FOR years Berwick Rangers have been patronisingly compared to the Glasgow team which calls itself The Rangers.
However, for one Scottish Division Three season at least the ‘Wee Gers’ are equals of the Light Blues. Yesterday they were more than that.
Berwick fans made up only a quarter of the crowd at the first of two home games against the Glaswegian giants, who included four of last season’s Scottish Premier League team in their starting line-up and former Sunderland striker Kevin Kyle as a substitute.
However, it was the Borderers cursing having to settle for a draw after Chris Townsley’s “goal” was controversially chalked off in added time.
The Rangers fans, so boisterous for the first hour, had been stunned into near-silence by then.
As the home players took the full-time applause, they were already filing out.
Fraser McLaren, scorer of Berwick’s equaliser four minutes after coming on, unwittingly spared them further indignity.
He said of the disallowed goal: “I watched the ball come in and he (Rangers goalkeeper Neil Alexander) ran into me.
“He fell over, or whatever he did. Townsley should have scored. We should have had three points.”
During all those years dreaming of league football in England, this was not what Rangers had in mind. Shielfield Park only has stands down its sides and a speedway track ringing the field.
ESPN were in attendance, and even brought fancy video advertising hoardings to sit in front of the signs for local electricians, joiners and car dealers.
However, this was a long way from Old Trafford or Anfield.
“This is how it feels to be small,” the Rangers fans sang. Even the shirt sponsor has shrunk from proud boast to discreet reference.
The payback was meant to be a procession of easy victories.
Away from Ibrox their league record now reads played two, drawn two.
The travelling hordes seemed determined to make the most of their day. Decking out the terraced ‘ducket’ with union jacks (plus a banner from AFC Wimbledon showing solidarity), they sang, bounced, banged their drum and released smoke bombs.
In the last half hour they were stunned – bounced out, the drumming sporadic, the singing even more so.
The home side got behind their players, roaring encouragement when Phil Addison made space on the right, but over-hit his cross.
There was plenty to excite them in the first half.
Lee Currie impressed in midfield although despite his best efforts, Darren Lavery was isolated up front.
Kevin McDonald, Neil Janczyk and Lavery failed to get power in their shots and Carlos Bocanegra cut out Steve Notman’s Lavery-bound long ball.
Berwick were punished for their wastefulness.
When Janczyk was booked for a tackle on Lee McCulloch, the midfielder was unmarked at the back post from the free-kick.
He touched it back for Andrew Little – the Newco’s new seven-goal hero – to volley in.
As soon as Berwick restarted, referee Mike Tumilty blew for half-time. The Borderers, though, refused to lose heart and after 63 minutes substitute McLaren controlled a long ball and drilled an equaliser.
With half an hour left, there was suddenly an intensity to Rangers which only highlighted their failings.
Dene Drouge made a crucial tackle to stop McCulloch getting on the end of Kyle’s flick, but Berwick began to realise how little Rangers had.
If McLaren voiced his disappointment, manager Ian Little did not share it.
He said: “With ten minutes to go I would be jumping through hoops for a draw, but the way we played was really pleasing.” Berwick famously knocked Rangers out of the 1967 Scottish FA Cup and took them to a replay in 2002.
However, this was no bobbly midwinter pitch. The sun was hot, the pitch beautiful.
McLaren said: “We can play football and everyone in the changing room knows that.
For both managers, the game threw up questions about the future.
“I can’t tell you how far that is short,” Rangers’ Ally McCoist despaired.
“Against apart-time team like that you’d hope in the last 15 or 20 minutes our physical fitness would take us uppermost.
“Ian’s team got at least what they deserved.”
Little reassured McCoist.
He added: “In the first quarter of the season it’ll be a wee bit of an eye-opener.
“I also think they’ll come strong and win this league comfortably. “
BERWICK RANGERS (4-5-1): Bejaoui; Drouge, Townsley, Brydon, Hoskins; Addison, Notman, Currie, Janczyk (Gielty 58), McDonald; Lavery (McLaren 58). Subs (not used): Lancaster, Ferguson, McCaldon.
Booked: Currie 3, Janczyk 45+2.
Goal: McLaren 63.
GLASGOW RANGERS (4-4-2): Alexander; Perry, Caribari, Bocanegra, Argirou; Little, Black, McCulloch, McLeod (Naismith 77); McKay (Crawford 64), Sandaza (Kyle 64). Subs (not used): Faure, Gallacher.
Booked: Bocanegra 85. Goal: Little 45+3.
Referee: Mike Tumilty. Attendance: 4,140.