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A personal journey through the lower leagues – Seasons 2012-13 and 2013-14

Rangers fans – based on what I’ve heard and read – have very mixed feelings and views about the “journey”.  A recovery through the lower leagues that opened with a scrappy last minute equaliser in Peterhead and came to a conclusion with a conceded last minute equaliser at St. Mirren Park.

By the time of the latter equaliser– thankfully -it was a clear that a particular milestone had been reached.  The passing through the lower divisions may have reached its conclusion a few weeks earlier, but that passage has been bumpy and fraught.  A delay of 12 months some might feel, but I am tempted to think of it as better to arrive late than to arrive ugly.

This personal account of the journey is more of a rollercoaster ride for me.  From the “close the eyes, let’s just get through this” to the almost despairing “I can’t take much more of this” to the exhilaration of “wow did we just do that”.  All of those emotions featured in my own rollercoaster ride through the lower tiers.

My personal journey features many fewer games than other Bears.  Many more of you travelled further and endured it more. My cap is doffed in your direction a million times over.  You truly follow follow.
This rollercoaster ride has allowed me to meet and talk to some very fine people, who all happen to support the football team that to me, my Dad and thousands of other Bears, have always been and will always be the Rangers.  We are back and we are going for 55.  The Stratosphere awaits for our next journey.
Season 2012-13: The Black Hole

The Black Hole was a rollercoaster at Alton Towers until about 2005.  Believe or not it operated briefly as “New Black Hole”, even “Black Hole II” before reverting to the original Black Hole from around 1989 until its eventual demise.  Throughout these changes it was still the same Black Hole. Never a particularly exciting rollercoaster, but it clearly experienced its ups and down.

That sums up for me Season 1 under the Green regime.  A big black hole which has still to fully give up its secrets.

5 January 2013 – Rangers 1 – 1 Elgin

My first viewing of Lewis McLeod.  A pleasant first half goal that should have been the catalyst for a few more before and after the spectacle of watching the Elgin City officials participate in the Loving Cup Ceremony on the big screens. A second half of the increasingly familiar huffing and puffing that ended with an equaliser through the alarmingly inevitable slack defending and Neil Alexander fumble.

12 January 2013 – Rangers 4 – 2 Berwick Rangers

Another Ibrox trip.  Andy Little scores a hat-trick, but not before the wee Gers made a fist of it by clawing things backs to 3-2.  Jittery is the only word for it.  And Sandaza.  The only Rangers striker I can recall capable of a standing ovation for a mazy run towards goal and not actually appearing to touch the ball.  Fran didn’t have the best of times as a Ger, but I do recall fondly his effort and capacity to intrigue in this game at least.  Within a few months he would be gone down another Charles Green black hole, but he did manage to resurface somewhere in deepest Romania.

7 April 2013 – Queens Park 1 – 4 Rangers

April brought a family trip to the national stadium and a chance to see the new Champions.  Milestone 1 had been completed the previous week where a nil nil away to Montrose had proved enough. Yes a nil nil away to Montrose.  Some decent goals were scored that day at Hampden and we all wondered if this was that start of something for the young Kane Hemmings.  Hindsight would show it was – just not at Rangers.

April brought the departure of Charles Green CEO and he probably wishes he had disappeared down his own Black Hole.

The first season of the journey was entirely about survival.  A W 25 D 8 L 3 record won us this league by a 24 point margin, but none of us were fooled.  That’s how bad we were.

Season 2013-14 we pleaded to ourselves would be about the football.

Season 2013-14: The Nemesis

More than 50 million people have apparently ridden the Nemesis rollercoaster – another Alton Towers favourite.  For every Nemesis rider there are 10 Rangers fans worldwide is something Charles Green would probably have claimed.

This was the season that the Board room instability and dysfunction really came to the fore and it was never going to go away.  Graham Wallace arrived in November 2013 with a fair reputation, soothing words of business speak and apparently a 120 day plan.  But all that was trumped by the nemises of rumour, doubt, lies, 7am Stock Market announcements and onerous contracts.

Wallace’s review did at least manage to put a number to the Black Hole.  £70 million or so.

