Watching Aberdeen Hibs last night made Ibrox Noise realise truly how much times have actually changed.
Years ago ‘back in the day’ a fixture between any three of Hearts, Aberdeen or Hibs rarely mattered to Rangers (or Celtic) fans given both of us were usually clear alone together at the top of the table. Sure, there were moments in seasons either side had a dip, and the distance was narrower, but by and large it was plain sailing for the Old Firm and the rest of the SPL was miles off.
By actually having interest in what went on at Pittodrie, the reality of our situation became even more apparent:
We actually cared about the outcome, because, as deep into November as we are, it had a direct bearing on our position in the table. These two teams, who before were frequently victims of Rangers teams, were now peers who are matching or at times exceeding us in the league. Sure, Rangers have had some good results over Aberdeen, but it is they who always finish second in the SPL, not us – and Hibs have had the lion’s share of the spoils between both sides in recent times.
And therein lies the nub – us Rangers fans, who historically rarely agreed with each other about much anyway, are now in this surreal place of expecting the best from our team, not getting it any more, and then arguing about progress, this manager, that player, this result.
With a six+ year gap since the disaster of 2012, an entire generation of fans have grown up barely aware of a successful Rangers, and find themselves justifying what they see given it is indeed the norm for them.
Meanwhile us older Bears struggle to reconcile the piffle we’re served up today with the old masters of the past, and find ourselves trying to justify bits of it and parts of that to make ourselves feel better about 13 wins of 26.
The harsh reality is our players, even last summer’s, are not at the level they used to be. We still mostly sign players who are surplus at their current clubs – Goldson, Flanagan, Coulibaly, Ejaria, and Kent to name but five. We used to sign Arthur Numan from PSV, Daniel Cousin from Lens, DaMarcus Beasley also from PSV – now it’s youth from Liverpool and surplus from Brighton (two in a row). And we struggle now to appoint managers who fit with what we need from our boss – which, sadly, is Walter Smith.
As things stand, we are an upper midtable Scottish SPL side who fight with Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen and inexplicably now Livi for honours while Celtic beat us every time.
We’re not being defeatist – we’re being realistic. We’ve had six years of this level, and we continue to this day of arguing that we’re going in the right direction.
Our European adventures were impressive, no denying that – but Rangers teams have never measured themselves on that, it’s been on results against Celtic and the gap to second or third. European competence has always been an exciting journey (Manchester, 72, 1993, 2006) and sometimes an impressive result or two – just like it is for Celtic.
But the Leeds example continues to glare at us. Like us they experienced financial trouble, and like us have never been able to get back to their old level – but unlike us it happened approaching 20 years ago and it seems they’ll remain stuck, like Forest.
Rangers don’t just have Celtic to match, we have Hearts, Hibs and Aberdeen to overcome as well, and we have to accept that where we are is where we are.
But it’s our ‘lack of accepting this’ while ‘trying to accept this’ that causes this ongoing dichotomy we suffer.
And a better man and woman than us can tell us how that will get fixed any time soon.