By Duncan Wright
Progress at Rangers can at times feel glacial. With only four days of the January transfer window left Rangers have announced one new signing. This despite Michael Beale announcing at almost every press conference in January that the club were “talking to a couple of players.” There may be more movement in the coming days with the Belgian Nicolas Raskin still looking likely to sign before the window closes, but for the fans in particular, it’s a waiting game.
Off the field the fans have also had to show patience whilst they await the opening of New Edminston House. The NEH supporter complex housing a museum, fanzone, live event space, cafe and merchandise store has been under construction for over two years.
However on Friday, rather unexpectedly, Rangers announced that the fanzone, cafe and merchandise store would be open to fans before this weekend’s game vs St Johnstone. Although the wait for the museum continues, progress on this project is finally evident.
Delays to the NEH project cannot be laid squarely at Rangers door. Problems with building materials, construction equipment and labour shortages have all played a part in the project stalling but the finish line has appeared suddenly and in clear sight of the supporters who will frequent the space.
The fanzone area includes a large stage equipped with a lightning rig and impressive sound system and will facilitate former and current players to be interviewed pre-match. Behind the stage is a large screen which will screen live matches from elsewhere in the UK both pre and post game.
Two bar areas serving a selection of alcoholic drinks, at reasonable prices (£4.95 for a pint of lager), were serving fans quickly and efficiently whilst food could be ordered further along from the bar. There were no seating areas available, perhaps understandably increasing the footfall in the space, but this may put off some fans who aren’t keen to stand for a couple of hours pre-game.
There were a noticeable number of families and young children in NEH and the provision of family entertainment prior to matches at Ibrox is something that has been missing from the match day experience for some time. Children today could choose to have their face painted and hopefully further provision for families will be made in the coming weeks.
Upstairs NEH hosts a cafe and retail space and this is again impressive. The retail space is large, well stocked and includes a good variety of Rangers branded merchandise, going far beyond the standard kits and training ranges. The cafe offered good options in terms of refreshments but there was again limited seating options available. The DJ playing heavy bass dance music also seemed a strange choice given the clientele using the space.
There have, understandably, been frustrations with the NEH project but today was a positive first step in this new chapter for Rangers. Improvements and refinements will sure to be made over the coming weeks allowing Rangers to maximise their return on this capital investment. The income that will be generated from NEH is another sign of the progess the club continues to make off the field.
On the field today there was clear evidence of the progress Rangers have made under the stewardship of Michael Beale. The team extended their unbeaten run to ten games with a comprehensive victory over St Johnstone. This was a comfortable victory for Rangers settled by James Tavernier’s penalty and a Glen Kamara goal after 10 minutes of the 2nd half.
New signing Todd Cantwell made his debut and gave an assured performance for the 60 minutes he was on the field. Neat and tidy, prepared to do his share of defensive work he was also integral to the Rangers second goal. Picking the ball up in the final third he slotted a ball into Morelos who in turn passed the ball round the corner to Kamara who finished calmly.
The ability to find passes between the lines was identified by manager Beale as one of Cantwell’s attributes and he will have been delighted to get such a positive contribution from his new signing so quickly. Cantwell’s constant movement and interchanging of position with Kent looks like it will add another dimension to Rangers attacking play in the weeks to come.
There were more signs of positive progress for Beale and his squad when observing the Rangers bench today. Options available included Colak, Sakala, Wright and a welcome return for Ianis Hagi. Coming off the bench with 20 minutes to go Hagi will be delighted to finally be back playing and showed glimpses of his technical ability which had been integral to his game during Rangers 55th title win.
Wednesday evening sees Rangers visit Tynecastle to play a Hearts team themselves moving fowards in a positive direction. Beale will be keen to ensure the positive momentum he has generated at Rangers continues. This fixture will give both himself and the support an opportunity to gauge if the direction of travel remains upwards.