Five years. It is a long, long time in football. Rangers fans know more than most just how long five years really is. It has seen the most arduous journey in the sport’s history – a top flight team banished to the lowest senior division to fend for themselves and taking 60 months to climb back through the ranks to the summit of the country’s game.
It is a pretty unprecedented scenario and it would never have happened in any other country had one of their marquee clubs ended up in such peril.
But a portion of the journey is now at an end, when Rangers were today drawn against Luxembourg’s Progres Niederkorn in the first round of the Europa League, an act which drew to a close the Ibrox giant’s overlong exile from continental competition.
A club the size of Rangers needs European football. To have been denied it so long was like a loss of oxygen, and we have starved without it. Even if ex-Ibrox trialist Ismael Bouzid’s current employers manage to mug us and knock us out, the fact is we were there, where we should be, where we belong.
Rangers and European competition have been synonymous down the years. From various European finals, including ‘72, of course, to Rangers’ stunning run in the inaugural season of the Champions League, to that incredible and historic run to the Uefa Cup final in 2008, European football and Rangers have gone hand in hand for as long as we can remember.
So to go without, jarringly, suddenly, for five years was absolutely abhorrent and a denial of a right. Indeed, it has been so long, that an entire generation of Bears have grown up not knowing Rangers in Europe at all – the very concept is alien to them.
To those of a more mature vintage, this is a return to where we belong. Naturally the Europa League is second fiddle to the Promised Land of the Champions League, but as a first step back to our rightful mantle it is sufficient.
This article may come across as arrogant, that all teams must earn what they win, what they enter, and enjoy it as a privilege. Well I say to hell with that – Rangers are, were, and always will be a European team and whether we get papped out at round one or make it to the final, we should always be there, contending.
For a full half decade to have deprived us of that is a crime. And to see us back there now is a combination of relief and justice.
Whatever happens in this season’s competition, we are back where we should be, and while appreciating that fact, let us always remember we belong here, and better.