At 2:30pm on Saturday I sit down in the upper tier of the Copland Stand. After the fervour of Celtic Park on an international night, Rangers versus Alloa Athletic would be my first experience of the legendary atmosphere of Ibrox Stadium.
Outside, the street merchants' range caters to local tastes – a peculiar mix of loyal supremacism ("King William of Orange, no surrender"), poppy-smothered sentimental militarism (Ulster 36th Division –- Passchendaele, Ypres, Somme – lest we forget") and pop-culture trash ("Billy Bart Simpson RFC fan club").
Inside the ground – easily one of Britain's finest – 30,000 fans sing along to Simply the Best, then the match kicks off and the singing stops.
Rangers play 4-4-2 with former Scotland internationals Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller up front. Alloa are 4-5-1. They train two nights a week and this is their third game in eight days.
The Rangers number eight, Ian Black, struts about midfield, but Alloa’s three are crowding him. After seven minutes Black makes a heavy foul and is booked. He glares at the referee while Ibrox whistles its disapproval.
That’s the loudest it’s been since the DJ stopped playing Tina Turner. Ibrox is waiting to be impressed. Richard Foster gives it away and there is a growl of exasperation. Ibrox does that sound very well.
Alloa surprise the dozy Rangers defence with a short corner. “Come on tae f**k, Rangers,” screams a man behind me. Rangers clear it ineffectively. “Put it in frontae him so he can run ontae it, ya twat!”
Ian Black fouls again. From the second tier of the Copland, you can easily hear the scream of the stricken Alloa player. I realise that the Copland, the traditional Rangers home end, has not yet sung a single song. At the far end there’s a group of ultras, the “Blue Order”, who are singing and drumming non-stop. But there are only a couple of hundred of them, and their chants can hardly be heard in the Copland, where nobody has taken them up.
The sound inside Ibrox is a bit like the hum of conversation you might get in a large train station, punctuated by hisses of irritation and annoyance. It’s a difficult atmosphere to play in – for the Rangers players. When Steven Smith puts a five-yard pass out of play, he raises his hand to apologise, not to his team-mates, but to the crowd. He nods quickly to all four stands.
Thirty-five minutes in, Alloa are stroking it around like they own the place. Ibrox’s frustration grows. “Oh, just blow the f**kin’ whistle,” sighs the man next to me, who is sitting with his young son. The crowd boos the team off at half-time.
In the second half, Rangers attack the Copland. Their talented 20-year old, Lewis Macleod, puts in a good cross, then a hard shot. It doesn’t jolt the crowd into a song. Ibrox has been hosting lower-division football for more than two years now, but the crowd can’t get it up for Alloa.
Impatient with passing
They get impatient if Rangers play three or four passes in midfield. They know their team, and the tiki-taka scepticism is probably justified. But Rangers shouldn’t have to rush it against Alloa, whose players are tiring.
So is the full-figured Kris Boyd, who is replaced by Jon Daly, the first Catholic from the Republic of Ireland to play for Rangers. I listen to the reception he gets. It's completely normal. Simply the Best (original lyrics) is the closest thing to a sectarian chant I have heard all day. Nobody shouts anything at Daly.
Boyd isn’t so lucky. He’s on the far side when his number goes up. He jogs wearily towards the bench. Several seconds later he’s still jogging. The crowd snaps. “G’aff the f**kin’ park, ya lazy bastard!”
Smith makes another mistake. “I hate you, you f**kin’ wanker!” screams a man behind me. It’s hard to keep a straight face.
Then, on 72 minutes, Rangers score. Lee McCulloch meets a flick-on with a fierce shot that bounces in. The general relief lasts six minutes before Liam Buchanan buries a rebound into the roof of the Rangers net, where it hangs for a second of perfect silence. Then Ibrox explodes with rage.
Rangers are waiting to kick off, but Alloa are still celebrating. Derision rains down from all corners. Rangers attack, but every move ends in a fumble. The fans advise the players in vain. “Wan touch! Wan touch and in! No! F**kin’ prick! F**kin’ dickhead!”
Rangers get a free-kick. The grandad in front of me springs up. “Get every c*nt in the f**kin’ box!” he screeches. His two grandchildren, boys aged seven or eight, gaze at him inquisitively. I look around and, everywhere, angry men stand and rage at Rangers, while quiet children sit and watch with wide eyes.
In the last second, Seb Faure misses from under the crossbar. The whistle goes without the Copland fans having sung a single song for their team all day.
One man nearby directly addresses Ally McCoist, who is 70-odd metres away and can’t hear him. “You’re f**kin’ shockin’, McCoist! You’re a f**kin’ joke! F**kin’ part-timers!” The game has put everyone in a bad mood. If Celtic Park last night was a moment of collective national ecstasy, Ibrox today is football as a weeping sore on the soul of a city. You take the bad with the good.