by Colin Campbell
NOT everyone will be fascinated, nay, entranced by the prospect of tonight’s Rangers match in Seville.
Some will say, “what Rangers match?”, as I would in diverse circumstances if I was in conversation with a fervent fan of English cricket. Others, supporters of rival clubs, will feign unawareness, although they will still watch the game avidly. And some supporters of Caley Thistle will see it merely as a warm up match for the Inverness club’s attempt to gain promotion to the Scottish Premier League when they play St Johnstone on Friday night.
But given that it’s 39 years since a Scottish club won a European trophy when Aberdeen defeated Real Madrid in sensational style in Gothenburg back in 1983, it would be surprising if a fair head of steam hadn’t built up in advance of the Ibrox club’s bid to bring home fresh silverware from Spain.
During the match hours the roads will be that bit quieter, and there will be fewer people on the streets. Inverness pubs screening the Europa League final will be packed to overflowing, and if Rangers defeat Eintracht Frankfurt and win the Europa League there will be celebratory raucousness and joyousness echoing down the Ness.
When the club won the Scottish Premier League title there was a spectacular and well organised eruption of red, white and blue fireworks which seemed to come from the Culloden direction, visible across Inverness. Whether or not a similar display is planned for a Rangers victory tonight remains to be seen, but the skyrockets may well be in readiness.
But some people are keeping their feet very firmly on the ground.
At a funeral in Perth two weeks ago, walking to the church in the company of an Aberdeen couple who had arrived in the vicinity at the same time as I had, one of them, an older woman in her 60s, said she knew Perth very well. This was because, she said, she’d been there so many times for football matches involving Aberdeen.
“We never miss a game,” she said. “Home or away. Or in Europe either.”
Her enthusiasm, bordering on fanaticism, surprised me. Trying to lighten the solemnity of the occasion, I said she wouldn’t have been abroad very often or seen much of the continent then, and hoped she’d be supporting the last Scottish club still competing for a European trophy.
“Rangers? Not on your life. I can’t stand them. I hope they get thrashed!,” she hissed.
And we walked into the church.
I’ll bet she’ll be glued to the TV tonight, however, surrounded by sauerkraut, fat sausages and with a little German flag stuck in candlewax on top of the telly. No ill will intentioned, but I hope she has a rotten night.
Rangers are proudly a British club as much as a Scottish one and in this day and age inevitably football and politics, or more specifically nationalism, intersect.
Many Rangers fans instinctively loathe the British hating SNP. When Nicola Sturgeon offered a terse congratulatory message on Rangers reaching the tournament final, there was an outpouring of reaction on Rangers social media as to where she could shove it. Sturgeon, with supreme irony, is the MSP for Govan, where Ibrox Stadium is located.
The independence supporting National couldn’t resist having a jibe over the plane taking the team to Seville, saying it had something or other to do with the Brexit negotiations. But they were no doubt more riled by it being adorned by the Union Jack, or the “butcher’s apron” as some Nat nutcases like to call it. That’s how things are in Scotland these days.
As I write, with tens of thousands of Rangers fans from all over the world in Seville, and an equal number of Eintracht Frankfurt fans, there have been no reports of trouble. Let’s hope it stays that way, and there’s no repeat or anything close to it of the disgraceful scenes I witnessed in Manchester in 2008.
However one fan was removed from a plane before it took off from an English airport. But no, it wasn’t because he’d consumed a bucket of vodka in the departure lounge. Apparently it was because of an on board dispute over a misogynistic text he’d sent to a woman from his seat. Shame on him.
Rangers fans overwhelm Seville with misogyny!
I can see the headlines emblazoned over the front pages on Thursday.
I’m not a betting man but I’m seriously thinking of taking on William Hill as the hours count down to kick off. I’m fed up losing money on bets I never wagered and on optimistic hunches I didn’t follow up during Rangers unstoppable progress in Europe this season.
Before the semi final against RB Leipzig at Ibrox the bookies were offering 5/1 against a Rangers win on home turf. This seemed extraordinarily generous of them. But I didn’t take them up on their offer. That’s the difference between gamblers and the rest of us. Gamblers act, we just think about it.
However against Frankfurt a Rangers win would mean you’d almost double your money. This time I may shrug off my hesitancy. As of now I certainly intend to, for whatever that’s worth.
It’s exactly 50 years since I last saw Rangers win a European trophy, in the company of my father and brother back in 1972. And I remember it like it was yesterday.
There’s a lot of water flowed down the Clyde since that happened. I won’t watch the game in a noisy, crowded pub. Home comforts and a couple of friends around is the plan. Maybe a beer? Or maybe soak it all up stone cold sober. I don’t yet know, just go with the flow.
But people literally in every corner of the world will be watching this match, pockets of Scots exiles, Rangers fans, just about everywhere, from the sun baked Outback of Australia to the melting ice around communities in Alaska, and everywhere in between. It’s been remarkable to see supporters posting messages about viewing arrangements from Islamabad, Calcutta, Baghdad, Jakarta, and on and on and on.
Tonight’s momentous encounter may mean nothing to some people but it will mean a lot to many. And so we look forward to a night of high drama, emotion, and undoubtedly a few tears.