13 July 2013 Bristol City 0 – 1 Rangers

The great joy of journeys is really to be found in the people you meet and the friends you make.  And a pre-season friendly in Bristol offered scorching sunshine and the company of 2,500 travelling Bears. This is one I remember well and reminded me of the lengths that fellow Bears will go to follow follow the Rangers.  Peter and the rest of you I saluted you this day and it wasn’t to be the last time I would.

The game itself didn’t really tell us much about McCoist’s clutch of new recruits but we were sent home happy and sunburnt as probably the only ever victors of the Blackthorn Cup.  Bilel Mohsni was a trialist this day and somehow persuaded most of us he was worth a punt.

10th August 2013 Rangers 4 – 1 Brechin City

The big experienced wheels were already off the 2013-14 battle bus by the week before my first league game of this season.  Restricted by the soon to be over SFA imposed transfer ban, Forfar rather too comfortably put paid to our participation in the League Cup before the league season kick off.  In 2011, the 3rd of August had heralded a fateful Champions League exit in 2011 at the hands of Malmo.  In 2013, it was Forfar and big Marv dishing out a different kind of pain.
Holidays north of the border did, however, allow that unease to be put aside as we opened up against Brechin City.  The start was electrifying with an early opener from Chris Hegarty as we all surfed on the emotion of William “Sandy” Pullar Jardine raising the league flag. We probably all know someone who didn’t make it to the end of this Journey.  Sandy didn’t know all of us, but we knew Sandy as one of us.  Sandy in Royal Blue. God bless.

29th October 2013 Stenhousemuir 0 – 1 Rangers

Thanks to a fellow Bear with the finest Royal Blue Axminster carpet I’ve ever walked on, I secured two tickets for this Ramsden’s semi final match at Ochilview.  Myself and my lad joined a few thousand bears.  On a bitterly cold evening we enjoyed the terracing banter, but little else. Semi-finals aren’t meant to be like this I thought, especially a winning one.

15th February 2014 Ayr United 0 – 2 Rangers

I wouldn’t say Somerset Park features on my bucket list.  But I’m glad I made it to this match.  It’s a venue I remember as a kid – possibly the Ally McLeod effect – and it reeked of a bygone age. Cammy Bell made some great first half saves in front of us and two early second half goals got us through this one comfortably in the end.  The half time curry and chips were pretty decent as well.

12th April 2014 Rangers 1 – 3 Dundee United

A week before this Cup semi final I had opined that McCoist was our worst ever manager.  I had given up my Ramsden Cup Final ticket to a young Bear from Dundee.  John, all I can say again is sorry.  The extra time goal by the clever John Baird after some defensive ping pong between Foster and Jig was as inevitable as it was depressing.
But hope springs eternal and a home match against McNamara’s bright young commissions in the Scottish Cup semi was too good to miss.  Their Chairman Thompson sat sucking his dummy in the Broomloan while the rest of Ibrox almost rocked like the good old days.  At first I found myself in the midst of the re-located Union Bears in the Copland. So for all of 30 seconds I too was a Union Bear on this journey.

In fairness the United youngsters were sharper than us, but we competed and I insisted through a hoarse larynx at half time to those around me that we would could still do it.  But a Simonsen howler put paid to that hope.  I will remember this as Peralta’s (RIP) best game for us.

This was perhaps the only time during the journey I felt genuine post match anger.  It was our most high profile match since those 2012 days and heading out of Ibrox a thin line of Scotland’s once finest separated the departing Bears from the opposing fans as they headed to their buses.  Yes, there was the banter and some goading from both sides but the atmosphere touched on being ugly.  Mostly handbags from some in gladrags hindsight would tell me later, but also an undercurrent of angry mob rule from a few draped in tangerine and itching for a fight.  They had won for goodness sake!
I felt a sneering intolerance directed at people – my people – simply for the team they support. Shortly afterwards and somewhat calmer I shook hands with some of the more rational folk departing on the Dundee bound buses and wished them well.   But I was still pleased when it was their cup final opponents who prevailed to win their first Scottish Cup.

Season 2013-14 was bitter sweet to say the least.  We played out the league season unbeaten but most of us knew the reality.  Things can only get better we no doubt whispered in our heads.  But the only thing that seemed to be true on this rollercoaster ride is that what starts to go up comes back down with a bang.  Onward to season 2014-15 we journeyed…

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