People make club on poignant day for Rangers

THE fare on the field of play was far from impressive from Rangers.

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Fernando Ricksen sits with wife Veronica, daughter Isabella and fellow ex-Ger Michael Mols
Fernando Ricksen sits with wife Veronica, daughter Isabella and fellow ex-Ger Michael Mols

But, unusually at Ibrox, the football was not of primary importance.

Other altogether more weighty matters were of greater concern for everyone associated with the Glasgow club at the weekend.

The tragic death last week of former Rangers player Ian Redford, at the age of just 53, stunned the Scottish game.

And the minute's silence held in his memory before kick-off in the match against East Fife was heartfelt and poignant.

The return of Fernando Ricksen, who has been diagnosed with motor neurone disease, to his old club, was also emotional for all.

The Dutchman was a popular figure with Rangers supporters during the six years he spent plying his trade in this country.

He was respected for his ability and commitment on the park and loved for his madcap antics - the tales of which are legend - off it.

Ricksen was visibly moved as he strode out on to the turf to a rousing reception at half-time. A fair few tears were shed in the stands, too.

Passions have frequently run high at Rangers in the last few years as the Ibrox club has lurched from one crisis to another.

The prospect of severe financial cutbacks at an organisation that is currently operating at a significant loss is the latest issue to arise.

Yet, such problems, troubling though they are, have been brought into sharp focus by recent events elsewhere. For, contrary to what the legendary Scottish manager Bill Shankly once claimed, football is not more important than life and death.

The tributes paid to both Redford and Ricksen highlighted all that is good about a frequently maligned institution. Rangers is about more than bricks and mortar, about more than balance sheets and boards, about more than sporting achievement even.

Those who have donned the light blue jersey and fought for the club's cause, no matter how briefly, are never forgotten by its followers.

McCoist played alongside Redford at the outset of his career at Rangers back in the 1980s. The sadness that he felt at his team- mate's incomprehensible passing was obvious as he spoke after the match.

"I can't tell you what a shock it was," he said. "I had known Ian for a long, long time. He was at our game on Boxing Day. Everyone at the club was really devastated by the terrible news and our thoughts are with his family."

McCoist added: "I spoke to Fernando before the game and he was extremely positive and thrilled at the reception he was getting from people who hold him very dearly.

"The size of the crowd that turned up to see him in a game in the third tier of Scottish football is one of the reasons why this club, and indeed this city, are special. There aren't too many places you would get that response."

How Rangers could have done with a Redford or a Ricksen in their ranks for the 2-0 SPFL League One victory against East Fife. After Dean Shiels, one of just a few of the home team's players to receive anything approaching pass marks, had opened the scoring early on they laboured for long spells.

Gary Naysmith's part-time side dominated large swathes of a match and could have levelled on several occasions.

The Methil men were left to rue their poor finishing, not to mention the excellence of opposition goalkeeper Cammy Bell, at the end of the 90 minutes.

Shiels ensured victory when he rounded off a slick attacking move - one of precious few his team produced - in the second half.

The Northern Ireland international's personal showing was remarkable given that he had not started a first-team game since way back in August. He has been linked with a move away from his boyhood heroes during the January transfer window, but the chances are he will stay and be given an extended run.

The win Shiels did so much to secure maintained the 17-point cushion Rangers have over second-placed Dunfermline at the top of the division. Nobody at the club will admit as much, but the size of their lead must, even subconsciously, be having an adverse affect on their play. After all, the game against East Fife was not the first time they had failed to perform well in recent weeks.

The displays against Stranraer, Airdrie and Stenhousemuir during the festive period all left much to be desired.

The chances are that performance levels will be raised when Rangers return to action in the Scottish Cup in their must-win match against Airdrie at Ibrox next month.

However, the 42,182 hardy souls who braved the January weather to back their team deserved better. Far better. That there were only a fraction of them left inside the stadium when referee Don Robertson blew the final whistle was entirely understandable.

It may seem harsh to criticise a side that has both won and kept clean sheets in their last four competitive outings. But certain standards are expected at Rangers and anything falling short of them will not be accepted.

Ian Redford and Fernando Ricksen both understood that. It was why both men were so successful at Ibrox and are, to this day, so revered.

Football

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