After the fulfilling experience of watching football at the Olympics and not being overly bothered who won or lost, it was back to domestic duties. East Fife’s first round draw in the Scottish Communities League Cup had seen us drawn away to the “new” Rangers. It would be my first trip to Ibrox since 1997 (when I was a mere 13 years old), when we lost 3-0 in a Scottish Cup 4th round tie.
The match was of course of huge significance to Rangers fans, it being the first home game since the “Newco” Rangers had been established. A crowd of 30,000 grew to at least 45,000 by the time the delayed kick-off came along, despite the official attendance being announced near the end as a suspiciously low 38,160.
No matter the number of fans, it was always going to be a loud, defiant evening, and that it was. The public address system pumped out song after song which the Rangers supporters shouted along to prior to the delayed kick-off. Sandy Jardine then came on to repeat the line on the Copland Road end (see picture above), and finish with a good old-fashioned “We Are the People” (I still don’t understand what this means).
What was clear from the off was that the Gers supporters either side of the rag-tag band of 600 or so East Fife supporters were spoiling for a bit of aggro. I guess with no Celtic to vent at someone has to be vented at, but it was a bit bizarre getting grief for the entirely ironic singing of “what a sh*tey home support.” I’ve never seen so many utterly bemused East Fife supporters. “You’ve got no history” and “we’ve won more cups than you” were similarly (perhaps a bit more understandably) well-received; one thing I’ve never understood about Rangers fans (particularly the die-hards), and probably never will, is the complete lack of irony in the way they support their team. As a fan of a “diddy team”, one thing our supporters do brilliantly (and have done in the 22 years I’ve been a supporter) is gallows humour. One would have expected after all they’ve been through in the summer that Rangers fans might have plenty of irony, and dare I say shame, at their disposal; twas not to be. I don’t think I could ever take football quite that seriously.
To the game, and after Michael Brown pulled off a fantastic save on 11 minutes from Andy Little’s header, things looked vaguely promising to the point that we might be able to keep Rangers out for a while. This feeling lasted for approximately 4 minutes, when Dean Shiels slipped a ball through for Lee McCulloch to side foot past Brown. After more sustained Rangers pressure, youngster Barrie McKay (who was excellent throughout – a real prospect, if he doesn’t get lazy) knocked one through the Methil defence for Shiels to dink over Brown for a second.
Right on half time, East Fife had probably their best chance of the match. A corner (our only one of the game) was spilled by Neil Alexander. The ball fell to Gareth Wardlaw, who unfortunately skied it, leaning back. 2-1 at half time would have at least been vaguely interesting; as it was, at 2-0 at the break we were rather clinging to the merest thread of hope.
That merest thread was snapped 2 minutes after the restart. A great driving run from McKay, cutting in from the right, led to a lay off to Shiels on the edge of the Fifers’ area. His shot pulled yet another decent save out of Michael Brown, but the rebound fell very kindly to Lee Wallace who made no mistake. 3-0 to Rangers. 15 minutes later it was 4, as McKay provided another assist, this time for Lee McCulloch, who again side-footed past Brown.
After that it turned into a bit of a training match for Rangers, combined with a sing-song (“You’re Only Here To See the Rangers” predictably arriving around the 70 minute mark). A Robert Sloan free kick was well saved by Neil Alexander, and there was the odd vaguely exciting foray forward from the men in Black and Gold, though it wasn’t to be. When our lot sang “Gordon Durie’s Barmy Army” for a full 15 minutes up to the final whistle, it was the Rangers fans’ turn to look bemused; presumably the notion of still cheering your team on when they’re 4 down is an alien one to the chaps and chapesses in red, white and blue.
Full time came with a victory for Rangers on their re-birth, and something of a return to normality for their supporters, no doubt. To my mind, the Fifers were not embarrassed; certainly there was no player who made continuous glaring errors or looked massively out of their depth. Michael Brown was, as ever, a stellar custodian between the posts, while Darren Smith continues to look like the class act in the midfield for us.
On the way out, I was pleasantly surprised to meet a few friendly Rangers fans, one of whom shook my hand and thanked me for coming. From a look at our forum over the last day or so it would seem the Rangers supporters were, by and large, happy to see us all there, which I guess is decent of them. I still for the life of me don’t understand what “We Are the People” means, though. This result was no doubt the start of Rangers’ long but inevitable climb back into the Scottish Premier League; one wonders, however, how many of their fans will turn up on a wet December evening against Elgin City when that time comes.
Rangers 4-0 East Fife (McCulloch x2, Shiels, Wallace)