42 Grounds: Ground 37: Ibrox Stadium

As I come towards the end of the 42 grounds, it seemed appropriate that I was visiting the home of some of the most experienced ground hoppers in the country today.

Rangers fans had the opportunity to visit almost all of the grounds in the SPFL over the last few seasons. It might have been a culture shock, and at times I’m sure it was an almost nightmarish experience, but their spells in League Two, League One and The Championship (twice) mean that there will surely be a few thousand Rangers fans able to tick a good number of grounds off their own lists.

Most readers will be aware that it was years of mismanagement finally catching up with the club which saw them entering administration, and ultimately led to liquidation in 2012. The name of the club meant a demand of success at any cost. Debts were racked up in pursuit of titles and trophies.

That might not be unusual in modern football, but it proved to be Rangers undoing, and led to them starting the 2012-13 season at the very bottom of Scottish league football.

The ‘journey’ through the lower leagues should have been glorious, as they showed the rest of Scottish football just how much Rangers were needed in the top flight. That didn’t really materialise. It became a long, unglamorous slog, while the top flight carried on as normal.

It was supposed to be simple too, and for the most part, it was. However, it came at a cost. Reports at the time showed the club worked their way through £70 million in a period of 18 months. Gretna spent big to win their consecutive promotions, but their total spend was made to look like pocket money by the outlay at Ibrox.

Friends who support Rangers lament that period as a waste of resources. A sum of money that large should have been enough to win consecutive promotions and return to the top flight ready to challenge at the top of the Premiership.

Last season under the management of Mark Warburton the club won their promotion from the Championship, at the second attempt. They played an exciting brand of football and even managed to knock rivals Celtic out of the Scottish Cup. Impressive summer signings (on paper) meant there was some cause for optimism in Govan again. Perhaps they could topple Celtic at the top, pundits said.

However, the poor performance of big name signings quickly ended that hope. The club spent a good amount of money, arguably poorly. For example, Joe Garner may come good, but few would argue he has justified his price tag yet. Joey Barton, despite all his talk, didn’t deliver on the pitch.

It speaks volumes that one of their most important players is 38 year old Kenny Miller, who was signed three seasons ago to help the club win promotion from the Championship.

Looking at the respective positions of the clubs, it would take a brave person to predict anything other than a long period of Celtic dominance to come.

Looking in as an outsider, I don’t think the solution to that can be to throw more money at the team for the sake of it, as people, who should probably know better, have suggested in the press.

The lesson of the last decade or more for every club in Scottish football has to be that it is not worth staking the survival of a club on a trophy or two. Fans will have to be patient, but the club needs to make sure it gets back on a firm financial footing before they can chase their lofty ambitions.

Part of that process is accepting mistakes have been made, and learning from them. The way forward can’t be to simply point fingers and blame outside influences, as the aforementioned people advocating a big spending approach seem to want to do. That would only lead the club down a similar path, to the benefit of nobody.

Regardless of how the club is performing on the pitch, the stadium is looking as good as ever. The red brick facade is iconic, and instantly recognisable. The large prints with club icons and legends are a nice touch, showing some of the more famous names that have played at Ibrox.

Inside the stadium there are three impressive stands surrounding the pitch. However the best is saved for the Bill Struth Main Stand behind the dugouts. With three tiers, it looks great, mixing a traditional look with sufficient room to match the modern demand for tickets.

I sat in the lower tier of the Broomloan Stand, close to the decent band of travelling Ross County fans.

After the opening minutes I was optimistic that I was going to see a good game. The sides looked like a good match, with Rangers pressing hard for an opener and County responding with fast counter attacks.

It was the away side who took the lead, when one of those counter attacks saw last years League Cup hero Alex Schalk in on goal. His neat finish was lifted perfectly over Wes Foderingham, sparking wild celebrations in the away end.

They nearly doubled their lead after some comedy defending by Rangers. Foderingham dallied on the ball before playing a short pass to Clint Hill. Schalk was unlucky not to score with the goal at his mercy.

Rangers hit back with several chances of their own, and County had a string of great saves from Scott Fox to thank for keeping them in the lead as the referee blew for half time.

Rangers had been disappointing in the first half, creating very few real chances. They relied on Kenny Miller dropping deep to try and make things happen, but that left them short further up the field. The boos on the whistle sent a message to the players that their first half display was not good enough.

The Staggies looked like a different side in the second half. Their desire to attack seemed to have gone, and they looked happy to sit back and absorb some of the inevitable pressure which came their way.

Fox again impressed with some strong saves as the home side pressed for an equaliser. They failed to create many clear cut chances, but there was an almost constant level of pressure applied throughout the second half.

The scores were levelled with around 20 minutes to play when the on loan Jon Toral slid a well weighted ball to Lee Wallace, who slotted the ball past Fox.

That brought some cheer to the home crowd, who started to think their side might have been able to score again to take an important three points, but they failed to create the goal scoring opportunity they needed.

After a difficult period, it was always unlikely that Rangers would challenge for the top flight title this season.

The weight of their name may mean an success is expected, but it might be time for the club and its fans to redefine what success will look like for the next few years.

The club needs time to strengthen, and the solution is unlikely to come from spending money for the sake of it. Rangers should, based on finances alone, finish second this season. However it looks like there is a long road ahead before they will challenge for the title again.

Rangers 1 Ross County 1

Attendance: 49428

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