Professional athletes in all sports wither and expire before the constant timekeeping of Father Time at different rates of atrophy, but the old man remains undefeated. Some hang on too late, but few exit the spotlight before their earning potential is exhausted. And who can blame them: As Jalen Rose of Grantland and ABC is keen to exclaim: “keep getting dem cheques!”
Still, most sporting Clubs aren’t charities and recent history has more than reinforced the notion that Rangers should be looking for a little more value for the services rendered. In short: we can no longer accommodate passengers and no longer afford to pay those whose contributions are to all intents and purposes strictly a past tense phenomenon.
Lee McCulloch will get a favourable write-up by historians in the generations to come, if for no other reason than his loyalty and a few years of good performances, often in very trying circumstances. But surely not a single person today of a blue-nosed persuasion would want to see his name appearing regularly on our team sheet beyond this season. He’s one of the last of the generation who started and managed much of their career before the Internet went crazy and the joys of social media and immediacy allowed for more sustained and more often than not vociferous and rather rude commentary, permitting and encouraging everyone to offer their opinion in an arena more wide-ranging than the supporters’ bus and more fragrant and long-standing than the fumes and farts decorative symposium of the local boozer (graffiti notwithstanding).
Lee has, of course, benefited from the culture of memes, and sharing hash-tags and hot-takes; see for instance the Super Lee McCulloch pictures from a few years back or the fondness with which many have embraced his particular and impressively pointed talent for remaining alert at all times, and through all fabrics. He’s now less popular in the 24-7 culture (notably absent from Twitter after an unsavoury incident which highlights the worst aspects of the medium) and while derision has taken the place of admiration, with widespread disbelief at the automatic nature of his inclusion, he’s not quite become a figure of hate, yet he does have to take responsibility for his own actions and his own leadership and, sadly if surely without doubt, he has been found lacking in this painful winter of his career.
That’s no shame – better men have ended without glory and many a more important figure in the history of a great Club has gone out with barely a whimper, with sympathy the greatest emotion that could be mustered for a man whose legacy would later be properly considered to be immense. Nor is he, for all his lack of technique and tendency toward the ungainly and ill-considered, alone among the men whose personal discipline has been found wanting, lacking and distasteful. But, frankly, when you add these factors together you are left with only the conclusion that his time is up. And that he must know it. His disciplinary disgrace today was not the first time he has let himself down of late, but it should be the last, even if we escaped unscathed with all three points.
Looking back at the recording of the game, the prospect of McCulloch appearing for interview gave pause for thought: would he ‘do a Gerrard’ and apologise and somehow – as happens in this curious sporting alternate reality - be met with approval for his character and honesty, or would it be a case of platitudes and more forgettable quotes. In truth, there was something rather desperate about it all and also a little worrying. After all, when you are being engaged by an interlocutor who is also the writer of your (auto) biography there’s always the chance for hagiography to be converted into oral obedience to the line, and here it was. It all seemed – for me at least - to nod towards the expectation or at least the hope of a future at Ibrox which extends beyond the immediate.
This cannot be allowed to happen.
It’s not just that his weekly salary could easily allow him to buy a new Ford Focus every Friday and spend the rest on groceries. It’s not even that his recent move toward putting himself in the spotlight for a future career in UFC has become more concerning by the week. It’s simply that, for him, for us, and for the Club, he has reached the end of the production line.
We are in a very awkward situation at present, with a former manager accumulating a gardening budget that could make Seventeenth Century Versailles look like a half-hearted amateur effort, and all sorts of scoundrels, ruffians and CROOKS extorting and withdrawing cash from our accounts with little regard for the future health of the institution. Ally McCoist’s complete failure as manager has cost us in many different ways, but the recent improvement on the park and on the training ground points to the inefficiencies of those who previously held control over playing matters, and playing standards, and sometimes – even in the football world – the buck has to stop and the proverbial axe has to fall. The captain has to take some of the blame and, as a result, accept that his Rangers career is now close to over.
Weep not for Lee McCulloch; his career has been long, staunch, mostly proud and erect and he achieved as much as his talents and commitment would have enabled him to expect. But the old boys’ network at Ibrox needs overhauling, and the captain needs to pass on the armband and accept our thanks for his service. His complete failure to motivate or lead by example as the team collapsed this season has ruled him out of any sort of permanent or automatic elevation to a coaching position.
Discussion of a new captain – do we really want to reward Lee Wallace, who disappeared for months on end and delivered some of the most half-hearted and inept displays ever gifted to the fans by an accomplished international player before in recent weeks magically rediscovering his effort and aptitude – can come at the end of the season, hopefully as we consider a return to the top flight. The journey back has not been as fun of late, but Lee McCulloch will find that his efforts will be appreciated as memories fade and fury turns to the next prophet to be abused.