Alfredo Morelos always waves to me. Well, during every home game, at least.
At one point in the proceedings, whenever Rangers play at Ibrox and Alfredo isn’t suspended or rested, or benched, or injured, or dropped, or dictating his latest apology, he always shades his eyes from the glare of sun or floodlight and looks up to my part of the Main Stand, squinting with more intensity than he does at a ref who’s just booked him for squinting his eyes.
Then, when he finally picks me out, he waves directly at me with an intimacy you’d find difficult to imagine possible in a 49,999 crowd. Yet he waves at me like he loves me. I wave back with a passion in my wrists and a lust in my eyes which leaves him in no doubt I feel the same way.
It’s no accident that, when he scores into the Copland, he invariably peels off to his right and ends up under a pile of team–mates right in front of and below my seat. I pity the East Enclosure fools who, in the heat of the net-bulging moment, think he’s celebrating with them. As the rest of the team return to their own half, The Buffalo will turn and give me that little heart-shaped hand gesture which confirms it. He loves me. And only me. And he thinks about me constantly.
The bloke two seats along from me sometimes claims it’s actually him Alfie’s waving at. He’s as middle-aged as me but, probably coz he has a full head of hair and is about ten stone lighter, fancies himself a bit too much. But he’s a nice guy so I allow him his harmless fantasy.
The nice guy’s daughter, who sits between us, claims Alfredo’s actually looking for and waving at friends and family in the hospitality seats a half dozen or so rows behind us - but she’s f*ck!ng deluded. Obviously. How then, for example, does she explain him celebrating both his goals against Hearts in the League Cup semi by running towards the exact bit of Hampden where I was sitting? Eh?
Nah. Alfie loves me and only me and on Wednesday night, just before kick-off, Alfie waddled over to my special part of the stadium and put his hand up over his eyes and stared really hard to see if he could see his special someone in the dark depths of the Bill Struth Main Stand.
He continued to stare while his other ten team-mates took their places. Why couldn’t he see me? Maybe it was because I wasn’t waving.
He continued to stare while the ref spotted the ball in the centre of the pitch and the Accies players lined up on the other side of that big white line. Why couldn’t he see me? Perhaps the unusual number of empty seats confused him. Perhaps it’s because I was sat down, giving him nothing.
Or perhaps it’s because I expected him to not be giving a shit about who was sat where - if you care that much about where loved ones park their arses you sort it long before kick-off. Rather, I expected Alfie to only have eyes for the match, to be slavering like a rabid dog, glaring at the ball and the Hamilton goal, champing at the bit, able to think only of football and Rangers and behaving, basically, like a man on a mission to put some material evidence into his big mea culpa of the previous day.
I wanted him to be Ready.
None of us felt Alfie owed us that apology he gesticulated to the Broomloan upon his Ibrox opener against Young Boys Berne. It kinda broke our hearts to think he was taking the blame for that narrowest of cup final losses on himself. This Wednesday, however, was different.
Wednesday night, versus Hamilton, was different for an entire team. The love for the club is stronger than ever. The love for those players might never return.
This time, after going missing in the build-up to Tynecastle – shortly before his mates on the pitch joined him in absentia – Alfredo did owe us an apology. But we didn’t want words. We didn’t need gestures. We just needed goals. He always knows where we are and what we want – it’s becoming rare that we know where he is and what he’ll do.
We just wanted – expected - Rangers to turn up against Hamilton. We’re all still waiting.
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Some people think the players panicked. I find that more comforting than it should be. Panic infers a level of care – of concern for the feelings of the fans – which, being honest, I did not detect.
To me the team seemed more like a side who knew the fans had turned up expecting even a win over Hamilton to prove nothing in the long-term, and decided to show us how much worse things could really get.
I am obsessed with our body language and tempo these days. It’s my particular Rangers Da thing – my hang-up with no basis. Last Saturday, for example, I thought our body language and tempo at Tynecastle was spot-on, for the first five minutes.
Against Hamilton I thought we looked lethargic and downbeat. Not worried, more uninterested. But then I’ve thought this about Alfie before. I’m sure I thought it of him in the early stages of last season’s League Cup game at Rugby Park where he scored the perfect hat-trick and had another perfectly good goal chopped off - the day Tav supplied all his goals and looked every inch our captain. Some players just have a languid style – they don’t charge about but are never rushed.
