Friday, August 26, 2011

Opinion: The Old Firm's European exit doesn't mean our game is dead

The night of 25th August 2011 will not be remembered with pride. The European exit of our two biggest clubs at the hands of FC Sion and FK Maribor is disappointing to say the least and as we know, there are steps being taken by the SFA, along with SFL and SPL to look at the wider game in this country and what changes are required to improve the quality of the product on and off the park.

However, I write this post as somewhat of a response to the sensationalist nonsense being sprawled all over the back pages of our newspapers this morning. Last night was "The night we died of shame" apparently.

What we need now is an immediate and full investigation into the reasons why the Old Firm lost to sides that our media has decided they should be thrashing. Do we? Do we really?

I would argue that for the last twenty years or so, Glasgow's big two have shown time and again that they are more than capable of falling at early hurdles to sides that they most likely should be beating. I would also argue though that at such times of failure, the clamour and negativity surrounding the European exists, has never been so vociferous.

As part of my investigation into which Scottish club offers the Best Supporter's Experience, I will be taking in the Rangers v Aberdeen match at Ibrox this Sunday. Therefore, I felt it appropriate to use Rangers to evidence my previous points regarding disappointing European exists and the lack of comparative over-reaction to these from certain circles of our media.

1991/92: Rangers 2-2 Sparta Prague on aggregate (and exit on away goals)

In 1991/92 Rangers were one of the biggest spending clubs in Britain. The players they had on the pitch and comparative resources they had at hand were more than sufficient to handle Sparta Prague. They didn't and as a result, exited the European Cup at the First Round stage.

Only a year later, the same Rangers went on a remarkable European run disposing of top teams along the way, including English Champions Leeds United, and were within an inch of reaching the very first Champions League final.

1993/94: Rangers 4-4 Levski Sofia on aggregate (and exit on away goals)

The next season, and after another summer of very decent investment, the same Rangers that competed at such a high level found themselves dumped out of the Champions League at the qualifying stage with a defeat to the comparative minnows of Levski Sofia.

1994/95: Rangers 0-3 AEK Athens on aggregate

Twelve months later and another early exit for Rangers despite bringing in Brian Laudrup, Basile Boli and others. This time, they were resoundingly beaten over two legs by, again comparatively low-spending, AEK Athens.

Two successive seasons in the Champions League group stages (where the club were well and truly spanked by all whom they came up against) was followed by yet another disappointing European campaign...

1997/98: Rangers 1-4 IFK Gothenburg AND Rangers 2-4 RSC Strasbourg

Despite further heavy investment, Rangers were humbled by the Swedish champions in the Champions League qualifiers before dropping into the UEFA Cup and being dealt with quite easily by a French team whose budget couldn't compare with that of Glasgow Rangers.

2002/03: Rangers 3-3 Viktoria Zizkov on aggregate (exit on away goals)

Rangers, filled with new hope under Alex McLeish and players such as Ronald De Boer, Michael Mols, Mikel Arteta and so on, once again blunder at the early stages of a European competition, being dumped out of the UEFA Cup at the first round stage by Czech minnows (and they are minnows, I've visited their ground!) Zizkov.

Rangers went on to win the domestic treble that same season.

2008/09: Rangers 1-2 FBK Kaunas on aggregate

UEFA Cup finalists in May, papped out of the Champions League qualifiers by Lithuanians. Enough said

The purpose of this rather laboured history lesson is to evidence that Rangers losing to teams who, let's face it, on paper they should be beating, isn't new. It's been happening for 20 years on and off. In between those disappointments, there have been better spells for the club including numerous shots at the Champions League group stages, runs in the UEFA Cup and even a European final to remember.

I remember Rangers being knocked out of Europe on all these occasions and at no point were the club or wider country faced with the ludicrous demands for an inquest into the state of the club or the game. 

Back then, you could say there was even less of an excuse for losing to some of these teams. The financial backing of the club by David Murray was incredible - when compared with both their opposition at the time and their counterparts today.

Why then the reaction to Rangers exit to Maribor? Why the response to Celtic losing to Sion?

Both teams, over the last 20 years, have experienced both extreme highs and extreme lows at European level. Strachan's Celtic were beaten by Artmedia Bratislava. The same manager then took the club to the last 16 of the Champions League.

Perhaps it is just because both the Old Firm have been dumped out of Europe so early that the media and fans alike have decided that both sides are now at an all time low level, that the game in our country is in ruin and that we are now on the road to being a new Andorra in footballing terms.

Absolute rubbish.

If we're sitting here in August 2012 and neither of the Old Firm have made it through to the group stages of either European again then yes, I'd be a bit more concerned than I am right now.

Defeats like these happen. There's enough evidence over the last 20 years to show that they will continue to happen. However, there's also enough evidence to show that over-reacting and reaching the conclusion that our game is dead is a bit of a nonsense. 

No comments:

Post a Comment