barcelona on the European stage is their rightful place. For them, games against East Fife, East Stirling and Annan Athletic are neither what their passion, nor their club’s status, are about.
On the other hand, there is a commendable defiance among other Rangers fans, who are taking their medicine and following their club, regardless of its spectacular fall. That attitude is captured in this big crowd surrounding me here at Ibrox.
As this season wears on, many believe this loyalty might ebb amid the lower-league sojourn. But for an opening night, this Rangers audience is booming and colourful, and nothing if not impressive.
It is stretching credulity to say these supporters are “looking forward” to the wilderness years – at least, if they are, then it is truly a football first. But their defiance, first and foremost, is born of their love of their club.
Some have accused the Rangers support of a kind of bloody-minded attitude, whereby they say to the SPL: “You think you can punish us? Well, you know what…we’re going to enjoy this journey in the lower divisions.”
I recently commented to a Rangers fan that Scottish football had his wounded club pinned against a wall. As quick as a flash he retorted: “No, no…we’ve got THEM pinned to the wall.”
It sounded distinctly like the stance of the high and mighty, refusing to be cowed.
But, in truth, can you knock such determination and defiance? Football clubs are nothing without their people, and many among the Rangers support are determined to stick by the club during its imminent three years in exile.
In a dramatic turnaround of decades of attitude, many other Rangers fans feel picked-upon, and they aren’t taking it lying down. It seems that, right now, these supporters’ pride and loyalty are superseding everything else.
In fact, this large Ibrox crowd is here in part to offer a united V-sign to the Scottish football authorities who, as they see it, have unfairly sent them down.
“The Fightback Starts Here” one Ibrox banner proclaimed.
“Welcome back to Ibrox – home of Rangers, then, now and forever!” boomed the voice of Sandy Jardine, a Rangers legend, to the crowd.
The final score was Rangers 4, East Fife 0. Defiance and optimism are in the air at Ibrox. The question is, will they endure?
Read match report
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