Alfie didn’t score on Wednesday. He didn’t set up a goal either. That’s his two main jobs. But, more than that, he didn’t fail through too much effort and neither did anyone else in a Rangers strip.
Everyone other than Aribo and McGregor looked like they started slowly and then couldn’t get out of the low gears when Hamilton scored. So, instead of an actual upping of pressure with any real substance – instead of a proper response - we just impersonated a team who cared.
That’s why the last half hour was Steve Davis playing sweeper amid a barrage of corners, floated onto the heads of Hamilton players who live for high balls onto their heads and dread someone like Hagi or Davis actually trying to play football at them.
The only thing that seemed to truly matter was that Celtic had fallen behind to Livingston and our players, if they weren’t bloody careful, might end up back in a title race.
It was a cold night but far from the coldest. I should have worn more layers. It’s been literally days since I’ve had a drink. But that’s not why I was shivering as I hit Edmiston Drive at full-time. I was shivering in the exact same way I shivered after we lost to St Johnstone at Ibrox in the League Cup quarter-finals under Paul Le Guen.
PLG - a manager I was similarly obsessed with backing. Another manager who put us through a European group with some beautifully technical performances – another young manager I wanted us to be patient with because, on paper, everything looked promising. But, on the pitch, I’d never before seen us lose, far less go out of a competition, to a team from a lower league (we lost to plenty lower league teams after 2012 but never one from a league lower than our own). On the pitch that 2006 night, I’d just seen a sacking offence.
Stevie G is now in sacking offence territory. When I realised that last night it shattered me. It’s still not something I want. But that the announcement would now be less surprising. I instinctively want to blame the players. Because their lack of heart on Wednesday was nothing short of contemptuous. But Steven Gerrard signed most of them and is in charge of all of them.
I was shaking and shivering on Wednesday because on Tuesday evening I’d sat typing another novella on all the reasons why Stevie G is still the man to take us forward. For the second time in a week, same as I had done after our non-performance in Perth, I put thousands of words into dissuading the burgeoning anti-Gerrard movement.
Yet, at the same time, in a break-out area in Milngavie, tattoos probably on show, sports car absolutely parked outside, James Tavernier was dictating a match programme message to the fans which should have read like an admission – a self-diagnosis - but, like Ryan Kent’s post-match Braga interview in the cold light of Tynecastle, eventually came across like a shoulder-shrugging spoiled brat telling us to deal with it.
Whenever anybody puts a bit of pressure on us in Scotland or gets in our face it seems to affect us too much. At the start of the season teams dropped off us and we were scoring four or five goals, but now they smell blood and put us under pressure. We are not good enough domestically at the minute to react to that.
My previous Gersnet rants were only me persuading myself that things would be fine under Stevie G. They were exposed as such by events on the pitch on Wednesday. Tav’s words were in fact, like Kent’s the previous midweek, a brutally honest assessment which could have drawn a line under our domestic form of 2020 had they been followed by positive results – even, dare I say, by a bit of positive body language, a touch of tempo.
Unfortunately, they were followed by, in an almost predictable freak of the fixture list, us losing away and home, in successive games, to the team bottom of the league, without a single goal to our credit over the entire, error-strewn, flaccid 180 minutes.
Even if the world wasn’t currently obsessed with the “optics” of leadership, Tav could’ve done better than following his programme notes with a key part in Hamilton’s goal and then subbing himself off with a pronounced, cartoonish, emblematic limp.
The greatest Rangers teams had horror shows, even the ones who hadn’t been Scottish champions for approximately a decade. But, as Walter used to tell the players, it’s not about one defeat, it’s about the reaction to that defeat. Switch around our last two games and competitions and you have, in the middle of the season Souness brought the title back, how we expect these things to be dealt with:
Bottom of the table Hamilton did us 1-0 at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup and, in the following game, we put five past Hearts at Tynecastle with a display of frightening resolve, powered by a pathological desire to make amends.
In February 1987, of course, that Hearts side were title contenders and hadn’t lost at home in 18 months. This, we’re told, is how our current crop of players would prefer it. Apparently, we didn’t under-perform catastrophically in our last two matches because we’re a bad team but because our opponents are.
Bayer Leverkusen must be shaking in their boots. Ross County must be licking their lips.
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