by a Sunday Express Reporter
THIS time next week Scotland’s football season will be off and running as champions Rangers lead the charge with a mouthwatering clash against Hearts at Ibrox.
The SPL title flag will be unfurled at Ibrox in an early kick-off, while Aberdeen open their account at home to St Johnstone and Motherwell entertain Inverness Caley later that day.
The first weekend’s fixtures continue with Hibs against Celtic and Dundee United versus Kilmarnock a week today, with Dunfermline’s return to the top league being marked by a Monday night clash with St Mirren.
And it’s all go after that except for the odd player who will find himself spending much of the SPL season with his backside on the substitutes’ bench.
But anyone who expected Neil Alexander to throw the toys out of the pram when rival goalkeeper Allan McGregor signed a new long-term deal with the Ibrox club couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Gers’ No 2 was almost as delighted as the first choice keeper!
“It mind sound strange but no one was happier than me when Allan signed,” said Alexander. “On a personal level I’m absolutely delighted for him. He’s a great guy and I love working with him and coach Jim Stewart.
“It’s fantastic for Rangers and the fans too. There has been speculation about Allan since I came here nearly four years ago but it has never amounted to anything, so after about a year I stopped taking any notice and he’s the same. He always knew in his own mind that he wanted to stay.
“From my point of view I’m aware I’m second-choice but Allan had another two years on his original contract so nothing has really changed and I’ve said before how highly I rate him.
“He could play anywhere although I don’t think it will happen now he’s dedicated his future to Rangers.”
There’s certainly no animosity there, then, with McGregor first choice and Alexander a hugely capable deputy when required or when new manager Ally McCoist chooses to play him.
Previous boss Walter Smith decided that Alexander should get League Cup action and now the reserve keeper is hoping McCoist will maintain that agreement.
“I’d like to think Ally will keep it as it was because in the last two years I haven’t lost a game in the competition,” he went on.
“But equally, maybe he’ll want to play his strongest team in every game. He hasn’t spoken to me yet but maybe nearer the time I’ll go and ask him what the script will be.
“It was certainly great to have that agreement with Walter because it gave me a target. I enjoy the cup competitions and it’s brilliant to play at Hampden.
“I’m very grateful to the old manager for giving me the opportunity to play in the big games. He could quite easily have played Allan in the cup final against Celtic, for instance, but it says a lot for him that he stood by me.
“But whatever the situation is now I want to win the league again and hopefully we can do well in every competition we enter.
“Obviously, we want to qualify for the Champions League and do well in it because Europe is very important to us. These qualifiers against Malmo or Torshavn are huge games for us.
“It would mean big clubs coming back to Ibrox and hopefully the manager can bring in some top signings that can bolster our squad in time.”
Alexander, meanwhile, reckons the transition from Smith to McCoist in the Ibrox hotseat has been seamless.
“I think Ally will take on the role as gaffer quite easily,” he said. “It will be much of a muchness. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
“We have good players here who know what it takes to win trophies and if we strengthen the squad we have a great chance of retaining the title.”
And that would mean more medals for Alexander who has almost as many of those as he has appearances!
“I feel the same way as I always have,” he added. “I might not have played as many games as I’d have liked but I’ve won a lot of trophies, I’m at a huge club and I think there’s exciting times ahead here under Ally.
“But it’s difficult to tell whether I will see out my career here. I’m enjoying my time at Rangers, my family is settled and my kids love it in Glasgow and that will be a consideration.
“At times it is frustrating not to be playing and there will be a point where I realise I don’t have many years of my career left and want to play more games.
“But that time isn’t right now. I enjoy being part of this club and what’s going on but the question will come into my head sometime in the future.”
“Right now, though, I think the fans trust me to take over when Allan’s not playing.
“That gives me confidence and it’s great they think so highly of me because normally that’s not really the case with a number two goalkeeper.
“I’d like to think that over the last four years I’ve earned that respect because of my performances and what I’ve done for the club when called upon.
“So it’s flattering to be trusted by the fans – it’s better they’re on my side than on my back – and I’ll always give 100 per cent for Rangers, the fans know that.
“They realise how much I love being at this club and it’s such a big thing for myself. I’ve worked hard throughout my career to get to this point – where I’m at a big club and winning trophies.
They understand how much it means to me and the supporters relate to that.”
Courtesy of the Scottish Sunday Express