Mountains, Molehills and Murder Hill

After all the rhetoric of the December AGM and over six months of tedious he said-she said ‘debate’ in the media regarding such boardroom matters, I have to admit to looking forward to the Christmas holidays. Three weeks off work, lots of time with my young family and an enforced (though certainly a willing) sabbatical from social media and even quality sites such as TRS. To say I didn’t miss the often immature toing and froing online is an understatement.

However, we’re now into the third week of January, the work toil has restarted in earnest and I’m now stepping carefully back into the online world of trolls and big, bad PR monsters. Unfortunately, even the Grimm brothers would scoff at the fairy tale nature of the weekly Rangers farce. With every reasonable interview in the papers (see Tom English’s Q&A with Graham Wallace) there are also stories more akin to the German writers’ work above. The most recent one being an outraged Keith Jackson writing on behalf of the Rangers support asking why Rangers (just like almost any full-time football team) would consider a professional pre-match routine at a decent hotel as suitable preparation for a tough away tie against a team we’ve already struggled against this season. How can we afford this declares Jackson while justifying his question by relating his criticism to the players supposedly turning down a 15% wage cut.

Of course he’s right. Rangers players and much of the higher echelons of the staff –from the coaching team to the directors – are paid obscene amounts which the average supporter simply cannot relate to. Add in what looks to be a pampered ‘professional’ existence then I don’t blame any fan for being annoyed. Isn’t being paid several thousand pounds a week not enough for the honour of playing for Rangers? It should be obviously but unfortunately only in the world of fairy tales. In the real world, football (and sport generally in fact) is now often reliant on sports science and mental well-being to dictate training regimes and day-to-day lifestyles. Ergo, it’s not a surprise to see Rangers attempt to look after their players as well as possible via sensible preparation ahead of most games.

For example, even if four star hotel stays may cost us up to £300,000 per year for our travelling expenses, it may cost us more if we didn’t do what is seen as standard in football. Sure, we didn’t play all that well on Monday night but would we play better or worse if we travelled direct by coach only for all games. Moreover, would ongoing results improve? After all, professional preparation isn’t just for individual games but with one eye on the season as a whole. Would injury rates increase or decrease if we travelled direct? How many quality players (or indeed new staff members for those of us critical of the current manager) would fancy coming to a club that didn’t prepare as most other full-time clubs do for away matches? In fact, given the team continue to play so badly and Auchenhowie apparently doesn’t produce enough talent, why not get rid of that expensive luxury as well and just train at Toryglen or Ibrox each day? That does appear to be the kind of argument Jackson and his backers are putting up.

Moving onto Auchenhowie and it wasn’t a surprise to see an alleged training document leaked around the time of the hotel debate. Further frustration was evident across the community as fans got themselves upset at this generic notice as it detailed the supposedly lax schedule for our players. Apparently we only train 2.5 hours most mornings – a disgrace was the shout! Again, at first glance, that may appear a rather gentle timetable and the gripes are understandable but let’s add a bit of realism to the issue. OK, it was over 20 years ago but yours truly was an ‘S’ form with Dundee Utd from 1990-1992 under the less than gentle Jim McLean. As such, I often trained at Tannadice during the school holidays; usually in the summer and the winter; as well as during the week from time to time. I can tell you their schedule was almost exactly the same as this supposedly dreadful Rangers one. For example, the first team usually only trained for 90 minutes in the morning with afternoon sessions only regular during pre-season. Once the season was underway and the actual match calendar built up, training became less of a necessity. Of course players were still kept in prime condition where possible but even in the early 1990s clubs such as United understood the need not to overwork athletes. However, importantly (and what’s also missing from the leaked Rangers schedule) while they had group sessions in the morning, each player had their own individual commitments in the afternoon. Some may be asked to work in the gym, a few may need physio/massage treatment while others would be wrapped in cotton wool or even end up training with the reserves/youths depending on their own status. Given the facilities at Auchenhowie compared to what we had at Tannadice (or Dundee University where we also trained) I’m sure most Rangers players don’t simply go home after their lunch each day. But even if they do have free-time they certainly won’t be golfing nor doing other strenuous activities during what is often the busiest time of the season in the winter.

Now, I don’t blame any Rangers fan for asking questions related to any part of the club. In fact, I’m glad they (and Graham Wallace) are looking to review all aspects of how it is run and how much people are paid (and pampered). However, when we do this, we have to use perspective. Apparently in 2008/09 Rangers had £200,000 worth of travel/hotel expenses and while that figure may have risen slightly since then, it still represents a very small percentage of our annual costs. Nevertheless, fans are absolutely entitled to question that expenditure but I’d consider this more of a staff investment than a wasteful liability. Similarly, while I’d hope (nay insist) our players are given tough training obligations, I understand modern sports science has a vital part to play in their development. If this means R&R is as important as lifting weights and diet is as important as practising set-pieces then so be it. I’m not convinced we need to go as far as teams like Southampton (see this Daily Mail article of last year) but there will be times that we have to accept our players can’t always be taking part in sprints around East Dunbartonshire or running up and down the Murder Hill dunes.

In conclusion then, while I’m glad Rangers fans take a keen interest in all issues related to the club we have to be very careful not to make mountains out of every molehill we see. Some will say taking care of the pennies takes care of the pounds and that’s an admirable mantra but we also have to decide whether we want to mimic the supposed best training techniques or not? Thus, while we must continue to hold everyone at the club to account, occasionally we should focus on the issues of real merit rather than irrelevant side-shows that only serve to deflect from subjects that actually do affect the future well-being of our club. To that end, I’d respectfully suggest spending more time reading the Graham Wallace Q&A than any tabloid article about where we stay ahead of games.