Vital Rangers‘ Graeme Hanna was in the press box for what became a disappointing Thursday night for both Rangers and Football in general at Ibrox. Here’s his account of the game and controversy that has dominated the headlines ever since.
There was Europa League heartache for Rangers at Ibrox on Thursday night as their dreams were dashed by Slavia Prague’s merited victory.
The fans will be disappointed that their team did not fully rise to the occasion or do themselves justice against a better side but that has been overshadowed with the ugly spectre of racism raising its head once again, and the despair that it brought, in the scenes toward the end of the game.
Earlier this week, GiveMeSport reported on the widely discussed incidents of the game, particularly the verbal assault on Glen Kamara whose reaction was as unequivocal as it was severe.
Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudel deliberately sought out Kamara, who just happened to be standing by as a Slavia player was receiving treatment nearby.
Bongani Zungu was within earshot and exploded with anger simultaneously with stand-in captain, Connor Goldson, following suit, before making a charge toward Kudel.
At this point, the game and the tie was done. Slavia had an advantage of two goals and two men, following red cards for Kemar Roofe and Leon Balogun.
Shortly after entering the pitch as a sub, Roofe raced into the box chasing a long ball from Goldson.
With eyes only for the ball, he made an attempt to get the first touch with a very high boot – only to strike Slavia goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar ending his game in the process.
There was damage done, but no intent.
Without playing down the nasty facial injury Kolar received, it wasn’t the most serious incident on the night. That was instigated by Kudel, whose reported words of ‘You f****** guy’ make no sense whatsoever.
Why deliberately target an opponent to say something like that? Why cover your mouth to say it?
The effervescent reaction of a usually placid personality like Glen Kamara was very telling to say the least.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard said at the press conference post-match: “Glen Kamara, to me, is one of my own.
“I 100% believe what he is saying in terms of the accusation, other players around him heard it.
“All I can confirm is that my player tells me that he was racially abused.”
Sitting in the press room post-match, there was an air of tension and a vacuum of information as the assembled journalists and writers attempted to make sense of what was still happening out on the pitch and within the confines of the stadium, seeking veracity on the many updates and mooted incidents coming through.
One thing was for certain, there was an audible commotion coming from the dressing rooms.
The Rangers players were angry and incensed at what had happened to one of their own. It will take some time for that rage to subside but the onus and responsibility is now with UEFA to make a meaningful contribution to this latest ugly incident.
Slavia can position themselves behind the relative safety of questionable statements and the convenience of knowing that it will be very difficult to prove exactly what Kudel said.
At the final whistle, the Slavia players were jubilant, they had booked their last-eight place at Rangers’ expense.
The Gers players’ disappointment had already been overtaken by the red mis, the time will come soon for reflection on the football.
Kamara and other Rangers players had to be urged up the tunnel, eventually they relented.
In the claim and counter-claim saga, that followed post-match, Slavia’s official statement conveyed their ‘shock at allegations of racism without a single piece of evidence.
They also stated that Kamara physically assaulted Kudel, in the presence of Gerrard.
Talk of punches to the face and of spilled blood has not been backed up by any pictures as of yet.
Slavia’s Alexander Bah even made a wild claim of Rangers fans storming Ibrox and preventing them from reaching their dressing room, adding further that they had to be quickly led away to safety from a waiting mob outside.
This writer left Ibrox shortly after the press conference to a very quiet scene on Edmiston Drive.
It could have been so much different.
When the dust settles, the feeling of disappointment will return to the players – they will know they had more to give in this game but too many players weren’t on their game.
On the approach to the stadium, an eerie feeling was apparent, but for a few police vans there was no sign of the massive occasion it was for Rangers.
Once inside, as the players warmed up, the sounds of ‘Seven Nation Army’, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘I’m Feeling It’ increased the tempo.
The Europa League anthem ended the build-up as the action got underway, including an explosion of fireworks from outside that rumbled into the sky above.
A fast and furious first-half ensued but Gerrard’s men failed to hit the heights and the quarter-final berth that was within touching distance, which ultimately proved to be out of the reach of the newly crowned Scottish champions.
Once Steven Gerrard had taken his seat at the press room, it was clear that the football wasn’t foremost on his mind due to the obvious.
Looking ahead to the challenge of the Old Firm game on Sunday, I pondered to the manager as to how he guides his players, to lift them for a crucial game given the backdrop of palpable emotion and anger.
He responded: “Look, we will try and move forward.
“I think it’s important to stress that we aren’t using this to deflect from a couple of performances where we have fell short.
“I’ll always try to be honest in my reflections and hands up, the better team qualified, congratulations to them (Slavia).
“Moving forward, come kick-off on Sunday, we’ll be ready, we’ll have a team out there ready to win an Old Firm, we’ll be right up for it.
“That is my job to pick them up and move forward as best as we can.”
“Right now, there are certain things that are bigger than football and that is what’s going through my head.”
What better opportunity to channel the fusion of emotion, frustration and anger to great and positive effect, than the trip to Parkhead for Sunday’s noon showdown.