Monday, 20 February 2012

Football? It's much more important than that

From the back of a McGhee’s bakery van a man emerges with a tray of cakes, for delivery to Rangers Football Club. He’s about to hand them to the chef, who has opened a door under the Main Stand, when he pulls up short.

“Hang on, pal,” the baker chuckles. “My boss says I’ve got to take the money off you first.”

Underneath his big white hat, the chef’s strained smile speaks volumes. It’s been like this all week for Rangers staff, their club in administration, with debts of perhaps £90 million.

That kind of figure spells potential disaster for the community around Ibrox stadium. In this tough neighbourhood, south of the Clyde, thousands of lives are nurtured by the football club, nourished by a river of fans that pours up Paisley Road West every other weekend.

It’s not just the match-day scarf sellers or the Sportsman chippy who make money from football. Even the local hardware shop can cash in on Rangers.

Among the paint ponts and drill-bits that fill up Harjit Singh’s window, are Rangers key rings and fridge magnets. A cardboard mask of the club manager, Ally McCoist, is pressed against a window pane.

“I got them in for the Christmas party season, but demand has slipped a bit recently,” lamented Mr Singh. “It’s been strange round here this week. For the first couple of days after it happened the whole area seemed really depressed, people were genuinely affected.”

At the foot of Ibrox Street, Mary Clark has noticed the change in mood too, and she’s worried because she relies on Rangers for a bit of custom in her hairdressing salon.

Not from the pampered players, she pointed out, but from fans who come along on Saturdays, long before kick-off, stamping up the steps from Cessnock station for a £6.50 trim, before they head off for a pre-game pint.

“Aye, it’s good for trade,” she said, before she addressed the most popular topic of the day. “Rangers got £24 million in advance season tickets sales just before they went broke. Where do you think all that money went?”

Other businesses feed off the club, like tick birds on a rhinoceros. Susan Dawson works in one of five burger stalls, each emblazoned with the Rangers crest, stationed round the stadium.

By 11 o’clock this morning, well before kick-off, she and three friends will be ready to sell thousands of burgers and square sausage rolls to the hordes, or that great football delicacy, chips with cheese and gravy.

Wasn’t she worried that Rangers will go out of business? “Oh no. Definitely not,” she said, shaking her head. “Celtic couldn’t survive without their arch enemies. Scottish fooball needs Rangers.”

Barman John Davis struck a similar note of optimism, from inside the Louden Tavern.

“At first, when we went into administration, there was a lot of anger among the regulars,” he recalled. “Since then it’s changed. People are saying, if this is the road we have to go down, then that’s what it will be. We’re Rangers and that’s it. We’ve got to back them 100 per cent.”

The pub is one of three in a chain, each one profitting from the thirst of Rangers fans. The walls are plastered with mementoes. Jim Baxter and Davie Cooper, club greats, are depicted in two stained glass windows, because here Rangers is religion.

Mr Davis is adamant: “The city knows that there is absolutely no way we can let Rangers go out of business. That’s 140 years of history right here. You can’t just let that die.”

All the excellent photos are by James Glossop.  

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